I'm about to run my fourth half marathon and this time around has been a completely different experience for me. As I prepare to race again, I have been reflecting on why this time I feel so calm. For my first half, I had several months to prepare but I wasn't as gung-ho about the prospect of running 13.1 miles at first, so even though I put the miles in, mentally I didn't gain the same endurance.
My second and third half marathons were in the midst of the school year and I certainly did not spend enough time training as I could have and although I may have been more mentally prepared than the first, physically I was not. I didn't respect the 13.1 miles the way that they deserved and I wasn't entirely ready to be out on those courses those second and third times.
What is so different about this time around, is how much running I did before the actual training began, and how that time allowed my relationship with running to evolve. I began running seriously and consistently about a year ago and haven't stopped since.
I ran through the hot summer months into the cool fall and eventually found outdoor running equipment so that I would not be confined to a treadmill through the winter. I continued to run the same combination of back roads, changing up the route to prevent injury in the inclement weather, enduring the elements to get the miles in every single week. Each kilometer outside was an accomplishment and even when it was barely double digits I'd get out of bed and suit up accordingly, knowing that with each moment I was out there I'd get a little more sunshine and fresh air than most people on that February day. Eventually, I learned to understand that what I was feeling was gratitude. I was grateful that I had the ability to be outside when many weren't, the strength to test myself when it was easier not to, the companionship so that I was not alone on days when I'd have to smack my thighs so they wouldn't go numb. Now as each season passed I no longer existed without running as a constant in my life. I now treat each time out on the road as an experience that I'm afforded. My mental space is entirely different, I've even stopped calling hills, hills, I call them "building opportunities" because of how I've learned to accelerate from a climb instead of dreading the hike.
When I decided to run the Covered Bridges Half Marathon I was in a grocery store with my mom and a family friend was attempting to persuade us. It was months down the road and we had already been running 5-6 days a week, I felt ready to tackle another half, both mentally and physically. Once we committed I made our training schedule, accounting for events or tough weeks early on made me feel more prepared knowing when I would get the longer distances in. I'd never taken on the responsibility of creating a schedule like this before, but the excitement for a race on the horizon, as well as the control in the planning, made me feel more confident. Looking back, it felt like the most uneventful training ever. With each longer distance, I felt more on target and better overall about my running, when in the past, every long training run felt like a production; before, during and after. This time we'd just go out and get it done, and mostly look forward to coming home and having our protein pancakes. I'm the most prepared I've ever been because I've enjoyed running the miles both mentally and physically, and my life has such a relaxed aura as a result.
I feel so ready for this fourth half marathon and I'm really excited to see how my training will affect how I perform. I know how long 13.1 miles can be, and how race day can change everything that you might have accounted for, but I also know how much my body is physically capable of when my mind was just along for the ride. I've done this before when I really wasn't truly in harmony; both body and mind, now I'm excited to see what I can do now that my head, my legs and my heart are all in stride.