“Running is nothing more than a series of arguments between the part of your brain that wants to stop and the part that wants to keep going.”
Every year on New Year’s Eve, I make a list of the major goals that I want to accomplish in the upcoming year. In 2019, one of my big goals was to finish a 10k race. My cousin and I had been running 5k’s fairly regularly and thought that a 10k would be a good challenge for us. We began training in February and successfully completed the 10k race at the Illinois Marathon in Champaign-Urbana in April. It will always be one of my fondest and proudest accomplishments.
I began running in January 2018 as part of one of my 2018 goals to make my physical and mental health a priority. I knew running would be a quick way to lose some weight and gain some stamina, so I started short run/walk intervals on the treadmill and it grew from there. Each week I would mentally challenge myself to run just a little bit more and walk just a little bit less, until I was running up to 30 minutes at a time without stopping. I didn’t realize when I began this journey that challenging myself physically would turn into such a huge mental outlet as well.
I never considered myself a serious distance runner. Even after completing the 10k race, I didn’t think I’d have any desire to complete any further distance races. The week immediately following the 10k, we decided to try running seven miles on our own just to see what we could do. When we completed that easily, we shockingly found ourselves tossing around the possibility of running a half marathon at some point – something I previously and adamantly swore I’d never have any interest in doing.
Summer passed quickly with little time for any serious distance training, and I learned of a 10-mile women’s race taking place in Chicago. This seemed like the perfect opportunity to really challenge myself without taking on an entire half-marathon. The 10-mile distance seemed like a manageable stepping stone and it was perfect because it was an empowering all-female race (plus, I couldn’t pass up the adorable swag they were offering for race finishers). My cousin and I decided to commit to the race and began training in early August – just two months before race day.
We faced quite a few unforeseen setbacks during training, between minor physical injuries, mental setbacks, and a sheer lack of spare time to devote to serious training. Each week we got together to increase our distance and gear up for this race, and as the weeks of training went by, I learned a lot more about myself as a whole than I realized I would when I initially set out to complete this race.
Here are the five big things that I learned from training for a 10-mile race:
1) I do not enjoy training for long distance running.
There. I said it. Training for long distance races is incredibly time consuming. I started running not only for the physical health benefits, but because it provided an outlet for stress and anxiety. A good three-mile run was always a sure-cure when my world started feeling overwhelming. The 10k was a great challenge for me and I ended up actually really enjoying all of it, including the training. I felt so empowered before, during, and after that race. Training for ten miles, on the other hand, was nothing short of awful for me. With every single passing week, I dreaded when distance day rolled around more and more as the mileage increased. The further we got into training, the more my body resisted. Not to mention that my schedule got busier the closer we got to race day, so squeezing in time for an hour and a half run each week on top of running anywhere from two to four additional times by myself throughout the week felt like a job that I was no longer doing for myself. My cousin and I started running together because we love running for the same benefits, and because we enjoy our discussions and time together during our runs. When training for ten miles, we basically gave up on the idea of bonding over a good therapeutic run because talking was pretty much out of the question for us after the first four or five miles. I found myself counting down the days until this race was over so I could get back to actually enjoying my runs again.
2) Runners have a mental toughness like no other.
I’d venture to say that runners and non-runners alike would agree that running any distance takes serious physical strength. There are plenty of days that I’ve had to push through IT band syndrome and a variety of minor aches and pains from running longer distances frequently. Beyond that, though, there is nothing that compares to the mental battle you will go through when you have a terrible day, or a jam-packed week, and you just don’t feel like giving even more of your energy to running. Or you’ve finally convinced yourself to get out there and run and you’re halfway through it and just want to quit. Some days are a constant battle between your body and your brain, and you have to convince yourself to push it just a little bit further to achieve the goals that you set for yourself. No matter how much I hated training, I knew that I committed to this race for a reason. I wanted to prove to myself what I was capable of and follow through with my commitment. Learning this type of mental toughness was valuable for every aspect of life, because if I can make time for training and physically push my body to keep going through pain and fatigue, I know that I can get through any basic challenges in life that are a lot less demanding.
3) It’s important to know and understand your limitations.
I’d like to say that each week that we trained we successfully met our goals and improved our distance and time, but of course it didn’t happen like that. Some weeks were super successful and surprising to us, but a lot of weeks we did not reach the goals we had initially set and faced a variety of setbacks. I have a tendency to beat myself up if I don’t reach the goals that I set for myself, so knowing and understanding my limitations was something important that I had to learn throughout this process. Running through injuries or dehydration on serious heat days that we didn’t adequately prepare for just wasn’t an option. A few times we stopped short of our goals because our bodies physically couldn’t take the demand of the situation. Initially, I was mad at my body for failing me. I had to learn over time that this is just part of the process, and that my body knows what it’s capable of achieving. Listening to your body before you make yourself sick or get seriously injured is more important than reaching some elusive goal that you set for yourself that day. Giving myself credit for what I did achieve rather than tearing myself down for what I failed to achieve each week really changed my thought process.
4) Whatever you set out to do, do it for yourself because it’s right for you.
Throughout the process of training for the 10-mile race, I did some serious soul-searching and reconsidering. We had initially talked about the 10-mile race being a precursor to potentially running a half-marathon in the spring. The further I got in the training process, the more I realized that I didn’t actually have the desire to train for a half marathon at this point in my life. It was difficult for me to come to terms with this for several reasons. First, I had to really think about whether or not I was just throwing in the towel and taking the easy route out because I wasn’t enjoying the training process. Second, I had to think about my why when it came to my reasons for running and the idea of potentially running a half-marathon. I realized that at this crazy season in my life I just don't have the desire to continue to train for that type of distance. It's much more about mental health and priorities than anything physical at this point. I admire people who run marathons and half-marathons because I understand the serious commitment and strength that it takes, but at the end of the day, it just isn’t part of my current personal journey because of everything else going on in my life presently.
5) It's okay to hate the process and love the outcome.
This is true for a lot of things in life. Sometimes the difficult processes that lead up to amazing outcomes just aren't enjoyable, but you can't get to the reward without the work. As much as I hated the training process, I don’t regret a single bit of the Chicago Women’s 10-Mile race. I absolutely, genuinely loved every second of the race. During that run, I never once felt that my body was pushed beyond its abilities, or really any sort of physical discomfort whatsoever. We were lucky to experience perfect weather, had beautiful scenery, and were surrounded by hundreds of other empowered women running the same race for their own reasons. We were proud to be able to sprint across that finish line with smiles on our faces. I learned through this experience that I am capable of a lot more, mentally and physically, than I give myself credit for; but more importantly, I learned about prioritizing and staying true to myself. The adorable rose gold finisher medal that I received from this race is displayed proudly amongst the rest of my race memorabilia and I will forever cherish the memories of the time that I pushed myself far beyond what I ever would have imagined possible. I’ve come a long way from the girl who cheated the mandatory one mile run in high school P.E. class to the girl who voluntarily completed a 10-mile race. I don't know exactly what the future has in store, but I'm eager to keep lacing up my running shoes and learning new things about myself along the way.