What I learned from 13.1

As many of you know, I ran my first half marathon just about two weeks ago. I knew I would eventually write this post, but it has taken me until not to process and reflect on my entire journey as a runner thus far. Hundreds of miles, 50 pounds, and over a year ago I never would have believed I would be a half marathon finisher. Hell, I never even thought I could run a mile. My journey as a runner has changed me as a person and as a professional. More so, training for and finishing the Old Port Half Marathon has taught me a lot about myself. I am sharing these lessons in hopes that they motivate others to reach for that seemingly unattainable feat.

On the left: 2 years and 50+ pounds ago. On the right: just before the finish line of my first half marathon a few weeks ago!

On the left: 2 years and 50+ pounds ago. On the right: just before the finish line of my first half marathon a few weeks ago!

You are stronger than you think

I never in my wildest dreams thought I could run a half marathon. Even throughout much of my training, I had my doubts. Deep down I knew I could do it, but I had to teach myself to silence that negative voice in my head that thought I was not strong enough or good enough. Silencing that voice was the most important part of this process for me. I was my own worst critic. The more I ran, the quieter that voice became. The quieter the voice, the stronger I was. That voice appeared more than just during runs; it likes to chime in at work, with relationships, and my soon-to-be new role as a father. Training for and running that half was like a big middle finger to that voice and I find that with this journey, that voice has grown weaker in all aspects of my life. I am all the better for it.

Let others help you

The running community is like no other. It is one of the most supportive and inspirational communities out there. From family to friends to colleagues, I had many cheerleaders, running partners, and supporters along the way. There will be people who will want to help, encourage, and support you in achieving your goals: LET THEM! I struggled with this. I did not want to do long runs, at first, with others because I felt I was weak or that I would not be able to keep up. What I learned quickly was running with others, especially those more experienced and faster than I, pushed me further and I learned a lot from them. This is true with anything: surround yourself with people who are smarter, faster, better than you and let them motivate and coach you along the way.

You will fail, stumble, and want to quit along the way – let it happen

I can’t tell you how many training runs I skipped or how many runs were significantly slower than my average pace. They say there is no such thing as a bad run; well I had a few. These moments were crucial for me. Bouncing back from a bad run or getting out the next day after missing a training run was almost more important to me than sticking to the plan. Life happens and some days you just don’t feel like it. That is normal and OK. It is how you bounce back that matters the most.

Celebrate milestones along the way

Milestones were important to me: my first run of over a 10k distance, my first 10 miler, and my new 5k PR. I celebrated them. I let people cheer me on. Some may call it selfish, but it is what kept me motivated to continue. I did not do this for any accolades or applause – I did it for me. The applause along the way, though, kept me motivated. At mile 13 of 13.1 with the finish line near, but not yet in sight, I was met on the path by a stranger. She was an older woman in a very distinct pink shirt and white visor. I can still hear her voice. She jumped out from the sides and was yelling “Do you hear that? That’s the finish. All those people, they are cheering for you. Run to them!” I had no idea who this woman was, but her actions and words pushed me to sprint to the finish.

Don’t jump out of the start too fast

Any runner knows that you are not supposed to come out too fast or else you will lose energy towards the end. This is super hard; perhaps one of the hardest things I had to be disciplined about during my training and the race itself. My tendency is to give it my all right at the beginning with no regard for endurance. This becomes problematic later. The same could be said for how you tackle a project, a work week, a day. Slow and steady wins the race as they say. Speed is not always the best answer in the beginning. It’s about the accomplishment, and not all about how fast you get there.

Give it your all at the end

As much as you do not want to jump out of the gate too fast, there is something powerful about sprinting at the end. After all your hard work, when you see that light at the end of the tunnel (or the finish line in my case) give it your all. I will never forget the feeling of sprinting with tears rolling down my face, goosebumps all over my body, and the sound of cheers and my name being announced over the PA system as I crossed the finish line.

Don’t settle

My immediate thought after finishing the half: I accomplished my goal, it’s done, and I never want to do that again. The race was hard. It was harder than I thought. After the initial soreness and fatigue wore off, I was quickly talking about my next race. Instead of settling after my accomplishment, I am using it as fuel for the next challenge. That is what led me here to begin with. I never wanted to run more than a 5k. That was my goal. A year and several 5ks later, I finished my first half. Use your goals as stepping stones. Let the feeling of accomplishment and success drive you towards the next one.

