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Things I Learned While Training For A Half Marathon

From the couch to the streets. And back to the couch.

I hate running. I like beers and eating crab or chicken nuggets until I can't move while watching Netflix or reading. "So why did you volunteer to train for a marathon then, you idiot?" Good question and fair read – I am an idiot; that's one reason. Also, Blackmores organises the Blackmores Sydney Running Festival. From the plans they showed me, I thought it looked fun. And I took it as an opportunity to put myself out there to try something I normally never would. "What if I ran it?" I said. They said, "Great," and then I thought, Oh, damn because it meant I then had to train. But if just one person reading this – who, like me, has never really trained for something before – decides to give it a go because of my dumb idea, then I guess it’s not such a dumb idea after all, is it?

Blackmores were super helpful and suggested I sign up to the 10km Bridge Run for starters.

"Why don't I try for the half-marathon?" They asked if I was sure. And that's when I knew I'd bitten off more than I could chew.

Starting From Nothing

I don't know why I hate running; I guess I associate it with having to wear neon lycra and rude people who bump you off the footpath trying to beat their "personal bests". I haven't run since my teen years playing sports for school or running away from large groups of dudes after running my mouth and getting into an "argument". Whoops. (Full disclosure: I did run a cross country once. But that was 20 years ago.)

For the past few years, I've found myself in a nonactive rut. You're familiar with the one: You know you should be doing something, but you just can't get started. And the more you think about it, the more you overthink it, and then even starting becomes overwhelming. I've been in a mental rut lately too. Life decided to throw a couple of wrenches at me this year, but like the movie Dodgeball once said, "If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball". The Blackmores Running Festival presented a great opportunity, something for me to work toward, so if I could dodge a wrench, could I maybe run a marathon? With the decision made, the next step was to then…um...what? Truth was, I didn't know where to start.

The Planning

“How do you train for a marathon?” I asked my mate Cam. He said, "I reckon it takes a solid year of prep. I read that somewhere." He is a unit of a man and had just finished his first half-marathon. I didn’t have a year or six months. I had six weeks. Blackmores gave me a half-marathon beginner training guide, and I asked some more people in the office who liked to run. They gave me a rundown of their suggested apps. I picked one and put in the date of the run, 16 Sept. I then tried to enter how many kms I wanted to run, and it spat out a running workout regime for me. I figured if I stuck to this and ticked off all the boxes, it would be easy to keep up and I'd be ready to go for a half-marathon.

The First Run and First Week of Training

I felt weird getting into my running gear. Is that it? I thought. Do I just start running? It took me over 20 minutes to actually leave the house. I was procrastinating. In fact, I cleaned my whole house. But after that, I had to get going – according to my app, I had to run for 15 minutes.

First off, and a tip from me, plan where you want to run! I just started and had no idea where I was going or where I wanted to go, and I was in my own damn neighbourhood. I was going up a hill, down a hill...I didn't even know this suburb had a hill. The sweat ran into my eyes, and my breath was mega short. What the heck have I done. SCREW this. Those 15 minutes felt like an hour. After they were done – because I hadn't planned my route – I just walked home huffing. Did I bring a water bottle? Nope. However, something weird happened after I got home. The feeling I got after it, when I'd ticked off my first run and lay on my floor in pain (after stretching with a drenched shirt stuck to my back) was a good feeling. Yes, I actually felt good. I couldn't wait for the next run to get that feeling again and tick off another session. Very weird.

Meeting Inspiration

After I'd been training for a wee bit, I went to a Blackmores event announcing their partnership with the Special Olympics. Chris Bunton, a gold medallist and Special Olympian, gave an inspirational speech that put things into perspective. While I have the luxury to treat this as a bit of fun, for others, sports is a way to show the world they're just like everyone else. And everyone wants the same thing: to be included. Bunton then took us for a training session with Blackmores running coach Vlad Shatrov. "Think of running like flying," Shatrov said. "The more your feet are off the ground, the better you go."

I also met Blackmores resident naturopath Rebekah Russell, the nicest and most sincere person I've ever met. After talking to her, I realized I'd been taking for granted what I put in my body for fuel, and the way she reframed my thinking really struck. While I love nuggets, they're probably not the best thing to feast on prior to training. Also, it was scary having someone point out the lack of fruit you're eating in a week.

The Setbacks

As the weeks went on, I noticed I was going to bed earlier, sleeping right through the night, and waking up earlier and feeling fresher. I was even going into work earlier so I could leave to go run. I was in a cycle of running. It was kinda fun. I even had a designated running hat.

Then I got smacked in the face with the flu. Smacked like someone threw a wrench at me. I tried to run through it and made it worse. I was back on the mend after a few days of bed rest, but I didn’t train for three days and felt flat. I knew running would help, but I just kept thinking, I'll start back up again tomorrow. Was it mental? Did I just give up on myself, and if so, why?

Sometimes you just have to swear at yourself and say, "Even if it’s a crap run, it’s still a run." I had to remind myself of this over and over again. Since I'd lost a good chunk of training time, there was no way I could now do a half-marathon. I reluctantly asked if I could do the Bridge Run 10km instead.

What I Learned

I still hate running. Well, the "doing of it" still sucks, but the effects are great. Before, I guess I just stopped making time for keeping active because I prioritised other things. Weird how we do that, isn't it? And how life likes to get in the way. But if we don't make time for ourselves, it'll never happen.

And who was I kidding? Like I had something more important to do... No, I'd just found myself in a routine, and that routine needed adjusting. If all I did was go home and watch Netflix or switch between the same three apps while not paying attention to what I was watching, why not just do that AFTER a run or some exercise and feel far more productive?

Setting out to train for the half-marathon was setting myself up for a fall from the get-go. A better path would have been setting a smaller goal that was actually achievable and then building up to the bigger things. Is it an ego thing? I often try to go big off the bat and then get demotivated by the fact I haven’t reached that goal. So if anything, I learned to "start smaller". The 10km Bridge Run is gonna be a challenge, but I know I’m gonna be able to push for that. And with it coming up in September, I'm confident I can smash it as long as I stick to the training.

Training also showed me just how flat I could feel after establishing a new routine and being more active then relapsing. And boy is falling back into the bad habits easy. I have to remind myself that the benefits outweigh the rest.

Final lesson? That I can do whatever I set out to try. I just gotta shut up the voice in my head that says, “Nah, don't bother" and chuck on some shoes, get up, and start.

Once you tell the voice that says, "You can't" to shut up, you'll find yourself in the vibe, and that voice changes to "Why didn't we start doing this ages ago? This is kinda fun."

The Blackmores Sydney Running Festival is on 16 Sept. If you're keen to give it a go, check it out here. There's a run for everyone. #LetsMove