I stand with about fifty other fourth grade girls at the starting line. We gently sway and stretch as we await the gun. Dread, anxiety, and nerves fills my stomach like a boulder. I don't have high hopes. POP! and we're off. I see the other girls in our matching red and blue uniforms spring to the front of the line and disappear behind a sea of multicolored jerseys. Meanwhile, my legs drag me to the middle of the pack. We pound across fields and through narrow paths in the forest. I focus all my energy on avoiding the stumps; hitting and sliding along the hard, dry dirt leaves a mark. I know from experience. Halfway through it's as if someone strapped weights to my ankles. I cannot go further. I cannot speed up. Girls are passing me left and right while I huff and puff and push my legs to keep moving. Finally, I see the finish where my parents and coach are waiting. They're yelling at me to finish strong and speed up, and I try, but I feel like I'm going to collapse. 44/50. Back of the pack as usual. This was the story that unfolded every week at my cross country meets.
When I was growing up, I played every sport known to man: soccer, basketball, golf, cheerleading, softball, track, horseback riding, tumbling, and cross country. I was that kid who after being put in the game for three minutes was begging the coach to bench me, and after about five minutes on the bench, I was begging to go back out again. I was impatient, but I was also anemic and I didn't find out until I was eleven. My parents both played sports growing up. My dad played golf in college and his dad was an all star basketball player in college. My brother and I watched as our mom constantly trained for the next half or full marathon.
My parents signed me up for cross country when I was in fourth grade, and I hated it. I am a very competitive person, so coming in around the 44/50 mark every race shot my confidence and endlessly frustrated me. We only had to run two miles through the woods of Shelby Farms Park, but somehow I could not make it through the race without stopping to walk. In the car on the way home, my parents would always encourage me, but they also said they knew I could do better. Two years later, we found out that I was anemic. After taking an iron supplement for a few months, I didn't mind running. I even voluntarily joined the track team at my school a year later.
Running the 800 at a track meet or even two miles at practice is VERY different from running a half marathon, though. My sophomore year of high school my parents signed me up for the St. Jude Half Marathon without consulting me. I tried to get out of it, but they thought it was time. My mom had been running long distances for years, and even my dad had started doing the half. They would wake me up at 5:30 or 6:00am to go for runs before school. The day my dad did his longest run, my mom forced me to go with him, and my brother rode circles around on his bike for 10 miles. I thought I was going to die. When race day came, my mom and I stuck together the whole way, finishing in around 2:20. Crossing the finish line was one of the greatest feelings I have ever had, and I knew I had to run it again next year. Finishing a half marathon is an incredibly rewarding experience, but running through the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital campus brings tears to everyone's eyes. We run for the kids. We run for a cure. Danny Thomas put it the best when he said, "No child should die in the dawn of life." We fight cancer with every step.
I finished my sixth half marathon this year (the 2013 race was canceled due to an ice/snow storm). Running long distances has changed my life. Its a great way to decompress after a long day of school or work, but its also a great way to start the day. I've never followed a training schedule for the half marathon, but I am an avid runner. My times have improved significantly since my first race; my personal best is 1:56, and I'm hoping I can get that down next year if I actually follow a training schedule (I say this every year lol). I've learned a lot about running since my days on the cross country team. Here are my tips and tricks to start running.
Everyone knows it's important to stretch after a workout, but it's even more important to stretch before. You need to warm up your muscles before you work them. Stretching before a run or any kind of workout will aid with muscle soreness and tightness the next day. To be completely honest, I've never been good about stretching. It was only last spring that I started stretching before almost every workout. I still don't do it every time, like when I'm running late for Orange Theory or trying to squeeze in a short run before golf practice, but I notice a huge difference when I do. If you don't use one already, invest in a foam roller. It will change your life. Not only can you roll your legs, but I love rolling my back after long days of studying. My favorite foam rollers are the NextRoller and the Infinity Ball by Nextrino.
In addition to stretching, having a little help in cooling my muscles and joints post-workout has recently helped me a lot. I put NextRelief cooling serum around my knees, hips, and on my calves after long runs to soothe my muscles and joints. This stuff really works wonders!
2. Be Patient
Don't go out on your first run expecting to go 6 miles effortlessly. When I take breaks from running, I usually push myself to go 2.5-3 miles. Sometimes it's hard, and that's okay. You have to listen to your body if it's begging you to stop. When I don't feel like running or doing any kind of strenuous cardio, I'll go on a long walk and listen to some music or a podcast. Be patient with yourself as you build up to longer distances. You will get there, but it takes time and commitment.
3. Distract Yourself
If you get bored running (like I do), make sure that you're listening to something you care about and enjoy, like a friend, podcast, or playlist. Personally, I don't love running with other people because I like to dictate my pace and route. When I run with friends, I talk too much and have a hard time running because I start breathing too hard. Even though the running isn't as good, running with friends is a great way to connect with people and distract yourself from running. The best things I've found that help me escape the boredom are podcasts and good music. Listening to a topic that intrigues me completely distracts me from what I'm doing, and most of the time I learn something too.
4. Get Lost
In addition to listening to something interesting, changing your route keeps your runs feeling new and exciting. If I'm being honest, I do not like running in my neighborhood. Of course I loved it when I first moved here, but after running the same 2-3 mile loop several times a week for a couple months I got tired of it. My favorite place to run in Memphis is downtown. With the new Big River Crossing, Tom Lee Park, and Main street, I never get bored. Every time I run downtown I try to do something different, but I usually start by going across the river. The view is too cool! There's something about running next to the river that makes the run even more invigorating than usual. I feel the same way running in the mountains. I love the trails at Arrowhead, Bachelor Gulch, and Beaver Creek that weave in and out of the aspens, looking down into the valley. Running in a place you think is beautiful, exciting, or energizing can be a huge motivation.
Running is also a great way to get to know a new city. My favorite way to explore a new city is to run through the streets. I've encountered the most beautiful sunsets on my runs in unfamiliar cities.
5. Cross Train
Running is great, but you're going to find that cross training will help you run longer distances faster and with more ease. It's crucial to have a strong core to support your upper body during long runs. HIIT workouts like Orange Theory, weight lifting, and stability work like yoga and pilates make a huge difference in my ability to run long distances. My favorite classes in Memphis for cross training are Orange Theory, Inferno Hot Pilates, and yoga at Midtown Yoga and Bikram.
I hope these tips and tricks help you get out there and pound the pavement! As always, I would love to answer any questions, and I want to know which tip you like the best!
This post was sponsored by Nextrino.