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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!” ┬áBut 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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About Betsy

Betsy Talbot can't live without a Moleskine notebook, her passport, and happy hour. She sold everything she owned to travel the world with her husband Warren in 2010, and she's been enjoying her midlife crisis ever since. Betsy writes about creating the life you want from the life you already have in her books and on the Married with Luggage website. Drop her an email at btalbot (at) marriedwithluggage (dot) com and check out her Google+ page.

Comments

  1. Debb Whitlock says:

    My dear friend Betsy – if I was proud of you Saturday – my heart just swelled 10 times bigger this morning for you.

    Congratulations.

    • You are a good friend to me all the time, and an even better friend when you push me to do what’s right. I understand I can be a bit difficult in those situations.

      And for the record, my number was the next consecutive one after yours. :)

  2. Sophie Davis says:

    I really like #2
    “Put in the work when no one else is looking if you want to shine when everyone is paying attention.”

    My first time visiting this blog- some very good stuff!

    Thank you for sharing Betsy!!!

    • Thanks, Sophie. I like your blog, too. Always nice to find someone willing to say what needs to be said. Hope to see you join in other conversations here.

  3. Mamacita says:

    Thank you for sharing all of the details for those of us who were cheering you on from New Mexico. I am so very proud of you! You put the same work and determination into the marathon that you do in everything else. You are an amazing woman and you will always be my Baby Girl! I love you very much!

    • As anyone can plainly see, I have benefited from a very good upbringing. Thanks, Mamacita. I loved getting your text message as soon as I crossed the finish line.

  4. Congratulations on completing the marathon and reaching another goal! Seeing 27,000 people lined up for the race would have been very disconcerting for me also, as I grew up in a town of 3000 :) My husband swears that population includes livestock and pets in the town also – haha!

    • That’s so funny, Traci. My hometown has actually grown a lot in recent years, and when I go back to visit I can hardly recognize some areas. In fact, the last time I went back I don’t think I ran into a single person I knew that wasn’t planned.

      My brother was visiting a couple of years ago and we went to a Mariners game. Afterward we were waiting for the bus to go home and he mentioned the number of people on the street right then and said he didn’t see that many people in a month back home. Weird how you get used to that.

      • I wish I could say my hometown has grown, but it’s one of those places that somehow manages to stay exactly the same! I think they’ve added a pharmacy and a fast food restaurant in the over 20 years I’ve been gone, but that’s basically it! They’ve unfortunately lost a lot of jobs through since the employment was mostly in factories. Oddly though, many people I know either stayed in or near the town after graduating from high school – I’d had enough of small town living by then :)

  5. Shannon Wright says:

    Betsy,

    You are truly an inspiration. I have enjoyed following yours and Debbs stories about the race. You brought me to tears this morning.
    Thanks for the inspiration.

    Shannon

    • You know those crazy women have already signed up for next year’s race. If you want to be part of the magic that comes from training with Betsy M and Debb, better get your registration turned in now.

      So glad you enjoyed the post, Shannon. It’s pretty easy to find inspiration in this great group of women we know, isn’t it?

  6. What an awesome accomplishment! When I did my first half marathon the last mile was SO HARD – I felt like the first 12 miles took 50% of my energy and the last mile took the other 50%.

    • You are spot on, Krista. I watched the marathoners as we approached the last few miles of our race and they were ahead (having detoured to run across the bridge and back). I couldn’t imagine that they were already at 13 miles and not just falling over from exhaustion, because that is certainly how I felt!

      Sometimes I wonder how we would perform if we didn’t know where the end was. Do we sense the exhaustion because we really are tired, or do we get more tired as we see the end coming? One of those chicken-and-egg questions, I think.

      • That’s a very interesting question as to whether it matters if you know where the end is! Reminds me of the placebo effect. One day recently I forgot to take an allergy pill (I only know that because I found it on the counter the next day!), but I honestly think I had fewer symptoms because I thought I had taken it! :)

  7. Yeah, this is a wet-eyed read. Amazing accomplishment, BT!!

  8. Karen Rosenzweig says:

    Whoa. Whoa. And whoa. Amazing – not only that you ran all that way, but you were able to recall it so well! :)

    Love this “3rd of 3 parts” blog series that you, Betsy M and Debb all wrote – great stuff!

    • Believe me, Karen. You will remember every mile in a race like that. And it is so cool that all 3 of us are bloggers – you get 3 different experiences of the same race.

      • I don’t remember you mentioning that you were running– but I’m sure she checked out your blog, as most of us did. Congrats on finishing so close to your finish time! All this training will definitely help with hiking in the Andes 90 some odd days :)

  9. Ah Betsy, thanks for sharing your experience and writing such a great post. You are truly in the groove right now! Big huge congratulations.

