"That's the thing about running: your greatest runs are rarely measured by racing success. They are moments in time when running allows you to see how wonderful your life is." Kara Goucher, American long-distance runner
I started the Couch to 5K plan one year ago this month. Little did I know then how much running would become a part of my life or what an impact it would make. Here are a few of the things that I have learned from a year of running:
- Small beginnings can lead to big things. A year ago, it was all I could do to complete the run/walk intervals from week one of C25K at a snail's pace--I was doing a 16 minute mile if I was lucky. Yesterday I did 6.2 miles at an average speed of 13:23, and my shorter runs tend to be around 12 minute miles or better. I may never be fast, but knowing where I started and where I am now, I have confidence that I can continue to improve.
- Start slow and build momentum. I couldn't start running the longer intervals in C25K until I learned to s-l-o-w way down, even slower than I could walk at times; going slower allowed me to go for longer and longer distances. The funny thing is, even without specifically working on speed, my pace has improved as I've continued running. The momentum that developed by slowing down has carried me longer and farther than I could have imagined.
- Persistence pays off. I didn't progress through C25K as fast as the plan calls for (nine weeks); I repeated days and sometimes even weeks because I didn't feel ready to move on. Eventually, though, I got to where I could run 30 minutes without walking and ran a 5K with no walk breaks. Now my 'easy' runs are 2-3 miles.
- The biggest battles are in the mind. One of the reasons I didn't go through C25K in nine weeks is because my mind did not believe my body could do it. I didn't beat the '20 minute monster' (the first longer run of 20 minutes) until I was able to listen to my body more than my mind and push past the negative voice that screamed at me to walk (and still does sometimes). I learned to take inventory when my brain said 'stop': breathing okay? legs okay? pain anywhere? then KEEP GOING!
- Learning to listen to my body is important. The only way I could push through the mental battles was by listening to my body to see if it was able to keep going. Likewise, if something doesn't feel right when I'm running, I have to pay attention to tell whether it's because I've gotten sloppy with my form, I'm pushing too hard, or there's something really wrong. I won't hesitate to cut a run short if needed; I want to be able to run for years to come, so I'd rather err on the side of caution to avoid a serious injury now. Yeah, I plan on being that 80 year old granny running in races, LOL!
- People are far more accepting of me than I expect. I participated in a running club last year and was the slowest person in the group by a long shot; every person there, however, made me feel welcome and accepted me where I was. That has been true of nearly all the runners I have met; I find I have more in common with them than I would have thought possible. It's as though running was the initiation into a group that I once thought was aloof and elitist; nothing could be further from the truth.
- Setting goals and making plans for reaching them is essential. When I was doing C25K, I knew how long I should be running and how often; when I finished and didn't have any firm goals afterward, I floundered awhile. I tried different plans, but I couldn't get excited about any of them. Once I actually registered for a half marathon (and then a second!), I knew I had to become much more consistent and intentional about my running. I set up a plan for myself and have been following it ever since, and I have been thrilled with the progress I've been making.
- Not every day is a personal record or a woo hoo moment. Some runs are easy and fun, but others are slow, hard, and an effort to even start. That's life; accept it and appreciate the great runs when they come, and try to learn from the hard ones. The only runs I've regretted so far, though, are the ones I did not get out and do; even the hard ones bring a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment, and they help me keep moving toward my goals.
I am so grateful to the 200+ Pound Club group and others who have shared their experiences about running and to all the people who have encouraged me. They gave me hope that maybe, just maybe, someone like me could do it too. I discovered an active person--dare I say even an athlete--inside me that I didn't know existed.
I never expected when I started trying to run that the process would teach me about the rest of my journey. As I look back, it's amazing how those same lessons have applied to developing a healthy lifestyle--starting small, slowing down, being persistent, and so on. I'm excited to see what other lessons I can learn along the way, because there is always something new to discover.
Running is not the answer to everything in life, of course. It won't solve world hunger or find a cure for cancer (though many races raise money for those and other causes!), and it's not for everyone. It has been the right thing for me, however, and I'm so glad that I didn't give up and quit when it seemed impossible that I'd ever be able to do it.