So here’s a running truth: your first year on the run will be the one in which you make the most progress.
Everything is new. Your body is pushed to its limits. Every time you run, you set a PR (personal record) simply because you had no previous records. With each step, your confidence grows and you gain invaluable momentum. Your pace starts to increase. Your splits start to decrease. Distances that used to seem impossible slowly become attainable. And if you are the type to pin on a bib and race, you are virtually guaranteed a series of PRs so long as you train consistently and work hard. Ah yes, to be a running virgin again.
Over the weekend, I had a visit with a friend who asked me, “Do you feel like a 5K run is just a piece of cake? Is a 10K now just a total breeze?”. I’ve been running for over a year and a half now, with 3 half-marathons behind me and too many other races to count. It struck me that she expected my answer to be, “Oh yeah. Total cakewalk. Could run those in my sleep.” But my honest answer surprised us both: “I don’t think I have ever had a run that has been easy. Sure, some runs are easier. But essentially, every run is hard.”
That is probably why I love it…and also why I hate it, at times. It is always challenging. But man, that first year of training was such a high – increasing mileage, pushing outside of my comfort zone, discovering a whole new community (and a whole new world of shopping!) plus PR’ing nearly every race I entered. No wonder I became so addicted to it all.
Then I got injured. Boo! But regardless of the injury, the truth is that Year 2 likely could not have measured up to those first months of running. The strides you make in fitness when just starting out are so much bigger than the smaller gains you have to bust your butt for later on. The workouts that once left your quads shaking and chest heaving and helped you knock off a few more pounds? Well, your body gets used to those workouts. You have a great fitness base, for sure – but your body is not rocked in the same way by the demands. In fact, it expects it.
You may deal with injury. You may deal with burnout. You may deal with loss of motivation. You may finish a goal race and feel a bit aimless, wondering what the next big goal should be. You may have a disappointing race, perhaps for the first time. You may lose some confidence. The shine of being a running virgin starts to fade.
Why do I share the somewhat harsh realities of transforming from newbie runner to a more experienced one? Because if people understood the great success that was in store for them, they would lace up and get moving sooner! I often hear people say they are intimidated to begin running. They are worried they won’t be fast enough or able to go far enough. If they realized the level of progress that was just waiting for them, they wouldn’t hesitate. Maybe you can only run down the street to that red mailbox. Great! Start there – and imagine the feeling of accomplishment when you are able to keep running right by it. Or maybe you notice that it generally takes you about 3 minutes to hit that spot. Imagine how exciting it will be when you notice you are hitting it in just 2 minutes. It can and will happen – and pretty quickly too.
So go! Run! What are you waiting for? Choose a big goal like we did and chase it. Or run for that red mailbox and see where it takes you. The best thing about running is that it’s your journey – you choose the goal, the route, the time, the effort. It is all about YOU. And for those of you who may be working moms like us, that probably sounds pretty sweet when you hear it like that. And trust us, IT IS.
But now we are onto Phase 2 of our running journey. And sure, the goals have changed. We don’t race as often because we don’t need to have a bib pinned on to keep running. It has become such an integral part of life. I just have to close my eyes and remember the horrible, punishing 6 weeks of NO RUNNING (gasp!) due to injury. That absence truly cemented how much I crave it and need it. The goals may not seem quite as insurmountable as a more seasoned runner, but that just means you pick bigger ones. Instead of running a half-marathon in Disney World as my goal race, I choose to run for my Coast to Coast medal (completing a half-marathon in both Disneyland, California and Disney World, Florida) in the span of 5 weeks. I’ll also be adding a 10K the day before the 2nd half-marathon to spice things up with the Glass Slipper Challenge!
I recently bought a road bike because I think it will be fun to combine running with cycling in duathlon. And I just signed up for yoga this Fall because it’ll be great cross-training and injury prevention. But if I am honest, the biggest thrill of getting on that bike (or rolling out the mat, when the time comes) is trying something new again. Going back to that virgin status where everything is fresh, maybe a little intimidating, and you have no idea what you’re doing or what comes next. In my early days of running, I was always racing to meet the next goal. In hindsight, I wish I had slowed down and really savoured each milestone a little more. I’m excited to once again experience the first steps (or in my case, first pedals and first downward dogs!) where progress is easily won if you just believe you can do it and commit to the process.
If there is a lesson here, it is probably a pretty simple one: Try new things. Find your passion. Take risks. Appreciate where you are. And enjoy the journey, one step at a time.