I finished my first half marathon last week. I couldn’t help sharing my tips on how to go from lazy potato to lazy potato who runs 21 KM).
I am not a runner.
And I am not throwing that statement around so my ‘first half-marathon’ story looks greater than the bloody blisters I have had for the last 7 days on my feet.
I am not trying to sweet-talk you into it, nor I am jumping on a high horse to remind you of the fact that it’s July and you have only been at the gym five times, without counting the time you went to sign up and almost wrecked you body by squatting more than you should have, because you went all in. I guess we all do reckless stuff the first week of the new year, right?
No, I am with you. I loathed running. However, running had been consistently on my new year resolution list since the day I realised I hated running.
Call it a personal challenge; call it personality-A stubbornness – I am not a runner, but I surely am somebody who has always wanted to be a runner.
And I guess I did take a major step towards becoming one.
A week ago I completed my first half-marathon. I ran 21 kms without stopping. (Actually, I did stop once, and that was only to book a table for the post-race feast.)
But for somebody who couldn’t run more than 5Km without swearing in three languages at the same time, it surely feels like I got closer to becoming a runner, right?
However, I wasn’t so quick at mentally crossing the ‘be a runner’ memo I had written on my resolution list.
This experience took me a while to digest. I spent the whole two hours of intense and painful running reflecting on what I was doing. And maybe it was the fact that I was severely dehydrated, hungry and tired – but I had some great existential epiphanies during the marathon.
Why do I run? Is everyone here for the same reason as me? How did I get here? How the heck did I, miss lazy crossed knees and flat feet, get to be running this half-marathon?
If you ever wanted to lose yourself in philosophical quizzes and spiral into a long, stream of consciousness of self-reflection, I would strongly advise you to take running as a hobby.
It will answer every single question rotting inside your brain, between the physical struggle and the petulant voice inside your head telling you not to stop.
But I’ll stop digressing now. You came here to see how I did it, right?
You want to hear the story of the chubby, lazy girl who spent 6 months training her mind to scream inside her head while running, right?
Alright, well I have got to be more honest with you. This isn’t going to be a Cosmopolitan article where I am going to tell you exactly how to train for a half-marathon. Nor am I going to show you my collection of sports bras and compressions shorts that I hide in my closet.
No, because that stuff actually doesn’t matter if you don’t get the gists right. Exactly like you can’t bake a cake if you forget the eggs that you carefully picked at your local organic, sustainable store, right?
So these are the things that everybody forgets. Call them the truth underneath running long-distance.
#1 Running is quite simple.
It’s like walking, but faster. It’s like meditating, but you’re sweating and you’re definitely regretting sneaking those cigarettes in your youth.
It is quite a simple movement. It doesn’t require any equipment other than a pair of legs and some form of protection to your feet, but even that is not 100% necessary when you think about the insane barefoot runners.
You may not see yourself as a runner, but you have run before.
You ran after your tram this morning, remember? You ran when you thought that a boogyman was chasing you in the garden. You ran after your friends when they started scrolling through your camera roll on your phone. Yeah, you have run before. So you are a runner, sport.
And chances are that if you’re reading this post you have probably done a fair bit of running, and now you’re interested in taking it to the next level.
You are ready to go from somebody who goes for a run to burn the hungover burrito, to somebody who is actually training – what an empowering word – for some running goal, like a marathon.
But before you change your social media bio to a running emoji, I will put a hand on your shoulder and look you in the eye like only an old friend could and tell you that,
RUNNING IS JUST MOVING FORWARD.
I know you are probably living this love-struck relationship with your running. You are finally getting into it, and you can’t help romanticise it and self-indulge your newly discovered obsession.
You read articles on how to run properly, buy the freshest kicks, and follow every single athlete on Instagram.
Nothing wrong with that, in fact this might help you find useful information, however amidst the flood of information on the web, you might miss a very important lesson.
That even big goals like finishing a half-marathon are made of simple parts. And those simple parts are moving your body forward.
I had a Nicholas Sparks relationship with my running; especially because it took me so long to genuinely enjoy it and stick to it. But when you are just getting started, it’s easy to get distracted and overwhelmed by the amount of useful information there is out there.
Sometimes you need to go back to simplicity for a good lesson.
So forget about buying the perfect training plan, the fitted shoes and pinning the motivational quotes on your vision board.
#2 It’s not about how good you are.
