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Just do it – Random Thoughts on Running

I’m a late bloomer and started distance running when I was 46 in 2009. Prior to that, I had been jogging at most 2-3 times a week, maybe 5 miles for a weekly total. If you’ve ever had it on your bucket list to run a marathon, below is my running journey.

“You looked strong – you should run the AFC Half”

By chance a neighbor saw me running and encouraged me to run San Diego’s America Finest City (AFC) Half Marathon.  My reaction was “Really – you think I can do it?”. We agreed (at least I thought) to run the race together which was 8 weeks out.

I printed out a training plan and followed it. While training, we had a family reunion in NYC where I tried my best to follow the training schedule with runs in Riverside Park and Central Park. A week before AFC, I touched base with my neighbor and found out I would be running solo – his knees wouldn’t allow him to race. But since I was committed and had paid the fee, I would do it anyway.

 “How can you run a half when you haven’t run the distance in training? Why would you pay to run? It doesn’t count as running if you walk at water stations. I hate cardio.”

When you make it public that you’re going to run a half marathon, you’ll get comments from non- runners that may not be supportive or encouraging. Runners, however, will support you – “Your main goal is to finish. You’ll PR!” Runners will give practical tips on gear, nutrition and routes and may be your buddy on some of your long runs. But mostly you’ll be training solo, due to work schedule and different running pace.

Results and Goal Setting

What I remember vividly about that first race was the palpable energy of the runners as we ran through the residential neighborhoods in Point Loma.  There was literally a hum of energy that I’ve yet to experience again in all the countless races since.

As far as finish time – I did it in 2:08. I would have been happy with a 2:20, but the adrenaline of the race and running with others gets you to the finish line faster. So, after your first race, you’ll get excited and think with more training, you can get your finish down to some magic time.  I chose an arbitrary goal to get my time below 2 hours and worked toward that. I think it took 5 races. There were some repeat courses, like AFC. But each course elevation is different, race day weather varies - factors that affect your time.

Deciding to run a marathon and keeping it fun

After running for a year and a half with 4 half marathons under my belt, the thought of tackling a full marathon entered my consciousness. Different training plan, longer runs, more water bottles to carry. There’s a rule of thumb that your marathon time is twice your half-marathon time plus 20 minutes. A good rule of thumb as I finished in 4:25. Marathon down – what next?

My goal was modest – to improve by x number of minutes. For my second marathon, I shaved 20 minutes off my time largely because my body had adapted to marathon training.  Then my co-worker and an experienced runner suggested I try to qualify for Boston. The thought had not occurred to me. I have since found that a lot of beginning male runners have that goal for their very first marathon! Ah, the difference between the sexes :)

While trying to qualify for Boston, the qualifying times changed. There were so many runners that wanted to race it, the race officials dropped the qualifying times per age bracket by 5 minutes. Prior to that I needed a sub 4:05, but now I needed a sub 4:00. I ran a 4:03 in Portland.

The thing about trying to qualify is that you need to be serious about hitting your pace and you’re always looking at your watch. And it should be hard – that’s part of the appeal. But it can take the joy out of running.

The past 4 or so marathons, I’ve been keeping it fun. Picking destination races to NYC, DC, Toronto and this year, Chicago. I use the marathon as my excuse to travel. “Where are you racing next, Carol?” Me: “I have a race in “fill the blank”.

“That’s easy for you – you’re a marathoner, you can eat anything.”

This is what I hear from companions when I’m at a party or deciding what to eat when at a restaurant. While it’s true, after a race I’ll celebrate and eat whatever I want, for the most part whether I’m training or not, my body tells me what I should be eating and how much. I think a major difference between half-marathon training and full marathon training is learning how to fuel and hydrate when running for hours.

You can’t control everything - enjoy the process

Sometimes the weather doesn’t cooperate: One year in Sacramento, at race start the temperature was in the low 20’s. At race end, the temperature was in the low 30’s. We were warned about icy conditions near the water stations! My legs locked up at a mile 20 when I paused to rest and I could not get them going again to finish in the time I wanted.

Dressed to Run even when healing

Dressed to Run even when healing

Sometimes you’ll fall and that’s ok: I found this out big time last fall when I tripped and landed on the side of my hand a month out from Toronto. I rocked a cast for 6 weeks and had to take a break not only from running but also from the yoga studio. But time passes and in the meantime, I had lots of time to devote to other pursuits.

The benefits are great

Happy Finisher at Marine Corp Marathon

Happy Finisher at Marine Corp Marathon

The obvious benefit is cardio fitness and weight management. But there are other benefits, too. If you’re a morning runner, as I am, the light is great for photography. You’re getting your vitamin D and if in sunny San Diego, you’ll always sport a tan. You’re out in nature. For me, running is a moving meditation.

So, if you are contemplating running, know that it’s never too late. The first mile is the hardest – it’ll be a combination of walking, then jogging, then walking, then jogging. It just gets better after that.