I went from no running experience to running the San Francisco Half Marathon in two months. When it was all over and I had some time to sit down with myself, I realized how many things the experience has taught me.
This is the last piece of a series on training for and running a half marathon. Also read:
Part 1: why I decided to sign up for the San Francisco Half Marathon
part 2: how I injured my knees in the second week
part 3: how I felt like a failure and contemplated quitting
part 4: how I stayed motivated and smashed records
part 5: how I got halfway through my marathon training & what changed since the beginning
part 6: the apps & devices I used to track my progress
part 7: the roller coaster of emotions during two months of training
Part 8: I did it! I ran a half marathon!
Part 9: 21 tips and tricks to run a half marathon
I am not a personal trainer or a running expert, but these are personal learnings from two months of intense training leading up to the half marathon that could apply to anyone interested in going for 13.1.
1. I am all that matters
I have always been a big fan of challenges. When people tell me I can’t do something, I eagerly want to prove them wrong. In large part, I started my training to show the world I was able to do this. By telling me I wasn’t able to run or hike, others challenged me to do it, and I wanted to surprise them.
In the beginning of my training some people would joke that I was running slower than a turtle, and I got pissed off. I was running and doing some activity, and I was not about to let people sit back and criticize.
I didn’t want to let others bring me down, so I shifted focus to myself, particularly how I was striving to do this for myself. It allowed me to be easier on myself and to fully understand that this should be a fun experience: I could run the race however I wanted.
2. The training > the race
In the beginning of my training I was focused on the end goal: running the half marathon. After three weeks of training, I felt that my legs and feet would start itching when I hadn’t been running in a while. Even today, four days after running the San Francisco Half Marathon, I want to hit the pavement again and go for a run.
As soon as I started realizing and seeing the changes in my feelings and my body, I started to enjoy running. I didn’t enjoy all runs, but running as a sport I actually came to enjoy. It was eye-opening to see that you can go from hating something to enjoying it if you push yourself hard enough to keep going.
That moment I learned the most important thing from this challenge: it was never about running the half marathon. Those 13.1 miles mean nothing. What kind of number is 13.1 anyway? It was all about the training. I learned and discovered so much about running and myself during my training.
3. I learned to listen to my body
When you have no experience in something, it’s easy (and quite common) to listen to others, like friends and family. However, there is only one thing that you should listen to: your body.
From the moment I walked into the running shop to buy shoes, I noticed that my feet preferred shoes that other people wouldn’t pick. So many shoes from internationally-known brands did not feel comfortable. Instead, I let my feet lead the way and bought shoes that are actually worn by more experienced runners (because they have a lower heel).
It wasn’t until halfway through my training I fully realized how much your body communicates with you if you’re only open to listen to it. Your joints, your stomach, your back and your feet will all tell a story, and you just need to follow them. For example: I thought that I had to keep on running during the half marathon. On moments things got rough I didn’t want to walk or stop because I was afraid that getting back on track would be hard again. When my shoe laces weren’t tight anymore at mile 11, bending down and stretching felt like heaven on my knees. I have no idea whether it’s a good idea to stretch during your activity, but it felt so divine that nowadays I stretch my knees when I go for long hikes and I need to walk downhill.
Because of my half marathon training, I started to listen to my body more frequently, and I treat it with more care.
4. Determination: I have it
I signed up for the San Francisco Half Marathon in an impulsive moment; I never really thought it through. I didn’t think about the consequences to my body, to my free time (suddenly you’ll be spending three nights a week running), to my mood, to my nutrition…You get the idea.
Even though I signed up in a spur of the moment, the challenge awakened a tremendous amount of determination in me. I had to train, and I was going to run that damn half marathon. I skipped time with friends to go running, I left work parties early to go running, and I even skipped a weekend at the Grand Canyon because it was race weekend. I made sacrifices but got something else in return: I discovered how much willpower I have if I really want to achieve something.