    If this were fiction, I would say “I love the bit where the stranger comes up behind you and grasps your hand.” Isn’t it amazing how much we want to see each other reach our goals?

    The lessons are spot-on, and I particularly love #10.

    Thanks for working so hard to shape this into a great story and a fantastic post.

    • I am so looking for that woman. I think I can find her by contacting the organizer of last week’s talk. I just want to tell her how much her 30 seconds of human contact did for me. Imagine if we could all do that for someone else every week?

      Though I have to tell you that part of me wonders if it wasn’t a case of mistaken identity. Which wouldn’t even matter, because the result was still the same. Still, I’d love to connect with her.

      And yes, we should all do something with a crowd yelling in support. Next time I run I think I’ll put my name on my shirt to see if people will call it out. It might be the closest I get to being a rockstar. :)

  10. Thanks for sharing your experience and lessons learned Betsy. Congratulations on the accomplishment! One you can now add to your list of many as you take life by the horns and ride (or, in this case, run!).

    I’m so very proud of you. ;)

    • And you too, Debbie! How did you do? I told everyone you were in the corral WAY up front with all the other runners with jet packs. :)

  11. Hey Betsy, way to go! Congratulations on your achievement, you’ve done so well!
    Cheers
    Judy

  12. Well done Betsy!

    I really enjoyed this post, but that may be because I have my first half marathon coming up in September (gulp).

    Great post and I really thought the 13.1 lessons were very valuable. Number 2 is just so true – people forget that one. :)

    • Tony, you are going to love this experience (after you get over hating it, that is). It is tough but so fulfilling. Just follow your training plan and consider yourself as the only competition. And enjoy the scenery along the way!

  13. Wow – this brought tears to my eyes. What an awe-inspiring and admirable journey you’ve allowed us to go on with you (some much more than others!) I loved the photo of everyone with ice on their knees and feet in ice baths! THAT part, I can identify with!
    Your 13.1 tips have me thinking a bit about “cleaning out the closets!” Thank you.

    And again, Congrats!

  14. p.s. Love the photos!

  15. congrats Betsy. My sister in law had a fantastic experience as well and I’m proud of both of you for hanging in there & making it happen!

  16. Betsy,
    This is a wonderful story and I am so glad you shared some great details. I believe there are no accidents – and I am pretty sure that woman knew who you were. After all, you’re “married with luggage!”

    For several reasons I had to pull out of the R&R but have signed up again for next year. I want to be more ready and hopefully without family crisis at that time. Regardless, I will do it anyway next time.

    Thanks for your support and I look so forward to reading your posts “from the road” soon.

    thanks,
    Lori

    • Lori, you will have good company. Both Debb and Betsy M are running it again. And I’ll be cheering you all on from South America.

  17. Bradley Budrow says:

    Betsy,

    After spending the evening with you and Warren last week I started encouraging Lauren to run because I wanted her to run with me. You two are quite inspirational. I’ve been very happily married to Lauren for 13 years and I still haven’t learned that pretty much Lauren does what Lauren wants to do. She’s a bright independent woman and really that attracts me to her. Anyway, in my attempt to get her to do what I wanted I told her she should give me a challenge in return. Her eyes lit up. She told me that I should learn to play an instrument. I really love music and I’ve made a couple of attempts at learning an instrument but I’ve never felt comfortable enough to play in front of anybody. Over the weekend I signed up for a hand drum class. My first class was Monday, I bought a drum last night and I’m attending my first drum circle tomorrow night. So, because I met Betsy and Warren and because Betsy ran a marathon and because I thought my wife should also run which inspired a challenge to me, I will be playing (very quietly for now) in a public drum circle tomorrow night. Thank you Betsy (and Warren)!

    Sincerely,
    Bradley

    • Brad, it was great getting to know you and Lauren last week, and I’m happy to see Lauren standing her ground. :) I love running, and I love doing things together with Warren, but that doesn’t mean we have to do everything together.

      You’ll love the drumming class. I took one earlier this year and loved it. You use your whole body much more than you imagine you will – it is a completely sensual and “in-the-moment” experience – it takes too much concentration to think of anything else! Would love to hear what you thought of the class and if you’ll be pursuing it.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] you heard that I recently ran a half-marathon? I can’t imagine how you could have missed [...]

  2. [...] you heard that I recently ran a half-marathon? I can’t imagine how you could have missed [...]

  3. [...] she gave sports tickets for a raffle at a women-only event. We ended up becoming great friends, running a half-marathon together, taking trapeze lessons, and eventually living together for the last few months before we left [...]

  4. [...] Want to get in shape? A Couch to 5K program will get you running 3 miles a day in just 12 weeks, giving you 40 more weeks to up your mileage and possibly run a half-marathon. [...]

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