Did your parents used to tell you that when you missed the goal for the 100th time, just to make you feel better but then that only made you feel worse because you know deep down that winning was the actual point?
It’s okay, I get it. And we can’t separate the self-indulging ego from a performance, exactly like we can’t tell a writer to write for themselves.
Ego plays a role in the way we push ourselves beyond our limits; I am not even that stupid to deny that.
However, think about what I said before.
Running is just moving forward. So as long as you’re getting that done, and unless you like walking backwards, I assume you got that right – you have accomplished that.
You are running. You are a runner.
‘But I am so slower than anyone else”
“But I want to be faster so I can lose weight”
“I need to smash it so I can feel like I have done something”
True. And I hear you. You have all my sympathy. It might be conceptually simple, but it’s physically streneous; however, you are digging yourself a huge self-loathing hole with that mindset.
Your ego is driving you to compare yourself against other people. People who are faster, more experienced, better than you. It’s normal, but it distracts you from the fact that if you’re just getting started,
your only goal is to show up to the run.
Again, think simple. Don’t get too caught up in the hows, Nike actually got one right: just do it.
#3 But it’s also about the why you’re doing it.
Forget about the fitness, forget about the glory.
Why on Earth are you interested in running?
The truth is that you will never be able to answer that question before a run. The answer will splurge out of your head during, or afterwards, looking back to those excruciating long minutes of pain, and you won’t be able to contain a stupid grin. You know in that moment why you’re doing it.
Mine used to be the thrill of having burned calories. I wasn’t doing mentally fine, but running was giving me a break from the overbearing depression that I was going through my eating disorder.
I would finish a run and feel joy for the first time in days, but it was quickly replaced by either a burst of anger when the burned calories weren’t enough.
(About the calories: the sooner you forget about them, the more you will be able to enjoy your runs.)
I knew that I chose running because it pushed me on so many levels that I wasn’t even aware of having, but I was still driven by my ego.
And ego can push you to spring the last few metres, but it can’t take you places where your beliefs can.
Because ego sets stacks of expectations that become as fragile as a house of cards. Ego works on a not so friendly conversation with yourself. The one where you think you’re not good enough; where everyone else seems much better than you, the land of nihilism – everything is pointless, so why keep going?
So that’s why you have to keep it simple. Because it’s much easier to know what keeps you going when you are just focused on the very act of running.
#4 Do it because it makes sense doing it.
I trained to run 21km for almost a year. I finished in 2 hours and something and I didn’t stop once. I had never run the distance before, nor had I ever run in a race, or run for that long without stopping.
What the heck happened in the race?
The days coming to the race I had this realisation that I was nowhere near ready for it. I hadn’t trained enough, I was conveniently getting a cold, and my feet were – well, just my flat feet. Nothing new there.
But even though I was flaunting all of these excuses and sighing like Ron Weasley, I was actually coping with it all.
I gave up and surrendered to the fact that I would have had to wake up at 3:30 AM, and still probably running late, and it would have been difficult to run, but I had this firm belief that I would have found a way somehow.
And this firm belief didn’t come from motivational talks, or ‘screw it’ surrendering. I just accepted for what only an anxious person can (try to) accept it.
Just a run. Just moving forward.
It made a lot more sense seeing it for what it really was, instead of letting my ego feeling scared about something that hadn’t even happened yet.
This mindset is hard to practice, especially if your brain isn’t your ally most of the time, but I can credit it for being the sole reason why I was able to complete the race.
So see it for what it really is. You have been trained for this moment, it’s just your mind filling you with too many expectations.
It makes sense.
#5 And do it because it’s fun.
I’ll be really honest with you. I initially wanted to do this because as a failed sports person, it certainly boosted my self-esteem thinking that I was training for a half-marathon. It gave me a bit of purpose.
But if it’s not about the sport, it’s not about the goals, and it’s not about the vanity – then why the hell are we running?
Simple. Because it’s fun! You wouldn’t have picked running over swimming without a reason, right?
You run because you somehow enjoy it. I know that nowadays it’s cool to be someone; to tick off experiences off your bucket list, and feeling like you are adding valuable things to your life experience.
But sometimes we have to be kids again. We have to move because we feel like moving; because it’s fun to play and be fast and sweaty.
Don’t run because you want to prove it to yourself. There are many other less painful way to prove things to yourself. Charity, per example.
Run because you enjoy it. Because it fills you with bittersweet joy. Because it teaches you an important lesson:
that there is joy even in the simplest things.