Friday, May 10, 2013

Running Newbie to a Half Marathon in 1 Year: Part 2 // The Early Days of 5K Training

Thanks for checking out Part 2 of my first running series! If you haven’t read Part 1 already, you can find it here.

So I’d finally decided to start running, purchased my first running shoes, and signed up for a local training program called RunKNOX. After feeling completely overwhelmed by the first meeting, I came back to continue the program. I had no idea what I was in for.

What are the coaches going to tell me to do? Are they going to go all Jillian Michaels on me? Will I pass out? I wonder if I’ll do or say anything stupid? Will I cry?

My experiences to answer those were –“Lots of things”, “No”, “No”, “Probably”, and “Yes, at some point”, but I’ll get to them.

So I started going to regular practices twice a week. I’d walk into every practice feeling like a deer in headlights. I had never felt so out of my element. I wasn’t used to doing something in which I wasn’t at least somewhat knowledgeable.

Luckily, I had people to rely on. The coaches laid out a plan for us each week. Like with most beginning training programs, I started by alternating different lengths of minutes walking and running, and transitioning into more minutes running over time.

On paper, running a few minutes here and there doesn’t sound that bad. Until you’re the one doing it. Then they are the longest minutes of your life.

I felt ridiculous that I was at that level, especially since the rest of the group was so much more advanced than me. Luckily, that didn’t stop me from getting to know some of the other people in the program. I wasn’t sure if they’d accept me. This is what I expected they thought about me:

What is this girl doing here? We’re droppin’ miles, son, not minutes!

Here’s the response I actually got:

You’re beginning to run! That’s so awesome! Let me tell you every running tip I’ve ever learned! You’re doing so great!

Okay, I’m exaggerating. Not everyone was that enthusiastic, but I did feel a warm welcome. Someone who was that enthusiastic, however, was this girl Lauren. Lauren was already well into her running journey and already training for a half marathon at the time. She’d roll up to practice with her stylish running clothes, making sarcastic jokes, cheering everyone on, and playing everything from Miley Cyrus to hip-hop on her iPhone and speakers instead of headphones (so we all could partake). I immediately knew I would like this girl.

Lauren and many others in the group cheered for me (among others) every single practice. It was this encouragement that kept me going during those first few weeks that I struggled so much. I swore that if I ever made it through this thing (obviously I did), I wanted to pay it forward to future new runners.

The coaches were also extremely helpful. At first, I was intimidated by the fact that they were serious runners. However, they were extremely nice and took the time to explain the workouts to me. My personal policy in life is that it’s better to ask stupid questions than it is to not ask, make an assumption and say something REALLY stupid. So I’d usually catch Darren or one of the other coaches and ask a LOT of questions:

What does it mean to run at 5K pace? How do I even know what pace I’m running? Am I jogging or running? What if I have to walk longer than the prescribed plan? Why does my heel hurt today? What does PR mean?

My questions were probably so elementary in the running world. I kept waiting for them to finally say, “You’re killin’ me, Smalls!” but they never did. They kindly and respectfully answered my questions.

One thing the coaches pointed out early on was that I should slow down during the minutes that I ran. I thought I was already running slowly, but I took the advice and it helped. They kept talking about this mythical “easy pace” at which we should be able to carry on a conversation. Are you kidding me? I was barely running and still gasping for air - forget about carrying on a conversation!

I struggled through those first weeks running a few minutes at a time. It was hard. I would do anything to make it through a few minutes of running.

Count to 10. Listen to this chorus of Nicki Minaj. Look at that cute dog over there. Think about Adam Levine. Make a to-do list for home. Anything!

Then I had a win early on in the program. We went to the track at UT, and the coaches timed us doing 1 mile (four laps). They advised me to at least try to run half of it, and then walk/run it as necessary. I ran the half mile as planned, and actually felt like I could keep going. So I did and ran one more lap. At that point, it was gasping for air, and running out of energy. I was going to walk, but then I thought:

I’ve already ran three. It seems silly to walk now. I might as well just run the last one.

