I could barely jog for 5 minutes but now I actually love running. I've had a long history, but here's my whole story of my relationship with running.
Last week I was somewhere between mile 10 and mile 11 of a long run thinking about how crazy it was that I was in the middle of a long run. (!) It's been a long journey of battling injuries, increasing mental strength, and and building stamina. Sometimes it feels like I'm still a rookie, but I am finally to the point where I can call myself a runner. I love running and am proud to call myself a runner. I am a runner.
THE BACKSTORY/FIRST ATTEMPTS AT RUNNING
Here's the deal. I have haven't always been a runner. For most of my life, specifically the first 22 years of it, I had no desire to run. My twin sister, Lindsay, grew up running cross country and track and I saw the work outs she did and thought "there's no way." It was as if even if I wanted to run, I somewhere along the road convinced myself I couldn't.
I actually very clearly remember the first few attempts at running, probably because of how unsuccessful they were.
the first attempt
The first attempt at running was back in high school. I always thought it was amazing how my sister and her friends would run after school every day for cross country -- they would do work outs around the track, around the school, and even in all of the surrounding neighborhoods. In early high school, I think my sophomore year, I was the "manager" of the girl's cross country team, meaning that I helped with timing at some cross country practices and went to all of the meets. The coaches said that, as manager, I could work out with the team if I ever wanted to. I'm sure you can see where this is going, but cue "first attempt at running" that was actually just one day and totally on a whim. One day after school I "ran" with the team, but by "ran" let it be clear that I was doing my best just to keep up with the girls at the end of the pack. The work out for that day was doing some big loops around the middle school, but first we had to run to the middle school (according to google maps it's a mile from the high school) before we could even really begin the work out. Basically, it was terrible and I could barely make it to the middle school, let alone do the other loops, so I ended up having to walk back to the high school by myself because I couldn't keep up. I remember thinking there was no way I was ever doing that again, but at least I tried.
the second attempt
The second attempt at running was probably worse than the first attempt. Fast forward to sophomore year of college. One day, after a few hours of persistent peer-pressuring, my good friend Ruth convinced me to do a 5K with her. This story in of itself could be an entire blog post because there's so much detail that goes into it. The short version is that I agreed to do the 5K which was the NEXT MORNING so I didn't have any sort of training going into it. The morning of the race, Ruth took off because she wanted to get a PR which left Alan to agree to run with me (note: we weren't dating at this point and I did not want to run with him because I didn't have high hopes for the race). Let's just say it was a terrible 3 miles and at the very end of the race, weird things happened. I finished the race, but there's a 20 minute span of time where I don't remember anything but I was awake and doing things. Witnesses of this 20 minutes say I did embarrassing things such as crawl across the finish line (even though I had already crossed the finish line but I guess I thought I didn't), trip on a curb while singing Tom Petty's "Free Falling," hold peoples' hands, sing a few more songs, and then ended the whole charade with puking and laying on the ground. To this day, I still don't know what happened, though my best guess is that it was caused by lack of oxygen to my brain (#asthma). Overall, this was a scarring enough experience that I didn't have any desire to run anytime soon.
RUNNING FOR REAL
Third times the charm, right? In my mind, another attempt at running couldn't get much worse than what I had already experienced, so cue attempt number three. Once I graduated from college, I got serious about my overall wellness and made a commitment to a healthy lifestyle, especially in the areas of fitness and nutrition. The details of this journey are in my weight loss journey post, but there's some overlap in what was going on.
The big difference between the third attempt and the others, and the real reason why the third time really was actually the charm, is because of my approach. I didn't just slip my tennis shoes on and go outside and attempt to run 3 miles because there was no way my body could do it -- I would have failed before really even trying (as previously experienced). I knew I wanted to make it stick, which meant I had to take it slow and make it into a routine by slowly making progress over time.
a committed relationship
My committed relationship to running started in May 2016, which I refer to as "the summer of the treadmill" because so many of my lunch breaks were spent exercising, specifically on the treadmill, at Truman's Rec Center. I work an 8 - 5 job and learned quickly that going to the gym after 5 p.m. was just not going to work because I never had enough energy. I really enjoyed working out in the mornings, but found that going to the gym on my lunch break had so many advantages like a break from work, getting mid-day energy, and stress relief, just to name a few. Anyway, my lunch break was my sweet spot and when I put in the work.
conquering the treadmill
Let it be clear that running on the treadmill was a SLOW journey of gradually increasing the time and speed on the treadmill every week. Also, if you were like me and had never run on a treadmill before, here a few recommendations to keep in mind for starting out:
(keep scrolling to the next section if you are a treadmill veteran!)
