I've been on a slow journey since last spring to complete a half marathon. I'm actually not even sure why, when I think about it. Actually, to be honest, I just want that pretty Disney medal. Vain, I know.
But last year when I started working out, I had a goal each time. And it helped a lot to keep me on track. I kept resetting my goals once I reached them. So I set my sights on a new goal, not about the number on the scale but a different measurement of my personal abilities. One of my best friends ran a half marathon for a Tiffany prize, which I found so cool since I love anything Tiffany. Unfortunately she said Nike no longer has those races anymore with those prizes. But then I saw that Disney gave out cool medals and I was intrigued. They’re so freaking cute and pretty. Last year’s medals had me sold. I set my goals on this and that same best friend was all for it too so she signed us up for the 2019 Disney Princess Half Marathon.
Unfortunately they don’t release what the medals look like for the race until months after you sign up, but fortunately enough the half marathon medal I’m racing for is actually cute! I’m not crazy about the other medals for the 5k and 10k races so I’m glad I didn’t sign up for those. As soon as I saw this year’s medal, I changed my race costume from Rapunzel to Sleeping Beauty so I could match my aesthetic to it once I cross that finish line and earn my medal.
Admittedly, I had and have no idea what I signed up for. Before she signed us up, it had only been a thought in my head. The minute she forwarded me the email of my race registration, it started to sink in. Oh shit. I’m going to have to actually do this. I was and still am both terrified and excited.
Let’s be clear. I am not an athlete. I didn’t do any sports growing up; I was not an active person. I was the girl in gym class doing the bare minimum for participation to get a passing grade. Basically, just showing up to class but sitting on the bench. I didn’t put in any effort or try. I would bring my own popsicle sticks when they tried to make us run miles around the football field. I walked most of it. In short, I was a lazy piece of shit.
So honestly, I have no business signing up for this. I’m not really sure still what I’m doing here. But last year when I started getting more pro-active in my exercise and diet lifestyle change, I committed to it and did a 180. Now I go to the gym pretty much every day. I would say I’m still not really “good” at anything but I’m more conscious about taking care of my body and keeping in shape. I learned that every time I tried something new, whether it be lifting weights, biking, the elliptical or a new exercise, that I would struggle embarrassingly with it for a few weeks, but eventually get it and improve. I was pushing myself to improve all my personal records. When I first started on the bike, I could barely do a few miles without hating it. Now I can stay on the full hour and push myself to 20-21 miles per hour.
So I knew that this race would definitely be a challenge for me, but had faith that if I worked at it, it would just become like anything else in the gym that I picked up. Just another obstacle to overcome.
I started last spring but then slowed down over the summer since it got too warm to run outside, and I read that it was more recommended to train closer to date of the race. I didn’t need to push myself that early and burn myself out. I also didn’t want to bore myself and hate running if I did it for too long before the race. During the spring training though, it did help to give me a sense of where my starting point was. I needed a lot of work. I was tiring myself out way too early and pushing myself too hard in the beginning of my runs. I would run too fast and not pace myself.
So in the fall when I started up again, I learned to pace myself better. I ran a little slower so that I could keep a more even pace so I could run longer without needing to stop. But then I also burned myself out again in a different way. I pushed myself too hard by running too often consecutive days in a row. This caused me to develop pain in my right knee during my runs and have to limp home when completing my runs. I eventually gave in and stopped running for a few weeks to give myself a break but when I started up again, the pain came back, but sooner and worse. I got worried because I didn’t want this to stop me from participating in the race. I eventually got it checked out by a doctor to confirm there was nothing broken or damaged to prevent me from completing my goal, and started attending physical therapy to see if I could figure out what was wrong with my knee.
Good news, they definitely didn’t find anything major either, but my PT trainer suggested that I might not be warming up well enough before my runs and activating my glutes/hips properly and causing too much pressure to shift to my knees towards the end of my runs, and thus my pain. So we worked on learning some moves to strengthen up and activate those muscles. At first I worried that it was a bunch of hoopla and I was wasting my time every morning coming to PT twice a week. I didn’t see how these small exercises would help. It felt silly. But I stuck with it since my insurance was paying for it anyway so what did I have to lose? I really wanted to go through with this because I already made it my goal to run this half marathon and a commitment with my friend to do this with her. I didn’t want to quit before it even started.
January 1st came around and I realized the race is nearly upon us. I started running again, taking it easy and at a slower pace and shorter distance than I previously had pushed myself to, and taking enough rest days in between runs, but realized that there was no longer any pain developing as I ran. I finished up PT and my trainer re-tested me to compare with my baseline from the first day I stepped into the office, and determined that I no longer needed his help as long as I kept up with the exercises I learned, on my own. So here I am, 2 weeks out from PT and almost 4 weeks out from when I started training again for the run. I was able to build myself back up to the pace where I left off back in the fall, right under 8.5 km/hr (5.28 miles/hr), but also I’ve been able to successfully push myself to 12.11 km endurance wise this past Friday, and most importantly, without any knee pain. It’s not an impressive feat for some, but coming from my lazy starting point, I’ll take it. Besides, it's not about comparing yourself to other people. It's about your own personal progress, which I find pretty good considering I didn't do this a year ago. Currently, my pace is about 11.5 minutes per mile, putting me right in the middle of pacing requirements for the race.
