The importance of training

Over the past year and a half I have trained for three half marathons. Through each race, I have learned so much from my training.

Half Marathon #1 – STWM

I followed the training schedule with respect to mileage, but when the program called for hills or speed work, I didn’t do it. The race I was training for was flat. There was no need to do hills. And I was slow, a back of the packer. Increasing speed wasn’t important to me. Sure, I had a race goal in mind – 2:30:00, but that was mainly because that was the pace group I was running with. My realistic goal was just to finish the race. Two weeks before the race, during the last long run of my training, I started to feel a pain in my right leg just below the knee. Over the next week, the pain continued to get increasingly worse until it prevented me from running all together. The week before the race, I stayed off my feet entirely. I was hoping to rest it enough to get me through the race. I didn’t see a doctor. I had worked too hard to drop out of the race and I didn’t want to hear what I knew a doctor would tell me.

Pushing through the pain with the finish line in sight.

On race day, I popped some Advil and hoped for the best. I ran the first 16k of the race until the pain was unbearable and walked the next 5k or so. I didn’t want to feel like I had failed so the last 500m or so, I pushed through the pain and ran across the finish line.

Official Time: 2:48:44.8

The next day, I went to the doctor and began a series of twice weekly physiotherapy sessions that lasted for 6 weeks where I addressed the cause of the pain in my lower leg. Upper leg strengthening was needed.

Half Marathon #2 – Ottawa

My training for Ottawa was spotty. I finished the physiotherapy for my right  leg and within a few weeks I was feeling the same pain again. But this time, it was my left leg. I immediately started doing the exercises I had learned in physiotherapy. I had to slow down my training considerably and concentrate on getting my upper legs strengthened. I was running a couple short runs a week and doing leg exercises on the off nights. I wasn’t strong enough to start training properly until about four weeks before the race. My training was not great, but I had done enough to get me up to the distance I needed to run the race. With the shoddy training I had done, my goal was to get a PB, to finish with a better time that the last race.

The race itself was incredible. I would recommend it to anyone. My performance was not so incredible. I started out strong but within about an hour or so I just died. I don’t know if it was due to the humidity or the fact that I may have started out to fast, or that I didn’t have the miles under my feet. It was probably a combination of all of those things. I did achieve my B goal of a new PB but I wasn’t happy with the way I ran the race. The A goal of 2:30:00 was still nowhere in sight.

Official Time: 2:44:57.7

Half Marathon #3 – STWM Redemption Race

I really wanted to achieve that 2:30:00 goal, so I came at the training with a whole different attitude. I followed the same program as I did for my first half, but this time, I followed it to the letter. I did all the runs and included the hills and speed work. I found out that I actually liked the hills training. In fact, I LOVED it! I learned that hills training doesn’t just help you run hills better, it helps in your overall performance. For the first time since I had started running, I could feel a difference. I was getting a little faster, my endurance was increasing and my legs weren’t feeling like lead after an 18k or 20k run. I was focused on the program, and enjoying every single run.

This race went exactly as planned. I had a small mental hiccup around the 18k mark, but seeing my running friends on the course at 19k to give me the encouragement I needed, right when I needed it, and then Mike with 200m to go, I finished strong. I even sprinted at the end. This time, the training paid off. I exceeded my A goal and took 20 minutes off my PB. Yes, this one was definitely a success!

Official Time: 2:24:48.5

It has taken me three attempts to run a half marathon that I’m happy with, proud of even. Through this part of my journey, I learned that proper training is absolutely vital. It can be the difference between finishing, and finishing strong. I’ll take these lessons with me as I move on to my next running adventure.

Motivation is everything

Once I made the decision to train for the half marathon, I turned to my one known source for long distance running – my boyfriend Mike. I had exactly 6 weeks before the end of June when the half marathon clinic started and I hadn’t run more than a handful of times since the 5k clinic ended at the end of November the year before. Mike created a training program to get me up to 8k by clinic time.

