“Our running shoes have magic in them – the power to transform a bad day into a good day; frustration into speed; self-doubt into confidence; chocolate cake into muscle.”
Mina Samuels, author of Run Like a Girl
As I watched thousands of people running the NYC marathon last weekend, I reflected on my journey of getting into running and finishing my first NYC marathon five years ago. It was a truly transformative experience, which made me physically and mentally stronger and taught me several powerful lessons.
By sharing my running experience, I hope to inspire you on your running journey. No matter what level you are starting at, you can make running a part of your life and reap the multiple benefits.
Pain is Temporary, Pride is Forever
I still remember my first run outside on a hot summer day in August 2013. I used to occasionally run several miles on a treadmill, but running outside seemed very uncomfortable and boring. When I finished my first 1.6-mile loop around Central Park reservoir, I felt exhausted, sweaty, and my chest and legs hurt badly. It was my first and last outside run for that year.
The idea of running a marathon crossed my mind at the beginning of January 2014 on my flight back from Argentina. I spent several weeks in Argentina climbing Aconcagua, the highest mountain in the Western hemisphere, and felt excited about making New Year resolutions for 2014.
During my preparation for the Aconcagua climb, I built a solid fitness level doing strength training and spending hours on a StairMaster in the gym with a heavy backpack. However, I still could hardly run three miles on a treadmill without stopping. Running a 26.2 mile marathon seemed like a formidable challenge, especially as I recollected my first and last experience of outside running.
By the end of January, I registered for my first half-marathon (13.1 miles), found a training plan and started running. My initial goal was to build running into a habit. I started with short runs/walks two to three times a week and gradually increased my time and distance. At the beginning I ran mostly on a treadmill and added several outdoor runs once in a while.
There were some days when I felt too tired, sore and unmotivated, but every week running became easier and more enjoyable. My body was adapting to running and getting stronger. As my training runs started to get longer, running became more fun. I listened to the signals my body was sending me and adjusted my workouts as necessary. At the same time, I continued pushing myself to find out what my body was capable of.
Finishing my first SHAPE Women’s Half Marathon in April 2014 was a big accomplishment, which gave me confidence and motivation to start training for a full marathon.
“We all have dreams. But in order to make dreams come into reality, it takes an awful lot of determination, dedication, self-discipline, and effort.”
Jesse Owens, legendary American track and field athlete
The NYC marathon is one of the hardest to get into: you need either qualify for the race, win the NYC marathon lottery or run with a charity. I decided to join Team for Kids (TFK), a great charity that raises funds for New York Road Runners youth programs.
Starting in June, TFK had several group practices in the evenings during the week and long runs on Saturday mornings to prepare runners for the marathon. I followed a 23-week training plan for beginner runners. On average, I ran four-five days a week, did cross-training one or two days and rested at least one day. The plan combined easy runs, speed runs (intervals, distance repeats or hill workouts) and long runs.
Practice runs were a great way to connect with people who shared the same passion for running. I enjoyed getting to know my teammates and amazing coaches. During the runs, we would talk about training, running, progress and challenges. We supported each other and celebrated new milestones together.
As a newbie runner, I learned a lot from TFK coaches. I improved my running form and my running efficiency. I also became more aware when it’s ok to continue pushing and when I need to listen to my body and take a break. Coaches guided me how to adjust my training schedule when I got several minor injuries, which enabled me to quickly recover and get back to training.
Training took on average about five to seven hours per week. I shifted my priorities to make room for running in my life. At the same time, running became a social activity as I enjoyed meeting up for a run with my friends and meeting new people from the running community.
As months passed by, I got more comfortable running longer distances. Our long runs took place early on Saturday mornings and could last up to four hours. The longest run before the race was 20 miles and it took place in the middle of October. Finishing 20 miles on a cold and rainy Saturday, my longest run ever, felt very empowering. After that run I knew I was ready for the marathon.
When I crossed the finish line of NYC marathon on November 2nd, 2014, I felt extremely happy and accomplished. As I got my medal and walked towards the exit, I was really proud that my inability to run more than 3 miles less than a year ago never stopped me from deciding to run a marathon.
“Our Running Shoes Have Magic in Them.”
Mina Samuels, author of Run Like a Girl
Running has become an inseparable part of my life since 2014. Not only it has significantly improved my physical condition and fitness level, it also makes me feel happier and more satisfied. It goes beyond the “runner’s high,” a feeling of euphoria caused by chemicals released in your body during a run. Running gives me clarity and brings a feeling of peace and balance. It also reduces stress levels and improves my mood and sleep.
Running has also made more mentally and emotionally resilient. Some of the lessons I learned during training and racing have helped me face challenges in other areas of my life. For example, when I run longer races, I usually mentally divide the total distance into more manageable segments and focus on finishing one mile at a time. Similarly, when I deal with a complicated project or just have a lot on my plate, I remind myself to break my commitments into bite size achievable goals and tackle one task at a time.
I’ve become a passionate runner and triathlete and so far have completed ten marathons and ultramarathons in addition to six Ironman triathlons consisting of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bicycle ride and a 26.2 mile run.
No matter where you are on your running journey, be somebody nobody thought you could be!
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