- Learn how to use the treadmill you're running on! Make sure you know where the speed and incline buttons are located and how to use the emergency shut-off switch.
- Step on the treadmill and walk for about 5 minutes at a slower speed (I think I started somewhere between 3 and 4) to get your joints, muscles, and bones all loose and warm.
- At this point, you can either stretch or keep going with your run. People have a lot of different thoughts about stretching so I'm not going to tell you the best time to do it. (I didn't use to stretch, but now I do a quick one after my warm-up before getting into the run.)
- Continue with your planned workout! (you can do it!)
- After you're finished, decrease the speed gradually to a jog and then slower to a walk for about 5 minutes so you can cool down.
- Follow the treadmill work out with rolling with a foam roller and stretching!
Please note: I am not a physical trainer or treadmill manufacturer so these are all purely tips from my experience.
after the treadmill
To be honest, I don't remember exactly what I did on the treadmill everyday. I think I stuck to a schedule in the beginning, but then ended up winging it towards the end of the summer. I do know that I had a goal of being able to run 3 miles by the end of the summer, which is what my plan was based around. I know it looked something like this:
Every work out I would walk 5 minutes, jog, and then cool down by walking another 5 minutes. Basically, each week I would either increase the speed OR increase the length of time. For example, if I started the first week out jogging for 10 minutes at a 4.5 speed, the next week I would choose to either to bump it up to 5 speed OR jog for 12 minutes, or something like that. Like I said, it's really hard to remember exactly what I did each work, but I know I would increase something every week so I could focus on continuous improvement. I know that I started off REALLY slow and a short distance. I found a journal from that time and it took me 32 minutes to go 1.5 miles. I say this to encourage you and show you that it's a slow, hard, rewarding journey!
Again, please note: I created this for myself and I am not a physical trainer or running expert.
the end of the summer
By the end of the summer I could actually go 3 miles without stopping the treadmill. It was amazing and it felt okay (not great, but okay!) I remember looking back at all of the times I had to stop, decrease my speed or walk for a few minutes. I was so proud of what I had accomplished. To be honest though, by the end of the summer, I was DONE with the treadmill. Props to all of the people that run on the treadmill every day, but I couldn't do it anymore. I knew I needed to switch it up or I was going to get burnt out.
RUNNING ON THE ROADS
At the end of the summer, starting in August, I started running outside and it was a huge game changer! All of those days on the treadmill had slowly started to build up my stamina and I knew running on the roads could continue to build my endurance. You might be wondering why I decided to even go outside at all if I had met my 3 mile goal on the treadmill. While I don't have a very concrete answer, it was at this point that I had an optimistic feeling about running and wanted to see where the running journey would lead me.
The first thing I did was buy an actual pair of running shoes because I had a really worn out pair of Asics that weren't getting the job done. I went to Fleet Feet and had them do the fancy tests to figure out the best shoes for my build and feet. I ended up purchasing the Mizuno Women's Wave Inspire 12 Running Shoe and fell in LOVE. Investing in a bigger purchase made me all the more committed to continue running. In addition to the running shoes, I also bought a pair of headphones that actually wouldn't fall out of my ears while running (has anyone else had that problem with headphones?) Finally, I downloaded the MapMyRun app to track where I would and how far I would go. I was ready to go, right? I was totally set up for success and at this point you might think the transition to outside was a breeze but it was certainly not.
Some days of running in the fall were great. I would start my playlist and go for the three miles I set for a goal and felt awesome most of the run. However there were other days that were really bad. I remember there were times I was in the middle of a run and wanted so bad to give up and I would have to walk for a little bit to give myself a break before running again. I remember sometimes I would get so discouraged that I would cry and call Alan to see if he could pick me up because I gave up on myself in the middle of a run. It was super important on those hard days, when I didn't do as well as I wanted, to give myself grace. I reminded myself that in terms of big-picture, I was slowly making progress. Over time, I could slowly feel my body getting trained to relate exercise as a way of relaxation.
