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Running is the greatest metaphor for life*

Editor’s Note: This is a recap of my experience training for and running the Seattle Rock-n-Roll Half-Marathon. You don’t have to be a runner to appreciate the lessons, but you may need that level of endurance to read to the end of this post. Feel free to skip to the bottom for the lessons if you haven’t trained for marathon reading.

How did I get myself into this?

Nerves kick in at the start line

You know, this all started out as a lark, one of those “wish I could” kind of statements without anything to back it up. You know what I’m talking about, the kind of thing that makes you say stupid stuff like “I wish I could lose 20 pounds” to your friends as you chow down on a burger and fries.

My friend Betsy Moore had just completed the half-marathon in 2009, and as I saw her cross the finish line I knew I wanted that same experience. She just glowed, and afterward she told me how much the race had done for her mentally and in her business.

I kept toying around with it and mentioning it to various friends, who responded “you should do it!”  But I kept putting it off. One day day I said it on a phone call – again – and I remember my friend Debb going online and signing up *right then* for the half-marathon and telling me that my registration number better be the next consecutive one after hers.

Yikes. She was calling me out.

That’s the cool/scary thing about saying your dream out loud. Sooner or later, someone is going to challenge you to do it just to shut you up.

So I signed up for the half-marathon last fall and wondered how in the hell I was going to go from never having run at all to completing a half-marathon in just 8 months.

How do you train for a half-marathon?

Three runners enjoying the finish

Me, Debb and Betsy M post-race (Photo by Warren Talbot)

Just like we did in planning the trip, I started with some research online. After all, I can’t be the first out-of-shape person to ever do something like this. I discovered the Couch to 5K program online to take me from running 0 to 3 miles over the course of 2 months, and from that point I could begin a program to get ready for the half-marathon.

This is where I called in reinforcements. (Actually, this is where reinforcements volunteered themselves to me because they knew how hard it was to get started. I am eternally grateful for this.)

My friend Betsy Moore said she would run with me 3 times a week in addition to her regular training runs. This, dear readers, is true friendship. Above and beyond. More than I can ever repay.

Every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, week in and week out, she showed up at 7 a.m. to run with me, in the cold, the rain, and sometimes even the dark, so I could work up to speed. I ran one day a week by myself.

On my longest solo run (10 miles), Betsy M drove her car to various points along the route for 2-1/2 hours to encourage me and make sure I was safe (on a Saturday morning when she could have been sleeping in, having already done hers with her training group the day before). Yeah, she’s that kind of person.

We added a Sunday run and invited our friend Cindy, a veteran half-marathoner, to join us. This was our “recovery run” (yes, there is such a term) and we enjoyed a coffee date afterward. We covered a lot of ground in our runs and even more in the talks that followed.

I learned the importance of a good soundtrack. My playlist became a hodge-podge of styles, but the message from each song was clear: I am a winner and I can do this thing. If I hear one of those songs on the radio now I immediately stand up a little straighter and feel a bit more confident. It is amazing how you can set up external cues for yourself like that.

Over the months of training I suffered two injuries, one to my left ankle bone and one to my right ankle tendon. Each one set me back a few weeks and had me wearing one of those stability boots, and I wondered if I would stick to my training schedule after recovery. Both times I came back, mainly due to the fact that I told everyone I was running this race and didn’t want to back down. Pride may be one of the seven deadly sins, but it is also a motivator to stick with your commitments.

What happened on Race Day

I was feeling pretty cocky the week before the race. In fact, you may recall that I was talking a lot of smack. But on race day, that all changed. Nerves kicked in, and I couldn’t relax until we made it to the starting line.

Then I saw all the people. There were 27,000 runners in this race, which is quite a sight to see if you grew up in a town with a total population of 25,000.

My friends Debb and Betsy M were with me, and we anxiously awaited our corral to be called to the start line. This is when I started questioning the wisdom of my decision.

I mean, Betsy M is a longtime runner, and Debb thinks a 7-mile hike is just a regular weekend activity. Both are thinner than me, and they were worried about their performance. What in the hell was I doing there!?

Thankfully you don’t get too much time to worry in that situation as they let another corral go every 2 minutes. By 7:35 a.m., we were at the start.

