The first time I stepped outside to run as a form of exercise was the summer of 2004. I didn’t have an iPhone or any GPS device. I don’t know how far I ran or what my pace was. After a few months I developed my first stress fracture. I decided running wasn’t for me.
I got Denali in the summer of 2008 and started walking a lot. She required a lot of activity, so we would walk miles and miles every day. I remember one morning deciding to run with her when we were just a few blocks from home. She seemed to like it, so each walk we’d run a little bit more. Eventually she and I started running regularly.
In 2011 a friend asked me if I wanted to join her for the Disney Half Marathon coming up that winter. I have no idea what possessed me but I said yes. I finished that race just shy of 2 hours and thirty minutes. A few days later I discovered I had another stress fracture in my ankle.
I have flat feet and I wasn’t wearing shoes that supported me very well. So, after my ankle healed, I got better shoes and got back to running. I finished my Indy Mini Marathon that May.
And so it’s been for the past 6.5 years. There are times that I stop training for a while, but I eventually get the bug again and sign up for another race to get me motivated.
However, throughout all of this, I’ve never been fast. When I started training for the first half marathon I had an iPhone with apps to help me track my mileage and pace. The temperature always impacts my time, but over twelve half marathons I’ve paced anywhere from 11:01 to 12:37 minute miles. I was content with being a slower runner because I didn’t think it was possible for me to be faster. When I trained, I would have paces closer to 10:00 – 10:30 but I could never get that during a long race. So I accepted it.
Over the last few years friends have taken up running and within a fairly short period of time they were faster than me. I tried not to compare, but it was hard. I didn’t understand how they got fast so quickly.
More recently my brother started running and the same thing happened. Within a couple months he was pacing faster than me. I remember one conversation when I mentioned that I walk during water stations. He said I could shave off a few seconds if I didn’t do that. I was annoyed and said I didn’t care about getting faster. He couldn’t understand this. And, what I said was true: I didn’t care about getting faster, because in the back of my mind I was telling myself it wasn’t possible to get faster.
Last fall I started using a different training plan. Rather than running 3 miles Monday, Wednesday, Friday then doing a long run on Saturday, this app gave me a variety of options. I might do tempo runs in which I’d run a shorter distance at a faster pace. Or I might do speed runs where I’d run fast for 400 meters then slow down for 30 seconds and repeat that seven or thirteen times.
In addition to a variety of training runs, I also changed the way I used my treadmill. I was listening to a podcast and a treadmill runner mentioned she runs at a 1.5-2% incline because that better resembled an outdoor run. I slowly worked myself up to a 2% incline so all my indoor runs are more strenuous than they used to be.
For Christmas Brad bought me a Forerunner 235 GPS watch. It’s more accurate than any running app I’ve had on my phone. It’s easy to access since it’s on my wrist, which means I can see my current pace at any time during my runs. This helps me not go out too fast and not slow down too much. Thanks to the watch, I have a better sense of how fast I’m running.
The combination of the new training plan, slight incline on indoor runs and the GPS watch have done something amazing for me in the last few months. I consistently run at a 10:00 minute pace, even for long runs. Last week I came back from an 8.25 mile run with a 10:01 pace! Never in my life have I ever had a run that fast!
There were times that I would look at my watch and think, “The GPS is off, there’s no way I’m maintaining this pace.” So, I’d find a mile marker on the trail and test my watch to make sure it was right. It was, every time. I just couldn’t believe it was possible that I was running faster. I knew there had to be an error somewhere.
Well, today I ran a 10k race. I wondered if it was all a fluke. I wondered if, like every other race I’ve done, I’d show up and slow down. The sunshine, perfect temperature and great course proved otherwise. Even with a couple hills, I was able to maintain a sub-10 minute mile run the entire time.
I finished under 60 minutes – 59:19. It turns out I’m the fastest. Who knew? Certainly not me.
I ran this same race last year at 1:04:56. That may not seem very different, but if you look at the pace, it’s very significant. 10:23 per mile versus 9:36. Crazy, huh?
Although I am very proud of myself, I’m not writing this to brag. I’m writing this because I realize how important and impactful the internal dialogue I have in my mind is on my life. Each time I ran outside and had immediate feedback about my pace, I started to believe I could run faster. And when I started to believe it, I started to run even faster.
My watch has a race predictor. A few weeks ago I noticed that the watch predicted I could run a 10k under 60 minutes. I laughed! However, the fact that I had enough energy left to speed up the last mile of the race and then go even harder the last quarter mile, suggests that I could probably run a 10k even faster next time. My watch tells me I can do it under 52 minutes.
Well, maybe I can.