Like I mentioned, throughout the fall was all about getting used to 3 running miles. At this point, I didn't attempt to run longer than that because I wanted to build endurance and feel comfortable going out on a run. Once the weather started to change, I kept at it outside. My body started to crave the daily running dates in the crisp air. I absolutely loved waking up early and running into the sunrise and next to the fields. However, I appreciated the afternoon runs in the sunshine just as much.
TRAINING FOR MY FIRST HALF MARATHON
As the new year begun, I committed to my first half marathon. This was a huge, scary, yet exciting endeavor! I signed up for the Drake Road Races Half Marathon, a half marathon happening in Des Moines, Iowa in April. I mostly picked this race because it was one of the few spring weekends I was free, it was only 3 hours away from Kirksville, and it gave me 4 months to train. Most training plans you can find online are for a shorter length of time but I was really nervous and wanted to give myself a cushion. I found a random training plan online, printed it off, and hung it on the wall of my room. I planned to cross off each run I completed so I could look at the whole plan as I continued to train and keep track of all I had accomplished. On January 1, I officially training!
Honestly, I should have been more educated going into training. The training plan I followed had me running 6 days a week, with 4 days of shorter runs, 1 long run, and 1 recovery run. The first few weeks actually weren't that bad! Because of the endurance I had built up, I felt strong during the shorter runs, which were usually between 1 and 3 miles. The recovery runs were usually a slower-paced 1 - 3 miles, the day after the longer run. That just left the one day of the week for the inevitable long runs.
Let me be real about my first few experiences with long runs. It's hard to remember the exact feelings I had on my first few long runs, but I do remember a couple things. I remember being nervous before every long run, unsure of if I would be able to complete it. I remember not knowing physically where to run because there aren't many great running paths in Kirksville. I remember trying really hard to figure out what the heck to wear because dressing for winter running is difficult with being cold but also sweating and getting hot. I remember not knowing what to listen to or think about when I ran. I also remember not knowing what to eat before the run or what to do if I had to go to the bathroom on a run. I remember meeting my demons on my long runs. What I mean by meeting my demons is that long runs are way harder mentally than physically -- it was a battle to tell myself I was strong enough, fast enough, and capable of running. Because I'm an over-thinker, I am 99% sure there were so many more things that I experienced on long runs. The thing is that no matter how inexperienced or nervous I was, I tried. I experimented, tested, and learned something new every time I ran. (At the end of this post I have a lot of answers to common questions about running and the things I've learned, so keep reading!)
The coolest thing about my Saturday long runs (I always went on Saturday morning long runs), was that every time I finished a run it was the longest I had ever gone! Each week I would increase the mileage by 1 mile, so by the time I got up to 8 or 9 miles, and it was so energizing! I realized my body was capable of so much more than I thought. I even remember the time I ran into the double digits (10 miles) -- it was AMAZING. I felt mentally and physically strong and empowered.
Everything was going super great and I felt on top of the world until one day I didn't. If you're a runner I'm sure you can guess what I'm going to say I experienced.... an injury. Specifically, an IT band injury, a common running injury. Usually an IT band injury is from overuse, which, looking back, it's absolutely no surprise I got injured. Like I mentioned earlier, the training plan I followed had me running 6 times a week which was a lot of running for someone new to the game. Even for someone who is a runner, 6 days of straight running is hard on the body.
This injury happened in March, about 7 weeks out from my race. I should mention that I self-diagnosed myself online with an IT band injury, but then met with Truman's head athletic trainer who confirmed my diagnosis. The head athletic trainer, Michelle, did way more than diagnosis me, she also gave me a ton of great stretches and cross training to do to help in the recovery. We were very hopeful that with a couple weeks of healing and rest, I would still be able to run.
