Tuesday, October 25, 2011

"How did I get here?"

Lately I've had a lot of conversations with friends about the upcoming marathon. (Note: okay all of my friends considering that's on the forefront of my mind. A promise to all friends....it's almost over) Most of these discussions range from them saying: "I don't know how you run that far," "I could never run that far," "I hate running" - so on and so forth. But to them (or to anyone) I say "if I can do it - you can do it." I also recently had one friend tell me she is considering the Cherry Blossom 10 miler next year and she was asking for this here blog address so she can see how we did it. Because remember - we started our "true" training routine with a good 'ol 10-miler.

I almost just sent her the link to the blog and the link to the training plan with a few of my professional* tips. But then I thought - NO - I've turned over a new leaf, I'm on a blogging streak and this is good material! I mean - people should pay for this stuff. And as I reflected over almost what is now a full year of figuring this running thing out, I asked myself "well, how did I get here?"

While that is only one of a few Talking Head songs that will be gracing my marathon playlist, in the context of this post, "here" means how did I get to the point where I think I will be able to toe the marathon starting line. Let it be known I'm not guaranteeing victory - I could still break my leg walking down the street tomorrow so I don't want to tempt fate this close to D-day. But before this whole thing started I NEVER thought I'd be able to run a half-marathon and definitely not a twenty mile training run.

So to all those out there that think they "could never" do it, or those that are thinking about starting but don't really know where to begin, herein lies my tips - the things that I learned or that made the biggest difference for me.

*professional in this sense of the word means novice

1. Start slow - of course someone that can cover the distance of only one mile can't fathom running 5 miles. That's why you start slow. Even if you've signed up for a 10 miler only being able to run one, just concentrate on running the one mile, don't think about the ten - it will come. Just run consistently (and I'm the perfect example that "consistent" doesn't have to mean every single day) until one mile feels so comfortable you might as well do two. Hell you probably even will want to try two, ya know, just to see if you can and what it feels like....and then, hey - whouldya look at that, you can do two!

So you follow this pattern and two turns to three, and then three to four and before you know it - your best friend has forced you into doing a 10K Turkey Trot (that's 6.2 miles). But wait, ohmygod I've only done 4 - there is no way I can do 6! But then the adrenaline of race day comes and you get carried away, and it was hard, and you struggled a little, and you were out of breath - but OH LOOK - you just ran 6 friggin' miles!

So that's how it starts - slow and steady. And you don't have to go in such a linear succession. You could go from two to three and realize that three really sucked. Okay fine - cut it back down to two for a couple of weeks until you're ready to try for three again, you could even skip to four. That's what you do in the "real" marathon and half marathon training plans anyway.

2. Get Outside! - Remember when I was addicted to the treadmill? Gah seems so long ago, but I totally was. Now the mere thought of running just 2 miles on the treadmill makes me want to, well - I just don't do it actually. I'd rather run in the rain. Plus, treadmills are dangerous y'all! When I finally went outside it was like a whole new world. That's when I really started to enjoy running. I actually wanted to do it, needed it, looked forward to it.

It is also the best way to explore your city. I had already lived in DC for a year, I never realized there was so much I hadn't even seen. But running took me through all new neighborhoods and on trails through parts of the city I hadn't yet been. And it looks so different from outside a moving car. This is also true for travelling. After I started running, whenever we traveled to fun places I couldn't wait to map a route to discover the city. Which brings me to my next point...

4. Find an online mapping tool - There are tons out there, but my personal favorite is Daily Mile. I found that their routing system was the easiest. It is super helpful, and your run becomes less daunting when you plan out your route in advance. I found that walking out my front door and then just thinking to myself, "hmmm- I need to run for 4 miles so I'll just...start running I guess" made me less excited to run. But when I had a plan I felt more comfortable about where I was going and I was more confident about the run making it more enjoyable.

All of those sites have other bells and whistles, like being able to track everything about your run from your mileage and your pace to the weather. I personally love the shoe calculator. It keeps up with how many miles you have put on your current pair of shoes so you can know when it's time for a new pair. Keeping track of your stats may sound like something only serious runners do, but even as someone just getting started it serves as a tool to show you just how far you've come and how much progress you have made - and when you see improvement it encourages you to keep at it. It becomes rather addicting actually.

3. Get the right gear. This one is a two-parter.
  • Get the right shoes and get to know your local running store. I say local because local running stores are awesome and huge chains are evil. No - not really...but I just like to support the mom and pops. Plus they are usually more in tune to the community and you can discover this whole new runners world. Make friends with them because they can keep you informed, and also save you when you hobble in after a horrible run or help you diagnose things like patellar tendinitis. At said local running store, they will test your gait and you will discover that you were in the wrong shoes. Don't worry - almost everyone that doesn't know anything about their gait is in the wrong shoes. But you'll learn so much about yourself - like your pronation. Doesn't everyone want to know if they are a neutral runner or if they pronate? No - just me? okay moving on.
  • Invest in the right clothing gear. I use the word "invest" because if you've been following this blog at all, then you are well aware that we are lulu-fools. And there is a reason that they are not cheap - they are the best, and they last! I thought that it was nochance.com for me that I would run in weather colder than 45. When I used to do that bad things would happen. My legs would be cold and my skin would get red and tight and itchy. The tubes in my ears would freeze resulting in a headache (those are your eustachian tubes for the record, not your fallopian tubes. don't confuse those, people will look at your weird if you do). The first time I took my Lululemon Alpine tights, gloves and hat out for a spin, I was turning cartwheels as I ran and spreading the good news to strangers, " Iiii can run in the coooold." I also wasn't blessed with long thin super model legs or small perky boobs. One in such state must consider two words: chafing and bouncing. Good gear can help you with that!
4. Phone a friend - Obviously the whole premise of this "experiment" was that we were doing it together, and I wouldn't have had it any other way. Getting out of bed at 5:30 AM became doable when you knew you had a friend waiting on you and depending on you - it was therapy. And even when we couldn't run together, just knowing we were in it together was huge.

When the training runs got really long - I found that a local running group was absolutely necessary to get me to those first time distances of 12, then 16 and finally 20 miles. Honestly couldn't have done it by myself. There is something about running with a group of people that keeps you going and lets you know you aren't the only one trodding along for hours at a time. I'm looking at you - 30,000 people signed up for Sunday - counting on you to get me to the finish.

5. Research - there is so much information out there, like actual legit running blogs, books and websites that DO teach you about form and nutrition....you should check them out. Right now you don't know anything - and it's okay not to know anything, I still don't really. But if you seek it out and learn then you'll be less likely to throw in the towel at the first sign of being uncomfortable and you'll see that there are so many other people experiencing your same frusta

Whew....hello. *tap* *tap* - this thing on? If you are still with me, which I don't blame you if you aren't because this just won an award for longest blog post in the history of ever. Here is to hoping this might help just one person realize that it is doable. And though it has it's up and downs, it's a pretty fun journey. What about you, "experienced" runners - what advice would you give to someone just starting out?

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