I did it! I accomplished a major milestone. I completed my first half marathon. 13.1 miles, one step at a time. What a rush! I learned a lot in my training that I hope to continue applying to everyday life as I move on to the next challenge to be conquered. For those struggling on their journey to health and wellness, I hope these lessons might also be relevant and encourage you on your way. This post is also a note to my future self – a reminder of what I was doing and what was working when I felt on top of the world!
- Prioritize yourself. I have been training since late May, running Monday, Wednesday, and Friday no matter what. I made an appointment with myself – literally on my calendar – to run certain days, cross train at the gym on other days, and I made it happen. If the weather was unfavorable I found a way to run inside. If I had a schedule conflict I rescheduled the appointment. I never allowed myself to cancel. I have always loved exercising but this is the first time I my life I remained so committed to making it happen consistently.
- It doesn’t matter what you do once. It matters what you do every day. That is, the small seemingly insignificant choices you make every day are the ones that matter most. It’s our patterns and habits that elicit success. If you have one great healthy meal, that’s wonderful. But it’s when you string together many healthy days and weeks and months that you start to see a difference in your waistline. On the same token, if you have one bad meal or one bad day, don’t beat yourself up. Get back on track with the next bite. It’s the ongoing patterns that matter.
- Commitment is everything. If you are steadfast in your commitment to something, you cannot help but see it through. There will always be distractions but if you’re really serious about it, you’ll brush away the distractions and move closer to your goal.
- Know that you will reach your goal. See it happening. Identify with it. Feel how you’ll feel after you have succeeded! I never questioned that I could finish. I didn’t know what my time would be. I didn’t know how sore my body might feel but I knew what I would feel like when I finished. I practiced that feeling. I visualized it in my mind. It kept me going through training and through the race itself. I knew I was capable of finishing because at some point I decided I was capable of finishing. I identified myself as a runner. I identified myself as the kind of person that finishes half marathons. And I set out to emulate what people who finish half marathons do – they run! A lot. Whether it’s a new sport or a new smaller dress, visualize yourself conquering it. Identify with people who are the way you want to be. Do what they do.
- Plan ahead. If you don’t know where you’re going, how will you know when you get there? Planning is everything, and success usually doesn’t happen by accident. As I sit here today, after having completed my first half marathon, I’m thinking about what’s next. Just because I completed the race, another would require continued training and preparation. I’m not about to remain fit and trim by accident. I will remain that way by deciding to do so and taking steps toward that goal. People don’t summit Mt. Everest by accident and most people don’t reach their goal weight by accident either. You have to decide where you want to go, plan a map, and figure out what you’re willing to do to get there. But most of all, you just have to start doing it.
- Find a support system. Use it. I had a whole team behind me – my UWL Facebook support group, my local running friends, UWL runners I had chatted with online, vegan runners, my accountability partner (who reminded me every day that I feel better when I run!). My family. I had invited my sister to run with me several months ago. She didn’t have as much time to train but she didn’t let that discourage her. She just showed up and decided to do her best. She worried I might be faster than she was and encouraged me to go on ahead if I felt I could. I worried I wouldn’t be able to keep pace with her because I had done a run/walk training program. Sometime mid-race I did wonder if I could go a little faster. But never having run more than 9 miles in my life, I decided not to get carried away. It was more important to finish without getting hurt. We stayed together and thank goodness we did. Somewhere around mile 11 we were both hurting pretty good. I tried to distract her from her aching legs, and she reminded me to stay loose, to keep breathing deeply. On the final mile of the race we picked up the pace. We fed off each other’s excitement and energy and we poured on the steam (relatively speaking!). We crossed the finish line together with a rush of relief and adrenaline and sheer exhilaration.
- Be flexible and forgiving. You will have distractions. You will surely have setbacks or face surprising situations. Do the best that you can, be flexible enough to adapt while remaining committed to your end goal. Be gentle with yourself when you make mistakes. Decide to do better next time and move on.
- Most of all, just keep going. Never give up! During my race I reminded myself dozens of times of the following mantra: “I am calm and strong. I just keep going.” When I got tired and sore I took some deep breaths and remained calm, and I just kept going. If you can do that every time you face a challenge in life, you will always succeed. Never give up. Just keep going.
Whatever your destination, whatever your mountain, whatever your challenge, find a way to get yourself to where you want to be. You deserve the rush of exhilaration you’ll feel when you can throw your arms in the air, throw your head back, and shout for all the world to hear – I DID IT!!