13 Life Lessons from a Half Marathon

I recently did something way out of my comfort zone: I ran a half marathon. I spent weeks training, running miles and miles, preparing for this huge day. The day did not unfold ideally, but I learned a lot from the experience and hope any of you working on a fitness goal (whether or not it’s running-related), a business goal, or any goal can learn from my experience too. After all, it’s all about goals, progress, and pacing yourself.

shoes

  1. Ask for Advice: I spent a couple of hours in the days before my race browsing through Pinterest, asking in my running groups on Facebook, and chatting with a coworker who has run several half marathons to ask the very important question: What do I need to take with me for race day? The answers varied but they were all really helpful and helped me to prep a race day kit that had all of my needs covered. I could have made up my own kit and flown by the seat of my pants without too much hardship, but asking people who had been there before gave me different perspectives and things to consider that I wouldn’t have thought of on my own. For example: A long sleeve shirt or sweatshirt from a thrift store that you don’t mind never seeing again. Many people tossed their sweats along the path to be collected later (many race organizers donate the unclaimed items), but I stalwartly tied my sweatshirt around my body to hang onto it. A volunteer took it for me at the halfway point and said it would be in the finisher’s tent — but when I realized I had forgotten it as I got back into my car after the race, I couldn’t have made my legs go back out there if I’d wanted to. Goodbye, sweatshirt — and thank you, people who have done this before me.
  2. Nothing New on Race Day: This was said to me several times as I asked for advice. Should I wear compression socks for the race? Should I try an electrolyte drink I had never tried before? Should I do this, or that? The answer was always the same: Nothing new on race day. With this advice in mind, I picked an outfit made up of clothes that fit comfortably and that I knew I could run in. I packed snacks I knew I could eat on the run without upsetting my stomach. I ate a typical post-run lunch when I finished (spoilers: it was Chipotle). This advice relates to many aspects of life. Going for a job interview? Don’t wear brand new makeup you might be allergic to, or new shoes that pinch you in ways you didn’t anticipate. Getting ready to pitch your boss for a promotion or raise? Stick with your usual communication style vs. an approach that’s recommended in a one-off article you read about negotiating at work. Wedding day? Don’t skip breakfast if you usually eat it, or eat something if you normally skip. When it comes to a big day you’ve prepared for… stick with your routine. The time to try a different approach comes later, when it’s not all on the line.
  3. Find a Focus: I like to focus on a positive affirmation when I am doing something new, or difficult, or anxiety-inducing. For this race, my ongoing messages to myself included “I trained to finish” and “Unafraid of toil.” More on training to finish in the #4, but “Unafraid of toil” is derived from the description of Hufflepuff house in the Harry Potter universe. No matter what you’re up against, having a go-to positive message can help you remind yourself that the stress is temporary and you’ll get through it.
  4. Done is Better Than Perfect: When I repeated to myself, “I trained to finish,” it was a reminder that I had trained to be able to run 13.1 miles. I didn’t train to do it fast, I didn’t train to win, I trained to finish. And finish I did – dead last. I was dead last from almost the beginning of the race, and I didn’t mind a bit. I got applause when I crossed the finish line and it was just for me! It was awesome to complete a run longer than anything I had done before — and though I was exhausted, sore, and cold from the rain, I was also proud of myself. No matter what project you’re working on, remember that done is better than perfect. Perfectionism will paralyze you into not even trying, because why bother if you’re not going to get it right, or be the best? I weigh over 200 pounds, I run a 15 minute mile, and I just completed a half marathon — you can do that thing that’s scaring you.
  5. Get Your Head in the Game: I was really distracted during my half marathon, because I had just dropped my husband off at the airport the day before and he wouldn’t be there to see me finish like we had initially planned. It was a sudden change of plans due to illness in the family, and I felt not only worried but guilty for being out doing this half marathon for myself when I felt I should have been at home babysitting the phone for bad news and crying. I did end up crying, when I passed the ten mile mark, making this my official longest run even if I hadn’t finished. But my husband adamantly wanted me to complete the race and would have been upset on my behalf if I had decided to quit before I started. “You trained for this, you deserve to run it,” he told me. He believed in me enough for the both of us and got me through the moments when I was out of my head. Stay in your head!
  6. Make a (Flexible) Plan: When I set out to do a half marathon, my planning went something like this: I’m going to do a 10K. I found a 10K race in early October. Better look up a 10K training schedule since I’ve never run that much before. Should I do a half? I found a half at the end of October. Can I train for a half with this 10K in the middle? OH MY GOSH I CAN! And thus began my plan. Things did not go according to plan, as I totally nailed the first week of training, started skipping cross training in week two, and had given up both cross training and yoga days by the third week. So I ran a few times a week for several weeks leading up to my 10K, and then the subsequent three weeks leading up to the half marathon I was in rare form. I ran four or five days a week, including a long run on the weekends (eight miles two weeks before the race, and ten miles the week before). I made it happen even when training didn’t go perfectly — but having the built-in reality check of that 10K assured that I would have to show up and put in the effort on my way to the big goal. You can break down any goal into manageable baby steps and just go one day at a time until you achieve it. (A 90-day goal setting planner like BestSelfCo can help you break down big goals into weekly and daily targets – use this referral link to get $10 off any purchase until 12/15/17).
