Since high school, I’ve always been casually acquainted with running’s stress relief powers, and would casually jog a few miles per week whenever school/work/girl problems would bubble up. I was aware of the power of a 30 minute jog to clear my mind, put problems into perspective, and earn a few beers later that night.
However, I never ran for the sole purpose of getting better at running. I didn’t track time, distance, or pace. I didn’t race, I didn’t think about how to eat for fueling and recovery, I never dragged myself out of bed painfully early for a run, and I probably couldn’t hold a 30 second conversation about running (much to the delight of the Chad Stafkos of the world I’m sure). I wasn’t a runner. I was happy sticking with my familiar 2 mile loop every once in a while, and never seriously considered what a significantly longer run would actually feel like.
That all changed in March, 2013. I had recently started to take lifting more seriously, and was happy with what I saw. Lifts were going up, and I felt and looked stronger. Yet I was gaining weight, and I didn’t feel particularly nimble or agile on my feet. I started looking into how running could compliment lifting, with no particular goal outside of being a pretty fit guy.
That March, my little sister told me about a half marathon in August she was planning on running, and mentioned it would be fun to do together. Without much consideration of how much longer 13.1 was from my previous longest run (7 miles…a year back), I took this as the spark I needed to really get into running. It was March, New York was thawing, so what the hell, I got started. I wasn’t exactly starting from scratch, and it didn’t take me long to see results; the runs got easier, the miles ticked off faster, and I was definitely trimming up.
I based my training loosely on Hal Higdon’s plan, and a few weeks in it was clear how well designed it was. The weekday runs were short-medium, in distance ranges I was already fairly comfortable with, but at a much higher frequency. The weekly long run gradually increased, culminating with a 10 miler a week before the race. I had about 5 months to prepare when the plan only required 3. The extra time was great mentally, as I never stressed too much when my social life, a weekend trip, or a particularly lazy Sunday morning interfered with a run. In the weeks before the race, I did two 9 milers and a 10 mile with no issues.
The race was one of the best experiences of my life, plain and simple. Perfect weather (low 60s and sunny), beautiful course (bucolic rural VT dirt roads), and I felt strong and in control the entire time. Crossing the finish line was a moment I’ll never forget, and a sensation any runner knows and cherishes; a combination of immediately wanting to laugh, cry, vomit, and lie down on a couch with a stupid smile on your face. Best of all, I beat my goal by 11 seconds (1:59:49). Race stats here (guess where I stopped to pee? Twice.)
Yet in the days after, I didn’t feel like this was the ultimate cumulation of a spring and summer of hard work, a crowning achievement to rest my laurels on and move on with my life. Crossing the finish line, underneath all the burn, exhaustion, relief, and joy, I (secretly) knew I could have gone further, could have gone faster, and could have finished stronger. I wouldn’t have uttered it out loud, but I felt it loud and clear.
After flirting with the idea of registering for a fall full, I decided to register for a couple more halfs, a 10mile, and a Tough Mudder. Although all 3 halfs were tons of work, I grew to love 13.1: far enough to take training seriously and be a hell of a workout, but manageable enough that, after a short nap, your legs still work well enough to walk to the nearest diner and consume a 3,000 calorie brunch.
I’ve tapered the running into the winter (aiming for a measly 6-10 miles/week these days) but my first half in 2014 is already on the calendar, and I’m going to be doing the Philadelphia Marathon next fall (if I don’t get into NYC that is).
New York has an amazing running community, with races almost every weekend, hundreds of running(/drinking) clubs, and fantastic paths and parks. Between the races, the clubs, and the generally happy vibes in Central Park on a Sunday morning, it is simply the most positive and welcoming community I’ve ever encountered. Runners come in all shapes and sizes, from different ethnic and professional backgrounds, and are all running for different reasons. Yet seeing someone with a race shirt you were at can be a great conversation starter, and can quickly delve into comparing training plans and strategies, upcoming races, and favorite routes. You plan to meet up at the next Run and Chug. Bam, new running buddy.
Really getting into running the past year has been an amazing experience for me. Along with moving to the city, working hard at my job, maintaining an active social life, I love how I can continually challenge myself towards self improvement through running. It has turned into so much more than just a way to relieve stress and clear the mind. I’m still relatively new to it all, and I’m not especially accomplished by any standards, but I literally cannot imagine living in New York without running being an important part of my life.