Discipline and flexibility are both important

Very few people can run this distance without training. Training takes discipline and persistence. It can be very daunting: running sometimes 25 miles a week and working out 5-6 days in a week. Sometimes, life happens and you just can’t. Allow yourself to be flexible. Be disciplined enough to know you need to stay on track, but flexible enough to deal with those hurdles along the way. Both are equally important.

Share your story

I have been humbled along the way to hear of others who have followed my journey and began running. I was uncomfortable with this at first. However, it was people like my dad or friend Becca that inspired me. If I can be that for someone else, then sharing my journey (both the good and the bad) was all worth it. We all learn from one another. Sharing that is never a bad thing.

 

I was just a little excited to get this medal at the finish!

I was just a little excited to get this medal at the finish!

 

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How running has made me a better professional

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My wife, Amanda, and I running my second ever 5K!

I am sure, by title alone, you are already wondering how I can make the claim that by becoming a runner, I have become a better student affairs professional.  Over the last 10 months, in large part thanks to running, I have lost over 40 pounds (and counting).  I am in the best shape of my life.  I also feel that, professionally, I have found my groove.  Part of this has to do with experience, but I think is in large part due to my new found health and fitness.  I came to this realization the other day, where else, but on a 4 mile run.  Let me attempt to explain….

Running makes me happier

It is no secret that working out is good for one’s mental health.  Since being active, I find myself to be a happier person.  This is not to suggest I was not happy before, but rather I am happy (and proud) of the holistic “me” for the first time in a long while. This certainly translates to my work with students.  I am more positive, patient, and overall cheerful.

Running gives me energy

No amount of coffee in the world can compare to the energy I have gained from being active.  I would take a morning run over a morning coffee any day.

Running gets me up and away from my desk

With more energy, I am less apt to sit in my office all day.  I walk all over campus and to meetings.  I meet students in various locations for our one on ones.  This has helped me to interact more with folks I did not see as often within my Campus Center bubble.

Running gives me confidence

I was NEVER a runner.  When I set my goal in December of running my first 5k in June, I thought knew I was bound to fail.  The more I ran, the further I pushed myself, the more I believed in myself.  Self-confidence is something that has helped me tremendously at work as I am given more and more responsibility.  That voice in my head that often says “you can’t” is now drowned out by “remember that time you said you’d never be able to run more than a mile…”

Running has pushed me to take more risks

I ran my first 3.16 miles on a whim.  I had set out to run my usual 1.5-2 never thinking I was close to that elusive 5k.  While out on my run, something sparked that drove me to give it a shot.  What resulted was a 34 minute 5k and one of the greatest feelings of accomplishment I have ever felt in my life. This spark has not gone away, as long as I am consistently running.  It has followed me into my professional life and with more self-confidence and trust in myself, I take more risks and, as a result, have been more creative and innovative at work.

Running has helped me to own and accept my mistakes better

Let’s face it; we all hate to fail.  What running has taught me, however is that sometimes, it just isn’t my day and there is not anything I can do about it.  Other times, it is because my will and resolve were not strong enough.  Other times, it is because I have made a poor choice, such as bad nutrition prior to a run.  All of this, professionally, has better helped me to own my mistakes and realize that mistakes are bound to happen, especially as I get more comfortable with taking risks.

Running has helped me be a better role model

I’d always felt like I was a good role model for my students, except when it came to wellness.  I was significantly overweight and not at all active.  What’s worse, is I work in a building which houses the fitness center, and the department, which oversees student health and wellnes..  I was not leading by the example I should have been setting.  Now, the opposite is true.  I chat often with my students about my journey and what running has done for me.  A group of orientation leaders approached me about wanting to run with me.  It has now become a regular, weekly run.  Two of them, having never run more than two miles, ran a 5k our first week!  This is an experience I would have never been able to have shared with students prior.

Running gives me balance

Running, for me, is the greatest form of stress relief.  Instead of getting lost behind a screen or in food as I did in the past, I lace up the shoes and hit the pavement.  I feel rejuvenated and energized afterwards.  Running is my “me” time.  I am fierce when it comes to protecting it, in a way I had a hard time doing before.

I am not suggesting that all student affairs professionals should, or could benefit from, running.  I am simply hoping my story will help others who are in a situation like I found myself 10 months ago find hope.  Whether it is running, lifting weights, yoga, biking, etc. physical activity will pay off for you both personally and professionally, I promise.  If you did not know already, there is an amazing, supportive #safit community on Twitter and Facebook.  It is these people who inspired me and continue to support me throughout my journey.  It is safe to say, without the #safit community, I would not be where I am today.

So, what are you waiting for?  Lace em‘ up!