  7. Hold Yourself Accountable: An accountability plan is crucial to achieving your goal, whether it’s a race or a debt payoff or getting your degree. I actually kept my half marathon goal pretty quiet, telling only a few close friends rather than making a big announcement on my social media pages. I did announce my 10K plan so that my sudden uptick in weekly runs didn’t rouse any suspicions, but I kept the half quiet because publicly sharing your goals can actually hurt your chances of achieving them. So when you’re working on a big goal, loop a few close friends in to help motivate and keep you accountable to your plan (pick the friends that will actually hold you to your word, not help you make excuses), but try keeping the big announcement to yourself until it’s done. You can also hold yourself financially accountable (like I did when I spent money on my race registration or like someone who commits to applying to college might pay their application fee, or like somebody might sign up to attend a conference or book a vacation they keep putting off).
  8. Make Things Fun: Finding a way to put a little pep in your step is always better than the alternative! When running, I like to listen to music or run with a friend so we can chat. Since I had no friends ready and willing to run a chilly, rainy half marathon with me at dark o’clock in the morning, I loaded up a playlist with over three hours of music and set on my merry way. My phone died after mile 11. See #6 to make a flexible plan, and pack a backup battery and charger if you’re going to be running multiple apps on your phone. I used Charity Miles and Map My Run as well as Spotify. For non-running goals and plans, you could build in rewards (a new lipstick for each week you declutter one room of the house, a three day weekend vacation when you pay off a credit card, etc.) to keep things interesting and engaging. Because slogging along with nothing fun to do is, well, no fun.
  9. Hydrate: Just, all the time. Go get some water. Yes, right now.
  10. Find Your Power Groove: You might have a song that gets you super pumped up, a snack that gives you energy (try Delish Fish!), or a time of day when you work at your most efficient and effective. Whether you’re running a race, writing a book, or painting a bedroom, take note of when and how you do your best work. While you can’t guarantee conditions on race day, you can make the most of the things you can control and keep yourself in a positive forward-moving state of mind and body.
  11. Know When to Quit: While I didn’t end up quitting the race, at the back of the pack you tend to acquire a helpful cop or two driving by slowly to ask if you’re okay. “Yep, I’m good,” you will say — but for a moment you might just think about hopping in the car and considering 11 miles as good enough. There is a time and a place to quit running — if you are injured, if you are over-exhausted (especially in the heat), if you are violently ill. And there is a time and a place to quit on other projects too — if your goals change and the project no longer makes sense, if you leave one job to start another, if you decide that you don’t even like zucchini anyway so who cares if you stop weeding the garden this summer (true story). Know when it’s okay to quit and do it with confidence — but make sure you do it for a reason you won’t second guess forever.
  12. Get Professional Help: Between my 10K and my half marathon, I hired a running coach via Thumbtack, which is a great resource to find local professionals for basically anything. He ran and walked with me for a mile or two, observing my gait and pace, answering my questions, and giving me practical tips to improve my training for the half marathon. His most important advice that I wouldn’t have figured out on my own: run more frequently. Rather than running three times a week, he advised me to run upwards of five or six times a week in order to effectively improve my pace. And it worked — when I started to run more often during the week, my pace improved and my long runs didn’t seem as arduous. When it comes to planning for a goal, you can probably figure a lot of it out by yourself. Or you could spend a little money and get a professional to help you get back the hours you’d spend researching and planning on your own. See a therapist, hire a business coach, even hire a freelancer to help you handle day to day tasks for an online business or website. There’s always someone who can help make it easier.
  13. You’re Competing With Yourself: My first lap of the half, I was behind these two older women who were literally power walking the whole time. And I was behind them until about mile 5. Five miles of constant running from the start line and I start telling myself, “Really, you can’t outrun the power walkers?” But then when I did catch up to them, it was time for my first snack break and a quick recovery walk. I chatted with them and they said they were so proud of me and I was doing a great job, and they loved my hair and my headband, and I was gonna do great. I went from envy to appreciation in no time. They wished me luck as I finally pulled ahead and onward before they finished their lap (they did the two person relay but did it together instead of one runner at a time). The second lap, I was on the heels of a young woman in a bright yellow jacket. Yellow Girl, I called her. She had been just ahead of me the whole race. At one point I caught up to her and pulled ahead. “Hi!” I said to her, excited for a little human contact. “Hi,” she said back, with less enthusiasm than I mustered. She pulled ahead and I didn’t catch her again. She finished a couple minutes ahead of me and I completed my half marathon in 3 hours and 23 minutes, dead last. And 100% victorious. Because I wasn’t racing Yellow Girl or the power walking ladies. I was proving I could run 13.1 miles. Success. Now I have a time to beat, because I will definitely be doing another half marathon, and I will be even more prepared.
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7 thoughts on “13 Life Lessons from a Half Marathon