Oh yeah, I also had thought maybe the PT was a bunch of hoopla and maybe my knee pain is only not returning because I gave it enough time to fully rest before I started up training again. But then earlier last week, I didn’t have enough time to warm up and decided to go on a short, light run anyway to get some distance in for my day’s workout before I had to leave for work. Big mistake. I realized then that what I learned in PT made a big difference. I only ran for 30 minutes but I definitely started to feel the fatigue and beginning onset of my knee pain towards the end of that 30 minute run. So I rested a few extra days and when I went for my run this past Friday, I made sure to definitely warm up with my exercises as well as start my run with a 5 minute walk before fully running and it made a big difference! I was finally able to push myself to that 12.11 km, which is the farthest I’ve run in a session during my training. I only stopped because I had to get back home to get ready and leave for work, but had I had the time to keep going, I probably could’ve gone a little further. I had no pain in my knee, nor did I feel tired during the run. I felt good enough to keep going. And I didn't feel sore in my legs or anything the day after either. I now have a little more confidence in myself to actually complete this. Granted, still terrified, but I have more faith now that I might actually be able to do this! I have 3 weeks left out to train - I want to stop a few days before leaving for my trip as it’s not recommended to overexert yourself too much week of the race - and 4 weeks till the actual race is here!
Originally this trip was only going to be my best friend and I - my husband can’t make it due to limited days off from work - but as of the past week, two of my sisters are now accompanying me on this trip to root me on! I was excited before but now I’m really excited to have them there to support me! It really does mean a lot and I’m excited to run through the parks and see them as I pass by. It’s going to give me that extra push to get through it. You don’t think it means much but it actually does mean a lot to have your friends and family cheering you on. It makes a BIG difference and knowing that you have that support is a huge motivator. It gives you something to look forward to, and might be just the thing you need to get you through the tough, mental parts of the race to cross that finish line. My brother was really cute and took me shopping to look for appropriate shoes and gear for the race (he’s a sneakerhead). Even little things like that made a big difference. Especially since I’m clueless on what the appropriate shoe is. I kept picking out shoes based on color and cuteness, while he yelled at me because all the shoes I picked out weren’t designed for running. (But seriously why are a majority of running shoes so ugly and in boring colors?!?) I found an outfit for the race too along with matching shoes finally. Now I just gotta accessorize it up and tweak some things to look more Sleeping Beauty inspired. I didn’t want to run in a full on costume for my first race though. I didn’t want to be uncomfortable on my first run.
I’m excited to update with another blog post, post-race, once I cross that finish line and write about my experience if I live to tell the tale.
In the meantime, here’s my advice to anyone starting out like me in their training, if you’ve never run before and want to work towards any type of goal, whether it be a 5k, 10k, or half. I can’t say for a full marathon as I feel this is a different ballgame that I just can’t speak for. That shit looks even more terrifying so kudos to those that have done it and more.
Warm up! Start with a 5 minute walk before throwing yourself fully into a run. And cool down after your run. Don’t come to a full stop but rather keep walking for a few. Before your run, activate your hips/glutes with a resistance band. Especially if you’re going for long distance and notice any onset of pain in your legs at all. You can look up different exercises to activate these muscles on Youtube.
Make sure you’re running in the right shoes. I’ve been running in the same sneakers I’ve worn for working out/gymming/anything active since 2012. Surprising, right? Considering I own 213912890381 pairs of black boots but one pair of actual sneakers for activewear.
Give yourself enough rest days in between runs. I looked up half marathon training schedules on Pinterest and they really did help once I started following them instead of trying to run consecutive days in a row. I thought it was better to just keep pushing yourself to speed up your progress but it actually doesn’t. You need to give yourself enough time to recover in between runs or you’ll just burn yourself out and cause injury. RunDisney.com actually has great training programs on their site, free of charge to read through and use, for both beginners and more experienced runners.
Nutrition, nutrition, nutrition. In any case, training for a run or not. This is always important. You wouldn’t start a trip with an empty tank, right? So make sure you’re fueling your body correctly so it can tap into energy stores sufficiently. Now that I’m eating healthy and on a regular basis, I do feel a lot better during the day, and it helps to motivate me to actually finish my workouts, as well as give me the energy to complete.
Put together a great fast-paced playlist. There’s a lot to choose from on Spotify as well, depending on your desired genre of music. Don’t underestimate the power of a great song to workout or run to. I’ve been in plenty of situations where I was really close to giving up, but the magical skip to a fire track helped throw it back up for me.
Make and follow a training schedule. Get a calendar if you have to. Write down what you’re going to do each day and check it off as you complete it. There’s a lot of great ones on Pinterest if you look them up that tell you how far you should run on which days, and what kind of workouts you can do in between to help strengthen as well as rest your body of work as you train.
Motivation. Have a good support team! Make sure you have people you can talk to when you need advice. One of my coworkers runs marathons like it’s his job and I find him really helpful when I need tips or have questions. I feel really intimidated by his accomplishments but having him believe in me is really powerful for me when I feel like this is impossible. Find someone to do it with if you have friends with similar interests/goals. A workout buddy helps to keep you motivated as well as accountable.
Have fun with it! Remember why you’re doing this. Whether it be to prove something to yourself, unlock a new achievement on your bucket list, collect a pretty medal or whatever. Set a treat yourself prize for achieving your goal. Don’t kick yourself if you fail either. It's just a setback if you don't complete it. Make a promise to try harder next time and reset your goals to achieve them small steps at a time. Celebrate the small wins, even if it’s adding 1 km onto your distance. Enjoy the journey of your training as you work towards the date of your race. I’m excited to run through the parks because well, Disney. It’s going to look so kick ass running through Cinderella’s castle at sunrise as I push towards the end.
(Both photos are from the @rundisney Instagram account.)