The idea of running for fun was always an oxymoron to me. Who could ever think running was enjoyable? For most of my life, I would describe simple running as a prolonged, self inflicted cause of agony. If I ever did run on my own, it was to get in shape to play basketball. It was a simple means to an end. I wanted to be able to play without being limited by my cardiovascular or muscular conditioning. Oddly enough, running didn’t bother me when I was chasing a ball (ha)!
Fast forward to adulthood, and I would lift weights and play basketball to stay in shape. I would occasionally run a mile here, and a mile there, but it always felt like Chinese water torture while I was doing it. It’s hard, it’s boring, and I would just stare at the clock or the mileage for the duration of the activity.
During this time, I started noticing a few local half marathons that were being heavily promoted throughout the year. Even though I hated running, I wanted to be able to do something like that, and dumb as it is, I wanted that 13.1 sticker on my car. Yes, the same sticker than is frequently mocked by runners and non-runners alike. It didn’t matter, I wanted one.
However, whenever I attempted to do any type of training for such an event, my motivation petered out. I could never get over the hump, but it was not a physical limitation, it was a motivational one. I didn’t want to do it badly enough to actually put in the required effort. I knew it, but that still wasn’t enough for me to change.
This cycle went on for years. I wanted to be able to say I ran a half marathon, but I could never fully commit myself to the training.
While living in North Carolina, I very reluctantly agreed to participate in a marathon relay with a few co-workers. My leg of the race was going to be about seven miles through mild-moderately hilly terrain in Raleigh, and I didn’t want to give a poor showing of myself.
My pride alone made me train for this race. The reason for my motivation wasn’t great, but it caused me to stick with it. I ran laps of the same route to/from a nearby neighborhood for weeks, slowly building up my mileage.
When the marathon relay race day came, I was super nervous. However, it actually went pretty well. I was able to run the majority of the time, but I did walk a few of the hills. It was a neat experience, and I really enjoyed the race atmosphere. The hundreds of runners exuded an excited and determined energy throughout the race, and I really enjoyed being a part of that. My time was actually pretty good too.
I walked away from that race tired, sore, and proud of myself, but not convinced I’d ever do another one, and certainly not at a longer distance. As time moved away from the race, I continued running, but it was very sporadic. I was able to maintain running up to 6 miles, but then my motivation dried up again. It didn’t help that it was in the dead of the North Carolina summer, which was a pretty significant deterrent to an already tepid runner.
Years went by, and my interest in running did not revive itself, but I still wanted to be able to say I ran a half marathon.
Goals without a plan usually lead nowhere, and it did, until I had a real reason to want to run.
After having our sweet little baby boy, I was having trouble losing my pregnancy weight, and I was really in need of a hobby that could give me some “me” time. Going to the local gym absorbed too much time, and I really needed something that I could do with the baby. This was also during my husband’s busiest time of year at work, so I had to be able to do it without his consistent help.
I was reading a magazine one afternoon while the baby was sleeping, and I saw an advertisement for the Silo District Half Marathon at Magnolia Farms in Waco, Texas. The light bulb went off in my head. I’ve always been wanting to do a half marathon — why couldn’t I do it now? I had the BOB jogging stroller, so that wasn’t an issue, and I had the time to train.
Also, since it was in Texas, it was a fairly safe bet that the course would be mostly flat. Perfect. Realistically, all it was going to take was effort, discipline, and steady motivation.
I went running a few times before committing to the race in order to ensure that I could actually do it. Running for the first time after having the baby was rough on the ego, as the pace was comparable to molasses (ha!)
Once I signed up for the race, I found a training plan. I ran three times a week, with two maintenance runs and one long run each work. I trained from January through April, regardless of wind, cold, rain, shine, or the husband’s availability.
What I discovered through that time is 1) running sucks, but it feels great once it’s over 2) you never know when your body will be limited in the activities you can do, so enjoy the vigor of health now 3) it’s important to find something that will re-fill your tank as a parent, i.e. “me” time.
