What a Difference a Year Makes

By , SparkPeople Blogger
It was exactly one year ago today that I blogged about running my first 5K race. "I am not a runner. I really do not enjoy running," it opened.

It was true. Running was something I did rarely because it made my lungs burn and my heart race. It challenged my body (and my mind) like no other workout ever could. I didn't think it was fun and I wasn't sure that I believed the so-called "runner's high" even existed.

Six months after that race, I still didn't call myself a runner. When interviewed by a local reporter, I distinctly remember her asking me if I was a runner. "No way!" I had said—because I wasn't. Even though I had fun during that first 5K race and hoped to do more, I hadn't set any goals to run and I still couldn't make myself stick with it.

How could so many people run and actually enjoy it? Coach Jen and Nancy were both training for the Chicago Marathon. So many of our most successful SparkPeople members had lost 20, 50, even 100 pounds and started running 5Ks and eventually half and full marathons. And they all seemed to be having fun while they did it. Was something wrong with me?

Around July, I started running more regularly (once a week) to take advantage of the beautiful summer mornings. Then I increased to twice a week. By the end of August, I was regularly running three times per week, solely because I wanted to thoroughly test the Nike+ SportBand before I posted a product review. Little did I know it, but my determination to test that little gadget put the universe into motion and resulted in something I never expected.

I had never cared how fast I went or how much distance I covered when I ran. I tried to distract myself by listening to my iPod instead of thinking about how bored I was. But as I started using the Nike+, I began mapping my routes, paying attention to speed and distance, and tracking my workouts to compare them to the SportBand's readings. Suddenly, I wanted to go longer, faster and farther. I started updating my SparkPeople Friend Feed with details about the day's run or my goal for tomorrow's run. I got Woo-Hoo's and cheers from my SparkFriends that made me want to do better and encouraged me to stick with it.

Because of this new interest in running, a friend got me an early birthday gift in: She paid my registration fee for the September 27th Teddy Bear 5K in Cincinnati. It was to be my second 5K—almost a year after I completed my first one. Not only would I be running with my SparkPeople co-workers Stepfanie (her first 5K) and Nancy (one of my biggest inspirations!), but the race was the day after the SparkPeople Convention in Cincinnati and I had heard that several members were also planning to run, too. I knew this would be a race that I wouldn't soon forget.

I spent three weeks training seriously for the race. I was already running three times a week for about 35 minutes (enough to do a 5K), but I set two new goals: to run the entire race without stopping or walking (because during my first race, I wasn't in good enough shape to run the whole way), and to beat my previous 5K time (which wasn't shabby at all, despite all the walking, at 27 minutes and 58 seconds).

To reach those goals, I ran three to four times a week, even while on vacation. I wore my Nike+, mapped my runs, and tried to go faster. I ran father and longer. I trained up lots of hills to prepare for the race, which was rumored to be pretty steep. I read articles about running form and technique and incorporated the instructions into my runs with intense focus. When tracking my workouts, I saw marked improvements in my speed—but also in how I felt. No longer were my calves hurting or my heart racing. I was getting better. Probably most notably, I was actually enjoying myself! I was becoming a runner!

The day before the race, I got what amounted to a year's worth of motivation from the SparkPeople Convention. Members shared their remarkable stories, like ~INDYGIRL who went from bed-ridden to walking and KSIGMA1222 who lost over 150 pounds and has completed several races. That night, I talked with husband-wife members BOBBYD31 (Bobby) and MIAMIA7 (Anne)—also dedicated runners. Bobby and I talked about running for more than an hour that night, about tomorrow's race and my goals for it. He wasn't planning to run it, but the next day he and Anne both showed up and Bobby registered for the race. He agreed to be my running partner for the entire race, helping to keep me on pace to beat my previous time (something that I don't think Bobby would have ever imagined doing a couple years ago when he was 60 pounds heavier). I had my iPod ready to go, stocked with my best Power Songs to get me up the hills and to the finish line. I wore my Nike+ and Bobby had borrowed a Garmin Forerunner from Nancy for better accuracy. (After all, meeting this goal of mine was serious business and we wanted to be prepared.)

We were off! iPod on, Nike+ working, Bobby setting the pace. I felt good! I attacked the hills, thanks to my training, without losing any steam. There weren't many participants in this small race and we started realizing that I was one of the lead female runners, the discovery of which not only shocked me, but helped push me to keep the pace because I was in the running (pun intended) for a medal! During the last half of the race, I realized that I didn't need my iPod, which was becoming more of a nuisance than anything as the strong winds blew the earbuds out of my ears repeatedly. I turned it off and focused on the moment, encouraging the other runners and walkers we passed and checking my watch for timing.

As we rounded the final corner to the homestretch, the crowd was cheering and I saw the clock. I pulled ahead and crossed the finish, shattering my previous time (27:58) by more than 2 minutes. Nancy was there, snapping photos and crying tears of joy for each of us (we've nicknamed her "SPARK_CRYBABY")—she was like a proud mama! 25:45. I couldn't believe it!

A year ago, I never thought I'd be a "real" runner. But now, I can't imagine being anything else. What I've learned and accomplished, I couldn't have done on my own. I posted 8 lessons from my first 5K last October, but with time comes wisdom. One year later, I have four more:

1. Set a goal. My problem before is that I didn't have a goal. But once I set some goals (to do the race, to run the whole course, and to beat my time), I was motivated to stick with my training plan. Having a goal to work toward can keep you going—especially when it has a time constraint, like a race that has to happen on a certain day. Even on mornings that I was tired and didn't feel like running, knowing that my race was coming up inspired me to get out of bed and stick with my workouts.

2. Start where you are now. I realize that many people reading this might be far away from running, let alone completing a 5K. But every successful SparkPerson who runs, climbs mountains, completes marathons or loses 100 pounds started somewhere—with a single step or a single pound. So many people have started where you started and done amazing things. What they didn't do is start out running or racing or losing dozens of pounds in a single day. Focus on smaller goals and build from there. We all start where we start, but with consistency, we can all get where we're going and achieve some amazing things we never thought possible! Don't believe me? Read Heather's story; she walked the race with us—her first 5K—and won a medal.

3. Find support. This is what SparkPeople is all about! I stayed accountable by posting updates to my Friend Feed and getting encouragement from my SparkFriends. On the day of the race, Bobby became my coach and helped me so much. I could have never kept that pace and momentum without his guidance. Even the greatest athletes in the world have teams, trainers, coaches and fans. Even the SparkPeople coaches need encouragement—and we often get it from members like you!

4. Keep trying. I used to give up when running was hard or boring. What I didn't realize is that it was both hard and boring because I didn't do it consistently enough. The more I trained, the easier it got, and the easier it got, the more fun it became to challenge myself and reach new goals. The competition (with myself) motivated me to try my hardest—not just the day of the race, but all the days leading up to it, too. Nothing worth doing ever comes easy, and the sweet is never as sweet without the sour.

Have you used any of these 4 lessons to reach your own goals? If not, will you?