I wish I was like Forrest Gump and had the burning desire to just run and run and run. I’ve come from a really negative mind set toward running (okay, I’ll admit, I hated it) to moments of joy and tears of accomplishment. I now enjoy it more than I hate it and I want the journey to continue.
Why did I start running at 50? I’d spent the last year or so changing my lifestyle and getting into better shape, things like running and obstacle races were starting to enter my mind. Coming out of my child-rearing vortex, I wanted to find something to share with my sister, a very accomplished marathoner and ultra-marathoner for many years. I knew if I could just find a way to get interested in running that we could share some great race experiences together. I had no real desire to do the distances she runs but I did ‘wish’ I could run. Wishing is not enough though, I was having real trouble turning my ‘wish’ into a ‘do’. A year earlier I’d signed up for a ‘Learn to Run’ group yet, just a few sessions in, I had to transfer to the walking group due to my lack of real interest and ability to keep up. Yup, I was a running group drop out! That stuck with me.
Not in a good way.
All I needed was my head to get on board with my plan. Right after our Mt Kilimanjaro climb, I started reading up on how mountaineers train. Most use some form of distance running to help maintain their cardio and endurance. Somewhere I read, “Incorporate something you don’t like doing into your normal training schedule to help train for Summit Day”. Bingo! It’s good for endurance AND I don’t like doing it … let the running begin! I think I now had what I needed to tackle the mental game.
Goal 1 – Run 5km without stopping
As a new runner I highly recommend you don’t clock out 5km on your odometer while you’re driving. It seems impossibly far when you’re at the point of focusing on reaching the next hydro pole. Don’t do it! The only pure running I’d done in the last 20 years was during an army bootcamp we started when training for our climb. It was our warm up, a slow run around the block, maybe 1/2 a kilometre. Somehow I found pushing cars up hills and doing human wheel barrels easier than our warmup. Just running was and still IS a mental challenge I continue to battle. This mental game of running is my challenge of all challenges. My goal is to shut off the whining runner in me, restrain my negativity towards running, so that I would no longer be held back from experiencing endurance heaven. I would prevail and decided it would start by me running a 5km without stopping!
I began with lone runs in the evening. Pole to pole. Walk, runs. I weighed quite a lot at the time, it was not easy lugging me around. I kept my goal a secret and didn’t tell anyone as I continued running in the dark of night. My usual ‘announce it to the World’ motivation trick was not even a thought in the early stages. I feared I might fail this challenge.
I needed a race as a benchmark so I registered for a small one 45 minutes East of where we live. I didn’t want to embarrass myself on home turf. Driving there alone on Sunday, I had no idea what to expect. The last race I’d done in my 20’s there weren’t the pace bands, bib, pace bunnies or race rules of today. In fact, I remember doing a relay where we slept in a tent and drank between our legs of the race. Off goes the start horn and my plan was to run 5km without stopping. All was going great until 5 minutes into it when I have an overwhelming desire to stop. Stop and walk I did. Again and again for several minutes at a time. 35:18 was my time. Argh!
I’m a fighter so I signed up for more small races away from home the following 2 weekends and kept doing my ‘Pole to Pole’ evening runs. Race #2, I still took walk breaks but ended up with a solid Personal Best (PB) 33:48. Race #3, more walk breaks and 33:42.
February 2013 – I talked 3 other non-runners into joining me for the Valentine’s Day race in Burlington. Success! Not only did I not stop for the whole race. Shock of all shocks, I must have been the only ‘over 50 woman’ in the race as I WON for my age group. It took me 4 races and almost 5 months of training but I finally ran a 5km without stopping.
Goal 2 – Run a 10km
Just in the nick of time! I had promised myself I wouldn’t sign up for a group clinic until I’d run a 5km without stopping. Just a few days after that successful race, a 10km clinic started at the Beaches Running Room. Now I’d be running all winter with a group and I was excited to have great coaches and get to know other runners. I loved the whole experience and it really helped immensely having 3 runs a week with a group. Every Sunday though, I’d come home from our ‘long runs’ 5-10km and be a total slug for the rest of the day. I had a LOT to learn about overall lifestyle to support success in running and recovery.
