A couple days ago someone wrote to me and asked me how I trained for the Boston Marathon.
She wants to be able to run a race (not necessarily a marathon, but any race), but just can’t see herself being able to do it.
She wanted to know if I was a runner before, if I followed a training plan, and what my secret is.
I’ve been asked this question before.
First, I was never a runner.
In fact, it took me a good two years to be able to run for even thirty minutes without every single second of it totally sucking. It took a long, long time.
And I don’t have a secret.
But I’ll tell you how I got to this point.
Shortly after Number 4 was born, feeling like I was in a rut and like every day was Groundhog’s Day and not doing anything for myself and like I was losing my mojo, I decided I was going to try at least one new thing every year.
A new thing that completely scared the crap out of me.
I was going to make a conscious effort to do something way out of my comfort zone.
So about seven years ago, when I was 38 and when Number 4 was two years old and we weren’t actually planning on having any more kids and I had a bunch of baby weight to lose, I started running.
I didn’t have a plan or an app or anything. I just committed to running on a regular basis.
While I was never a runner, I was a Division I swimmer and a competitive person by nature, and a big thing for me at this time was to let go of worrying about what other people thought of me while I was running. I was hung up on how fast I was going or if someone else on the road was running faster than me or if people driving saw me transition from running to walking and thought I was being a wuss for walking.
This was something that was hard for me to get past. But once I did that, once I was finally able to stop giving a flying f*ck about what other people thought of me and how fast I was (or wasn’t) running, once I started really just doing this for myself, that’s when I became a runner. Because now it was truly just about my journey — the literal one during each run as well as my evolution as a runner — and not about anything else.
At first I could only run 30 seconds before I thought I was going to die.
So that’s where I started. I mapped out a route that was as flat as I could find, and that first week, I ran three times a week, never two days in a row.
I also wanted to make sure I didn’t injure myself trying to overdo it. I ran for thirty seconds and then I walked for four minutes and thirty seconds. I repeated that six times.
So I moved for thirty minutes, and only three of them were actually running.
And it was really slooooow running.
The second week I increased the running time to 45 seconds and the walking time to 4:15. I repeated that six times.
Now I was moving for thirty minutes, and only 4:15 were running.
The third week I increased it to 1 minute of running and 4 minutes of walking. I was up to six minutes of running in a 30 minute period. It still wasn’t very much, but I was getting better.
The fourth week I went to 2 minutes running/3 minutes walking for thirty minutes. I was up to 12 minutes running.
The fifth week, I made it my goal to run for 10 consecutive minutes, walk for 5, then run for 5, then walk for the last 10.
The sixth week I did 15 minutes running, 5 walking, 5 running, 5 walking.
The seventh week was 20 running, 5 walking, 5 running.
And the eighth week I made it to 30 straight minutes of running.
I “ran” very slowly, which was key for me at first, and one of the biggest things I’ve learned through running marathons.
Take it slowly. Very slowly. Don’t try to run fast.
For me, that was about a twelve minute mile at first.
Once I was able to run for 30 minutes at a stretch, then I tried to either increase my speed for part of the run, or I ran a different route that included some small hills.
Remember, I was committed to trying something new each year, so at this point, I wanted to give myself something to challenge myself, and I registered for my first ever running race.
There was a local running group that held a series of road races throughout the summer every Saturday morning.
The first one was 2.3 miles and every week the race distances increased until the last one, which was 10 miles long.
I decided I’d do them all.
The first Saturday of the race I was a nervous wreck. I didn’t know how to register or where to register or what the procedure was or anything. I was sure I’d be the slowest person there, I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to run a whole 2.3 miles even though I’d been running more than that on my own. I was afraid people would think I was a loser, that I’d be the only one there who wasn’t a hard core runner, and that I’d make a total fool of myself.
Of course, none of those things happened. I ran the race and I didn’t come in last. In fact, I finished in 20:23 which was under a 10 minute mile and much faster than I thought I’d be able to run.
I had survived and I had even done pretty good and I was really proud of myself.
And that’s how I started running.
A few months after that, I learned I was pregnant with Number 5. A year later I had Number 6, and a year after that, I had Number 7.
So I was derailed from the running for three years.
When Number 7 was three months old, I started back up.
Again, very slowly. I followed the same kind of plan I had followed three years earlier.
And then I entered a 4 mile race in town on New Year’s Day.
I was back in the running groove, so from there, still wanting to try new things, I decided I wanted to do a triathlon that summer.
Not knowing what to do or how to train, and also seeing a friend who had done a triathlon for charity before, I committed to doing a triathlon with Team in Training (an organization that raises money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society) that summer, in June 2012. By making the commitment to run for charity, I couldn’t back out.
That triathlon ultimately led to more triathlons with Team in Training, one of which was the New York City Triathlon in July of 2013.
And when I got to the running leg of the NYC Triathlon and came up out of Riverside Park onto 72nd Street and the streets were lined with cheering spectators who were all going crazy, I thought to myself, Running the NYC Marathon must be incredible. I need to do it.
I signed up with Team in Training two days after I finished the NYC Tri, committed to raising $4000 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and in November 2013, I ran my first marathon.
That led to me deciding I wanted to run one marathon a year, which ultimately led to me running the Boston Marathon for Swim Across America last year, and for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute this year.
And that is how I came to be a marathon runner.
In less than three years, I have run five marathons.
Three of them have been for charity. I’ve raised over $15,000 for cancer research and treatment from those three races. In addition I’ve raised over $6000 for cancer research and treatment doing three different triathlons.
I managed to do that with seven kids, bankruptcy, near foreclosure on our house, multiple unexpected major surgeries, the other ups and downs of life.
And it all started with just thirty seconds of running.
If I can do it, you can do it.
Anything is possible!