This Saturday, as I cross the National Half Marathon starting line, I will embark on my 10th half marathon in a 3.5 year period. This is a milestone I hope to celebrate with a PR of 2:15!
Therefore, I thought it most appropriate to answer one of my readers’ most frequently asked questions, “Have I always been a runner?”
Hell no! In fact, my passion and love of running only began 5.5 years ago. My relationship with running has evolved quite a bit from when it began.
On July 2nd, 2005 I walked into a Philadelphia Weight Watchers center desperate for a change. My size 14 shorts no longer fit, I had outgrown my favorite clothing store J.Crew, and I was perpetually the girl with the “great personality.” I was depressed, tired, and finished with settling for being a “big girl.” Per my mom’s suggestion, I gave Weight Watchers a try. She insisted that it would be a safe, friendly area without the normal intimidation associated with idea of weight loss. I loved it! Within two weeks, I had lost my first 5 pounds and was learning about portion control and incorporating more fiber and protein into my diet. I was reading everything I could get my hands on ranging from books to health magazines. But, then I hit a plateau and found that even two straight weeks of eating well weren’t helping the weight loss. My “coach” suggested I try running. I laughed at her and explained that I was the girl who avoided the mile run during elementary and middle school. I even avoided team sports in high school for fear that I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the other girls even though I loved volleyball and soccer in middle school. She challenged me to start walking and take it from there. That night, in an old Villanova dorm fitness center, I stepped on the treadmill for the first time. I started out slowly, setting the speed to 3.5 just trying to find my balance. After 20 minutes, sweat dripping down my face and body, I increased the speed. I remember bartering with myself. “If I can do 1 minute at 5.0, then I can stop.”
Success! That night, I jogged for 1 minute and felt invincible. I had taken my first true steps towards finding an exercise that I would come to enjoy and love.
In the days that followed, I added one minute every evening. I kept track of my mileage and time in my Weight Watcher points diary each day until I realized that I was half way towards a 5k. Every summer, during college, my sorority sisters celebrated the end of the season with a lake weekend in Macon. Each year, I stood and cheered by the sidelines of the Macon Labor Day Road Race while they ran past. This year would be different. I kept my new found activity a surprise from everyone. By the last day of my summer internship and my final Philadelphia weigh in, I had lost 11 pounds and was able to jog, albeit at a 11:45 pace, a 5k on the treadmill. My friends and family couldn’t compliment me enough when I returned to Georgia. This positive energy, along with the fact that I was finally under 190 pounds, kept me yearning for more. By Labor Day weekend, I was able to finish the Macon Labor Day Road Race in 33:12!
Throughout the rest of my senior year, I lost 30 more pounds through careful eating and exercise. I ran three days a week throughout campus, normally logging 3-4 miles. I spent this time thinking, releasing stress, and thinking. Sometimes, I was able to convince another sorority sister, who was willing to jog at my pace, to join me for an evening run. It quickly became my favorite time of the week.
When I moved to Philadelphia on May 14th, 2006 I was excited for the future, but very aware that I was leaving a great deal behind. I left my friends, boyfriend (now husband Bo), family, and past in Georgia in order to start the next chapter in my life. I was pursuing my dream job, but I was miserable. I spent my time immersed in working out and cooking when I wasn’t working. Each morning, I woke up at 6am and logged 4 miles on the treadmill. Each night, I would return to the gym and bike or spend time on the elliptical. I wanted to be anywhere except in the loneliness of my apartment. During this same period of time, my best friend Amy, who had also started with P&G, convinced me that I could run further than 4 miles. She thought that training for races, virtually, would help me. It gave me something new to focus on and something fun to think about. We planned her visits around our Philadelphia races, often making a weekend out of the hour or two hour race. We were second class citizens at our first race, The 2006 Philadelphia Marathon’s 8k. Trust me, on a marathon weekend, the event planners do not think twice about those folks running their smallest race. But, for me, on that day I ran my first race with Amy and my furthest distance. I was immediately hooked on the endorphins I felt after a race and the energy I gained running a new distance. This confidence spread into my everyday work as well as my social life. Bo and my friends saw a new, happier and more confident Ashley while my co-workers quickly termed me “The Running Gal.” Over the next few years, we conquered multiple mileage marks together including 5k, 8k, 5 miler, 10k, 10 miler, and eventually half marathons together. We planned for each race in the same way. We used Runner’s World to build a training schedule and would each train religiously, never missing a day and recapping our runs and training on email and phone. By the time I left Philadelphia, we had logged 10 races together spanning from Philadelphia to Charlotte, North Carolina.
Since arriving in New York City, my relationship with running has evolved into a ritual. It is something that completes my day, providing me time to think, challenge myself, and spend time alone with treadmill or pavement. It has also taken me to places I never imagined. The New York Road Runners has allowed me to run a marathon, a feat I never thought possible. Moreover, I have been able to challenge myself by running multiple races across the city and multiple boroughs.
The 21 races I’ve run since moving to New York City have been run in a different mindset though. For the past year and half, I’ve been trying to get better. I’ve been reaching for lower splits and longer distances, while dealing with more daily stress than ever before. I grew aggravated with my body'; upset that my long legs couldn’t outpace the shorter female runners. It wasn’t until after I missed my New York Marathon goal by 4 minutes did I start to truly evaluate my running routine. I spent an hour reviewing posts, searching through Athlinks for all my old race times, and studying my routine.
I realized that I had not varied my training during my four years of running. Sure, I had added miles to one run a week in order to reach my marathon distance. Why did I think I would see a change in my body, results, or endurance if I didn’t alter my training. In essence, I had been bringing all the stagnant results upon myself. I spent my Christmas break researching speed training, listening to podcasts about endurance training and fueling, and testing my body. I tried varying my normal runs to see how my legs, lungs, and body felt afterwards. I found that this change reignited my passion for running. Finally, after years of the same movements, I felt something different. I felt the feeling of true breathlessness for the first time, I felt my hip flexors as I completed strides, and I found solace in running alone again. No longer did I need the companionship to finish a long run. I could lace up my shoes, throw on my Garmin, and head towards the park knowing that my legs would take me somewhere I’d never been before because every run, should be different than the last.
If you’re a reader who needs help getting started, please always feel free to reach out to me. As you can tell from this post, I was there once too. It can be intimidating to start, especially at a gym, but once you start you’ll never stop!
Also, if you’re looking for more inspiration on how to start running, Anne coincidentally wrote on a similar topic today over at Fannetastic Food!