I used to think I could never be a runner but yesterday I ran my 4th half marathon. I didn’t place in my age group and my official race pace was a slow and steady 11:16/mi but I am still a proud runner. I wish I hadn’t been such a doubter for so long. So, here are a 13.1 things I wish someone had told me when I thought I could never do this.
1) You never feel good until mile 2-3, so don’t give up. I promise you, you will feel invincible by the time you hit the halfway point whether it is mile 2.5 of a five-miler or mile 6.5 of a half. Bottle that feeling and take it with you during the first few miles of every run, long or short. That’s what got me started yesterday and kept me going as the heat went up and the muscles started aching as I hit the midpoint of the figure-of-8 loop at mile 7.
2) But even if that feeling propels you to hit the road, the trail, or the treadmill day after day, you cannot be a runner unless you build up your core. For me, I have done this with pilates (mostly Stott reformer) and Pure Barre (whenever I get the chance). A strong core will help your stride and prevent injuries. My choice of core training also works on the intrinsic and extrinsic muscles of the hips, thighs, and butt all of which make for a stronger, more efficient runner.
3) Modern life is filled with distractions; running allows you to be alone with your thoughts. People ask me how I find time to write the occasional blog post with my hectic schedule. Honestly, I mentally compose many of them on my runs just like I often compose specific aims for my research or household to-do-lists while running.
4) Running with you significant other is a great alternative to high calorie, sedentary date night. Though we often run together listening to our playlists or podcasts, that time we spend together, just the two of us out there, whether or not there is conversation involved, allows us to bond and stay fit.
5) Running is a great way to make new friends and stay connected with old ones. I have made new friends and mentors running while travelling for work. The race I ran yesterday has been a way to connect with my best friend from residency at least once a year in person and even more frequently has we text or phone each other on how the training is coming along. (Different specialties, different cities, surgeon schedules = little if any chance to see each other but planning a race together is a great solution, and has the added bonus of not letting our surgeon schedules be an excuse not to take care of ourselves.)
6) There is no such thing as a runner’s body. Look at yourself in the mirror. Think you’re not a runner because of your size or your shape. WRONG. Yesterday, I ran alongside, in front of, and behind other 5’3″ women who easily weighed 100lbs more than more or 40-50lbs less than me. There were men and women of all shapes and sizes. From the kind of bodybuilder physique that one would think is incompatible with running to the tall, lean supposedly quintessential runner’s body, to (and this encompassed just about everyone there above age 30 I would venture to guess) the love handles, spare tires, muffin tops, touching thighs, beer guts, and saggy arms that are a reality of middle-aged life no matter how much we run.
7) Even if it won’t transform your body, running has health benefits that you may not have thought of. Running outdoors means more VitD conversion. That alone with improve your energy levels but then there are also the endorphins that both improve energy levels and mental well-being whether you activate their secretion outdoors or on a treadmill. And (though it may gross out some of my readers) a little bit of long-run colon ischemia is a decent remedy for constipation (except when there are port-a-potties involved–eeeeww, now that grosses me out). Weekly long runs while training for a long race is what I think of as the Runner’s Cleanse–who needs kale shakes!
8) Running outside brings opportunities to glimpse the world from another perspective. There is so much architecture, so much greenery, so much wildlife that you would miss if you weren’t a runner. Yesterday, as we approached mile 10, I made eye contact with a gigantic brown bear just 4 feet away from me. As I ran by (and boy does a bear siting make you run faster!) (s)he padded across the course behind me. There were plenty more vistas of bucolic farmland and beautiful (though potentially fear-provoking) animals along the Iron Horse Half course in lovely central CT yesterday.
9) On a related note, running outside makes you feel outdoorsy even if your are not. I mean, come on, I stared deep into the eyes of a giant bear and lived to tell about it. Need I say more?!
10) If you have a shoe thing (like I do), being a runner gives you a whole other category of shoes to covet. Yesterday I ran in my Newtons. Super cute pink and neon yellow…wait yes of course the lugs…awesome lugs for an easy forefoot motion made for my PR for a half. (You shouldn’t buy running shoes for aesthetics and colors but I won’t lie I sometimes do and it’s what started this running thing for me in the first place).
11) Long run days and race days are perfect justification to eat with reckless abandon. My pre-race farm to table meal with my fellow runners was one of the best meals I have ever had. In my quest to be healthy, I am often limiting how much I can indulge at these types of places. Sharing an appetizer (or skipping them altogether) or splitting an entree and definitely passing on dessert. But, on the night before a race you have have an appetizer, an entree, and a dessert and, as I did, have ice cream for lunch two days in a row.
12) With running, especially for slow, unathletic types like myself, the only competition is yourself. You set the goal (pace, distance, runs per week, etc). You achieve that and “Yah! You’ve won.” There’s no score, no one upmanship, there’s only you to improve. Yesterday, I was hoping to finish under 11:05 but a mile 4 port-a-potty break and some heat and fatigue on the back half slowed me down. Still, I was 3 sec/mile faster than my last half pace so yah!, I won. Go me!
13) Signing up for races is a great motivator, especially if you can make a weekend of it. If you are not a natural athlete (like me) and if exercising (not matter how much you blog or tweet about it) still feels like a chore, signing up for a race gives you reason to keep getting out there to train. And, if you sign up for an out of town race, book a room at an inn, find childcare for the weekend, etc. I promise you you will not just skip the race because you are not ready. You will make sure that you are ready because, quite honestly, that post-race feeling (see 13.1) and the chance to hit an amazing farm to table bistro that you might not otherwise be able to enjoy are totally worth it.
13.1) Running 13.1 miles will totally make you feel like a badass no matter how slow you ran, or how low in your age group you ranked.