Honestly, I was super uneducated in terms of safe training. After talking to the athletic trainer, I realized there was so much to training I could be doing such as stretching, rolling, cross training, and resting. Maybe these seem obvious (because they are SO OBVIOUS to me now), but at the time, I was so focused on what I was able to do, that I just didn't even think about keeping myself safe. I pushed and pushed myself to see how much I could accomplish.
Through the injury and beyond, I focused on safe training. One days that I ran, I incorporated pre and post run stretches and foam rolling. I had a day of cross training to ease up on the impact on my body in addition to having complete rest days to give my body a break. I also added in yoga to help with stretching!
Three weeks before my half my body felt strong and I was able to pick back up on training! I ended up missing out on 4 weeks of training, but prior to injury I got up to 11 miles so I was confident I would be able to complete the race. I got in 2 more weeks of long runs and a couple of short runs and felt good. There was a little part of me that started to think "I could be so much better if I would have gotten to train those 4 weeks" and "I'm not as good as I could be" but that was such a dangerous road to start going down mentally that I tried my best to think about all of the positives. I reminded myself that I was able to try the race, I was strong, and I was ready.
Fast foward to April and the day before my half. You'd think April would be bring a forecast of a warm morning, but it was indeed a Midwest morning with 40 degrees and rain expected all day long in Des Moines. I don't love the rain and had avoided running in the rain for most of my training, so mentally I was really trying to hype myself up for the chance of running the whole race in the not-great weather. Luckily, I have supportive and adventurous friends so Alan, Josh, and Allie traveled with me to the race and encouraged me a ton. I was excited but I was also SO NERVOUS. I stuck to my normal pre long-run routine of waking up early, getting layered up, drinking water and coffee, eating a bagel with peanut butter and banana, and listening to my fuel-up playlist. All the hard work had paid off because I DID IT! I ended up running most of the race with a random guy who I met in the corral at the start of the race, and while we didn't actually talk throughout the race, we had an unspoken agreement that we were running together. Anyway, because I could go on about my first half marathon experience forever, I ended up running the whole thing and felt really awesome when I finished.
AFTER MY FIRST HALF MARATHON
I didn't intend for so much of this post to be about my first half marathon experience, and I probably could have put all of that into a separate post, BUT it was super important in my relationship with running. Completing my first half marathon taught me so much about safe training, about mental strength, and about how much I enjoyed running. It was throughout this whole process that I felt my body and mind changing. Running gave me energy, confidence, focus, and strength. I loved it and I was HOOKED.
After the race, I gave myself a couple of days off to rest my body (as is important after most races). However after a few days, I started running again. Throughout the rest of the spring and summer I kept up with running. It was my primary source of exercise and I enjoyed it the majority of the time. In the summer and into fall, I started training for another half marathon. Most of the time, things were great except for the fact that I again started battling more injuries. From foot troubles to knee pain and a few more, I struggled with injury on and off.
Basically, I ignored everything I had learned during my half marathon training. I tend to go super hard at the things I love, so I went into the swing of working my body too hard. What was I doing wrong? I was running every day, and only running, I was increasing my mileage too fast, and I was running at an uncomfortably fast pace. I wasn’t stretching, I wasn't foam rolling, I wasn't resting, and I wasn't fueling my body with the nutrients it needed. There were days when I felt fatigued but would tell myself "I feel fine" or "I can go another mile" but really, my body needed rest. I was pushing myself too hard.
Then I started to learn again. I started reading articles about running. I started listening to podcasts about people that run longer and farther than me. I started rolling, stretching, and taking rest days. Probably the most important thing I learned about in this time was strength training. Strength training is so important for pre-hab and building muscles. Basically, I learned that running and a few days on cardio-based machines was too much on my body. I switched up my routine and incorporated two days of strength training to balance the other 4 days of running. I found my sweet spot.
WHAT I AM DOING CURRENTLY
So, what am I doing now? For exercise, I consider myself a runner though and through. Just like any runner, I have ups and downs, and sometimes I struggle with injury. I adapt, adjust, and figure out the best way to incorporate running into my lifestyle. Running through certain seasons of life is about trial and error to find a happy place. Currently, I run three times a week (I have a destination half marathon planned for March!), I do strength training three times a week (thank you to my sister, Lindsay, for all of the lifting plans!), and I prioritize daily yoga (Yoga with Adriene is amazing.) I had an epiphany on self-care in the fall, which I think goes hand in hand with running. Overall, I am working towards real-deal peace and happiness. I’m getting fit, healthy, happy, indulge when I want, have confidence in what I’m doing and the choices I make daily, know my way around a kitchen, and listen to my body. Running is a huge part of getting me to this place in my life.
