I Am a Runner (But I Sometimes Take Walk Breaks)

8 Mar

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).

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14 Responses to “I Am a Runner (But I Sometimes Take Walk Breaks)”

  1. Shane Atkinson Tuesday, March 8, 2011 at 4:48 pm #

    I love Fleet Feet. Would also love to get back into a running group. Our local store here in Clarksville shut down. Is the Fleet Feet one free? There is nothing wrong with walking. You did an awesome job, and I wish you the very best for the Country Music Marathon. I’m sad to say I won’t make it this year.

    • Laura Friday, March 11, 2011 at 1:11 pm #

      Yes. Fleet Feet is amazing! The one in Brentwood always has training programs and group runs going on in various parts of Nashville and Williamson County. The training programs aren’t free (see the link in my blog to their programs), but the group runs are.

      And thanks for the encouragement!

  2. pawsitivelife Tuesday, March 8, 2011 at 10:34 pm #

    I usually take walking brakes while training but when racing I gather all my courage and run the whole thing (I find an pace bunny and stick to them). It actually hurts my muscles MORE to walk than to run straight

    • Laura Friday, March 11, 2011 at 1:12 pm #

      I guess we all have to do what works best for us. I think I’ll keep the walk breaks for the 1/2 marathon, but I don’t do them for shorter distances, like 5k and 10k.

  3. 2blu2btru Tuesday, March 22, 2011 at 10:01 am #

    As a “newbie,” I do nothing but jog/walk intervals. My current “pace” (I don’t think it’s really a pace so much as a marking of time) fluctuates between 17:07 and 18:51/mile. I’m still out there, but it’s tough.

    I know what you mean about feeling like a failure for not running the whole time. Everytime I get passed by someone actually running when I’m walking, I feel like a loser. It’s early days yet, though. I think it’s great that you have found a system that works for you and are sticking with it. I keep hearing “know your body” and “listen to your body,” so I guess if it feels good to you, it’s something you should stick with until you want to move to something else.

    Thanks for your comment on my blog. I have seen the couch to 5k program. It’s hard for me to follow, since I don’t have anyway to alert myself to go from walking to running and back (no phone with apps or anything). At the moment, I use visual landmarks–I’ll jog from here to there. I’m working towards sustaining a jogging pace for 1/4 mile for each interval, or 1/2 mile in total.

    Here’s to goals! :D

  4. RootyK Sunday, March 27, 2011 at 1:42 pm #

    I have the same feelings of failure once in a while when I am run/walking. But after a 2 months of doing it the pain in my heel is almost going and I am still finishing my 5ks in the same time as when I was running. I think I’ll stick with it and now after reading this I realize I am not the only one! THANKS!

    • Laura Sunday, March 27, 2011 at 11:03 pm #

      You’re welcome. :-) Thanks for reading.

  5. Joe Donnelly Tuesday, April 5, 2011 at 12:59 pm #

    Hey Laura,

    Love the post! Especially this:

    “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.”

    You are a runner, you are awesome! I know a lot of people think that, if they walk 1 step of a race, then it “doesn’t count” which is just silly. I know Boston Qualifiers that walk through waterstops…

    Thanks for reading the blog, I have been desperately trying to find the time to update it…ran the LA Marathon 3 weeks ago, then followed it up with the local Greenway Marathon a week later…paying for it now, but I think it was worth it…


    • Laura Wednesday, April 6, 2011 at 12:02 pm #

      Thanks, Joe. Maybe one of these days I’ll be a marathoner like you. Maybe …


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