Couch to 1/2 Marathon in 7 Months, 2 Weeks & 2 Days

This post is rather lengthy. My heart and mind are full to bubbling over, so you might want to go grab a drink, a snack and maybe put your feet up.

On Monday, August 15, 2011 I began the Couch 2 5K program. I struggled and wheezed my way through intervals of 60 seconds of jogging and 90 seconds of walking. I prayed during each of those 60 seconds of jogging that the time would go by fast. My heart felt like it was going to pump right out of my chest. My legs were screaming at me to stop. I literally held my phone in my hand and watched the countdown during each jogging interval. “Half way. Only 30 more seconds,” I would tell myself.

As the assigned days and weeks during the program began to click by, I looked toward that first 20 minute run. I dreamed about it during the night. I daydreamed about it during the day. How could I possibly run for 20 minutes straight? I couldn’t fathom it. The day came and I laced up my shoes with trepidation. I was afraid of failure. Why? I was convinced if I didn’t do this and see it to its completion, then I would never try it again and I didn’t want that to happen. I wanted to see it through to the end. I had something to prove to myself.

Somehow I propelled my body forward for those 20 minutes. I’m sure any neighbors who happened to look out and see me were wondering if they should cheer for me or just call 911. It wasn’t pretty, but I did it. My eyes filled up and tears spilled over. They expressed for me what I couldn’t put into words at the time.

In the weeks that followed that initial 20 minute run, I was bitten by the running bug. The feeling I would get after each run was addicting. I felt strong and empowered. I felt that if I could run, then I could tackle anything. The feeling of strength and empowerment began to bleed over into other areas of my life that had nothing to do with running. I began to ask myself questions like, “What else is there you’ve always wanted to do, but doubt and fear of failure have held you back?”

There is a great quote in Dean Karnaze’s book, 50/50: Secrets I Learned Running 50 Marathons in 50 Days:

After all, running is a microcosm of life. The lessons you learn and the breakthroughs you make as a runner have a way of affecting your whole person. By challenging yourself to overcome your limitations as a runner, you will cultivate inner qualities of determination, focus, and perseverance that will help you overcome limitations in every part of your life.

As the months have flown by since last August, I’ve learned a lot.

I’ve learned that comparison is a thief. If you constantly compare yourself as a runner to other runners, it has the potential to rob you of that same strength and empowerment that running gives you. You’ll no longer feel joy and elation after running three miles. You’ll only see how long it took you to run it versus how long it took her. On the flip side, all comparison isn’t bad. It can be a powerful motivator. It can give you the extra push you’ve been searching for to up your game. The key is in finding the balance.

I’ve also learned a few things about my body. How far can I push myself before I break? How much can my body endure before it gives in? What is my body telling me and how well am I listening?

I’ve learned about inner resolve. Determining to finish what you start, despite the obstacles, is hard. Things happen, plans change, injuries occur, setbacks arise and on and on and on. Not giving into the inner voice that says, “Just quit. It’s not worth it,” requires an insane amount of resolve. Sometimes I listen to that voice and other times I tell it to, “Shut it!”

I’ve learned about people. About y’all. I’ve learned that people will rise up alongside you as you pursue a dream. They will encourage you, cheer for you, pray for you, and laugh with you. As y’all have written to me and told me about how I’ve inspired you, I have, in turn, been inspired to push further, farther and harder.

I could go on about the lessons I’ve learned, but I’ll stop there. For now.

And I’ll move on to the race recap.

Friday afternoon, we loaded up the family van and started on the road. The race was about 3 1/2 hours away and we wanted to get to the expo in time to pick up our race packets before it closed. It was smooth sailing as far as checking into the hotel, picking up our packets and activating our chip timers.

I really wanted to drive the race route, so we loaded back up in the van and headed out. An hour later, after getting confused and turned around a few times, we had driven most of the route. The last 3-ish miles were on a trail, so we couldn’t drive those.

At this point, the entire family was one big grouchy hungry monster. We were all snapping at each other and I was a ball of nerves. In retrospect, I wish we hadn’t driven the route. After seeing how far I had to go the next day, I was scared senseless. I already didn’t feel good because of my cold, but now my stomach started hurting. And I was hungry. Did I mention that already? Ha!

We stopped at a local IHOP to enjoy some carb loading and tame the grouchy hungry beast that had overtaken all of us.

By the time we made it back to the hotel, it was time to get settled in. We tried to get some sleep. Double emphasis on tried. By 4:30 Saturday morning, my man and I were both happy to get up. We had tossed and turned all night. We enjoyed some coffee and quiet time before it was time to get dressed and fuel up.

At 7:00, we were in the car headed to the race start. We wanted to give ourselves plenty of time to park, stretch, and take multiple trips to the porta potties before the race started at 8:00.

