I started this running adventure back in 2015 when I decided to sign up for a half marathon to force myself to lose weight. When I signed up I knew that I needed a goal. Most smart people tell you not to set a time goal on your first half (or full) marathon. I knew that the way my brain was geared I needed to have a time to work for and I decided that I wanted to be under 2 hours.
Now for a person easily 70 lbs overweight (plus I had never ran 3 miles without walking) sub 2:00 was a big goal. I ran my first half at the Mill Race Marathon in Columbus Indiana. It was perfect weather, a flat course and I was ready. I hadn’t missed a training run and I was extremely disciplined at running just under a 9:00 minute per mile pace so I would know what that feels like on race day. At the end of the race I had gotten faster at every mile and finished with my last mile at 7:49. It was a perfect outcome and my time was 1:53:48.
I have ran several half marathons since then and was able to get my time down to 1:50:55 later that same month at a race that was much hillier. Over the last couple years I have done several other halfs (all slower), one full marathon (really slow), 10ks, 5ks, and even a trail race or two. My best race though is still the Mill Race in 2015. Negative splits for a half marathon and NO WALKING. I am still proud of that race.
When I beat my Mill Race time later that month I had to walk up some hills but still managed a faster time. Since the Mill Race in 2015 including all of 2016 and 2017 I don’t know that I ran another race without walking. 5K’s I would take off to fast and crash. Trail races I would walk up big hills. 10K – walked, 10Miler-walked, full marathon – walked a lot. It seemed like race days where always disappointments in 2016 and 2017. I know that a big part of that was my training and on a few races the weather got me, but it was always something.
I decided earlier this year that it was time to buckle down and get a new PR at the Mill Race Half. I started training early and gave myself a 12 week training plan. When I started that plan I was already running 6+ miles for Saturday longs runs. I knew this was the year that I could go for the PR. I wanted to run the half in under 1:50. That would get me a new PR and beat my previous time on that course by almost 4 minutes.
Once the training started I felt good and things went perfectly to plan. At week five I had a 9 mile run scheduled and ended up finishing that at 8:22 pace. That was significantly faster than I had expected and was about the same pace I had been running my 3-5 mile runs. The week after that I was doing a 5K as part of my training plan. I decided that I was going to push the pace on that race and see what I could do. I wanted to PR my 5K and I needed to beat 24:08. I ran that 5K in 23:25. I PR’d by a lot. I learned that I was way above where I expected to be on speed.
The next Saturday I did a 10mile run at a 8:12 pace and that run had some MAJOR hills in it. For the first time I started thinking that 1:45 could be possible for the half marathon. That seemed completely crazy to me. That would be an 8 minute per mile pace! I had never ran an 8:00 pace for anything over 3 miles before. But for some reason I convinced myself to start testing the waters. A couple weeks later I set a new PR for a 10K. Then I broke it multiple times during my long runs. Sometimes I would set a new 10K PR in the first half of a run only to set it again in the last half of the run.
By the end of the summer and heading into my taper pretty much every run I did my watch would tell me was a top 3 run I had ever done at that distance. My 3 mile weekday runs would be at 5K PR pace. My weekday longer runs would be 10K PR pace and my Saturday long runs kept setting new PRs. I was ready.
Race day came and there was no excuse to fall back on. The weather was good (actually it was GREAT) my nagging hamstring pain hadn’t given me a problem for a couple weeks and my training was completed and successful. It was time!
I took off that morning and ran the first 11 miles each between 7:52 and 7:59. I felt good. Mile 11 was actually my second fastest mile. At the end of mile 11 the wheels started falling off. I had a side stitch that wouldn’t go away. My legs started to feel heavy and I started to notice my breathing was no longer relaxed. I knew I needed to slow down to finish, but how much could I slow down? I had a time to get and 1:45 or better was within reach. Mile 12 came in at 8:24 and mile 13 at 8:30. I faded but I didn’t burn out. I kept going and at 13.1 miles my time was 1:44:57.
That means in 2018 I set a PR for every race distance I competed in. When I created my training plan I added three races: Bluegrass 10K, Mid-Summer Nights Run 5K and Mill Race Half Marathon. All three turned in PRs. All three turned out to be big PRs. The big question I started asking was why? I have had other training cycles that didn’t result in anywhere near the successes of this one. Did I do something different? Was I just lucky?
After reflecting a bit I think it comes down to a couple things. One is that I was building on a solid base this year. I have 3+ years of running year round under my belt. I haven’t been in top shape that entire time, but I know what it feels like to get there. I didn’t have to learn to push through the pain. That is a huge advantage. There will be bad runs. Some runs will hurt. Knowing that before hand makes it a lot easier to accept it and push on giving your best effort available that day.
I believe the biggest difference this year is that I believed in myself. I had a couple runs that really surprised me and convinced me that I could maintain 8 minute miles for that distance. I kept telling others that I wanted to get 8:15 and would see about 8:00. Realistically I knew weeks before that I was going for 8:00. The only thing that would have stopped me from trying was weather. When I learned that race day was going to be 58 and cloudy I knew I could do it.
In 2015, I was in just as good of shape physically as I was this time. Mentally it was a different story. I was nervous and I was scared of failure. In 2015 my body had abilities that my mind didn’t believe in. This year my mind was stronger. My body on the other hand decided just before 12 miles that it wasn’t so sure. My mind wouldn’t take no for an answer. There was some arguing between my legs and my brain at mile 12. They ultimately agreed that 8:30 or so for the last couple miles would be acceptable. Luckily my brain crunched the numbers correctly and I got my 1:45 goal. Not just a pr, but I beat my best time on this course by over 8 minutes doubling what I had originally hoped to do.
The Mill Race is by far my favorite half marathon I have ran. I think part of it is the race environment in the town of Columbus. The town has really bought into the race and it is an event not just a race. I think the bigger reason I love this race so much is that I felt so accomplished and proud after having negative splits on my very first half. This time I put up a really big PR. This race has given me a reason to feel good about my running. A few other races have done that over the years, but not many. 2018 has been a good year for me running. I believed in myself and I got things done.
I relate life to running in many ways. 2017 was the hardest and most heartbreaking year my family has ever had. There was one thing after another that made us question everything. Literally everything. We had to deal with illness, disappointment, death just about anything that can bring you down we dealt with to some degree. The final blow was when we lost my mother-in-law last November to cancer. The pain and heartache from that is still present every day.
Reflecting on my running over the last couple weeks has convinced me that 2017 could be seen as a training cycle. It was hard, we cried, we complained and we pushed on even when we didn’t know if we could. My family has a new base level of mental toughness that we didn’t necessarily have last year. We can use that base to push towards even greater things now. I’m not happy that 2017 happened the way it did, but I can promise you that I came out stronger than I went in. If we really stop and think about it isn’t that the goal? To learn and become bigger, better, stronger.
I guess my main point with all of this is that no matter how strong we actually are (or could be) it doesn’t matter if we don’t believe it in our minds. Mental toughness doesn’t mean you don’t feel things. It means that you are willing to fight for what you know is right. It means that you aren’t going to give up when it is hard. Mental toughness is crucial to become a strong, healthy person. You never gain strength without stressing the muscle you are exercising. Difficult times in life (no matter how much you would like to avoid them) will at the very least give you an opportunity to expand your mental toughness. So when life is hard remember the other times that life was hard and you found a way to push through. Do that again…you already know how. You have been in training for those moments your entire life.