How health and fitness editor Amanda Etty felt before, during and after running her first half marathon.
Running has a lot going for it. It's convenient—with no class schedules to adhere to—and it requires little equipment beyond a good pair of shoes. The high-impact workout also strengthens bones and muscles (the most important being your heart), increases energy and burns an average of 600 to 800 calories per hour, depending on your size and pace. Diehards find it meditative and stress-relieving, and studies show that it can be as powerful a mood-booster as antidepressants. Here's how I took my easygoing jogging routine to the next level and why I'm not looking back.
Jogging has always made me feel good, strong and centred. It's my favourite cardiovascular workout and the perfect complement to my strengthening and stretching routines. The thing about running is that no matter how much I sometimes dread getting out the door, I always return feeling happy, invigorated and clearheaded.
I'd wanted to run a half marathon for the better part of a decade and, the year before our 30th birthdays, a friend and I made a pact to finally go for it. Not long after, I learned I was pregnant with my daughter, Evie, now nearly two years old. Training for and completing a half marathon would have been biting off more than I could chew, so to speak. That was 30. The following year, I happily cheered on my pal at the finish line with four-month-old Evie in tow.
Finally, after returning from maternity leave at the end of last summer, I was presented with the opportunity to run the 21-kilometre Saucony Cambridge Half Marathon in Cambridge, England, in March of this year. I signed up. There's nothing like the anticipation of an overseas race to kick-start a training regimen.
Amanda’s half-marathon gear, including an adorable hand-drawn sign with a sweet congratulatory message from her husband and scribbles from her daughter.
I've been a casual runner for years (I would run five to 10 kilometres a few days a week, and I'd competed in a few 10-kilometre races), but going for longer runs of up to 20 kilometres at a time was brand-new territory. I used a training app that allowed me to set a goal in terms of distance and pace, as well as the number of days per week I was able to run (being honest with myself, I opted for a maximum of three), then it created a straightforward and totally achievable plan. I loved that the app tracked the distance and routes of my runs and added a check mark next to each completed day. There must be some psychological reward system that goes along with those check marks because I lived for them; they kept me accountable.
One of the hardest things about training was finding time to run. With an energetic toddler and a time-consuming commute, my days already begin at 5:30 a.m., and I wasn't about to start them any earlier. I knew that I'd have to run longer distances on weekends—while my husband, Matt, held down the fort at home—and focus on speed and shorter distances (no more than eight kilometres) on weeknights. For other folks, lunchtime or mornings might be a better fit, but the point is to pick a time that's not going to be encroached on by higher-priority tasks—or more appealing opportunities, like sleeping in.
I made running fit into my day-to-day life, otherwise I'd talk myself out of it. I'd sprint to appointments and literally run errands on weekends. Occasionally, I'd jog to work or to pick up my daughter from day care. I even allocated time to cross-training (I enjoy yoga) to improve core strength, form and flexibility and to avoid injury from repetitive strain.
I learned that having the right clothing and shoes is important—for the obvious reasons of comfort and safety, but also because knowing you look cool in your sleek apparel and sweet kicks will motivate you to run harder, faster and longer. The good news is that running is a fairly inexpensive activity, and the gear was my one cost. I'm a Saucony devotee; the brand's shoes are my go-to—more comfy than any others I've tried, and they look so dang cool.
More than halfway through my training, a friend began to join me on my long Sunday morning runs. He's a seasoned runner who has run three marathons, as well as a 55-kilometre trail race. He held me accountable to training during the most frigid stretch of the winter, and we found time to chat while racking up some serious mileage. Some days, I'd complain (a lot); others, I'd boast about how wonderful I was feeling or how lucky that the sun was out and the temperature wasn't -40°C. We'd dodge pigeons and wave hello to fellow runners. He'd share tips and advice, and I'd threaten to hop onto a streetcar. One time, we even picked up doughnuts along the final stretch. Above all, I learned to enjoy and—dare I say it—look forward to running for more than an hour at a time.
Amanda Etty breaks for an all-important quad stretch before the race.
I also read Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami's What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. Written as Murakami was training for the 2005 New York City Marathon, the novel is an examination of why running is so important to his life. Many passages resonated with me, and when reminded of them, I'd want to ditch whatever I was doing in that moment and tackle a few miles.
Murakami writes, "If I used being busy as an excuse not to run, I'd never run again. I have only a few reasons to keep on running, and a truckload of them to quit. All I can do is keep those few reasons nicely polished." And, "Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional. Say you're running and you start to think, Man this hurts, I can't take it anymore. The hurt part is an unavoidable reality, but whether or not you can stand any more is up to the runner himself." If you're looking for fodder for your training, this book is where it's at.
In many instances, it was the recovery (all the foam-rolling, stretching and steamy Epsom-salt baths), not the running, that took up most of my time. I was paranoid about suffering an injury in the time leading up to the half marathon. I used therapy balls whenever I sat down to play with my daughter or watched a movie with Matt. And I'm sure I looked like a crazy person stretching anywhere and everywhere I could. I was diligent about my bedtime and diet. For the two months leading up to the race, I even gave up that occasional glass of wine. Most importantly, I made sure to listen to my body, to go slowly and to take it easy.
THE BIG DAY
The morning of the half marathon, my emotions fluctuated between nerves and excitement. Running through Cambridge's streets and surrounding countryside felt like a reward for the long months of training. This made it all worth it. This was what I tirelessly devoted evenings and weekends to.
I wasn't worried about my fitness; having comfortably run up to 18.5 kilometres the week before, I knew that I could make it to 21. Instead, I focused on the majestic architecture, sweet English cottages and picturesque landscape, as well as the energy and friendliness of the other racers and the amazing bystanders cheering from the sidelines. I was enlivened by these strangers with their high fives and homemade posters.
Between moments of muscle fatigue and exhaustion, I felt like I was living my best life and I remembered to take a deep breath and smile. That exuberant feeling, along with the postrace fish and chips and ice-cold British ale, was enough to have me looking up where my next race will take me.
The face of intense concentration. | Image: OSBImages
AMANDA'S TRAINING MUST-HAVES
Nomz Energy Bites in Pistachio, $4, nomz.ca.
Radiant Bra Top, $80, saucony.ca.
Saucony Women's Ride ISO, $159.99, saucony.ca.
SKIN SAVER PROVINCE APOTHECARY
Protecting + Restoring Face Balm, $76, provinceapothecary.com.
Bullet cropped leggings, $100, saucony.ca.
MUSCLE-SOOTHING SCRUB VERDURA NATURALTERNATIVES
Aquamarine Salt Glow Body Polish, $36, verduranaturalternatives.com.
CLIF Bloks Energy Chews in Strawberry, $3, runningroom.com.
Rad Rounds, $20/set of 3, radroller.ca.