3 Tips for Going the Distance: Even When You Think You Can’t

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My decision to become a runner was somewhat random, unplanned, and certainly unexpected.

I didn’t participate in track or cross-country when I was in school. In fact, I hated most sports that involved running. So much so that I would plan to be “sick” on the days we had to do the timed mile run in gym class.

If you told me that, at age 25, I’d run a full marathon, I would have laughed out loud – I couldn’t even run 3 consecutive miles, let alone 26.2! But, that’s exactly what happened.

So How Did I Become a Runner?

Well, the story is really pretty anti-climactic.

It was a rainy Sunday morning in May. I had just woken up and needed to grab something from my car. I groggily threw on my rain jacket and ran out the door of my apartment. It took about a half of a second for me to realize that:

  1. My road was closed so I couldn’t even get to the other side to get into my car.
  2. There were tons of people on either side of the road eagerly looking for something. (But I didn’t yet know what!)
  3. I had just locked myself out of my apartment, so I was incredibly annoyed by this whole situation.

Then I saw them – thousands of runners heading my way. It was the day of the Vermont City Marathon and I lived on mile 2 of the course. The energy and excitement was contagious. I stood and watched, and cheered, and thought to myself, “next year I want to be out there.”

And that was the day I decided I would someday run in this race.

But My Path to Becoming a Runner Still Wasn’t Over

In fact, it was full of roadblocks (mostly self-induced) and detours.

I decided that that summer I’d start to run more in hopes that I could run half of the marathon, 13.1 miles, on a 2-person relay team. So, I started getting up early to log my miles before the heat of the day set in. After a month or so I was pretty consistently running 3-4 miles several times per week.

The problem was, I hated it.

I was always disappointed with my speed. I told myself that if I couldn’t maintain under a 9-minute mile then it wasn’t worth doing. As soon as I left my house for my run, I looked forward to it being over.

So, as you can probably guess, I quit. I told myself I wasn’t built to be a runner and stopped. The next year I left town on marathon day.

Fast-forward about 2 years – my sister-in-law, who is a runner, had secured a 2-person relay team in the marathon. She invited me to run with her. My immediate reaction was, “yeah, been there, tried that, I can’t do it.” But, that’s not what I said. Instead, [hesitantly] said, “sure.” And that was that.

But this time it was different. This time I wasn’t going it alone, I had a partner to whom I was committed but who also provided me with some much needed social support and guidance on how to train.

I began to educate myself – I actually followed a real half-marathon training schedule for beginners. I read stories of other runners for inspiration.

And I learned that many of the barriers that prevented me the first time were not physical at all, they were in my head and I just needed to get out of my own way.

The training went by fast. But, I won’t say that I loved it at first. The long runs were still hard for me. By the time I completed my last training run, 11 miles, I was ready for the race to be over – really I was ready for training to be over.

I vowed to never register for a race again, because I never wanted to train again (or so I thought). The face-plant I did on the side-walk at the end of that run really intensified that feeling.

But I Did It.

Two weeks later I ran my first half-marathon – I finished in the 80th percentile for my age group. In other words, I was bringing up the end of the pack.

But the feeling I felt when I crossed the finish line was one I can’t really put into words.

I didn’t care that I was one of the last runners to finish. I forgot about how hot, and tired, and sore I felt. I had just achieved a goal I thought I would never even attempt and I’d never been more proud of myself.

Three days later I registered for my second half-marathon. Now, 5 years later, I have completed 3 full marathons.

This experience showed me that I am capable of so much more than I think and that perseverance pays off.

Since this day, running has become so much more than a form of exercise for me. It has become my passion, my outlet, my stress reliever, a source of social engagement, an opportunity to get outside and enjoy the seasons, and a way to challenge myself.

If I hadn’t taken a chance, stepped outside of my comfort zone, and challenged myself to do something totally new, I never would have realized any of this.

3 Running Tips (For Non-Runners)

1. Manage your own expectations.

One of my biggest barriers to training was setting unrealistic expectations for speed and distance, and measuring my progress by the numbers on my watch (minutes and miles).

Taking off my watch was one of the simplest and most helpful steps I took while training.

My pace is determined by how my body feels and instead of focusing on how many miles I have left, I focus on being present in the moment.

2. Listen to your body.

Sometimes during my long runs, and even during races, I need to walk.

Giving myself permission to listen to my body, slow down, and catch my breath was huge! It actually allowed me to keep going and reach the finish line instead of giving up.

3. Enjoy the process.

Early on, I’d start my runs by looking forward to finishing them, which really made them quite dreadful.

When I stopped focusing so much on the end goal and started enjoying the actual process – the scenery, the fresh air, the chance to reflect – my runs became enjoyable. Now, I actually look forward to them.

Or course, these tips are great for any fitness activity – not just running marathons! Keep them in mind whenever you’re looking to start something that feels impossible. Because you are capable of so much more than you think you are.


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About the Author

Dana Notte, MS, RD, CD

Dana has dedicated her career to helping individuals establish a balanced and healthy relationship with food. She has extensive training and experience in coaching for behavior change, mindful eating, and motivational interviewing. Dana has spent years leading group-based behavior change classes, developing and leading interactive workshops for worksite wellness programs, and providing nutrition counseling to individuals struggling with eating, weight, and chronic health conditions. Her practice style is client-centered, compassionate and empowering, with the goal of helping individuals develop the confidence to achieve their health and wellness goals. Dana is the Nutrition Lead at Green Mountain at Fox Run.

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