the mystical powers of pizza, prayer, and michelle obama: my very first half marathon

prelude

last spring my little brother said he was going to run in the st. jude half marathon in memphis and asked if i would like to join. always glad to donate to a great cause like st. jude, i agreed and set up my fundraising page without giving it much thought. my generous friends and family helped me to meet my fundraising goal and then it hit me. i just agreed to run 13.1 miles.

shit.

i have always been active; i was a cheerleader from about 8 years old until i graduated from high school. in college and law school, i did yoga and pure barre, hopped on the elliptical or treadmill when i needed to blow off some steam, and walked my dog several times per week (she usually lies down in the middle of the sidewalk right around 0.5 miles), but i had never run more than maybe around 3 miles.

so 13.1 was going to be rich.

training

after contemplating the various ways i could quit while i was ahead, hand in my fundraising money to st. jude, and cheer my little brother along from the sidelines, i realized my pride would hurt way too much to admit i couldn’t do this. instead, i got to work.

i downloaded a training plan online and was initially horrified. how could i run 20 miles per week to train when i couldn’t even run 10 minutes without stopping? what does cross training mean? i was motivated by one fun fact i gleaned from my googling: one of the requirements for successful marathon training is new running shoes. 

after some more googling, i decided to get hokas. they are insanely comfortable and supportive. (and come in cute colors!)

back to the training. i determined i could no longer avoid the inevitable: i needed to start running. i ordered a book from amazon to help me get motivated: running for motals: a commonsense plan for changing your life with running by john bingham and jenny hadfield. it helped me to calm down, feel less intimidated, and get excited about the process ahead.

i downloaded a training plan online and got to work. at first, i had to do run/walks because i literally couldn’t breathe after about one mile of running. with the help of some girlfriends, i became able to run 2 miles without stopping. having people to run with really helped to distract me and made workouts go by faster.

i then signed up for a series of 5ks to help me increase my distance and get comfortable with how races work. naturally, it was the dead of summer in memphis so my 5ks were defined by dehydration, profuse sweating, migraines, and regret.

i quickly learned that in order to sustain my new workout schedule, i needed to up my nutrition game. this has always been a challenge for me. i have suffered with body image issues and an eating disorder in the past, so i have had a weird relationship with food for several years. i dreaded thinking about this part of training, but my headaches and dehydration were not going to stop unless i got this under control.

i was eating healthy foods before, but just not enough. so i started making sure i had a healthy breakfast (if nothing else, at least a protein shake). then i would have one small meal at around 11:30 for lunch and again at around 1:30 or 2. i would have a good dinner at home, and stock up my office at work with healthy snacks like trail mix, protein bars, and pretzels. i learned about nuun, which is a tablet you can put in your water and wa-la! electrolytes! these were hugely helpful to sip on during the day so i wouldn’t get dehydrated.

i participated in group runs through a local running group and really enjoyed the motivation that comes with working out with other people. even though i certainly wasn’t the fastest or able to run for the longest, i also saw that i wasn’t the slowest, and everyone was at a different level. and that was ok.

i started to get in the groove of my training–i found myself being able to run 5-6 miles without stopping. i got some good advice from a friend: “the key is to just not stop. so much of it is mental. when you want to stop, just don’t.” it was so simple. yet not necessarily intuitive. so i started to use that as my motto. when i wanted to stop, i thought to myself “just don’t.” and it became one of the most helpful aspects to my training.

of course, it was important for me to listen to my body, and when i hadn’t eaten as much as i should have or i was particularly tired and didn’t have as much stamina as i needed, i would stop. but on those runs where i wanted to stop just because i was bored, i pushed it into high gear instead of falling into the temptation of taking a walking break.

during my longer runs, i enjoyed listening to audiobooks and podcasts; i never thought i would say that and would probably call you a sociopath if you told me you did that while working out before i started all this. but i realized that for longer periods of time when you are moving, the audiobook/podcast route really helps the time go by faster and is a great distraction from what you are doing. don’t get me wrong, i often needed lil wayne’s the carter v to get me through, but you can only listen to it so many times before it begins to feel like torture. plus, getting pumped up is all fine and good, but that’s not sustainable for several miles of running.

some podcasts i liked to listen to while running were: slow burn (about the clinton presidency…i called my mom and told her i couldn’t believe all that drama was going on in the 90s while i was just chillin as a child); dear franklin jones (about a man who grew up in a cult and is now looking back on his life and trying to sort things out); my favorite murder (naturally); casefile (i love these because they are really long and you don’t have to switch episodes mid-run); and in the dark. as you can see, i really like true crime podcasts.

while i was getting into the swing of things with my diet, i did some further research on nutrition for mid-run. i quickly saw tons of great reviews about gu energy gels and ordered a bunch of them in different flavors from amazon. i made sure to use them during my training because of the golden rule: nothing new on race day! i really liked them and they helped give me an extra push and fight to fatigue.

the night before the race, i knew i would need something extra awesome to listen to. i cued up my lil wayne essential albums for the moments when i would need that extra motivation that only weezy can provide. and for the audiobook, i sought out michelle obama’s new memoir, becoming. her voice is so calming yet motivating and was the ideal choice for race day.

race day

when race day rolled around, i was excited and nervous. my sweet mom came in town to watch my brother and i run and i had a few friends who would be in town as well. my mom said a special prayer that she found on the google about running beforehand. i received a ton of thoughtful texts and calls from friends and family wishing me good luck. i couldn’t help but worry i was going to let them down or that i would embarass myself if i failed. after all, i have been known to have stomach issues, get dehydrated easily, and/or literally just stop whatever i’m doing because i don’t want to do it anymore. part of me thought there was just no way i was actually going to be able to do this, even though my training had been getting better.

i sort of let the day happen and i felt like i was watching from the outside (except when we encountered hills on the course…i really really felt that. and my knees were angry). i took it slower at first, interacted with all the people watching by saying thank you and giving high fives, and stopped for water when i started to feel thirsty. i took 2 gels along the way, and felt an insane amount of gratitude when i got to run through the st jude campus and see the patients and families that were benefiting from the amazing place the is st. jude. that, more than anything, encouraged me to keep moving.

the race went by quicker than i thought. before i knew it, i was crossing the finish line, finding my family, and drinking a beer (which i immediately regretted. as cool as people look drinking a beer after running a bunch, i really needed water. and a sandwich. and a nap).

my mom, brother, boyfriend and i got pizza. i ordered a white pizza and ate like six slices. i later threw it all up. lesson for next time: don’t literally shove your face like it’s your last meal on earth after running 13.1 miles.

that night, i saw some friends and then went home a little early to ice my legs, watch valley of the dolls on hulu, and snuggle with my dog. the best way to sum this up is to share a text i sent to my mom when i was ubering home that night:

“Got some food and now heading home to watch a movie with b. I feel emotional! In a good way. I never thought I’d be able to run that far. I want to soak it in and reflect a little. I guess I’ll always be a nerd like that at heart [crying laughing emoji].”