On a cold Canadian March evening, our running coaches announced that we would be running 12km the next Sunday. I was immediately mad and thought, “That’s false advertising, I signed up for a 10km clinic.”. The Coaches must have seen distress on all of the fresh newbie faces as they tried to explain that it would help us be more confident for our race in April. It would be the furthest any of us had ever run.
Let me tell you. That is THE long run that turned me into a runner. I was no longer consumed with my breathing or my head, I just kind of zoned out. It turns out I actually enjoy distance over the short runs. I was so freaking proud of myself that I bounded home bragging to the whole household, the neighbours, probably the counter person in the coffee shop. I felt like an energized super hero yet, I still spent the next hour or so in an Epsom bath reading running magazines and ‘slugged’ it the rest of the day on the couch.
A runner was born! Euphoric. High on Endorphins. These are all things that suck runners in, but they come with hard work, you really have to earn them.
April 2013, 23 years since I last ran a race, I ran a 10km at the age of 50. Not only did I earn the bling but I earned some tears of pride about 2km before the end. Sharing the experience with family and friends made the experience all the more fun. I even had cheerleaders along the route. In the end though, running is all about you continuing to put one foot in front of another. No one can make you run but you. It’s a pretty cool thing to defeat your own doubts.
Unexpected Goal 1 – 15km
I was happy, 10km was my goal for 2013. I felt is was far enough to be a good challenge without consuming all my workout time. My plan was to work on my speed the rest of the year. My sister’s plan was to sign me up for a 15km race in August. Apparently if I can run 10km, I can easily run 15km. Clearly her head was much better trained in running then mine so I decided to listen to her. What’s the worst thing that could happen? I might have even better endurance for our climb in Indonesia a few weeks later.
Bam! A 15km run around Toronto Island on a lovely Summer evening. It was a great race with runners dressed in the Midsummer Night’s theme. I was definitely getting sucked into the races and having fun with my sister.
Unexpected Goal 2 – Half Marathon
Immediately after running the 15km, I was instructed to sign up for the Niagara Falls Half late October. “No way Jose! I’ll be away most of September and not able to train.” Apparently climbing a mountain is a bad excuse for not running a half marathon. I’d have a month to train when I got back from a really active vacation. Her belief in me was a bit mind boggling. Yes, I’m feisty but you cannot run distance on feisty! Training, commitment, attitude. She believed in me and once I figured out it meant a girls weekend in Niagara Falls. Say. No. More.
October 2013, I ran 21.1kilometers without stopping even once. I didn’t plan to do this but as I was running and feeling good I thought of my challenges running 5km without stopping and I decided to give it a try. I’d been training with a hydration pack all Summer and had decided to race with it so I wouldn’t have to slow down for the water stops. I just kept going and going. The route was lovely and flat and I didn’t have a desire to walk. I was caught up in the race, following bums, reading signs. I just ran past every single water station and eventually crossed the finish line. In just 8 months I’d gone from it taking me 4 races before I could run a 5km without stopping to doing a Half Marathon without stopping, on my very 1st try!
As soon as I crossed the finish line I thought of my sister out there doing twice that distance. It made me think, could I continue running for another half marathon right now?! Hell, No!! As soon as I stopped running, I was totally seizing up and spent the day walking on peg legs. I was so darn proud of myself. I’d earned the medal, the shirt, the tears, the expenditures at the expo the day before and the pain. It was all a right of passage for a distance runner. I was now a distance runner!
It was in this moment. Knowing I’d run the furthest I’d ever run and done it without stopping, I knew I would run a marathon. I knew I had to run a marathon. I knew I would not be happy until I ran a marathon. I had finally come to the realization that ….
It Is All Just Training!
The following day I signed up for the Marathon Clinic starting in January 2014. Why Not?