Now that the half marathon is behind me, I still make time to go running: I still decline meet-ups and social get-togethers because I have already planned to go running. Once I’ve set my mind on going for a run, I stick do it.
5. I won’t overthink, I won’t wait
A year ago I wanted to register for the Hollywood Half Marathon, but I never did so because I waited too long. I started training, but since I never registered for a ticket, I abandoned my training after three weeks.
From the moment I found out about the San Francisco Half Marathon, I signed up for it. I did it without thinking, and that was the best thing I could have done. If I had thought it through more, I probably would have never done it.
Next time I have a crazy idea, I’ll make it concrete immediately and make sure there is no way out. If I want to learn something, I’ll enroll in a class. If I want to make shoes, I’ll buy material. Don’t overthink your crazy ideas, just go for them and create deadlines.
6. Supporters are everything
Even if running a race is about doing it for yourself, you need supporters. You need them during your training before the race and at the finish line. When you feel miserable and broken, they will get you through.
Look for good supporters who are always there, people who admire you for running the race. When I felt miserable, I turned to them. I would rant, and they would say smart things to me like “Wow, your body looks amazing!” or “You went running for an hour in this heat? That’s crazy!” Their small words and acts of encouragement make such a big difference.
Even the strangers on the street while you are running the half marathon, made a tremendous difference.
7. Embrace struggle
When I struggle with something, I feel weak. If I can’t do something by myself and I need help from others, I feel small and helpless, so I tend to avoid those situations. It happens so often that people tell me, “It’s ok to ask for help.”
While running a half marathon, you struggle numerous times. You want to bang your head against the wall and give up. But when I was running the half marathon and saw other people struggling, I never looked down on them. I realized they were pushing themselves to finish it, which makes anyone better than the people on the sideline.
Struggling and admitting it doesn’t make you weak. It makes you strong. It allows you to analyze and improve that situation rather than to run away from it. Giving up is easy, but struggling and owning up to it and still continuing is what makes you different from the crowd.
8. Keep your emotions in check
It’s easy to get lost in your emotions during your training, and you’ll feel tons of those. Whether you feel powerless or empowered, don’t listen. Instead, focus on why you’re doing this.
I never listened to my emotions: Not when I felt like a loser. Not when I felt on top of the world. I just continued my training and focused on each next run. I looked forward to focusing on my training instead of the small victories or losses. Celebrating small victories is important, but don’t get caught up on them. There is a bigger goal to achieve.
9. Always keep questioning yourself
I started running with the idea that I hated it. I was curious whether I really hated it that much. And I ended up realizing I actually like running.
When I was younger, in high school, I was forced to run long distances. I must have been traumatized and left with a lot of hatred towards running. During the half marathon and the training leading up to it, I realized that I don’t hate running in general; I just dislike long distances. But I love sprinting.
My favorite philosopher Descartes wrote about this thing called Cartesian doubt, or the ability of being skeptical about the truth of one’s beliefs. It’s about realizing that what we know might be incorrect.
This half marathon experience thought me my original beliefs were wrong. I actually like running instead of hating it. What other thoughts do I have that are incorrect? What other things I dislike but I actually like?
10. When you push long enough, it gets addicting
This week I went out for my very first run after the race. I actually had other plans, but I had an urge to go running, so I cancelled those plans and hit the pavement.
I had no goal, no distance and no time I had to run. I could do whatever I wanted. It was heaven. While I was running, I realized it became an addiction. Playing sports and using my body became an addiction. I feel my legs itching when I don’t exercise for a long time.
I can’t believe I would feel like this after just two months of running twice or three times a week. I went from being moderately active to being active on a daily basis, loving and needing it. What a change.
I might have crossed the finish line of the half marathon after 2 hours and 30 minutes, but I accomplished so much more. I pushed my limits and got to know myself. I shattered expectations and started to enjoy running. I became fitter and healthier. I became a better version of myself.
So I am dying to know… what are your personal lessons from running your first half marathon?