“How did you do it?”
This question came up a few times over the holidays. Usually from folks I hadn’t seen in months who were shocked at the drastic changes in how I look as well as a couple of times over from my younger brother who still can’t fathom how someone can go from sitting still to running 26.2 miles in less than a year.
Last October I was looking for something to do. Literally. I was fully recovered from some fairly extensive back surgery I had in February 2011 and started a new role in June that allowed (i.e. required) me to work from home full time. With no more morning routine nor true beginning or end to my day, I no longer had any structure to my life. By fall, I suppose I was feeling healthier but I was spending my days sitting at a desk, snacking a lot, and really doing nothing that could, even remotely, be considered exercise.
It was one of those innocuous “how was your weekend” questions to a co-worker that changed things dramatically. You know how it is: you talk to a co-worker first thing on a Monday and almost always ask “how was your weekend”. What usually follows is light banter about family, kids, yard work, sporting events, and other activities. Usually it’s just routine stuff. Sometimes it’s something really cool like a trip or adventure. Either way, it’s usually just one of those passing moments in your day that never gets a second thought.
However, on this morning my co-worker told me of how he ran and, in his words, “killed it” in a 10 mile road race. Suddenly, and without warning from my (at that time) sedentary self, I was fascinated. Was it tough? How did he train? How does one do such a thing? Had he always been a runner? I needed to know all of these answers. I needed to know if this was something that I could do. This was exactly what I needed. This fellow advised me to set a goal, like a 5K, and sent me a couple of sites to do some reading and find a training plan that fit me. From there I was, pun intended, off and running.
That first goal was The Feaster Five 5K Road Race in Andover. Honestly, I picked it because it gave me reasonable time to train and it was “that race in Andover on Thanksgiving that I heard the guy on WEEI talk about”. I had no idea that there were dozens of Thanksgiving Day races (i.e. most often referred to as a "Turkey Trot") all over the area. I trained rigorously for the weeks leading up to the big day. I felt like I had made great progress, for someone who had never run before, and reached the, then elusive, 5K milestone the week before. I was as ready as I was ever going to be. I felt good that day and happy with my preparation. I completed the race without much of a struggle and triumphantly came home with my cool shirt and a free apple pie. More importantly I knew immediately that it wouldn't be my last race.
As for the answer to the original question, it was a matter of setting goals, reaching them, and moving on to the next. I am a goal oriented person. For various reasons, I need a goal to work towards, to sharpen my focus, or I tend to lose my way. By setting reasonable but challenging goals that required focus and committment yet fit into my life without too much upheaval, I established a much needed routine and an insatiable desire to not only succeed but to not let myself down. Quite simply, I find that the beauty of running is that I only have to depend on myself and, conversely, only have myself to blame if it's not going well. Put another way: I am only racing myself.
After a year of the aforementioned routine, this past week I came full circle. This year’s Feaster Five 5K had been on my mental radar for quite some time. First, it’s a fantastic event. Second, I was looking forward to it because my wife, Colleen, had been training to run her first race and had also set the Feaster Five 5K as her goal. Third, more than any other race I had run in the past year, I had been looking at this one as a true barometer. I wanted to see how far I had come. I wanted to give it my all, as I had in 2011, and see where I ended up. I would be able to compare “apples to apples”: same course, same distance, same weather, same conditions, etc. with me being the only variable.
Colleen and I agreed to split up at the starting line so we each could go at our own pace. It worked out perfectly because I was able to finish at a brisk pace, cool down as I walked back out to find her, and jog in with her for her last ¾ of a mile or so. In the end we both finished successfully and went home triumphantly with a great memory (we passed on the apple pie this year due to the lines) and something new in common. However, more important than just the thrill of finishing and being part of such a fun event, we each took other things home with us.
Colleen went home with new found confidence, the desire to continue running, and the promise to do, at least, another 5K.
As for me, I left incredibly proud of her, satisfied with my results, ready to take on some loftier goals for the coming year, and knowing exactly how far I’d come.
First official week of training is this week. It is a mere 20 weeks to the Boston Marathon!
Thanks again for your support!