In the spring of 2011, when my aunt Susan asked me if I wanted to run a half-marathon with her in June, I thought she was crazy. I was just starting my first semester of college at USC, trying to keep up with life in LA, balance my school schedule, and feed myself decently healthy things I could find at the dining hall.
Before college, I had just completed 6-months traveling around the world with Up With People, where running daily was definitely not one of my main priorities. Although I grew up running Varsity cross-country in high school, completing more 5Ks in a 3-year span than most people do in a lifetime, at the time I was in no-shape for running more than 3 miles, let alone 13 miles. But being a stubborn, strong willed person that I am, I decided to do it anyways.
So the journey began, I had a little less than 3 months to get through finals, my birthday, and get to the starting line for the Rock & Roll Half Marathon in San Diego.
Susan suggested that I use the Novice training guide by Hal Higdon to start my training. Of course she and her running crew were already on week 3-4, so I was already playing catch up to “jump on in”. But, I committed to it – running 2 or 3 days per week – either around campus or on the treadmill, and a long run on the weekend, I started to build up the miles, just like I would do every summer with Coach Prahl training for the upcoming XC season. I knew how to do it, I just had to get my head in the game and my body would comply, even if initially unwilling.
I slowly built myself up to 8 miles pretty comfortably and about two weeks before the race, I drove out to the desert to run 11 miles with Susan & crew. I had no idea if I was going to be able to keep up and jump up another 3 miles.
One thing about running with me – I don’t talk. I soon found out that Susan & crew were the talking type. While I was huffing and puffing, just trying to keep up, they were chatting about life, their kids, or what trips they were taking with their families that summer. Every 3-4 miles they would look over to me and make sure I was still there and still breathing. I’d squeak out a few words and we’d carry on. I finished the full run, but I wasn’t sure how I was going to add on a few more miles. But Susan said, as long as you can run at least 10, you can do 13, no problem. I believed her, because I didn’t have a choice not to and I trusted the endurance gods.
Race day – my parents came down to San Diego with me for encouragement. I found my crew bright and early and we set out to do the race together. My goal was just to finish and preferably not stop to walk. I remember about 4 miles or so into the race, I was feeling pretty good and I decided right then that I was going to stick with the group of ladies I was with, for the whole race– so that became my new goal. By mile 6, I was still with them. We passed Margaritaville, and pretended my electrolyte drink was a tequila shot, and kept going. By mile 9, my legs started to feel really heavy, and after furiously chewing down an energy chew (which is really difficult while you are still running) and I was right back with them. By mile 11, I looked down at my phone and very surprisingly, we were trending under 2 hours. At that moment I decided there was nothing stopping me to get across the finish line before the 2-hour mark – my third new goal. With my legs feeling numb and every part of my tired, I did it– I finished my first race in 1 hour and 49 minutes. I didn’t stop, I stuck with my group, and I finished under 2 hours.
I truly amazed myself of what my body was capable of. Sure, I have a history of endurance running (which was totally advantageous), but running that race proved to me how mentally strong I was. Without setting goals along the way, I never would have pushed myself to finish the way I did. I would have finished of course, but maybe I would have walked or stopped several times. I couldn’t have done it, if I didn’t trust that I (my heart, my legs and my body) could do it. I am still really proud of it. In my books, it was a pretty big accomplishment running under 9 miles per mile for 13 miles straight.
And then, I waited another 6 years to try it again. Why? I’m not sure. I did sign up for another race with a friend in college, but it never came to fruition – a combination of poor timing (during finals) and lack of training. But maybe I think part of me was also scared that I wouldn’t do as well, and I psyched myself out, like I sometimes do.
So around Christmas when my aunt Susan asked me to do one in Encinitas in March 2017, I had no reason not to do it.
Less than a year prior, my aunt Susan had an unexpected discovery of lung cancer. Although detected very early and it was resolved rather quickly, it was very scary. The fact that she even wanted to run another half marathon considering everything she had just went through blew my mind. So, I definitely I wasn’t going to back out just because I was scared.
At the time, I was in decent shape – I was already doing OrangeTheory twice a week, so I added a long run on the weekends, making my own form of Half-Marathon training. Sometimes, I’d throw in another run in the week, but working full-time, this was pretty difficult. I hoped that the “training” I had worked up to would be enough and trusted that it would be.
When race day came around, Susan, her husband Oly, and my “baby” 17 year old, 6 foot tall cousin Tara and I all set out to do it together. (Oly and Tara being half marathon first timers!) The course was beautiful – 6 miles running right along the PCH with ocean views – it was tough to get discouraged. Even with a few hills in the way, the sunshine and ocean breeze made up for it. When I caught sight of the 1:50 minute pacer around mile 8, my gusto kicked in and I wasn’t going to let him go. So I didn’t. I made it my goal to beat him. To me, this race was for Susan – she encouraged me to train for and complete my first half marathon, when “I didn’t think I could”. So, this second half marathon was going to be “because I knew I could” and I knew she could too.
Believing that you can do something is like the peanut butter in a PB&J– it really wouldn’t be the same without it. (Who would want to eat a jam sammy anyways?)
I finished in 1:48, one minute shy of my previous time, 6 years earlier. We all finished and I was truly proud of all of us. For Susan, for defeating the odds, running another half marathon AND kicking cancer in the butt. For Tara for challenging herself to commit to training for it and completing her first race before even starting college. For Oly for sticking with it knowing a cold beer would be waiting at the end.
My third half marathon was in November 2017 in Temecula. My friend Liz crazily agreed to do it with me. We trained independently and just met up for a girl’s weekend in wine country. Unfortunately, I sprained my ankle sometime during training, so I was forced to icing lots, taking Epsom salt baths, and lying off of it more than I had wanted to. On race day, it was freezing. I taped up my ankle real good and went for it. I found a pace that felt good and stuck with it. This race was very different from the past two races; I had to honor my body. I was mentally strong, but knew that I was going to have to be even mentally stronger not to overdo it. I wanted to finish well but also didn’t want this race to prevent me from being active for weeks after it.
Midway into the race, after about 6 miles running next to the same woman, she introduced herself and she thanked me. She said that I was pushing her to stick to the same pace, which was faster than she was used to. I smiled and I told her to keep it up and that we were going to finish the race together, which we did. Sometimes, it’s the mental strength you have to finish a race that can encourage those around you too. Although clearly not my best time at 2:03, I helped her finish her very best race. To me, that was almost just as satisfying as completing my very best race just months before.
Fast forward to 2019 – I’m ready to do another one. And even crazier yet, I’m going to commit to doing a marathon before the end of 2020. (Stay tuned for future posts!)
I challenge you to challenge yourself to complete something you have always dreamed of doing – it’s never too late, and nothing is impossible. Put your heart into it and see what you can do. Honor your body, when you need to, but don’t give up because you don’t think it’s possible.
So, what are you going to do?