As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been training for the Country Music 1/2 Marathon with a group of about 500 runners and walkers since early January. On the first day of training, we all met up at Fleet Feet Sports in Brentwood at 7:00 on a Saturday morning – nearly 500 of us crammed into that small space in our running tights and pullovers, still groggy from the adjustment to our new pre-dawn wake-up time.
Our designated pace leaders held up neon poster-board signs with training pace times scrawled across them in black Sharpie marker, making it easier for us to spot and join a group that ran at our pace. The groups ranged from 7-minute mile runners, to various run-walk-run interval groups, to race-walkers.
Naturally, I scanned the room to find the slowest pace group for runners. I had been running consistently for a few months building up to a 5k, but I was not (and probably never will be) a thin-limbed gazelle.
So on that first day, anxious and excited about this new challenge, I bounded off for our first 4-mile run in below-freezing temperatures with a group of about 20 others who were running at a 11-minute, 30-second/mile pace. It went well. I was feeling great. I couldn’t believe that in just a few months I’d be running 13.1 miles.
But after only a couple of weeks, once we started adding more mileage, I realized there was no way I would be able to keep up with my 11:30 pace group – the slowest runner pace group in the program – for more than a few miles. The longer we ran, the farther I was being left behind. I was discouraged. I felt like a failure. I wanted to quit.
I had a decision to make. I could keep trudging along slowly and singularly and hope I didn’t get lost once my pace group was no longer in my sight. Or I could drop back to a run-walk-run interval group, alternating periods of running with shorter periods of recovery walks.
Neither of these options appealed to me. I didn’t want to run alone; I joined this training group because I wanted to train with a group. Plus, I am hugely directionally challenged, so the chances of me getting lost during a 10-mile run through suburban Brentwood were quite high. And I didn’t want to drop back to a run-walk-run interval group because that just felt like failure. After all, I had signed up for this program to run a half marathon, not walk one.
However, my fear of being left behind and getting lost outweighed my fear of failure, and about 4 weeks into the program, I reluctantly joined the 10:1 interval group. We ran for 10 minutes, averaging 11 minutes per mile, followed by a short 1-minute recovery walk, and continued repeating the cycle until we covered our total distance.
That first interval run wasn’t so bad. I was able to easily keep up with the group, and I enjoyed the camaraderie and encouragement of my fellow runners. But I couldn’t quite shake the feeling that I had somehow failed. That I wasn’t actually “running” a half marathon.
However, despite my viewing it as a setback, I stuck with my interval group. Everyone was friendly and encouraging, and our pace leader, Erin, was great. Then slowly, week by week, as we continued adding miles and I realized that my finish time was actually faster when I ran intervals than when I didn’t, my mindset began to change.
Instead of viewing my interval running as a failure, I decided to accept myself for the runner that I was, walk breaks and all.
13.1 miles is 13.1 miles. It doesn’t matter if 1 mile of that total distance is walked instead of run. That’s still an accomplishment, and I should be proud of that. I am proud of that.
We’re a little over halfway through the training program; we’ll be running 10 miles this weekend. And sometimes the feelings of failure and inadequacy creep back in. But I have to remind myself that if run-walk-run intervals are good enough for Olympic athletes, they should be good enough for me.
I am a runner. I will no longer qualify that statement with “but I sometimes take walk breaks.” No, I am a runner (period).