I wouldn’t consider myself anywhere near an elite level runner, but the difference from where I was three years ago and where I am now is immense.
Back in the Spring of 2013, a friend of mine was signing up for his first triathlon. Although I was impressed, my only form of exercise had been playing hockey once a week. I hadn’t even run a race since elementary school cross country! My friend was gung-ho about training and would occasionally give me updates from his journey. Again impressed, but a triathlon was not something I was considering.
Soon after, some other friends tried to persuade me into signing up in a Facebook post. That was it, after hearing about my friends progress and being peer pressured on social media, I decided to go for it! This would be a worthy challenge to achieve. I went for the “Try-a-Tri” level, also known as the beginner’s triathlon.
The distances I needed to train for were:
- Swim: 375m
- Bike: 10km
- Run: 2.5km
All distances were quite small for anyone who swims, cycles or runs regularly. To me, all of these were probably the most I’d done in years, if ever. So ahead of me were some difficult times, especially since I’m a totally horrible swimmer.
My friend gave me a training schedule that included a lot of “Brick training” and few days off, but I stuck to it. At the beginning, running 1 km was enough to have me pouring sweat and gasping for air. By the end of my training stretch, I could run the distance well, bike it well, but swimming was still a sticking point.
When it came to my swim, I ran out of time to get as ready as I’d have liked. On race day, I participated to the best of my abilities and made it through the swim! Next, I moved onto the bike, which was manageable. Lastly, I finished the the run strong. I completed the triathlon in about an hour, which was nothing to write home about, but I was happy because I managed to finish! Even at this low level, it was a fantastic achievement!
I thought that would be it for me … but I was wrong.
A month later, that same friend asked me to run the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half Marathon with him. Feeling pretty pumped from my last athletic endeavour, I agreed without much thought.
I looked at how far I’d need to be able to run in one session, and even THAT made me exhausted. After I had given it some time to sink in, I realized that it was not as bad as I had expected. Given that I had about three months to get in gear, there was more than enough time to condition my body to this new level of stress. Sure it required running 3-4 days a week of varying distances, but with each passing week, I felt stronger and more confident.
I can still remember one of my 10 km (6.2 mi) training runs giving me the “I can do this” moment. I had finished in front of my apartment building in disbelief at the distance I had run. I was tired but felt that I could have run longer, and this motivated me to push harder on my remaining runs.
My race preparation included 3 runs a week – a short, medium, long, and occasional hill run. I didn’t know much about the different types of runs, aside from “just running a predetermined distance”, and that practicing going up and down hills could make a big improvement in speed and leg strength.
Unfortunately, by the time I made it to the starting line on race day, my friend had suffered an injury. I didn’t have someone to come along for the ride, but that didn’t deter me, as I had gotten used to running alone during my training.
The run went as well as I could have hoped. I paced myself well, didn’t need to regain my composure by slowing to a walk, and managed to feel strong and positive throughout the 21.1 kilometers. With the thousands of participants, and spectators cheering on their loved ones, it was an incredibly enjoyable experience. I loved every minute.
Once I crossed the finish line, I was ecstatic. I tackled a distance run that I’d once thought impossible for myself. I felt that I ran a fast race relative to my own abilities, but again, I was most proud of not needing to stop for a breather walk along the way. This made me feel as though this was an activity I could develop a passion.
Winter soon came along, and I had many things in my life that interrupted my regular running schedule. As more and more time passed between each run, it became a bit harder to get back into the flow of things again.
It wasn’t until February 2014 that I started to get going again, yet I had no race in my sights. I had grown to love the feeling running had given me the year before, and that it made me a stronger person. When I was finally able to dedicate regular time in my week to running again, I was able to run for the sake of it without focusing on any races.
A short time later I decided I needed to push myself further, so I looked into some races around the city.
I might have unleashed a monster because once I had signed up for one, I signed up for another and another. In 2014, my first “racing year”, I had participated in 6 races of varying lengths. I realized that having a goalpost in my sights was a particularly powerful motivator to improve. Only a few years later, I’m still at it, striving for a new personal best every chance I get.