Typing it out doesn’t even seem real. Since October of 2009 I’ve managed to shave just over 45 minutes off my half marathon time. This post will go into the details of how I got from 2:44 to 1:58, but it all boils down to 2 very important things.
- I got stronger
- I stopped telling myself I couldn’t
In the beginning of my journey into running, I used to think that I couldn’t strength train and train for endurance events. I have no idea how or why this idea got put in my head, but I clearly remember conversations about how I couldn’t do both. I would go to the gym and lift when I was in between training plans and then completely abandon all weight training when the next plan started.
While it’s not necessarily bad, it didn’t exactly make sense. After reading some interesting and convincing articles on how getting stronger could actually make you faster, I decided to give it a try. In October, after my 70.3, I searched for a personal trainer who understood my goals in both strength training and endurance sports. I’d heard stories of trainers who would insist you limit the amount of cardio and miles you do. I had other trainers tell me that the amount of miles I was putting in would hurt my goals in the gym. I had a hard time explaining to them that my goals in the gym were to help me achieve my goals in running.
I was lucky enough to find a trainer who was a marathon runner herself. She had similar goals at the time and was enthusiastic to help me reach mine. She set me up with a plan to compliment my endurance training. She put together workouts with a combination of high reps, low weight and a whole bunch of lunges, squats and plank variations in between.
Before I started personal training I’d never done speed work. I didn’t feel confident enough in myself and my abilities to even try. This is where I stopped telling myself I couldn’t.
I researched what all the fancy running terms meant. Tempo runs, fartlek, LSD, MGP; none of it was anything I’d ever heard of nor had any idea how to execute. I researched plans for a sub-2 hour half marathon and put together a training plan combining 2 days a week of personal training, cross training, and 3 days a week of running. The weekend runs were build off of this plan, which alternated fast 5ks and long runs every other weekend. The weekends with a fast 5k would have an “easy 6″ mid-week, and the long slow distance weekends would have a 6-mile tempo run mid-week.
But the planning part was easy; it was the internal voice that needed to be shut up.
Every runner has been there, that voice in your head telling you that “you can’t possibly run another step”, or that “you need a walk break”. Then you start bargaining with yourself. You start saying things like “I’ll just make it to the next [insert: cross street, street light, 1/10 of a mile] and then I’ll walk”. Sometimes, it’s absolutely necessary for me to do these things. Then sometimes, I think I just do them because it’s become so routine.
I stopped letting myself hold myself back. Instead of bargaining I started reassessing. The “I can’t take another step” became “do I really need to step and walk?”. It surprised me how often the answer was no.
With that under control I felt confident enough to start tackling my goal, a sub 2-hour half marathon. While I still wasn’t totally sure I’d actually be able to hold the paces the plan suggested, I told myself I was going to try my damn hardest to do it.
The first couple tempo runs were hard. My breath was labored and everything just kind of hurt. Slowly they started to get easier. My warm up and cool down miles became faster. Then my pace for long runs became faster. I felt stronger. I was stronger.
I had some set backs along the way and it certainly wasn’t all butterflies and rainbows. Those moments of frustration fueled me to push myself harder than I ever had before. I could feel myself getting stronger and I knew I was doing everything I could to get to my goal. I knew that, when the time was right, it would happen for me. I knew that if I let go of the pressure I had put on myself and let myself enjoy the journey, I’d get there.
I’ve thanked my trainer numerous times and give her a lot of the credit for helping me achieve this goal. She constantly reminds me that I put in the work and that she’s just given me the tools to get there.
At some point on the course last Sunday I realized that it wasn’t an accident that I was running a great race. I’d worked my ass off for this and that race was my reward.
While I’m incredibly proud of accomplishing this goal I have to make one thing clear, I’m not any more proud of where I am versus where I was. My finish time doesn’t necessarily dictate the amount of work I put into training for these races. I couldn’t run a full mile back in 2009. Getting myself to the finish line of my first half marathon is an accomplishment I still tear up about when I think of. The training is different, my mentality may be different, but I’ve always felt like I’ve given it all that I’m capable of on race day. Each race means a new and special memory for me. Each race I find a new reason to give myself credit.
After 13.1 miles, the finish line at 2:44 or 1:58 still feels just as sweet. This race wasn’t just about the number for me. It was about what it’s always been about, accomplishing a goal.