I Went from the Couch to a Half Marathon and Learned to Embrace the Process

14 May 2019

On Sunday April 28, 2019 I completed my first half-marathon. Before that day I had only run in a 5k “fun run” once before and other than that, I had not really run at all since middle school. Looking back at where I started 7 months earlier I’m sometimes amazed that I was able to achieve this goal. You see, when I first started I couldn’t even run 1.5 miles without feeling like a 300 lb. lineman who just ran back a fumble 80 yards.

The support of my family made all the difference. I couldn't let my kids see me give up!

Those early runs were really embarrassing. How was I THIS out of shape? Interestingly, I wasn’t even that upset with my fitness level until AFTER I started running and realized just how out-of-shape I was! So, I did some more running but it was still sporadic. I needed a goal, I needed a push. That push came one day at lunch out with some coworkers. Two of them were in the process of training for the Runner’s World half marathon and had joined a running group that was training together on the weekends. They were telling some funny stories about their adventures through the streets of Bethlehem, PA and I thought to myself: “that sounds like fun. If they can do that, why can’t I?” So, I decided that I wanted to get to the point where I could at least hang with them.

My first step was to push myself to the point where my usual run was up to 3 miles. It was around this time that I started thinking about running another 5k or maybe even a 10k. But, as I started putting the miles in and things started getting a bit easier something in me said that I needed to do something a little crazy. Running a 5k wasn’t going to be enough. I had to do something hard…something that seemed entirely out of reach. I needed to prove to myself that I could achieve something that I wasn’t sure was possible. I wanted to run a half marathon.

At this point running 3 miles was not necessarily easy, so the idea of running more than 4 times that far was daunting to say the least. But I knew I had to try. I was 38 years old and I couldn’t say that I had ever really pushed my limits in any meaninful way. I needed to do this for myself and I knew the only way to get there was going to be hard work, and trusting the process. Logging the miles, pushing little by little every day. So, that’s what I did. I ran at least 3 times a week and had a friend help me put together a training program that would increase my distance slowly over time until I hit my goal of 13.1 miles.

There were ups and downs of course. Around Christmas when I was pushing up towards 7 mile on my long runs I got such a bad case of shin splints that I had to stop entirely. This was REALLY hard and extremely discouraging. I had made such great progress and was feeling confident. Every day that I wasn’t running felt like a piece of that progress was eroding away. After about 2 weeks I went out and upgraded my shoes and began to ease my way back into things. The splints slowly vanished and things were looking up. I learned that you need to listen to your body and not push things too far too fast.

But at this point I had another problem. It was January…in Pennsylvania. My long runs were begining to stretch out to over 60 minutes in length and it was cold. I remember mornings when the thermometer was not even hitting 20 degrees and sometimes I’d return with a beard coated in ice or fingers so stiff that I couldn’t open my post run snack! As the miles picked up my joints rebelled, first my right knee would flare up with shooting pains that almost forced me to stop, then my hips were sore and stiff, then as my right knee cleared up my left knee started up as my IT band strained from the added miles.

But here’s the thing…I kept going. When my alarm went off at 5:30 AM every Sunday morning, I got up, put on my warmest clothes, put my headphones in and ran. I ran until my joints creaked like an old staircase and then I ran a little further. I ran during the week, sometimes on my lunch breaks, sometimes at the YMCA on the treadmills, whatever I needed to do to get my miles in. I started this philosophy that the days when I least wanted to go out and run were the days when I needed to do it the most. It was hard..and that’s the point.

I can say without question that this no-excuses approach to my running plan is what got me to my goal. You have to trust the process, you have to put the work in and not think about the long term. If you start thinking “No big deal if I miss one day” you’ll soon find yourself missing one, than 2, than 3… I focused on one run at a time. I listened to my body but I did not make excuses. Slowly, but surely my miles climbed. 9, 10, 11, 12..

Crossing the finish line was something that seemed impossible 6 months ago...

It’s interesting to think back about what kept me going. When everything in me wanted to stop I would think about my kids and that I needed to show them what was possible if you pushed through adversity. I needed to show them that you don’t give up but work through the ups and downs towards your goals. I thought of my friends who were cheering me on. I would always share my runs with them and this really held me accountable. I was not going to tell them that I stopped halfway through my long run just because my legs hurt. And I thought of my wife. I was asking a lot from her as I logged these hours pounding out miles on the pavement. I couldn’t let the sacrifices she was making for my sake go to waste.

In the end I ran over 360 miles between October 2018 and April 2019. I finished my 1st half marathon in 2:00:21. I lost 40 pounds, my resting heart rate sits in the 50s and I’m in better physical shape than I have been since…well, probably ever. And these are just the improvements I made to my physical health. I find myself more patient, and relaxed. I’ve slowed down and find myself appreciating the moment more than I have in the past. Now, don’t get me wrong things are not perfect by any means. I’ve got my issues just like anyone else. But I can say with certainty that this process has made me stronger, and more resilient. I’ve seen what I’m capable of and learned the power of embracing the process. I now hope to apply what I’ve learned in other aspects of my life and see how far I can go…