Miles 1-3 were fairly good, but I knew I was running a bit too fast. When you are in the momentum of a group, it is hard to hold back and do what is right for yourself, and I wasted some much-needed reserve energy by keeping up with the crowd.

At mile 4 we started working our way toward Lake Washington and Seward Park, which is a beautiful neighborhood run. This is also where I took a bathroom break. No matter how you time it, if you are hydrating properly and have a finish time over 3 hours, you are going to have to pee somewhere along the route. And if you are a woman, you’re going to stand in line to do it. This was a bummer because it ate up valuable time.

At mile 6 is where I got my juice. I ran harder and faster than I had been, but I took time out at each mile to walk for 30 seconds to a minute. It felt really, really good for the next 3 miles.

Mile 9 is where we forked with the marathoners and began running separate routes. As I rounded the corner and high-fived Elvis (does he show up at every race?), I ran into the I-90 tunnel. It was fairly dark even with the lights on, and the DJ’s music echoed throughout. It was not my favorite part of the run, and I focused on the light at the end of the tunnel…literally.

Mile 10 is what separates the women from the girls. At least in my book it was. Everything after mile 10 was hard, and considering I never had a training run longer than 10 miles that just makes sense.

It wasn’t until I neared the 12-mile mark that things got really tough. And that’s when the magic happened. I stopped to walk and drink some water as I wondered how I was going to finish this thing, and as I went to put the bottle back in my belt someone came up from behind and grabbed my hand. She said “You can do it!” I must have looked surprised, and she said “I heard you talk this week and think what you are doing is so cool. Keep on!” And then she let go of my hand and kept running. That was the boost I needed.

(Last week we spoke at a Young Professionals Group for the Seattle Chamber about setting and achieving goals. There were about 65 people in attendance, and I didn’t get to meet all of them. I also don’t remember telling them I was running. Most importantly, how did she recognize me from behind?)

Betsy Moore at the ice bath post-race

Betsy Moore at the ice bath post-race (Photo by Warren Talbot)

As I went down the last ramp toward the finish line I knew I was going to make it, but not in the goal time of 3 hours. Frankly, I didn’t even care at that point. Rounding the corner for that last 0.1 mile, I saw Warren and my friend Pat jumping up and down and taking pictures, and it really did motivate me to get to the finish line. Oh.What.A.Feeling.

I did it. In 3 hours 8 minutes and 20 seconds.

My friends came in right after me, and Betsy M and I were able to get some pictures, scarf down some water and carbs, and then cool our heels in the ice bath before heading to join everyone else for burgers and beer. That was the best damn beer I’ve ever had in my life.

So, What Did I Learn?

13.1 lessons in honor of the race (in no particular order):

  1. Surround yourself with the kind of people you want to be and they will help lift you up.
  2. Put in the work when no one else is looking if you want to shine when everyone is paying attention.
  3. You can never have too much help when trying to reach a goal.
  4. On the flip side, you can’t depend on other people to do it for you.
  5. Not everyone will understand your goal or believe in it and that doesn’t matter. Only you have to believe it.
  6. Motivate yourself with sensory cues. I compiled the perfect soundtrack for me and invested in the right shoes and running clothes. I only wore them to run, so it felt sorta special to put them on. It put me in the right mindset before I took the first step.
  7. Be open to receiving support and guidance from some very unlikely places.
  8. Go at your own pace. Your only competition is yourself.
  9. When you are in a dark place, don’t stop. Keep moving til you get to the light.
  10. You should do something at least once in your life that involves thousands of people loudly cheering you on.
  11. Once you’ve tested your body like this, you will believe you can do anything. And isn’t that the key to actually being able to do anything?
  12. When you have a setback, learn from it and keep moving forward. Listen to the experts (Thanks, Dr. McInnis).
  13. When you are in the flow, go with it. Don’t question it or try to figure it out, just take advantage of your energy, enthusiasm, and one-ness with the universe.

And the last lesson, the 0.1 that is really the longest distance of the race:

Take the first step. If you don’t do that, you’ll never get to the finish line.

*The title comes from the quote: “Running is the greatest metaphor for life, because you get out of it what you put into it.” ~ Oprah Winfrey

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