I won’t bury the lead: I recently completed the National Women’s Half-Marathon in Washington, DC! This race was actually my fourth half-marathon, but everything about it felt different from start to finish.
I signed up for my first half-marathon when I was 31. I had just moved to a new city to live with my then-boyfriend-now-husband. He traveled a lot for work and I had a challenging job that didn’t spark much joy. Given that I had uprooted for love, I found myself in search of a hobby that would bring personal satisfaction, but most importantly, help me get into shape for what I was hoping would be an engagement and wedding in the not-too-distant future. I somehow convinced my sister to sign-up with me for the Disney Princess Half-Marathon in March 2010. As someone who was always the slowest runner for the Presidential Fitness mile in elementary school and didn’t make the varsity basketball team in high school because I couldn’t keep up with my teammates, proving that I had the stamina to accomplish this milestone felt momentous. My parents and boyfriend made plans to join us for the event in Orlando. My only goals were to not to be the last one on the course or get swept up by the “struggle bus.” I wasn’t and I didn’t. I cried when I crossed the finish line because as someone who has been overweight my entire life, I had achieved a physical feat I thought was not possible for someone like me. We were engaged four months later.
The second time I committed to a half-marathon was in 2015. At 36, I was married and my then-boyfriend-now-husband and I had moved to a new city to start our life together. I had a job that I loved and we had a healthy, precocious baby boy who never slept past 5:30 am. I had everything that I thought I wanted and yet felt distressingly unfulfilled. I was struggling to make sense of what being a mother meant to me given how drastically it had shifted my identity, my priorities, and my body. When my son turned one, I decided to take on the challenge of running one race every month for a year to help me get out of my post-partum funk. I channeled energy into researching different races in my area and joined the local chapter of an active Facebook group called Moms Run This Town (MRTT) for additional support. I was introduced to run/walk intervals as a method of reducing the risk of injury and I was hooked. After participating in various 5Ks, 10Ks, 10 milers, mud runs, color runs, and obstacle course races, it seemed fitting that I would culminate my 12-month campaign with the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Half-Marathon which would take place two days before my 37th birthday. I billed this my “comeback” race and had high hopes that this would be a turning point for me. So, when the race was canceled 24 hours before it was scheduled to start because of a worrisome weather system predicted for the area, I was devastated. Nonetheless, she persisted.
The following morning with the sky inexplicably clear, I got a ride to the intended starting line from a kind MRTT stranger and embarked on a solo 13.1-mile journey without the fanfare, course support, and energy of a typical large-scale race. It was with sheer determination, grit, and maybe a healthy dose of chutzpah to prove that I could still do something for myself that I crossed over the bridge from Alexandria, Virginia to National Harbor, Maryland. According to my Garmin watch, I had beat my pre-partum Disney half-marathon race time by 22 minutes. My husband and two-year-old son embraced me at the imaginary finish line with no medals or bananas, but lots of hugs to celebrate. I started to believe that maybe it was possible to find myself again.
My third half-marathon came just five months later. Given that the previous race technically didn’t happen, I felt like I needed to make my comeback official (see note above about chutzpah). I decided to continue my monthly race challenge until further notice and signed up for the Rock & Roll DC Half-Marathon in March 2016. My singular goal was to beat my own unofficial finish time. I doubled-down on educating myself on proper fuel for endurance running, upleveled my gear, and mapped out training routes that would prepare me for the course. I tweaked my interval times and landed on a 90 second: 45 second rotation that felt fast, but manageable. My strategizing paid off; I finished with a new PR (personal record) that was seven minutes faster than my previous race. I did it. I had come back.
Just when I felt like I had found that inner spark again, I was promoted to a new managerial role at work, I became pregnant with our second child, and we started looking to purchase a house. Everything felt hard and overwhelming again and the first thing to go was my self-care. After 20 months, my run-one-race-per-month streak ended cold turkey.
Once our second son was born in March 2017, I tried to get back into running, but struggled to hit my stride. Not only was it challenging to find me-time juggling a newborn, a three-year-old, and a busy job with a long commute, but I had developed issues with my hips during my second pregnancy that made it painful to do anything high-impact for a sustained period of time. I attempted a few rounds of “Couch to 5K,” but it didn’t really stick. I had lost my running mojo. Full stop.
Fast-forward to the fall of 2021. A lot had shifted in my personal and professional life in the five years since my running heyday, some of which I will probably share in future blog posts, but after physical therapy to address issues with bilateral gluteal tendonitis (yes, pain in my butt – I had two of them!) and pelvic floor weakness, I was ready to lace up my sneakers and try for another comeback. However, now I was approaching 43, and because of the extended exercise hiatus combined with acute grief from the loss of my father overlayed with pandemic-induced stress eating and drinking habits, I was more than 100 lbs. overweight according to my recent doctor's visit. Not only did I quickly learn that my endurance was non-existent, but I discovered that my feet had grown a size and my old sports bras no longer fit. Disappointed, but undeterred, I started out the first week with 30 seconds of running followed by 2-minute walking intervals for eight rounds. It felt hard. I felt discouraged. I kept going.
Even though it was slow (like, really slow) and steady, I eventually built up my mileage to a 5K distance and gradually shifted my intervals to a 1:1 60-second run/walk. Although my speed was nowhere close to where I had left off back in 2016, I released the expectation that I needed to compete with that former version of myself. It made it even easier to do so when I purchased a secondhand Garmin watch and erased my account history which meant that every run now was a new personal best. Letting go also allowed me to notice that I enjoyed and appreciated being able to move my body again. I wasn’t using running as an escape nor as a way to get into shape for a special occasion. I wasn't running to prove anything or to return to a former iteration of myself. As a result, I noticed my body started to change as my relationship with my body evolved. I was inspired by Shalane Flanagan’s feat of six marathons in six weeks and set out to run six 10Ks on my own between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. I ran the first 10K on a trail near my childhood home and the sixth one on the trail near my current home. I felt proud. I felt strong. This felt different.
As the calendar turned to 2022, I set my intention on alignment and set my sights on my next challenge. When my uncle became sick, I was reminded about how much we take our health and time for granted. After researching spring races in my area, I signed up for the National Women’s Half-Marathon. It would take place on May 1, which coincided with my own half-birthday. I took it as a sign.
Stay tuned for Running on Full: Part 2 next month!
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