  1. Lindsay says:

    Amazing! Congrats on such a big achievement. I loved your thoughts, but most especially the one about the lack of effort that occurs when we worry about perfection instead of finishing. Setting realistic goals are such a game changer for accountability. I love everything about this post!

  2. zseckley says:

    Congratulations! I have a deep love/hate relationship with running that has settled down to merely running for the heck of it when I could just as easily walk.
    It doesn’t always lead to lasting change, but I find the challenge mentality can be a decent kickstart in the general direction of change (or goal achievement). I like 30 days for most things, since it’s long enough to feel you’ve done something, but short enough to be manageable. And if you decide you like what you were doing, it’s easy to just keep doing it. It also lends itself to journaling, which can be helpful.
    In September, when we shrank our grocery budget to a ridiculous degree, I made a batch of vegetable broth each week to stretch our limited food dollars. That’s a habit I’ve kept up ever since.

  3. Lance Eaton says:

    amazing job! Getting through a half is a no HALF-accomplishment! 🙂 I had a nearly 32-year hate-hate more relationship with running and then something switched and I move from no more than a mile to 5K to 10K to half-marathon to full…many of your tips I’ve also had to learn over the years and also turned it into its own series of blog posts on my blog (http://www.byanyothernerd.com/search/label/Running). Learning to compete with myself was probably the most important lesson (mentally; hydrate was the most important physically–hahaha). But it can be hard with all those other runners.

    For me, I’ve loved that in the back of the pack, you’re with others who are just doing it for themselves and there’s a wonderful comradery that can often be discovered there. I’ve made a lot of friends through such spaces!

  4. ChrisWWerner says:

    Great job finishing your first half! The “bling” is the best part… You got a medal, right? 😎

    Definitely keep the running in your routine and go for the full!

    Your 13 Life Lessons post was awesome! Great tips for any runner and for life in general. Well done!

    Thanks for writing,
    CW

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