For me running has always been a love/hate relationship. Over the years love has outgrown the hate in a quiet, comforting way. When I was a junior in high school, I was a sprinter. My best event was the 400 meter dash, which was one lap around the track. I really didn't want to run the 400. I much preferred to run the 100 or 200 meter. But when I ran the 400 meter for the first time and came in second place my coach declared, "This is your race." She continued, "And you're going to be in the relay too." I wanted no part of the relay and I made it known. The first time I ran the 4x400 relay, we broke the school record. My coach was right. This was my event.
My senior year was plagued by a shin splint injury and didn't turn out as I had hoped. When I reached college, I had hopes of reviving my track career, but after one practice my shins started hurting again and I never went back. I was now a college volleyball player and didn't want to injure myself by participating in track. I gave up running.
During my sophomore year of college I got more serious about my off season training, my eating habits and my overall well-being. I started doing interval workouts on the treadmill for twenty minutes. After twenty minutes I was shocked to see I had ran for nearly two miles! I had never even come close to running that far before.
Once I graduated college and moved to Maryland, I continued to mix in running with my workouts. One day a personal trainer at my gym told me I should sign up to run a 5k road race in Dewey Beach, Delaware. He explained the races were held in the morning and hosted by local bars. After the races there was food and beer and then you could spend the rest of the day on the beach. It sounded like a great idea, but I was really unsure if I could run a 5k. I had never ran three miles before. So the day before the race I hopped on the treadmill to see if I could run that distance. I was happy to see that I could complete a 3.1 mile run and decided to set a goal to be under thirty minutes for the race.
On race day I woke up early and made the hour drive to Dewey Beach. Once there I signed my entry form and pinned my first race bib to my shirt. I nervously waited for the start of the race. I had no idea what I was doing. I remember the gun going off and being surprised at how fast everyone sprinted from the start line. Three miles was a long way to go! I wanted to conserve energy and feel my way through the race. I got into a comfortable pace and noticed that I started to pass some people. Pretty soon I hit the turnaround and started running back to the finish. When I turned the last corner and saw the finish I was surprised to see twenty five minutes on the clock. I crossed the finish line at 25 minutes and 29 seconds. Not bad for wanting to finish under thirty minutes.
After the race there was a party on the deck overlooking the bay along with an awards ceremony. First, the overall winners were announced, and then they announced the age group winners. I was really surprised when my name got called. I hadn't been paying attention so I wasn't sure what place I was - maybe 2nd or 3rd. It wasn't until the next day when I saw the results online, that I realized I had won my age group.
I ran several more 5ks at the beach that summer, winning my age group in one race and placing third in another. At the end of the summer, I decided to challenge myself and run a 10k. But I made the classic mistake of not training and just seeing how far I could run. Well, I could run 6.2 miles but it came with a lot of pain. I decided to take some time off running and learned a valuable lesson: I needed to train for races.
In 2009, things were starting to change. The housing crash of 2008 was continuing its domino effect. My once busy schedule at work, was not so busy anymore and I feared I would lose my job. I tried to stick to a workout plan or running, but it was hard to focus. I kept signing up for races but I put a lot of pressure on myself to do well. When I didn't do well at running it felt like I was failing at my sport and at my job. It wasn't fun anymore. I had stress, anxiety and fear that everyday at work was going to be my last.
Not everything was bad news though. I got engaged in the summer. I was happy and excited for the next chapter of my life. Then, in September the day I feared finally found me. I was laid off from my job. Everything changed in a instant. I had no job. I couldn't afford my apartment. My life on the Eastern Shore of Maryland was over as I knew it. I was relieved in a way to be moving on, but nothing could have prepared me for how upsetting and unsettling it would be.
Life after losing my job became a whirlwind. I was lucky to find a new job, shortly after being laid off. I moved back to Pennsylvania, started my new job and also started planning a wedding. Everything around me was changing, but I really didn't have time to process it. Time was flying by as I planned my wedding. Things were going by so quickly that it took me a while to realize someone I thought was a childhood friend was actually betraying me. The so called friend, who was in charge of my bridal shower and bachlorette party cancelled the party with one day notice. It was very upsetting to say the least. The cancellation also symbolized the end of a friendship for me. It was devastating.
The closer I got to the wedding, the better things got. I had two friends that stepped up and took the place to be in the wedding. I had another friend put together a last minute bridal shower for me. I'll never forget the way they came through for me. Our wedding day was beautiful and one of the most memorable days of my life. I'll always cherish the special time we got to spend with our family and friends.