I grew to look forward to getting out of the house to go for a run. The sunshine on my face, consequential endorphins, and feeling of accomplishment (especially after the long runs) became staples of my week. Now, I still had to drag myself out of the house for the majority of my runs, but the important thing is that I got out there.
The closer the race crept, the more nervous I became. I had worked up to 10.5 miles, but that still wasn’t 13.1. I felt mostly confident that I would find the extra race day gear that is so often mentioned in running magazines, but that bit of doubt was still there.
Compounding the doubt was the fact that my last two runs leading up to the race had been significantly shorted due to stabbing lateral knee pain in my right knee. It occurred shortly after hitting the two mile mark each time, and there seemed to be no way to stop it once it started. Yikes.
Well, I hoped for the best as I brought my Motrin with me on the trip to Waco. Not much could be done at this point, other than just hoping that race day adrenaline kicked any knee pain to the curb. I loaded up on Motrin and water early that morning before going to the runner’s corral.
What a neat experience it was! There were so many runners of all different ages, sizes, genders, and experience, and we were all there to do the same thing! So cool!
The course went all through Waco, Baylor University, and Magnolia Farms. It was super cool. For the first 4 miles, things were going great. The weather was perfect (about 60 degrees and overcast), my pace was better than I wanted, and fatigue/pain was nowhere to be found.
That all changed at mile 5. That same stabbing knee pain came back with a vengeance. It was excruciating. I continued running on it until mile 6, and then I had to slow down. I walked from mile 6-8, along with performing stretches, deep tissue massage, and adjusting my leggings to apply some pressure to the lateral side of my thigh, hoping it would offset some of the muscle tension. Nope. Nothing worked, I had to stop walking.
In that moment, when it became obvious this issue wasn’t going away, it was so defeating to not be able to run the race the way I wanted. I had set a goal to finish in under 2 hours and 15 minutes, but that was long gone by now. I was concerned I wasn’t even going to be able to finish at all. I had been badly limping along for 3 miles, and I didn’t know how I could continue to do that for 5 more miles.
As I watched more and more runners pass me by, it became progressively more defeating. I texted my husband through tears that I couldn’t even walk anymore, and how discouraged and upset I was. He was very encouraging, as he often is, and that brief moment outside of my own head was so helpful in allowing me to regain perspective.
I took a few minutes to collect myself, and I formulated my strategy. I knew what the cutoff time of the race was, and I still had over two hours to go 5 miles. That could be done. It wasn’t going to be sexy, but I was going to finish this race. We didn’t drag our little family all the way down to Waco for me to be able to say I didn’t make it to the finish line.
Well, for the next two to three miles, I ran when I could, walked when I couldn’t, and stopped when my knee hurt too much to do either. The knee pain was so maddening!! I couldn’t believe this was happening after training for over three months with nearly zero issues. It took me years to get to the point of actually running this distance, only to be derailed come race day.
As time went on, I discovered that I was able to do a weird running/hoping pattern that allowed me to reduce weight bearing on my right leg while also keeping it fairly extended. It was still very painful, but it was the most comfortable option, and it allowed me to maintain a quicker pace. If you move faster, you are done faster, right?
As I was moving along in my herky-jerky style, it occurred to me that there was a good lesson in all of this. The real challenge that I had been given was not to simply cover the distance; it was to finish the race despite pain, disappointment, and new circumstances. The challenge was much different than I anticipated, and it was multi-faceted. Such is life. Things worth having are not easily acquired, and sometimes it requires more effort than we planned to give.
In years past, I simply did not have the grit and determination to stick with something when it became really tough. This time was different.