Around 7:40, we headed to the start. I had planned on starting out with the 2:30 pace group, but I couldn’t see any signs of any sort for pace groups. My heart began to beat just a tad faster than it already was. I asked a lady close by if they had pace groups and she confirmed my fear. No pace groups.

Alright, time for Plan B. We decided to start out in the middle of the pack. Or what we thought was the middle of the pack. It was a little hard to tell.

I set my Garmin for 13.1 miles, adjusted my handheld water bottle, took a few deep breaths and then we were off.

We were surrounded by something like two thousand people (I think), but it wasn’t overwhelming. It was exhilarating.

Miles 1 through 4 went by without a hitch. I had set a pretty steady pace and wasn’t having any issues keeping it. The first half mile we were passed up over and over and over again, but I just kept my pace. My man could have gone off and smoked me anytime, but he just kept plugging along and chatting away.

Just after mile 4, we hit the porta potties and I downed my first GU.

Throughout the race, there were volunteers and cheerleaders alongside the road. Some were holding poster board, some were playing music and others had gotten really creative. One family had painted a huge sign that said, “You’re no couch potato!” They had carried two couches out into their front yard and each couch had a huge painted potato head. There were empty coke cans spread all around and the ladies who were cheering us on were dressed in bathrobes, slippers and had rollers in their hair. It was awesome!

One lady we passed yelled, “Smile! You paid for this. You love it!” I got a good laugh out of that one.

Someone else we passed was holding a poster board that said, “Run faster! My arms are getting tired of holding this sign.” ::snort::

Everyone was so encouraging. Constantly yelling out things like, “You can do it! Don’t stop believing! You’re my hero!”

We started thanking everyone we passed for coming out and being there. It was a huge blessing.

Somewhere after the half way point, my man gave my parents a call to update them on our status. My mom told us they were waiting for us between miles 9 and 10.

I had started lagging a bit, so knowing they were out there and I was going to see them gave me an extra push.

As we neared the mile 9 marker, I heard a man behind us talking about the upcoming downhill.

Sweet! Or so I thought.

All at once, the elevation dropped 139 feet in 0.32 of a mile. Basically, straight down. My knees were screaming at me. Every time my feet hit the ground I wanted to cry out. I slowed my pace. And I slowed it even more. It was ridiculous.

I had never been so happy to see a downhill portion end. ::snort::

Just as we entered the trail portion of the race, I heard my man say, “There they are!”

And I saw them.

They were lined up on both sides of the sidewalk, holding posters and screaming. Here is a little video my Mom took with her phone. Just ignore my jiggly behind as I’m jogging away. Mmkay?

I started crying as I ran away.

I had needed to see them so bad.

I was actually able to pick up my pace for about a quarter of a mile after I passed them, but then I just started to fall apart. I was so tired and hot. My right hip was sore, my left knee wasn’t too happy with me and I was already on my third water bottle.

This was the point in the race that it became a back and forth between us and the run/walkers. They would pass me (because I was going so s l o w) and then I would pass them during their walking. Then, they would pass me when they started running again. Over and over again. It was actually kind of funny. Somehow I knew they would beat me across the finish line.

This was also the point in the race that I started asking my man what time it was. I had my Garmin set to display our mileage and pace, so I really didn’t know how long we had been running.

The first time I asked he told me and I knew I wasn’t going to make it in 2:30. I was so disappointed. After that, he wouldn’t tell me the time each time I asked. He would just say, “It doesn’t matter. You’re setting a PR today no matter what.”

The closer to the finish line we got the slower my pace became.

And then, we came to mile marker 12 and headed straight up hill for 3/4 of a mile. It was absolutely brutal.

When we would pass the people cheering on the sidelines and they would say, “You’re almost to the top!” I just knew they were lying to me. ::snort::

As we crested the top of the hill, there were people lined up yelling, “Finish strong! You’re almost there!”

We only had 1/4 of a mile left.

I drew on every last bit of strength and energy my body had left and tried to increase my pace. I wanted to finish strong. I wanted to leave everything out on that race course.

Just before we crossed the finish line, I saw the children and ran over to give them each a high-five. My mom captured another video with her phone.

Again. Ignore the jiggly goin’ on.

As the medal was placed on my neck and I gave my husband a fierce hug, I thought about another quote I read in Dean Karnazes’s book:

While I can’t say I like the suffering, per se, I do like its intensity, because it fills me with an extraordinary sense of being alive that is truly unforgettable. These intense experiences never lose their immediacy; they become timeless memories.

Yes, I felt alive.

And yes, I will remember this.

P. S. Here are my splits for those of you who are interested. You can see how I slowly faded toward the end.

P. P. S. Thank you to my husband for running at my pace even though he could have finished in half the time. Thank you to my parents for taking care of the children and being out there to cheer for us. Thank you to all of you for following me on this journey.