For the next few weeks I followed the training plan, each week running a new longer distance. I’ll never forget the feeling when I completed my first 8k run the weekend before the Running Room clinic started. What a sense of accomplishment, of self pride. I hadn’t felt like that in a long time. I did it! It was the beginning of what would be a summer of firsts.

After my first 8k

And then the clinic started. Unfortunately, my second go at a clinic was just as disappointing as my first. The talks at the beginning of each class were great, but the running was not enjoyable at all. I ran at the back of the pack, on my own. There was no support, no encouragement from the clinic leader as I had thought there would be. To keep myself from giving up, I quickly registered for the goal race. Thought I’d try motivation by commitment.

Then one hot, humid Sunday morning in July, my biggest motivator Mike brought me with him to his local Running Room run club. Suddenly, my opinion of running groups changed completely. The clinics here were much more organized than the one I had been going to. Of course this one was also about 4 times as big as mine so organization was a must. This clinic had pace leaders who were responsible for leading people who run at similar paces. I was able to find one that I fit right into, and that morning I ran my first really enjoyable 9k. It was a run with great company, with lots of chatter and even some laughs! And when we got back to the store where we started, as slow as we were, the clinic leaders were there standing on the sidewalk, waiting for us with big smiles on their faces and a big high five and shouts of “way to go” and “awesome run” for everyone!

That was just the motivation I needed to keep me going. And it was then that I discovered my love for running. The rest of the summer I was focused on training. I was running 3 nights a week as well as a long run on Sunday mornings and inline skating on Saturdays. But my favourite workout of the week was, and still is, Sunday mornings with that group of ladies and the rest of the friends I have made through that run club. They will never know how motivational and inspiring they are to me.

Some of my running peeps
Photo by Mike

The inspiration

May 15, 2011. That was the day I went to watch my boyfriend run a marathon for the first time. It was his third marathon. He had tried to get me into running a couple years earlier in 2009, but back then I was about 80 lbs overweight and leading a pretty sedentary lifestyle. Running more than 20 seconds at a time was out of the question. I had tried a few times, but gave up pretty quickly because that’s what a 40 something couch potato does.

Summer 2009

And then in February of 2010, I went through a major, life-changing experience. My entire life was flipped upside down. In order to manage the overwhelming stress that I was dealing with, I decided I needed something to focus on. So, I turned to the internet and found one of the many sites out there geared to weight loss and exercise. I started tracking my nutritional intake, and I started running.

It was really hard at first, as could be expected, but being a goals-driven person I kept my eye on the prize so to speak. I found out that running is a huge stress reliever, a way to decompress after a long day. By the fall of 2010, I had lost about 60 lbs so far and thought I was ready to join a 5k running clinic. But, I didn’t get the support I was expecting in a clinic, and always running at the back of the pack by myself was very discouraging, so I decided that the group running thing just wasn’t for me. That coupled with the onslaught of winter, as soon as the clinic was over, I stopped running.

That rainy day in May, 2011, watching the marathon from a vantage point where I could see runners doing all distances of that race, the 5k, the half marathon and the full marathon, was finally the inspiration I needed. I watched as people of all ages, shapes and sizes ran by, and I said to myself “if they can do it, so can I”. That was it. That day, inspired by thousands of strangers, I made the decision that I was going to train for a half marathon with a goal race to take place that fall.

I signed up for a half marathon clinic that was scheduled to start the end of June (I thought I’d try my luck at the group running thing again mainly for the information sessions – a half marathon was serious business). I got some advice with respect to training myself up in order to be ready to join that clinic and four days later, on May 19, 2011 my journey began.

May 2011 – ready to start training

Welcome

“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” ~ T.S. Eliot

I’ve created this blog to follow my progress as I train for my first marathon. The goal is the 2014 Chicago Marathon. I start training next week. Let’s see where the journey takes me.