My schedule now is: Monday (strength training), Tuesday (3-5 miles), Wednesday (strength training), Thursday (3-5 miles), Friday (strength training), Saturday (7-11 miles), Sunday (REST), everyday (yoga and foam rolling).
A few weeks ago someone asked me something along the lines of "Do you actually like running or do you like the benefits of running?"
I ACTUALLY LOVE RUNNING. I may have started running because of the benefits, but now I run not only because of the positive health benefits, but because it is something I truly enjoy. I love the way running makes me feel. I love that it makes me feel strong and energized. I love the concrete progress that running provides, and the fact that I can look at my Garmin watch and see that I completed x number of miles. I love that running keeps me in shape and provides so many health perks. I love that I can run anytime, anywhere, and with anyone. I especially love when I get to run in new places, like through mountains, by the beach, or in cities. I run because it is good for my body, mind, soul, and heart.
In my relationship with running, I've started from the ground up. I've come a long way and I've learned so much. I predict that in the future I will continue to be shaped by running and my experiences, priorities, and goals will change through seasons. I am excited for running into the future!
Below are several questions/my answers I've been asked along my journey. While I can't promise that these are the best answers, especially because I'm not an expert, this is what has worked for me in the past and is best for me currently.
WHAT DO YOU EAT BEFORE AND AFTER A RUN?
When I first started running I didn't think too much about how food would impact my run so I just ate at the normal times of the day and didn't really adjust for running. I quickly learned in half marathon training that running makes you super hungry (duh). All of our bodies are so different and will react to foods in different ways. I got a lot of inspiration for pre and post runs on Pinterest, but I also learned a lot through trial and error! I have found that for me, eating at least an hour before a run and within 30 minutes after a run is optimal time. Though I may not be the most hungry at those times, it is important to fuel my body properly for both the run itself and the recovery.
PRE LONG RUN: My go-to fuel for a long-run is a toasted english muffin or bagel + almond butter + sliced banana. I have also had oatmeal + banana + berries + almond butter + a sprinkle of granola, oatmeal + berries + almond butter + RXBAR, or just a CLIF bar.
POST LONG RUN: I usually don't feel very hungry immediately after a long run, but I know my body begins repairing so I try to make sure to get some protein in it. I like having a protein smoothie (1 scoop of protein + frozen fruit + almond milk), greek yogurt + berries + granola, a glass of chocolate milk, or a CLIF Bar or RXBAR.
I think it's super important to find what works for YOU. I am a person of a routine so I can eat the same thing every day and still enjoy it!
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT RACES?
I think I'm still at the point where I have run so few races that I don't really know how I feel about them. I've had several positive experiences since my scarring 5K experience, so I'm enjoying them more! I'm so used to running on random highways in rural Missouri that actually running with another person at a race sometimes still feels weird! However, I love the energy, the people, and the post-race celebrations!
DO YOU WANT TO RUN A MARATHON?
Up until about two weeks ago, I probably would have answered this question with a "no way." However, recently I was on a run and listening to a podcast about running where they were talking about marathon training. It was at that point that I was interested. At this point in my life, I think I would need more time and resources to commit to safe training, so I will take a raincheck. Maybe in the future....
WHAT DO YOU DO DURING A RUN?
This question is kind of funny to me because the simple answer seems "run," but if you're a runner, you know that you're always doing something other than running. When I first started running, someone told me that their best runs are when they don't think about anything. So I tried "not thinking" or "getting my mind to go blank" and it did not work AT ALL. I have tried a lot of different things, and like finding the best foods to use a fuel, I think trial and error works to find out what is best for you!
While training for my first half marathon I exclusively listened to music. I made a 13.1 playlist on Spotify and filled it with albums that could get me through (thank you Jon Bellion, Chance, and Kanye!) Even after my first half, I listened to music when I ran for fun and while I trained for my second half. I used my runz playlist for shorter runs and my HALF playlist for longer runs.