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Comments

  1. Ruthanne, I teared up reading this. You’re an inspiration! I don’t know you personally, but I’m so, so proud of you. Keep up the good work!

  2. You are awesome!

  3. Bethany says:

    GO GIRL GO!! I loved the quote about being alive. So very inspiring! You rock, that race rocked, and your family’s cheers rocked even more! I’ve decided to do a couple 5ks this summer to lead up to a 81 mile relay with my sisters in July! I’m going to reward myself with those UA capris after this first race! Thanks for being awesome!

  4. I cannot even express my feelings of joy, pride and exuberance of your finishing the race. I am so stinking proud of you – I a sitting here crying – not sure why. I do know why. I am so happy for your success and taking the time to share this. I have needed some inspiration lately and you have given me some hope of returning to exercising and enjoying it like I used to with my hubby.

    YOU GO GIRL!

  5. wow, amazing!! Question is…will you do another?!?
    Great job!! :)

  6. I am thrilled for you, Ruthanne!! Thanks for sharing your inspiring story. You made me cry as well. I know all of those feelings and they all came back :-) So, when is your next race? I am thinking of doing the Memphis Marathon (St. Jude) race in December. Maybe I will see you there. How far is that from you? I also recommend reading Dean’s “Marathon Man” book, if you haven’t read it. It is sooo good.

  7. Thank you for sharing your story. Thank you for making me cry. Congratulations! I thought of you through out Saturday and was praying for you as well.

  8. Totally crying reading this. You are such an inspiration! Thank you for sharing this and all your other running posts! It really has been very motivational to read it. You can read the emotion in the whole post!! ROCK ON RUTHANNE!!

  9. Wooo girl. I teared up reading this. Also I felt bad for skipping the 5K. heehee!

    Can’t wait to see you in a few weeks!

  10. You Go Girl! What an inspiration you are!

  11. Girl, i cried like 5 times reading this. You are awesome!!! You did it!!!! I wish i had more to say, but you’ve said so much so well here. Great job. So so proud of you!!

  12. I have been sitting on my hands since Saturday night trying to resist emailing you to ask how it went. I love, love, love this post! The videos your mom caught and listening to all the excitement in their voices just pushed me over the edge. completely. You are my hero, girl. From August to March? That’s incredible. I have some goals in mind. Not half marathons, mind you, but time and distance goals. Thanks for encouraging us all! A big hearty ::snort:: with some blubbering from me to you.

  13. You are definitely my inspiration. I just started running again and just did my first 5K after a 4 year hiatus (had a baby, life got busy, etc). I am so happy that I found your blog during the 6 weeks I was training for the 5K…it gave me such motivation! Me and my running friends are training for our first half marathon at the end of this year. Thank you for sharing about your experience!!! xoxo Anna

  14. Sooooo stinkin’ proud of you!!!! I love hearing your mom cheer in the videos — what a supportive crew!

  15. you are soooo awesome. you almost make me want to start running. i said almost….;)

  16. Love your story. It makes my “eyes sweat”. :)

  17. your words…those videos and the voice cheering for you! {is that your mom? i love her accent! she sounded so proud and happy! } all of it is so awesome. congratulations ruthanne…you did it! {so….you should come to california for your next race! you could turn it into a family vacation…disneyland does a half in september. i’m just throwin’ it out there.}

  18. I’m all teary eyed this morning as I read this Ruthanne. I’m so proud of you. I’ve watched you take this journey and I’m amazed by your courage and the raw grit it takes to do something like this. You are one of a kind. I’ve been a runner my whole life but have never done it with your kind of intensity and gusto. I’m so inspired by you and so happy to see you dig deep and find this kind of joy. My half marathon experiences are some of my favorites—nothing quite like it. I think I’ll have an extra spring in my step this morning for my morning run.
    Miss you, love you, and couldn’t be happier for you.
    xoxo,
    edie

  19. Mama Lynda says:

    Oh my word. If that is your mother screaming in the background, she needs a diction lesson. Sounds like she has called the Hogs at one too many Razorback games! You are an inspiration to me.

  20. Great job! I totally understand the need to cry after seeing the kids… I get a little teary when my daughter (who whipped my butt in the run) stands at the finish and cheers me in! :) BTW, have you seen the new Honda CRV commercial where the girl finishes her run and gets in the car to hear the text message from her mom in the car?! That makes my “eyes sweat” too!

  21. Well, everything about this post made me cry tears of joy and happiness for you!! I’m so proud of you and inspired by you! Wow!!! Awesome!!!

  22. I cried, too! I’m so proud of you and have loved reading along as you began and have sustained yourself through this journey! The fact that you made us run while you were here on vacation in September taught me a HUGE lesson about willpower.

    You’re my hero.

    That’s all!