After the wedding, I started to feel a little down. I guess you could call it the post wedding blues. All those months of planning had boiled down to a few days of festivities and now it was over. There wasn't anything on the calendar left to plan and it left a little bit of a void in my life. It also left me time to finally process everything that happened in the past few months. In less than a year I had got engaged, lost my job, moved out of state and away from my friends, started a new job, was betrayed by a friend and got married. It made my head spin. And even though I had just got married, my self esteem was pretty low. Losing your job and having a friend turn on you can do that. I knew I needed some help, but I didn't know what to do.
Then one day I came across an advertisement for the Baltimore Running Festival which included a 5k, half marathon and full marathon. It was in October and it sounded like fun. I had a few friends that had ran half marathons and I wondered if I could do the same. I thought I had similar physical abilities to them, so I should be able to do it, but I was still really unsure. I didn't know much about long distance running or even if I was capable of doing it. After much consideration, I decided to sign up for the race.
Once I signed up for the race, I hung my confirmation on the refrigerator. Everyday when I looked at it, I got a lump in my throat and a sick feeling in my stomach. I was really nervous about signing up for this race. I didn't tell too many people that I signed up because I wasn't sure I could finish. I also had no idea how to train for a half marathon. I found a training plan for beginners on the Runner's World website. It was an eight week program starting with long runs at 6 miles and working up to 10 miles the weekend before the race.
We lived in Chambersburg at the time, so it was pretty easy to use Google Maps to lay out a route and not be concerned with elevation changes. My first run was 6 miles, so I designed a 3 mile loop around my house that I would run twice. This way I wouldn't be too far from the house if I needed to come back. I also set out a water bottle to hydrate, when my first loop was completed. (I didn't know that hydration belts existed.) I was happy to finish the first run of 6 miles. My legs were tired, but they were capable.
For my 8 mile run, I made a 4 mile loop. When I started running farther I didn't care about how long it took me to run. It was all about getting the miles in. In fact, I didn't even own a digital watch. I used my Fossil watch to estimate my running times. I also realized that I needed to start fueling during my longer runs. I started putting energy gels in the pockets of my newly purchased running shorts. (I never knew they had built in pockets.) Sure my legs would get tired and my mind would tell me to stop, but it was really as easy as putting one foot in front of the other.
Physically I was feeling better. I was consistent with my running program. But I also noticed my emotional and mental states were better. As the miles increased, my confidence also increased. If I could run this far, what else could I do?
I could also work through my thoughts in my head. I planned my week ahead: what days I would run, when I would grocery shop and when I would go to appointments. I could solve problems while I ran. Things that seemed like a big deal before I ran, didn't seem like a big deal at all after I ran.
The longs runs gave me time to finally process everything that had happened in the past year. I started to work through all my issues. What did it matter that I had a friend betray me? I didn't need someone like that in my life anyways. Moreover, it was a blessing because I discovered who my true friends were. And who cared if I had lost my job? I was able to find a new job and I was versatile enough to take on new tasks and challenges.
I pounded out my fears, frustration and anger on the pavement. Every time I ran it was like having a therapy session in my head. As I ran ahead my troubles were left behind. I could no longer carry them with me. I forgave and I felt renewed. I'll never forget how I felt when I completed my first ten mile run. My legs ached badly, but the overwhelming feeling was pride. I was finally proud of myself again.
After eight weeks of training, race day finally came. The race was held on Saturday, October 16, 2010. We decided to drive to Baltimore on Friday evening and stay overnight. The Baltimore Half Marathon starts at the halfway point of the marathon. It also starts later in the morning at 10 AM. After eating breakfast in the hotel, Bobby (my constant supporter) and I walked to the start line. I was a bag of nerves. I found my corral and waited patiently to start. As I waited to start, a full marathoner ran past me with an American Flag. It was a moment that gave you goosebumps. I was getting my first taste of what marathons were all about.
I started out at a slow pace, just like all the running articles I had read advised. It seemed to be working. I was really blown away by the amount of people that came out to support the marathon. It seemed like everyone had come out of their houses to cheer us on. I was having an awesome time running through the neighborhoods. By the time I reached mile 8 I was surprised at how good I felt. At this point I knew all my training was paying off.
At mile 11 I knew I was going to finish the race. It started to sink in. I got emotional and started to tear up. I got to the point where I had to tell myself to stop getting emotional, because it was interfering with my breathing. When I crossed the finish line, I felt overwhelmed with pride. I couldn't wait to see Bobby. Unfortunately, neither of us had been prepared for the amount of people that would be at the finish line. It took us over an hour to find each other. I could tell he was proud of me. I had accomplished my goal.