In the winter I switched it up a little bit and started listening to podcasts! I've been REALLY into them so now I usually listen to a podcast. I have been listening to health/fitness podcasts so if you ever want to know what I listen to, let me know!
I think running is a big mental game. For me, it's about finding mental strength and these resources help me get there.
DO YOU RUN WITH FOOD AND WATER?
I only run take water on a run if I'm going 9 miles or longer. I know plenty of people who take food and water on their runs, so there's nothing wrong with that. When I started training I didn't train with anything, so my body is used to not getting "fueled" during a run, but after.
WHAT SHOES ARE BEST FOR RUNNING?
I am OBSESSED with my Mizunos! They were my first real pair of running shoes and I loved them so much that I ordered the same pair 4 times! I love my Mizunos because they are supportive, durable, and keep me injury-free. It is super important to invest in a pair of shoes that will keep you safe and doing what you love. When I start lacing up my Mizunos, which I exclusively use for running, I mentally get psyched and ready to go for my run!
I recommend going to a local running store and getting fitted for a pair of running shoes. They'll give you shoes that fit your form and are super comfortable. Also, most people will tell you to get a new pair of shoes around 400 miles of running because that is when your shoes start to get worn out and you risk injury. As someone who is frugal, it is sometimes hard spending money on so many shoes, but it is WORTH IT.
IS RUNNING ALWAYS EASY?
HECK NO. Don't get me wrong, some runs feel amazing because I felt like I went so far or so fast. However, it is not always easy. Sometimes it's so hard to even get started and do it. Or sometimes it starts out easy and then I feel exhausted and have to cut it short. For me personally, I love to push through the challenge and show myself I and strong and I can do it because I know I'll feel better the rest of the day. However, I would say that it is okay to take it easy on the days it feels impossible. Cut it short or change up your routine. Most importantly, stay encouraged, keep your head up, and try again tomorrow.
WHERE DO YOU RUN?
When I'm home, I run all over the streets in and around Kirksville. I love to run on the tiny highways, into the sunrise, or next to the big fields. I don't mind running similar routes, so I have a couple of go-to 3, 5, 9+ mile routes I throw into the mix. When I travel, I love to run and explore the new place! I like to find running trails, parks, or places with views (mountains, ocean, water, etc.) to run next to. I have done my fair share of getting lost on a run and ended up running for way longer than expected, but to me, it's worth it if I can run outside.
TREADMILL VS. RUNNING OUTSIDE?
This goes off of my above answer, but I always prefer to go outside if I can. Sometimes the consistency of running on a treadmill can be great for keep a pace or if the weather is terrible. However I've found running outside to be so good for my soul. I love to be out in the beautiful weather, or if the weather isn't great I get to be outside with beautiful scenery.
WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE RUNNING ACCESSORIES?
Here are my absolute race essentials!
- Running leggings
- I don't like bulky clothes when I run so I have found running leggings, capri spandex, or compression shorts to work SUPER well as bottoms when I run!
- MapMyRun app
- Before I had a running watch, this app was awesome for tracking mileage!
- Yoga mat
- Yurbuds Inspire headphones (they actually don't fall out when I run!)
- Cold Compress
- Garmin Forerunner 230
- Nathan arm band
- SPRI Super High Density Foam Roller
- Compression socks (these were helpful when I was struggling with an injury!)
- Buff headbands (I love wearing a messy bun and a thick headband)
IS RUNNING YOUR ONLY WORKOUT?
Not anymore! I used to exclusively run until I realized how hard that was on my body. I do a little bit of everything from running, strength training, ellipticals, circuits, and yoga. It's important to build and strengthen your body so you're able to keep doing what you love -- running!
WHAT ARE YOUR GOALS?
My overall goals are really just focused on self-improvement. I'm not a competitive person so running for time isn't something I'm focused on. I run for to improve my fitness, health, and mind. I run because it makes me feel empowered and strong.
- What is the best advice you can give from your experience with running?
- Does running play a role in your life?
- Do you have any running questions for me?