This is the third and final part of my paper, The Road to Running, on how I became a runner. Click here for Part 1 and here for Part 2
The Road to Running (continued)
One summer, when I was talking to a friend, the topic of running marathons came up. My friend wanted to run a half marathon, but was unsure about actually signing up for a race. When I told her that I was thinking of tackling one, as well, we made the decision to run our first half marathon together in the fall. It was a spontaneous decision, but I seized the opportunity to run the intimidating distance with a friend. Once I paid the entrance fee, I had a solid goal to work towards. All I wanted was to finish the race, no matter how long it took. The race date, circled on my calendar, kept me motivated to train throughout the summer and fall.
A typical half marathon training plan involves running a few times a week, slowly building up mileage over the course of about twelve weeks. For beginners, three to four days of running is recommended with a weekly mileage of 15-25 miles. Following this training plan, there are different types of workouts designed to improve speed and endurance, such as tempo runs, speed work, and long runs. The weekly long runs get progressively longer, from 5 miles to peaking at about 11 miles. The long run is meant to build up endurance and is run at a slower pace.
Although there were many training plans written by experts readily available in running books and websites, I approached my training as I approached playing the sports of my childhood: not seriously at all. In contrast to how my brother trains for his marathons, I didn’t follow a training plan, and I ran as much, or as little, as I wanted to. My brother, the running hobbyist, approaches the sport as a scholar approaches his studies. He reads books on training, technique and sports nutrition, keeps track of his pace and mileage with a high-tech GPS watch, and collects many pairs of running shoes and different hydration belts to carry water on longer runs. I, on the other hand, took running a lot less seriously. I didn’t want the numbers of pace and mileage to get in the way of the simple enjoyment of running. Since my only goal was to complete the race, I just focused on improving my overall fitness and endurance instead of my pace and times. Taking the pressure off to “perform” allowed me to enjoy the activity itself. I began to think, “I want to go for a run today”, instead of “I should be running 6 miles today.”
When running became physically easier as I became fitter, going on a long run became relaxing and therapeutic. The stresses of school would sometimes be hard to bear, but running helped me deal with the stress. As I ran, anything that was worrying me was pushed to the back of my mind as I focused on my breathing and cadence. Being outdoors, running my favorite route in Forest Park, and enjoying the scenery were a nice mental break from my perpetual amount of schoolwork. The physical activity also releases endorphins, chemicals in the brain that elicits feelings of happiness and euphoria, also known as the “runner’s high”. The stress relief, mental clarity, and happiness I got from running made me look forward to it instead of dreading the run.
On the day of the race, my friend and I ran together, and I can honestly say that the entire 13.1 miles was a very enjoyable experience. I didn’t focus on the clock, and I took in the scenery of the neighborhoods we ran through, smiled at the funny posters held by the cheering crowds, and felt energized by the novel experience of running in a race. Although the competitive side of me regretted that I didn’t push myself harder, I allowed myself to revel in the fact that I reached my goal of running the entire 13.1 miles. The exhilaration of achieving my goal got me hooked on racing, and I signed up for my next half marathon on the very same day.
I had come a long way since the previous spring, from literally running zero miles to a half marathon. I had come an even longer way from my middle school self, who could barely run one mile. Running was something that I either hated or loved. When I had to run as punishment or exercise, it was a chore. But when I started to do it to unwind after a long day, move my limbs, and spend time outdoors on a beautiful day, running became a pleasure. Working towards a goal of getting a personal record in a race also adds to my enjoyment of running, since I can see the tangible results of my training. Running, to me, is not about competing with other people, but competing with myself. It’s about self-improvement, facing new challenges, and exercising the mental willpower that is required in endurance sports. Since becoming a runner, I am sometimes amazed at my own tenacity. Although I sometimes hesitate to call myself a runner because I am not very competitive or serious about it, I am satisfied that I have finally found joy in running.