Many (3) moons ago, I completed my first triathlon! It was awesome! In a moment of post-triathlon high, I agreed to do a half marathon thinking that it might also be awesome. My friend declared: “We should train now before the weather gets bad so we don’t lose it all before the holidays!” Despite that I had never really had any real interest in long distance running and despite the fact that my job is notoriously hectic in October, I agreed to run the Half Marathon version of the Philly Marathon on November 22. I began looking at some plans to see how I should begin.
Lesson #1: Look at the plans before you agree to do something.
My hard core friend Ted found this plan:
It’s difficult to see, I know, but let me assure you, it’s a lot. In addition to running 4 days a week, two of those days are back to back long days. You run, for example, 6 miles on a Saturday and then 11 on a Sunday. But that’s OK because you get Monday off.
In fairness, Ted’s crazy plan is actually among the more sane half marathon plans I found while I obsessively scoured the internet to find something that might work for my life. Most of them have you running 4 days and then instead of rest days for the other 3, they have you cross training or strength training or doing intervals on two of them. I found this plan, advanced by the Pop Star Ellie Goulding in the feminist magazine: Self.
This plan has you run 3 times a week and then dictates a bunch of yoga and strength training. I essentially took those runs and ignored all the cross-training and thought: that sounds reasonable!
Lesson #2: It is oppressively hard for me to work out 2x during the work week.
I have a job that is often and unpredictably early and late. I have a husband who is finishing up an MBA, a daughter who started kindergarten (HOW IS THIS HARDER THAN DAYCARE????) and a son who is a 3 year old boy. As such, it’s just NOT GOING TO HAPPEN that twice a week, every week, for 12 weeks I am going to be able to get out and running by 6, home by 7 and showered and off to work by 8. So I don’t… and then it’s the weekend and I have to run really, really far having only run maybe 3 miles since the last time I ran really, really far. This is a bad way to train for a half marathon. It was very hard on my calves. But I did it! I made it from 4 to 5 to 6 to 7 to 8 miles just like this.
Lesson #3: There is a tipping point at 9 miles.
7 miles takes about an hour and a quarter. 8 miles almost an hour and a half…. right about then 2 thoughts start hammering at your brain:
I decide I better quit. This is not a good idea. It’s dangerous, I tell you! I start floating this idea out there… I mention it to my husband who tells me “Well, you should do what you think is best, but we’re fine! And anyway,” he drops his voice, “you don’t want to quit something you told the kids you were going to do.” Straight for the jugular!
That very day my running friends ask if I’m ready to register and reserve the hotel. Oh and by the way, the race is $135!!! WHYYYYYY does it cost that much??? Either way, the moment of true commitment had arrived!
The next day I’m having a meeting with someone with whom I’ve shared my half marathon saga. She has also done a half marathon and really enjoyed it. When I told her I was right at the 8 mile mark she said “you should stay in it for one more mile! I felt like 8 miles was the WORST. After that I piled on 9 and then 10 and 11 and it was nowhere near as hard as going from 6 to 7.” I decided to DIG DEEP and go for it. “I can keep my word a be a good role model! I can! And anyway, if my legs start barking on the higher mileage runs,” I thought, “I could take a good form running class!
Lesson #5: Don’t try to change your stride in the middle of training for a half marathon.
So I signed up for a Chi running class on Thursday nights for four weeks (“At least it will get me one more run!” I thought). Chi running is very interesting and I can see how it will be a much better, lower impact way to run. I imagine that as I work over the winter to change my form that this will be all good.
No matter how great the change is, it’s still a change to your stride and carried over 8 or more miles at a time, things go CRAZY in your legs. Suddenly my ankles were on FIRE. The top of my foot was sore like someone hit it with a hammer. My calves were much better but my arches were tied up in knots. And at this time I have to RUN 10 MILES! It was nuts. I’m in a weird catch 22 where I run 10 miles and then my legs hurt too much to run for a FEW days and then it’s time to run 10 miles again. Gah. I went to the PT last week and he says I just need to stretch my arches and everything will be OK. He also recommends not running the new way right now.
So here we stand ONE WEEK from my half marathon. I’ve run 10 miles a few times and I’m confident I can do 13. I need to do 3 runs between now and race day just to keep my legs loose and my head in the game. Last Friday I was supposed to run in the morning but I woke in a super bad mood and spent a lot of the day with a headache. After a heartfelt conversation with my husband I was feeling better so at 4pm I decided to go for a run! My plan was to run 4 or 5 miles so I could be done by sundown, but then I got on a roll and decided to visit this park that I like and do 8 instead. The route takes you down a long wide Avenue (Ridgewood), into a major park with an almost 2 mile loop around (Brookdale), out one of the side entrances and down some neighborhood streets to the park I like (Yancataw Brook Park). Somewhere around Yancataw the sun goes down so I take to the reasonably well-lit city streets. My legs are tired and I decide to cut through Brookdale park to save a little time and immediately knew I had made a terrible mistake.
Lesson #6: NEVER, EVER run through a park after dark.
Let me make sure that no one thinks this is some sarcastic joke. It was terrifying! It’s the darkest place I’ve ever been and I’ve been on country roads in Ohio at 2am. Those at least have moonlight! You run on a path around the edge of the park in what is shadow during the day but is the darkest darkness at night; lots of dark corners for a psychopath to hide.
My friend Jenni’s Dad told her about a crazy killer in Texas who jumped out at a person in a park and hacked at them with a machete who was running at dusk with headphones on. Let me tell you- you can’t UNSEE that once you’ve visualized it, and as I was running around Brookdale I was totally freaked out.
At one point I was running along (FAST, because I was TOTALLY SPOOKED) and suddenly there was this guy on the path having just finished pull-ups on a pull-up bar. I may have shrieked. I certainly watched him with hawk eyes over my shoulder while I ran like the dead were after me. As I emerged from the park and back onto Ridgewoood avenue I thought about stopping and sobbing and/or calling David to come get me… but instead I just ran two more miles. Thus ending the last “long run” of this training plan.
In one week, I’ll close the book on this adventure. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t ready to run a half marathon, but I have learned many valuable lessons. Here’s the final one.
Lesson #7: You can actually accomplish a lot with terrible execution and poor follow through.
Obviously things are better with excellent execution and follow through… But most things, if you show up and do them now and then, they get done. I know this sounds like terrible advice but sometimes l think I wait unti l’m able to really DO something, rather than just taking a bite out of it. Hugh Laurie agrees with me, so it must be true.
Amanda Crowell, PhD is a cognitive psychologist obsessed with how people make change. She is best known for translating cutting edge research into practical strategies that can be used right away.