  23. So I am totally crying reading about your victory! Way to go. You are a stud!

  24. OMGoodness, I totally love your mom. That was the best cheering ever. I cried when I heard her. You go girl :)

  25. Aw, Ruthanne! I’m so proud of you!

  26. Nicole Helen says:

    Also teared up reading this! What an accomplishment! Doesn’t matter how fast you get there, only that you get there. You did amazing.

  27. Dang, girl, I completely cried during that last video! :) I’m not alone, reading the comments that’s apparent. Love that you did this! Way to GO!!

  28. so incredibly proud of you, ruthanne!

  29. I just got a chance to sit down and read this and you have me in tears! What a great recap of you’re journey and race day! CONGRATULATIONS!!! I can’t wait to start training (well, I can a little) and run one!

  30. Ruthanne, I’m just so proud of you and love seeing how you’re blogging what you live. :)

  31. INCREDIBLE!!! what a powerful and inspirational post!!

    i love your honesty. i love your passion for this. i just recently started running and completed my first 6.23 mile run yesterday. i can’t even begin to express my feelings about it. i’m anxious to run a half.
    xoxo

  32. Tears for me too with that last video! Your mom is awesome!

    I had to comment on this post for two reasons. 1) We each ran our first half marathons on the same day! 2) My time was 2:36, too! And I’m in West TN, so not TOO far from you. I thought those little connections warranted a comment. :) I linked over from the Another Mother Runner site and am now a subscriber. I look forward to seeing where running takes you next.

    You did a GREAT job (that downhill was INSANE), and I loved reading your recap. Here’s my race recap, if you want to read: http://musingsofmrsmount.blogspot.com/2012/04/race-report-andrew-jackson-half.html

  33. I’m in tears, Ruthanne. This is beautiful and you should be SO PROUD of yourself. What a gift to watch your consistancy pay off.
    PRAISE HIM!

  34. This was amazing to read, I am just starting to train for my first 5K race in the fall. (only 2 days in to training) This has truly inspired me and shown that if you want something bad enough, you can make it happen.

    Thank you :)

  35. April Kiser says:

    WoW Doll I’m so very proud of you! What an inspiration you have become and real tear starter I must say… the videos just added more puffs to my desk! Love Mrs. Linda, her enthusiasm for you, it gave me goose-ies!

    You have inspired me to get back out there, I have not ran in a race since the 2009 Disney Half Marathon…its time for me to STOP making excuses & get my shoes back out there.

  36. Sobbing. I’m so proud of you!!! I want to feel that.

  37. Awesome! I was crying and I’m brand new to your blog and don’t know you at all! Back when I was more on track, I had started running and I LOVED the accomplishment of it! I had worked up to running a solid mile, and was so excited…then everything went kaput. I’ve went out a few times since then though and didn’t get the shin splints that plagued me when I first started so maybe there is still hope if I could get the mojo back soon.

  38. You are an inspiration! I found your site via a “like” from my sister-in-law on FB and am so glad I did. I know I need to start taking control of my health and you have inspired me to start something I didn’t think I could do.

    THANK YOU!

  39. Everytime I feel discouraged about my running, I come back and read this post. You are such an inspiration.

  40. I sat here with tears streaming down my face watching this. I am so inspired by you and your journey! I am on week 2 of C25K and 30 pounds down in my weight from May and I am so looking forward to the day when I can run in my first 5k, then 10k, then half marathon. Of course, I should start trying to run while crying since I couldn’t stop the tears watching YOU! What an inspiration.

  41. Running my first half on Saturday and had my first dream about it last night!! I’m a nervous wreck and had to come re-read this post :) !!

  42. Yesterday was my first day of couch to 5K, I died. Now after reading/watching this with tears rolling down my face, you give me hope that I can do this! I was a runner in high school track and cross country (30 years ago and 60 lbs lighter), I have always said my goal was to run a marathon, now not so much. But a half, yes! Thank you, thank you, thank you and God bless!!

    Michelle : )

  43. You’re so cool! I found your blog by searching for Couch to Half Marathon, looking for somebody who is going/has gone through the same thing I’m embarking on. And it turns out you’re even an Arkansas gal like me! It’s lovely to meet you.

  44. Oh Ruthanne!
    I am smiling and crying!
    Your sweet mama saying “Looking GOOD! Looking Good! Hold the sign up! You can do this!”
    I smiled the remainder of the post.
    And your trooper of a hubby telling you that “time didn’t matter! you were setting a personal record no matter what!
    Did I mention I’m even smiling as I type!
    You’re such an inspiration!
    xo

  45. looks to be an old post but gosh i needed to read this today! it was every bit of motivation that i was needing! great job!

  46. looks to be an old post but gosh i needed to read this today! it was every bit of motivation that i was needing! great job! :)

Trackbacks

  1. [...] a whirl. It was most definitely one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Seven months later, I ran my first half marathon. Along the way, my entire family got involved. We now run as a family two to three times a [...]