Lessons from a Half-Marathon


This past weekend, I did one of the hardest things that I have ever done: ran 21.1 straight kilometres. As my feet pounded the pavement over and over, and I continually wondered what on earth I had gotten myself into, I had a lot of time to think, about anything and everything, including the road that brought me to the half-marathon that chilly Sunday morning.

I have never considered myself an athletic person. I have always considered myself a “chubby, non-athletic” kind of girl, who no one expected to be good at sports. I always preferred more solo activities over team endeavours: I did gymnastics for 12 years (yet somehow didn’t consider myself athletic?), did kickboxing, bellydancing, and numerous other things where I could be around people but not have to work with them. (I don’t play well with others, apparently.) So it seems inevitable that I would eventually find my way to running. I started up in high school, casually and sporadically, with zero commitment, determination, or schedule. I still approached physical fitness with consternation and the conviction that I would inevitably fail at it.

In my fifth year of university, one of my best friends introduced me to Shaun T and the Insanity workout. Those 60 days changed how I viewed myself and my physical ability. I learned that I was capable of far more than I had ever given myself credit for, and that my body would do a lot of things for me, if only I would ask it to. I started getting into fitness in a more real way, trying out yoga (which I love), and getting deeper into running, actually participating in a few organized races. This year, I decided to commit even more, and do something that I never thought I would be capable of doing: run a half-marathon. And I did. So here are some lessons that I learned along the way.

1. My body is stronger than I think it is.

While doing the Insanity workout, there were many times that I wanted to quit. Many times that I was dripping sweat onto the floor and thinking, “There is absolutely no way that I could ever possibly do another one of these.” But then I did. And then I did another. And maybe sometimes – okay, often – it wasn’t as many as they were doing on screen, but it was more than I had thought I could do. That taught me that I can push myself past the point where I want to stop, and that has come in incredibly handy while training for distance running. There is a difference between needing to stop because you are in pain and wanting to stop because you are uncomfortable. As Hayley likes to say, “Get comfortable being uncomfortable.” It will happen a lot as you are pushing yourself to new heights.

2. My brain is the one that wants to quit.

Distance running is a mental game for me. My brain starts saying, “Okay, I’m done,” a lot sooner than my body does. While I was running on Sunday, I was breathing fine, and my heart rate was good, my legs were feeling strong, and yet, my brain kept saying, “I’d like to stop please. I’d like to stop please. I’d like to stop please.” It’s exhausting to keep saying no to yourself that way, and so there were a few times when I gave in. I was not as mentally prepared for the race as I could have been, in large part because I fell off the training wagon for the three weeks leading up to it (due to our Portland trip and a nasty throat infection). Even so, knowing that my brain was being a big wuss helped me get through the last 5 km without taking nearly as many breaks as I wanted to (though there were still a lot, trust me).

3. Even though you might be running in what you usually run in, they might betray you over 21.1 km.

For the race, I ran in the clothes that I always run in: my Under Armour compression pants, a lulu lemon sports bra and running top, an exercise sweater, and my Vibrams. I have done all of my runs in all of these clothes save the sweater which only comes out when it is chilly, and yet, around the 10 km mark, I found that there was an unbelievable amount of chafing going on, all over my body. In retrospect, I would not have worn the sweater even though it was chilly to begin with; I warmed up quite quickly (duh) and ended up having to struggle to take it off while running. As well, it chafed my arm and caused me to sweat far more than I should have, losing more water than was necessary. On top of that, while I love my Vibrams dearly and have done all of my runs in them, I am not sure that it was the smartest move for me to wear them during the race. By the last 5 km, my legs and feet were so sore and tired that every step was torture. And that’s the last 25% of the race! So consider your running gear SUPER carefully. It can mean the difference between a challenging but manageable race, and a torturefest.

4. Crossing that finish line is amazing.

There was no rush of euphoria or anything like that, but crossing that finish line – and finding Bryan standing right there, ready to take a picture and give me a high five – was quietly incredible. My body slowly realized that it could stop running, and my brain quickly caught on that this was it: I had done it. I had run for 3 hours straight (my time was 2:57:29 to be exact), over 21.1 km, and come out alive on the other side, with just a few blisters, chafes, and pains to show for it. I set a goal that I secretly thought was a little absurd, and I made it happen. I sat down at my computer one day back in February and said, “I am going to do this.” And I did. So there is no reason to think that I can’t reach my other goals. That I can’t cross those finish lines too.

5. Some forms of torture are addictive.

Like tattoos. And distance running. I’m already planning on running the half-marathon next year with my little sister. (All while my knee and quads are still yelling, loudly, at me for yesterday!)


What is the biggest goal that you have achieved that you previously thought was unachievable, even laughable? Tell me about it in the comments!

Lessons from a Half-Marathon