Monday, October 28, 2013

The One Year Difference

It's been exactly one year since I began my running blog, which means that it has been exactly one year since I began my 30 week marathon training plan. The big difference between this time last year and this time this year is that I have finally considered myself to be a runner. I really began running in 2006, which is when I was a freshman in college, because my college roommate was really into running. I had run occasionally before that, but never on a regular basis. I ran my first road race in 2008 and since then I have run in 46 road races. At this time last year, I had already ran several 5K's and 10K's and I had even ran 4 half marathons already. I decided that it was time for me to attempt the big 26.2, but I still did not really consider myself that much of a runner. I figured that running a marathon was the next logical step down my running path. There were many people who told me that I would not be able to run a marathon and I wanted to prove them wrong. After 30 weeks of long, hard training, I successfully completed my first marathon on May 26th, 2013.

When I reflect back on my marathon training and race, I realize that this was the moment that I truly considered myself a runner. After the Buffalo Marathon, a friend told me that only 1% of the population ever completes a marathon. As a math teacher, I can truly understand the significance of that statistic. Even though my marathon time was way slower than the average time for someone my age, I still felt like I was part of an elite group. That feeling was recently squashed when I read an article that Hal Higdon posted. I have used, and really enjoyed, Hal Higdon's half marathon and marathon training plans so I follow his status updates. The Slow Lane was an article about whether or not there is any pride in running a marathon anymore. Everyone runs for different reasons and not everyone runs races solely for the competition. I think that we should be commending the fact that so many people have taken up running as a sport or a hobby.

I did like that the article talks a little bit about how "fun runs" such as the Color Run and Tough Mudder are not even real races. If you had followed my running blog or knew how my running was going after the marathon, then you will recall that I had some major runner burnout this summer. I was really mentally and physically struggling through many of my runs this summer and had no desire to even be running at all. I ended up running in the Color Run and the Dirty Girl Mud Run and they were exactly the kinds of runs that I needed to kick my runner burnout. By the end of the summer, I was running for fun again and had no specific goal in mind. I usually sign up for races all of the time so that I will always have a goal to reach, but it was great to be able to run however much I wanted to run whenever I wanted to run.

By the end of the summer, I was more than ready to enter my 2nd year of coaching cross country. I was ready to focus on my athletes' running instead of my own for once. I workout and run with my team pretty much everyday so I knew that I would definitely be in great shape by the end of the season, if not the best shape I had ever been in. After the first 2 weeks of cross country, I was itching to begin running road races again. It had been quite awhile since I had the desire to enter a road race and I was ready to make my return to the race scene. I ran a 5K the day after my 25th birthday and I finished the race in 27:27, which was 49 seconds faster than my previous PR. I had been trying to break 28 minutes during a 5K race for a long time and finally being able to do it was such an incredible feeling for me.

After my new 5K PR, I realized that up until this point there were not many races that I had run that I had really raced. I did run fast during 5K's, but I never really pushed myself as hard as I could. I enjoyed running 5K's, but I never really had the desire to see how far I could push myself. I knew that I was getting into better shape every week of cross country and that I was ready to really test my limits during races. I realized that being a good coach meant that I should also practice what I preach. I am not really teaching my athletes anything if I enter races just to run in them. I wanted to show them that if you set a goal and worked hard, then you could achieve your goal. I made myself a 5K goal of getting below 28 minutes and I realized that running a 5K is much more of an accomplishment when you have a goal to achieve.

I ran a few races during the cross country season, but my best race was the Chris Bond 5K that I ran last weekend. I had run this race a few times before in college with my college roommate so Jason and I decided to sign up for it. When you are practicing or coaching meets 6 days a week, entering a race on a Sunday morning does not seem as exciting as when you signed up. I decided on the way to the race that my only goal for the day would be to just break 28 minutes again. Once I got to the start line, I began to feel like this was not a good enough goal. The minute that I took my first step of the race I knew that I was going to be able to get a PR. I felt so good during the entire race and I knew that I was keeping a quick, steady pace. With every step that I took, I began to feel more confident and determined to not just break 28 minutes, but to break 27 minutes. I felt so incredible when I crossed the finish line at 26:49, shattering my old PR by 38 seconds. I am definitely attributing my recent success to the cross country season.

The cross country season came to an end over the weekend, but I am very grateful for the fact that this season has put me into the best shape that I have ever been in throughout my entire life. I am thankful that I was able to run with my athletes everyday and hopefully be a positive role model for them too. This cross country season made me fall in love with running all over again and gave me back that spark that I needed to enjoy running again. I was frequently reminded of how compassionate and encouraging runners are to one another, whether they are on the same team or not. I was reminded of how unique the bond of runners really is. I was reminded of why I love running so much in the first place, even on days that running is the last thing that I want to do. I was reminded that success is a result of hard work and determination. I was reminded that I really can be considered a runner, even on my slowest days. I was reminded that running is fun and that you do not always need to have a goal. I was reminded that running is the sport that you will love to hate and hate to love.

When I look back on the past year since I began marathon training, I am really proud of how far I have come as a runner. I ran 13 races this past year, including 2 half marathons and my first full marathon. I shattered my 5K and 10K PR's more than once and I proved to myself that I can accomplish my goals if I work hard enough. The million dollar question is what comes next? I have been toying around with many different ideas for my next big running goal and have not settled on one yet. I have decided that I am going to let the next couple of months just be running for fun. I plan to enter a couple more road races before 2013 ends, but I do not have any major goals set for myself. During cross country season, there were weeks where I was running 5 or 6 days in a row. I am definitely going to cut back a bit now so that I will be ready to tackle my next running goal once the new year starts. I built a really solid running base during cross country so I will be ready for whatever I decide to do next. In the meantime, I am going to enjoy running and get myself ready for whatever comes next. It's amazing what a difference a year can make.