As I hobbled over the last two miles and crossed the finish line, I felt an acute awareness of personal growth taking place. Not only had I finally finished a half marathon and chosen to be tough, but I learned a really valuable lesson. Sometimes, the things that we think we want look different when we get up close. We can underestimate the tenacity that is required to obtain something of value, at least until we get in the trenches and realize what is truly demanded. If we really want something, we have to make a decision to not be moved off our line, no matter what obstacles are thrown our way.
Even then, there are times that human determination is not enough. Our plans do not always align with God’s plan for our lives. However, if we really buckle down and give it our all, we can 1) reach our goal, or 2) be confident that it was not God’s plan for our life.
Opportunities frequently pop up for us to make choices. Are we easily deterred from one option because it seems tougher, or do we choose the option that has the best outcome, regardless of the difficulty? I’ll confess that I choose the easier option far more than I’d like to admit. Maybe it’s because the easier path is more comfortable, familiar, or alluring. Choosing the option that requires significantly more effort is hard to do. And yet, it’s often the best thing for us.
For me, being in a right frame of mind requires me to perform several healthy habits on a daily basis. If I don’t do these things, I become anxious, depressed, selfish, irritable, rude, prideful, tired, etc. I need to read my Bible, eat healthy food, get enough sleep, stay off social media, and exercise, everyday. It’s taken a few years for me to figure this out, and it’s really tough to stick with it. If I stop doing one of these things for a few days, those negative feelings come right back. It’s as certain as death and taxes.
My discipline to do these things waxes and wanes, even though I know what the result will be. Why is that? Why can’t I just do the things I know I ought to do?
It’s not easy being human. We are weak, fickle creatures. Nowhere in my life is this more evident than when I drop off on one of my healthy habits. I know what is good for me, but I’d still much rather eat sugary foods, stay up late, sit on the couch, and waste way too much time on my phone.
Discipline requires frequent, small decisions to do the thing that gets us closer to our goal, despite the obstacles. I learned this during my race, but I have to frequently re-learn this lesson. I know this will be a life-long pursuit for me. Some people just seem to be born with an ungodly amount of discipline, but that is not this girl.
Running represents a lot of things to me. It represents discipline, because it is not always easy to go and run. Most times, I actually dread it. Even so, it’s something that I need to commit to for overall health and wellness. It is my only form of exercise these days, and I need to make it a priority. It will become more of a challenge as the weather gets warm here in Florida, but there are ways around it.
Running represents a celebration of what my body is able to do. As one who worked in the world of rehabilitation, I got to treat a lot of people who were either trying to return to their normal activities/hobbies or trying to adapt to their new level of function. I do not have to do either of those things right now. I am (still) young, and my body is strong enough to do amazing things, like run for miles while pushing fifty pounds of stroller and toddler. I won’t always be able to do that, so I want to take advantage of it while I can.
Running is also a physical representation of a hobby that I choose to participate in while also being a mother. While I believe motherhood to be one of God’s greatest blessings for me, I don’t want to completely lose myself in that. I want to still have my own cares, concerns, and hobbies outside of my role as Mom. I believe that is healthy in any relationship, but especially as a parent, because it is so consuming. Being a mom is so amazing in so many ways, and I know I am a better mom by having a few hobbies.
The race was way more than I ever thought it was going to be, and I learned way more about myself than I ever thought I would. I ended up finishing in 2 hours and 33 minutes. Not my best pace, but it was my best considering the circumstances. My knee would eventually heal up, although I was barely able to walk for the next few days. It was absolutely worth it, and I would do it all again. In fact, I am looking forward to completing another half marathon, although I haven’t decided when that will be.
This post ended up being way more in depth that I originally thought, but it all ties together. Discipline and running go hand in hand. That’s way I wasn’t able to fully commit to it for many years. It’s a valuable character trait that I have to work hard to develop. I think that’s what running really represents to me.
Every time I get out there to run, it reminds me that toughness is a choice. Good habits are a choice. If I am capable of making one good choice, I am capable of making many, and you are too.
How do you improve your discipline? How do you improve your running habits?