The Lessons I Learned Running My First Half Marathon

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A lot of thoughts run through the mind of a half marathoner, and many of those thoughts are lessons that can be applied outside the race.

On Saturday, I ran my first half marathon. I ran it as part of TeamQuest4ALS, a group of 155 people from 10 health clubs and four vendors who ran the Brooklyn Rock 'N' Roll Half Marathon to raise money to help fund research for a cure for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

I'm not sure what possessed me to agree to run a half marathon. Well, I take that back—I do know what possessed me: one of my aunts died from ALS, I have attended all but one of the Augie's Bashes to raise money for ALS research, and I met with the co-founders of that event, Augie and Lynne Nieto, in 2015 when Club Industry gave Augie our Lifetime Achievement Award. It was during this year's Augie's Bash that Kevin McHugh, COO of The Atlantic Club, got me to agree to participate on his team by convincing me I could walk the half marathon—since I told him I had never been a runner. However, after I committed to doing the race, I decided just walking wasn't good enough; I was going to run as much of it as I could.

And so the training began. I read a lot of articles online about running and completing half marathons. I went to a few running clinics. I got fitted for the right shoes after knee pain almost caused me to stop running. And I turned to my trainer for help in developing my core and leg muscles.

I learned a lot while training, but I learned just as much while actually running the half marathon. Here are four lessons I am filing away for myself after I share them with you:

1. Don't deviate from your training and your plan on race day. I had heard this advice before, but I want to thank Kate Golden, director of fitness and people operations at Newtown Athletic Club, Newtown, Pennsylvania, for driving this point home as we traveled to the half marathon together on the subway. I trained using a run/walk program, and that was how I planned to complete the half marathon. Golden shared how the excitement of the other runners can make you feel like you can run longer than you planned and are prepared for. She learned this from personal experience, she said. When I started the race in the second to the last corral, I felt the euphoria she described I would feel, and I considered just running for as long as I could instead of sticking to my five minute run/two minute walk plan. Surely I could run for longer than five minutes at a time, I thought. I felt so good that morning. Then, I remembered what Golden told me about the euphoria of the group deceiving you, and I decided to stick with my plan. I am so glad that I did. I continued with my run/walk plan until mile 9—longer than I had ever done so. After that, I increased the walk time for the next mile and then walked much of the last three miles—but I finished the race with a spurt of running energy and a sense of pride and empowerment. In the non-race environment, this same lesson applies: create a plan, train using that plan and don't deviate from it unless market conditions change and necessitate the creation of a new plan. 

2. Being part of a group can carry you along when you don't feel you can do it on your own. People of all shapes, sizes, ages, ethnicities and physical fitness levels ran the half marathon. I wish I knew all of their stories, as I'm sure they all had a reason they were running. Regardless of their reasons, I could feel the determination of each person I ran near, and I could see that determination on their faces. As I was running, I thought about how this group effort toward a goal amidst your personal effort to a goal applies in the work world, too. It's easier to hit a goal when others are committed to that same goal and are working toward it alongside you.

3. The mental matters as much if not more than the physical. Much as in life, getting to the end of anything requires physical endurance, but it also requires mental endurance and fortitude. While training, I often found myself thinking during the first mile of each run that I just didn't feel like running that day, that I didn't think I had the energy for it and that I wouldn't make it to the end of the goal I had set for myself that day. I learned that I had to play a mental game with myself and divide my training distance into smaller, more manageable distances. I would tell myself that I needed to run at least the first mile to see if I still felt I wasn't up for a run that day. Each time I did that, I found myself at the end of the first mile ready to continue with the second mile. I would then tell myself that I might as well finish the second mile and then see how I felt about completing the third mile. And so it would go until I got into a groove and found myself at a point where I didn't want to stop because the sweat dripping down my face gave me such a sense of accomplishment, especially knowing how i felt when I started the run that day. The same was true during the race. I broke it down into 13 races of one mile each, and I celebrated each mile completion. You can apply the same lesson in starting up a new business or tackling a big project. Don't look at it as one big effort. Instead, break it down into smaller efforts. 

4. When someone asks you to donate for a cause, do it, even if it's just $10. As I ran the race, I thought about each of the friends and family members who donated to my race donation page. I didn't think about how much each donatedonly that they had donated. They were trusting me to follow through with my end of this promise, and I didn't want to let them down. I determined that whenever possible, I will donate something to a friend who asks for money for a worthy cause. It is difficult for anyone to ask people for money, even though it is for a worthy cause, but your donation can really lift up people and give them the motivation to continue. In "real" life, the "donations" you can offer is advice and guidance, especially when that is solicited. 

Speaking of donations, TeamQuest4ALS is still accepting donations through the end of the month if you want to be a part of the cure. (The page says the donations are closed, but you can actually still donate.) Or consider being a part of TeamQuest4ALS next year when they expand to additional races.

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