I didn’t even recognize myself in my new way of thinking. I forced myself to run that last lap despite my desire to crash.

Afterwards, I couldn’t believe I’d run my first mile! Who was this person I was becoming? At that point, I started thinking, “Maybe I can do this 5k thing.” And later on, I did.

If you have recently started running and training for your first 5K, congratulations! This journey may not be easy, but it can be extremely rewarding as you accomplish new challenges along the way.

Here are some ideas that helped me as I began running:
  • Stay positive – Running even a few minutes may be difficult at first. Trust me, it was for me! Hang in there when it gets tough, and remind yourself that you are stronger than you believe yourself to be.
  • Stay the course and be patient – Obviously, you can only succeed if you stay working at it. I had to do anything and everything (such as my distraction techniques) to get through those early weeks. You’re not going to change completely overnight. However, trust that you’ll see progress over time.
  • Take it easy – Run as sloooow as you need to. I was surprised that I could run much longer (by that, I mean minutes but it felt like a lot to me). Even if you don’t think you need to, try running slower and see how you feel. 
  • Ask any and every question – I’m not qualified to talk about specific training techniques, overexertion, or injuries. However, those are all valid concerns and there are people qualified to answer them. It’s important to ask and address any issues with your coach, doctor, etc. They may be able to recommend adjustments to your training schedule, stretches, or other treatments to help you with whatever you encounter. 
Your questions may not be that serious, though. They may be something like, “How do I keep my hair from falling out of my ponytail”, “Where do I keep my car key while I run”, “Is it easier to carry a handheld water bottle or a belt?” etc. This is why it’s great to have running friends you can go to with questions.
  • Make sure you’re staying healthy outside of running - No brainer here. I don’t know all of the specifics of how much water and rest every individual is supposed to get (I suspect it varies by person and there are resources to learn more), but I notice a huge difference in how I feel while running if I haven’t gotten enough rest and water. Also, I personally don’t run when I’m sick – even a cold.
  • Don’t worry about the other runners – Even though I’m a year into my running journey, I know runners varying from completely new all the way to Boston Marathon qualifiers. Here’s the deal: they know how hard it is to begin running and what you’re going through. I personally haven’t encountered a judgmental fellow runner (not saying they aren’t out there). Most people are usually focused on their own personal running goals, and enjoy seeing the success of themselves and others.
Have you recently began a running training program for the first time? What helped you through the early days of your training?


Continue the journey with Part 3 here.

*I was not compensated by RunKNOX for this post, nor is RunKNOX affiliated with this blog. I am simply sharing my honest opinions and experiences as I began running through the program. The views expressed in my article are solely my own.

Photo by Tracey Southerland Photography


  1. "Think about Adam Levine" - hahahahaha! That would so be me. ;)

    On a serious note. I love these stories, Amy! Thank you for sharing. I love how supportive your trainers have been, as well. Everyone started somewhere!

    1. Haha! I channeled any and everything I could to get through those days! :)

      I'm so glad that you enjoyed reading this. Yes, we all started somewhere, and those of us who have started progressing towards our goals understand that. I was pleasantly surprised how supportive the local running community has been towards new runners. :)

  2. A great read, Amy. Thanks for sharing - I will share this with MY running buddies. People new to running will really identify with your words. :)

    1. Thanks, Vicky! I'm glad it was helpful. I love helping new runners, because I know how hard it is to begin. :)

  3. I love this part - "On paper, running a few minutes here and there doesn’t sound that bad. Until you’re the one doing it. Then they are the longest minutes of your life. " EXACTLY!!

    You're story sounds so much like mine. I can relate to everything!

    1. Haha, yeah, it was rough at first! Just gotta hang in there and build endurance. Sounds like you're doing great so far! Congrats!