Training for the Cleveland Half Marathon: Experiences of a first timer and a 15th timer

Training for the Cleveland Half Marathon: Experiences of a first timer and a 15th timer

As one of the guest bloggers for the Cleveland Marathon courtesy of Swirlgear, I wanted to share with you two stories. One story from my friend Rae who is currently training to run the Cleveland Half Marathon as her first half marathon (and at which I will be pacing her) and the other story of what it’s like for me to train for my 15th half marathon. I hope you enjoy these two perspectives. Or, you can skip to the end where I have a great giveaway!

Now, let’s hear from Rae.

cleveland_10_mile 005“Exactly 3 years ago, I participated in the Cleveland 10-Miler with my dear friend and running mentor, Erin. For the almost 2-hours it took me to complete the race, all I could think about is how I never want to run this distance again, I’m happy at 6 miles, and this is eternal plodding unbreathable misery. But on the ride home, some oxygen-deprived part of my brain made my mouth say to Erin, “You know, I think I could do this again some day.” I will never forget her resounding laugh, because she recognized what I couldn’t – that I was fully hooked on running. But an eye surgery that messed with my blood pressure and then pregnancy immediately after put all that on hold for over a year.

I had started running 4 years ago for fitness and weight loss. After my daughter was born and I had to get in shape for my job (physical therapist at a nursing home – requires occasional heavy lifting), I came back to running, alternating with strength-training and workout videos. As the miles added up and my former goal distances became my required minimums, I realized I needed a goal; just as running laps around my block no longer satisfied, running just for exercise didn’t cut it. So I signed up for the 10-Miler again. And then a crazy little part of my brain kept poking at me, “what’s an extra 5K on top of 10 miles?” Thankfully, Erin will be joining me all the way from Chicago for a third time as I attempt to run the farthest I’ve ever run (she also helped me with my first 10K the year before the 10M).

Training for these races has not only improved my physical endurance, but it has helped me discover so much about myself. Despite my brain’s aversion to planning, I’ve managed to stick (sometimes cling precariously) to a running/workout schedule, maintaining long runs on the weekends even with out-of-town company or during my own vacation. My job can be physically demanding, and unpredictably so, but I surprise myself by digging deep and pulling out a 4-mile run in my neighborhood when I’d much rather crash on the couch with my coat still on. Running has provided me with a sort of mindful meditation – I focus on my breathing, on my legs. I have thoughts that enter my brain and then leave as I focus on the moment; granted, the moment can be “don’t step in that roadkill” or “wave ‘thank-you’ at the car for not running you over,” but I still focus only on the present. I’ve learned patient perseverance as my times increased from an intense 20 minutes to an almost serene 80+. And as my tempo pace crept up from 5.7 to 6.3 mph, I’ve learned that my investments do pay off.cleveland weekend 019

The other thing that strikes me is the reaction of my family and friends as I’ve been training. Co-workers, family members, people I haven’t seen in six months – they all say to me, “I love reading your Facebook posts about your running!” “I can’t believe you go that far!” “A whole half-marathon, what is that, 7 miles?” Me, I can’t believe they believe that what I’m doing is any big thing. The fact that all of these people are impressed by and proud of me, this is a huge motivator for me. I’m not just running these races to increase my cardiovascular endurance, stress relief, or even to test my resolve; I’m providing my daughter, my mother, my family and friends with a role model, a source of inspiration to become more active in their own lives.

It’s not, however, all miles logged and cheers from friends. As I write this in the final weeks before my races, I’m starting to feel more tethered to the obligation of training for 8-11 mile runs and less the joy of running, and I find myself starting to resent these obligations. I try to remind myself that I didn’t endure all those months and miles in 20* cold and snow just to give up now; I didn’t miss out on all those hours of playing with my daughter, cooking a fresh dinner, or organizing a Pinterest-perfect house, just to quit because “I’m tired of commitment.” Of course, once I get out there and past mile 3, the endorphins kick in, the air smells fresh and sweet, and I focus on nothing but my breathing, my feet pounding, and being in the moment.”

Rae was worried that her thoughts were too negative. Too much of a downer. I told her I appreciated her honestly. Training for a race isn’t always fun and games. Even when you’re on your fifteenth. Here’s what I have to say.

In 2010 when Rae mentioned wanting to run a 10K I was right there by her side. When she said she wanted to run a 10 miler, I said I wouldn’t miss it for the world. And when she floated the idea of doing a half marathon? I knew I was going be by her during every one of those 13.1 miles. I just wished I could be there for all the cleveland_10_mile 035countless training miles, too.

Because I know what’s it like to train for a half marathon. By the time Rae and I cross the start line at the Cleveland Half Marathon I will be on my 15th half marathon. Not as many as some people I know, but for someone who didn’t run her first full mile until 2007 I still think it’s quite an accomplishment. In fact, sometimes I get a little cocky and think, heck, I’ve run more half marathons than I have fingers. I’ve run four full marathons. I can’t even remember how many 5Ks and 10Ks I’ve run. Do I really have to train??

And, it’s true. In 2012 I took almost six months off from any hard core running or training. But then I won an entry to the Chicago Half Marathon and had about 8 weeks to train. So, I did. And then I kept training and ran the Illinois Marathon. And then I didn’t run another half marathon until last month. Why? Because no matter what kind of shape you’re in, training for a long distance race is hard work.
cleveland_10_mile 040

But here’s the thing: in the end, it’s almost always worth it. Because you proved to yourself that you could do it. Sure, you get accolades from other people, you get a medal, or your coworkers say they’re impressed with you. But, really, it’s about you putting one foot in front of the other. The race is the end game. The hard part is all the training. Some of my friends say they like the half marathon distance the best because it can be just as challenging as a full marathon without taking over your life. But I think those friends forgot what it’s like to train for your first. Or even your 15th. You can’t get cocky or, guess what? It won’t be as fun when you cross that finish line.

So, if you’re thinking about running a half marathon remember this: no matter if it’s your first, your 15th or your 115th, don’t take it for granted. You will train and you will finish. And when you cross that finish line with a smile on your face you will forget how much work it was and only remember the fun. At least, you will if you did it right.

Now, for the fun giveaway!

If you, too, want to have fun during Cleveland Marathon weekend you can enter to win a free race entry to any of the race events the weekend of May 18th! You have your choice of a 5K, 10K, Half Marathon or Full Marathon. All you have to do is one of the following:

1. Leave me a comment and tell me your favorite race you’re run or the race you really want to run
2. Send me an email to letting me know you want to enter
3. Tweet “I want to run during @clevemarathon weekend with @looplooks”

That’s it! I’ll pick a winner on April 28th. Look forward to seeing you out on the course!

Not interested in heading to Cleveland? I’ve still got a Chicago-based giveaway open until Wednesday!!

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