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My first half marathon

Yes, you read that correctly. This past Sunday I completed my first half-marathon—13.1 miles.

That may not seem like a big deal … but, please note: I am not a runner. The last time I ran a 5K or a 10K was more than 15 years ago. You might wonder what motivated me to complete a half-marathon, so here goes.

Let me start with my goals for the year. Many of you know that I started a new process back in December of setting some annual goals for myself (read about it here).  Some were weekly (number of workouts), some were monthly (number of books I read or dinners with my family) or annual (number of trips or vacations). Many of those goals were centered around fitness, such as how many times a week I would exercise. Plus, I wrote in my annual goals that I would complete a 10K this year. But frankly, I thought that accomplishment was far-fetched, since I couldn’t even run a full mile continuously.

Then enter the COVID-19 pandemic. No more visits to the gym I had just joined. No more weekend cardio-intense fitness classes at Orangetheory Fitness. No more twice-weekly weight training sessions with my strength coach. I was very concerned about how I would maintain the fitness level I had been working on. Obviously, without the disciplined fitness routine I had, my biggest concern was: would I gain weight?

So, my partner Jack and I started taking evening walks at the end of our work days. What began as a “sauntering walk” around the neighborhood evolved into two-hour mini-hikes. With our phones and tracking devices, we found ourselves making sure we completed at least 3 miles each night, and oftentimes those evening walks were 5-6 miles long. Sometimes the route was flat; other times we did a battery of hills and mountain trails. Our favorites were when we could walk the beach trail and see the sunset. But, thanks to the virus, those beach trails were closed, and we had to stay in the hills near our house.

One of the things that made these evening walks so enjoyable was that I had a partner. And I noticed we weren’t the only people in our neighborhood going for long regular walks. Over time, especially since mid-March, we started to see more and more groups of people walking together. Sometimes families (adults and children together), sometimes couples, and sometimes groups of same-sex friends. And over time, we saw more smiles—people got friendlier!

We started to see groups of runners or people riding bicycles together—it actually was quite a phenomenon! Since our goal was to walk every night, we started to meet our neighbors. We noticed who had dogs. One day, as we were leaving the house, a couple walked past and stopped to announce, “Hello – we think we are your next door neighbors!” I don’t know about you, but because I was usually at work from early morning until early evening, I never got a chance to meet or see my neighbors. Now that I am often working from home, and walking around the neighborhood, we are starting to meet them. What a nice side benefit of walking the neighborhood!

So, back to the half-marathon. Early last week, Jack said to me, “I think we should do a half-marathon this weekend.” I’m like … “What????” (Full disclosure, Jack has run 95 marathons, completed 15 Ironman Triathlons and is very into running.)

He said, “I have been watching you ‘build your base’ of walking strength, and you are easily completing one or two 5-mile walks a day. A half-marathon is only 13.1 miles, and we can walk it!” Wow—I never thought about completing a marathon by walking it, but that definitely sounded more doable than running it. He said, “The Marines are hosting a ‘virtual half-marathon’ this weekend and we can register online. And that means, once we complete it and give proof of our time and mileage (by uploading a photo of his Garmin Watch), you will get a really cool medal and T-shirt to commemorate your first half- marathon!”

That sounded so exciting to me—to have a medal, a completion certificate and a cool T-shirt—and so I said, “I’m in.” Jack was able to answer all my questions about best time of day to do it (early morning, when it is cool), proper nutrition (pack snacks with salt and plan where you can purchase water along your route) and what to wear (proper socks, running shoes, sunscreen, etc.)

I have to admit that I didn’t tell anyone I was doing this in advance, and I was a bit skeptical that I would be able to complete a 13.1-mile walk in a reasonable time. But, I did it! And it wasn’t as hard as you might have expected it would be.

Here’s how you can set yourself up for similar success, especially if you want to step outside your fitness comfort zone:

  1. Set a fitness goal for yourself. It’s okay if it seems a bit outlandish or far-reaching.
  2. Get a partner, an accountability partner, who shares your goal. It sure makes it easier, especially on those days you don’t feel like training.
  3. Set yourself up for success by having a regular training schedule. Record it manually (it reinforces your commitment by having to write it down).
  4. Tell everyone you can what you plan to do. It’s another way to hold yourself accountable, by making a public announcement. I chose to announce it afterwards, but feel free to enlist your supporters early!
  5. Celebrate when you achieve your goal.  You never know, by sharing your personal success or achievement, you might actually inspire others!

And that’s why I decided to share the story of completing my first half-marathon. I am pretty sure there are more half-marathons in my future. Now that I know that I can walk it, or mix in both jogging with walking, my next half-marathon goal will be beating my first completion time.

How about you? In this time of the pandemic, and virtual cocktail parties, why not sign up for a virtual 5K, 10K, or half-marathon? It’s a great way to step up your game!



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