After the half marathon I cut back on my running, and then realized that I missed running. It had become my stress relief, my confidence booster and my mood enhancer. I needed running in my life.
Following the completion of my first half marathon, my relationship with running continued to grow. When we moved to Pittsburgh in 2012 I made a great friend who trained with me for the Pittsburgh Half Marathon. We conquered long runs and huge hills together. Another friend introduced me to a local running club. Joining the Fleet Feet running group has expanded my running to places (literally and figuratively) I would have never dreamed of. I've meet wonderful people through the running group.
I discovered that running is not just great exercise but also appeals to the human instinct of adventure. Is there really a better way to appease your sense of adventure than to run to places you've never been, climb hills to views you've never seen, or to cross paths with people you would otherwise never encounter?
Sure there are days when running is still difficult. There are days when I don't want to lace my shoes, and I chose the couch instead. There are times when I leave running for a while, and then it reminds me that I was gone, when I come back. There have been times when I was injured and unable to run. But I always go back. Even though at times I have failed running, it has never failed me.
Loops, point-to-point, out and back. These terms were all unknown to me when I started running in 2008. Loops consist of a course that covers the same ground twice. In point-to-point races, you run from one point to another point, covering the distance only once. The out-and-back race is running to a certain point and then around and running back.
My first race, a 5k, was an out and back race. I didn't mind the out-and-back race for a 5k. You run 1.5 miles and then turn around and come back. It's pretty simple. The out-and-back becomes less attractive for longer distances. For instance, the out-and-back half marathon is not a course I would normally seek out to run. But over the years, the out-and back-course has becomes one of my favorites. Here's why: You get to see everyone in the race.
I'm usually a middle-of-the-pack runner. The leaders are usually long gone by the time I finish. So, seeing the first runner headed back to the finish is always a thrill. I'm usually in awe of the first few runners and how fast they are. I always look out for the first female, too. Usually she's hanging in there with some of the faster men. Seeing the leaders always gets my pace going faster. Also, I get to see my friends and give them encouragement. Sometimes, the out-and-back race is the only chance I'll have at seeing some of my friends other than the start and finish lines. I also know that I'm getting closer to my turn around point.
Now, after the turn around is where I really get inspired. I've starting my journey back to the start line and that is really exciting! I can pick up my pace if I'm feeling good. As I continue running back, I see more faces and more friends. Slowly, the pack gets more thinned out, and I start to see the back of the pack. Even though they are towards the back, this is the group I find the most inspiring. They struggle. You see it on their face, maybe in their stride. Maybe there's a slight limp from overcoming an injury or from recovering from an accident. Maybe they are trying to become healthier or trying to lose weight. Maybe they just beat cancer.
I don't know their stories, but I do see their struggle. And it reminds me of my own struggles: ups and downs with my weight, a knee injury, months of physical therapy, lack of confidence. But the beautiful thing about running is that we are always moving forward when we run. We can't look back when we are running ahead. So it is here, on the pavement, we pound out our struggles and our fears. It's a great feeling to run back to the finish, remembering all the fear and worry we conquered along the way. Even though the same ground is covered twice, the journey is never the same when you run out-and-back.
I have to admit, I use to balk at the idea of any exercise on vacation. And while I still think that periods of rest are critical to any exercise program, I've started to include some exercise on my vacations.
Last August, my husband and I planned a weekend trip to Cleveland. This trip also happened to be a few weeks before the Montour Trail Half Marathon. I had picked the Montour Trail Half Marathon to run my best time because it is flat by Pittsburgh standards. Keeping up with my running was critical. Traveling and training for long distance races can be challenging; but since joining the Pittsburgh Fleet Feet Running Group I've realized that running is a great way to also sightsee. I decided to try this approach when I'm visiting new places. Here are some tips to developing a training run in a new city.
1. To develop a training run, I first search for a marathon/half marathon course for the city I will be visiting. I do this because races like to highlight the best features of their city. For Cleveland I used the Rock and Roll Half Marathon course. This course went past Jacob's Field, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Browns Stadium.
2. I use Google Maps to map out my route. Using the half marathon course as my guide, I lay out my desired mileage. I also include any landmarks that I want to see.
3. I use street view on Google to check out the course I've mapped. Keep in mind, that roads are closed for the half marathon course I've selected. For my training run, I won't have the luxury of closed roads; so I use street view to see if the streets I've selected have sidewalks.
