In It For the Long Run

By 2015, I was working exclusively from home and--although I'd spend most of my day in video calls--it wasn't unusual to go a full day without seeing an actual human.  Around the same time, I moved to Dayton, Ohio, where I knew only 2 people: my boyfriend, Chase, and our roommate Richie.  Coupled with the isolation of remote work, loneliness set in.  

Initially, I thought fresh air would be the perfect antidote to my work-from-home blues and I started running outside more frequently.  Within a few weeks I realized that I needed to do more than just get out of the house.  The fresh air was great, but I needed to see humans!  In hope, I googled "running groups in Dayton, Ohio", and found the 5 Rivers Running Team, a grassroots running club that that met at a local high school not far from our house.

Upon attending the first practice, I knew that this group was special.  For starters, the workout was different than anything I had been doing up until this point.  The group had a coach who designed and led challenging interval workouts on the local high school's track.  There were no earbuds present--these runners actually talked to one another as they ran.  The variety of the workout and the easy camaraderie disguised the 6-7 miles that we covered that first practice.  There was also the sense of belonging.  I felt as though these people were just like me.   People who didn't feel the need to prove their level of fitness, they just wanted to be outside, to be healthy, work toward a goal, make friends.  The fresh-out-of-college chatted with the retired.  The military co-mingled with the civilian.  The 5 min-milers encouraged and cheered on the newcomers.  Usually averse to the rah-rah of large groups, I was surprised by the instant and intense loyalty I felt toward this group of strangers.  I continued to show up, every mile beating back the dull loneliness of my solitary workday.  

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Hooked, I started to join the same group on Saturday mornings, where the focus was endurance, rather than interval training.  Before long, my new "normal" was to run ~10 - 12 miles every Saturday morning.  I became stronger and more confident in my ability to hold a given pace over longer distances.  This kind of consistency was new to me--up until this point, I had been more of a fair weather runner and was quick to discard running in favor of doing something else.  Aside from the physical changes, I had come a long way mentally as well.  Here are some of the biggest lessons that 5 Rivers has taught me about myself and about this sport. 

  • FOOD IS FUEL - I used to adhere to a lot of rules about what foods were "allowable".  They were well intentioned, but didn't usually result in positive outcomes.  One of these totally bogus rules was that I would only have treat-yo'self food on weekends.  Here's the thing, though:  as I increased my weekly mileage, I quickly figured out that certain foods simply didn't feel good sitting in my gut during a run.  One particular time, I remember eating pizza and chocolate on a Saturday night because it fit within my rules.  Well guess what? The next morning, I felt like complete garbage while trying to hobble through a 10k.    Conversely, I got really tired of saying no to something I was truly craving, especially after pushing my limits on a run.  As a result, I slowly started listening to my body and trusting my metabolism to operate outside the confines of the rules.  Funnily enough, I now eat those calorie-laden foods LESS OFTEN than I did when I was actively trying to limit them.  By accepting that all foods fit into a healthy diet, my body naturally gravitates toward the healthier foods that truly do fuel me on my runs.  Treats still have a place, though!  I now eat them any day that I am craving them..and then move on with my life. 
  • GOODBYE ALL/NOTHING MENTALITY - Running is not an all/nothing event and I've learned to adopt an "at least I'm out here trying" mentality.  Going slower, adjusting your planned distances based on conditions, walking hills, all of these are options and can be part of my training plan.  Shifting to this more flexible mindset makes running more approachable and actually encourages me to keep showing up.
  • OUTSIDE > TREADMILL - The more miles you put in, the more you despise the monotony of the hamster wheel,  Additionally, you realize that running outside is a LOT harder than running on a treadmill (which, I'm convinced, does a lot of the work for you).  Why punish yourself to boring miles on a machine that doesn't adequately prepare you for the undulations and hills of a race course?  The 5 Rivers Running group has helped me let go of the "dreadmill" and embrace the beauty of running outside.  I've come to love running outside in all seasons, not only to better prepare for races, but also, simply...you have more stuff to look at!
  • NO MAN RUNS ALONE - There's an African proverb that goes like this: "If you want to go fast, go alone.  If you want to go far, go together".  Running may not be your typical team sport, but it is a community sport.  That community is what will help you go far.  Finding a good group of running buddies has been the key component to my consistency.  First, they are your best defense against boredom; the easy conversation blurs the line between workout and social event!  Who doesn't want to go and hang out with their friends, even if it means running 6 miles when you do it?  The more you run with with your buds, the more that they recognize your range of ability and help to push you when you're making excuses.  On the flip side, those same people stop when you need to tie your shoe, sprint with you to the nearest bathroom, or encourage you when it's just not your day.
  • NOT EVERY RUN CAN BE PERFECT - Chalking those imperfect runs up to humbling reminders of how hard running used to be when I started helps me appreciate where I'm at.  I will keep showing up if I never feel too defeated.
  • LESS IS MORE It doesn't pay to be a running slave.  I've tried to follow a few different online half marathon training plans that have you running 5-6 times per week.  I've learned that they just don't work for me.  My body performs better with a true balance of running and cross training.  My sweet spot is to only run 3-4 times per week and be differently active on the other days. Those off days of weight lifting prevent injury, give my running muscles a break, and generally just make me more excited to get in a quality run the next day. 

It was from this physical and mental baseline that I decided it was time to revisit the half marathon distance and I signed up for the 2017 Air Force Half Marathon.  The Air Force Half Marathon course is notorious for being hot, difficult, and boring.  It definitely delivered on all accounts, but training with the 5 Rivers Running team had prepared me well.  I also had a lot of support from my friends and sister-in-law, who flew out to Dayton just to cheer us on.  It was the most satisfying sense of accomplishment to cross the finish line a full 6 minutes faster than my PR.  I was on cloud nine!  To make the day even more exciting, Chase ran his first full marathon and I was able to find him on the course and cross the marathon finish line with him.

  • 2013 - Fox Valley Half Marathon - 1:57:50 (pace = 9:00/mi)
  • 2016 - Flying Pig Half Marathon - 2:00:11 (pace = 9:11/mi)
  • 2017 - Air Force Half Marathon - 1:51:00 (pace = 8:27)

In light of these transformations, I'm excited to see where I can go from here.  My current goal is to run a 2018 half marathon in under 1:50.  After a few years of trying to figure it out, I finally feel like I have the right mentality and the right support network to achieve it.