On Sunday, 21 February I completed my first half marathon. It was by the far the most painful few hours of my life and the hardest mental challenge I have had to push through. I am proud, but I can’t say I am happy about the result. I trained for three months for this day, I ran three times a week, strength trained and cross trained and on the day, it just wasn’t a good run. I have been through a lot in my life, but on Sunday, that was hard. I almost gave up at the 18km mark. I wanted to sit down and felt like crying, but the woman running along next to me said “we are almost there, you should be proud” and with that I forced myself to cross that finish line.

It’s not all bad though, the last three months of training has been an amazing experience. I have watched my body change, experienced my legs and lungs reaching new distances and learned that mental strength can either make or break you. So what else have I learned about myself?

You have to start somewhere
I have never been a “natural runner” (curse those people) and so I needed a plan to guide me and prepare me. I found a plan online “couch to half marathon” which seemed fitting as I was starting from a very basic running fitness. Having a plan made sure I completed three runs a week, one strength training session and a cross training session and allowed me to watch my progress.

The plan increased my running distance each Saturday and each week I was running my longest distance ever, which meant I was achieving a new little goal each week. I had never run more than 10km before. 21.1km was my goal but I was starting very far from that, my plan kept me accountable and also kept me on track. So start with the end result in mind and work out the steps you need to get you there.

Plans need to be flexible
The last year or so, I haven’t been as focused on my career goals as I was before and sticking to this running plan has shown me just how important a plan is. However, it doesn’t mean you have to be so strict on yourself (like I was), but it helps measure your progress and how far you still have to go. It also identifies aspects that you may need to alter, move or change depending on where you are at in life.

You need determination and patience
A few friends called me slightly obsessed. I wouldn’t miss a training session (I did on boxing day…. don’t run hungover!). If I didn’t want to run in Wellington’s awful weather, I ran on a treadmill (which is the worst). I didn’t want to fall behind; I didn’t want to miss a day where I could better my fitness or strength. The only way I was going to get better was if I kept pushing. Determination seemed to come a bit easier than progress seemed to.

Patience is something I struggle with. I wanted to be a faster runner and I wanted to be it now. Every week my mid-week runs got faster, I was getting better because I wasn’t increasing my distance, but my long runs were horrific. I was barely increasing speed because I was increasing distance, running further than I have before. It was hard to accept that this was normal, that in order to reach the distance I was forcing my body to run a bit further and it was too tired to do it faster. It wasn’t good enough, it needed to be better.

I had to constantly remind myself that each week I was achieving a new milestone and I was getting that tiny bit closer to my overall goal. I needed to remember the bigger picture. My running buddies always reminded me of this, they encouraged me to look at how far I had already come, to be happy about that and to be patient that I would continue to get better.

Hard work pays off
13 weeks with five training sessions a week taught me that hard work does pay off. Even if on race day I didn’t do as well as I had planned, it has set my fitness up for my next race and ready for me to work towards my next goal and achieve it. I have an appreciation for how gruellingly hard a half marathon can be and with more hard work, I can only do better.

Hard work is the foundation of all greatness. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The same goes for anything in life, if it was all easy it wouldn’t be as satisfying when you reach that end goal.

You earn the rewards
I was hoping to meet my goal time, but it’s ok that I didn’t. I will work even harder before my next race and kick ass. I may not have gotten the sweet victory of meeting my goal in this race, but I do need to keep training in order to achieve it in the future. I will review my training plan, rethink my goals (going for another 10km first) and keeping sight of the bigger goal, which to me is ‘Always striving to be better than I was yesterday.’

No matter how bad Sunday was, when I crossed that finish line and the medal was put around my neck, I was proud. I had done something that I had always told myself I could never do. I worked hard and I got there. I will do better next time, but I still did it. And to continue to work towards my goal, I have already signed up for my next race in seven weeks.

Nothing great comes without goal setting, planning, hard work, patience, failure and determination to see it through. You just need to know what you’re working towards and, whether it is personal or work-related, the same principles apply.

Plus, who wouldn’t be happy with this sweet medal?

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HR Workaholic