5. Next I'll develop a bailout plan. Yes, that's right, I'll think of a way to bail out of my run if things aren't going according to plan. Sometimes when I'm traveling, unexpected things can cause a run to be much harder than I expect. (For example, underestimating the effect of high humidity on my running in Cancun.) This might include developing a run that loops around my hotel, so I can finish early. Or if you are doing an out and back run, you can turn around sooner than planned.
6. Bring a running buddy. For me, I'm lucky enough to have my husband join me on the run. When you're in an unfamiliar city it's good to have a buddy with you.
Using these steps, I developed a six mile route for our trip to Cleveland. The run went well with the exception of getting lost for a little bit. (Which is one of the reasons I recommend the buddy system.) It was a great way to sightsee and cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time. Running can also bring new discoveries like an interesting place to eat, or a great coffeehouse or an unexpected view of the city. I hope to incorporate a long, scenic run on my next trip. Seeing a new city makes the miles go by quickly, and sure beats the hotel treadmill.
I started to hear the word "crossfit" about five years ago. I didn't know much about it except the workouts were grueling and it involved equipment that you wouldn't find at your traditional gym.
Crossfit also maintains a website where you can find workouts and watch demonstration videos. I was able to find some workouts that didn't require equipment and I tried them out in my backyard. They were short, but intense, and it was a nice change compared to long distance running.
Then in December, my husband and I decided to buy each other a month of crossfit as our Christmas gifts to each other. It might seem like an odd gift but we had been considering trying it out for a while and this seemed like a good time to try something new. We were one month removed from the Rock and Roll Las Vegas Half Marathon and it was one month before I needed to start training for the Pittsburgh Marathon.
I started my crossfit prep courses on Monday, the day after my 31st birthday. (Most boxes require you take a prep course to learn the basics before moving on to the group classes.) The format of the classes included a warm up, stretching, learning one of the techniques (power cleans, kettle bell swings, etc) and then completing a workout.
Now, let's talk about that workout. In a whirlwind of rowing, squats, push ups, sit ups and pull ups I found myself gasping for air and my mind racing with thoughts.
"I thought I was in shape. I'm not. I thought I pushed myself. I don't."
This was the reality I faced after a workout that lasted all of nine minutes. A nine minute workout! How on earth did a nine minute workout make me feel this out of shape? I've ran for four hours at a time, yet this nine minute workout clearly whipped my butt.
On Tuesday (Day 2) of our course we worked on a push press and box jumps. I had never done a push press before so it felt awkward. I had done box jumps throughout my volleyball career, so they were familiar but still difficult.
After Wednesday (Day 3) I made the following notes:
"Can't say it was easier, but didn't feel like I was going to pass out. Deadlifts took a lot of concentrating since I've never done it before. Burpees were easier. I've had some practice with those."
Thursday (Day 4) was our final day of prep courses.
"Hardest workout yet. Haven't felt like that in years. Thought power clean would be hard, but felt like a break compared to wall balls and burpees. Finally a graduate. Wasn't sure I would make it."
On Friday we decided to jump right in to our first group class.
"Survived my 1st group class at 5:30 AM. Almost lost my breakfast. Oh wait, I didn't eat breakfast before class. Workout consisted of jumping lunges and hang squat cleans."
I had survived my first week and the benefits were starting to show. When I got dressed for work on Friday, I moved my belt down a loop. I also noticed the reoccurring pain in my left hip from long hours of sitting at work was gone. My low back was strong. And the recent pain in my left shoulder was also gone.
I started to realize that even though I had developed good cardiovascular health through running, I had done so at the expense of ignoring strength and flexibility. Functional movements also became easier: picking up a full laundry basket and carrying my laptop.
I also realized that I can greatly benefit from having someone or a group to motivate me. You may think you are working hard, but until you have someone standing over you, telling you to go faster, you're probably not working to your potential. It's hard to maintain that kind of intensity on your own. During each workout I had the following thought, " I'm not going to make it." Then in a few seconds, that thought passed and I would go on to push myself further than I thought possible. It's been an eye opening experience.
I'm still in my first month of crossfit, so I'm very much a newbie. I have been seeing some progress. I also get really frustrated. Some movements are familiar to me and some seem very awkward. Some days I think I fare pretty well and some days I get my butt handed to me. That makes it challenging and that's why I keep going back. I'm excited to see what crossfit has in store for me.
Author: Sarah Warman
I like to run, take pictures and write. I've combined all three in this blog.