And Then I Ran

In 2018, I became a runner.

I had run before. A few years ago, I trained using the Couch-To-5K training method. I had recently quit smoking cigarettes and it felt good to regain some lung function. I was elated when I completed my first three-mile run without walking. But after completing the program, I endeavored just a few three-mile runs before putting my running shoes away for the season. Without a goal, I lacked motivation to run and I certainly wasn’t interested in running during the cold, dark, Alaskan winter.

I went for a couple of runs last year: a whopping 29 miles during the entirety of 2017. 2018 was looking to end up the same way; by the time June rolled around, I had run a total of less than 20 miles.

I ran a few 3-4 mile runs the first week of June but I didn’t run again until the 13th. That’s when I discovered Smashrun.com, a website that aggregates data from your runs and serves up useful and interesting stats. I’m a stats nerd, and I wanted to see what Smashrun could do–but first I needed to feed it data. I ran again the next day, and then the next, and so on. I ran 5 days in a row before taking a break. I’d run blocks of consecutive days, rest, and then do it again. I began researching running, and became active in online running communities. Heeding the advice of experienced runners, I forced myself to take rest days (something that I ironically found to be torturous). I ran more than 50 miles in June. I was hooked.

Example of Smashrun data
Example of just some of the data Smashrun gives you. Sign up for your own free account.

My obsession only grew from there. I ran just over 79 miles in July, 89 in August, and 91 in September. Early on, I went out on my runs without a plan, aiming only to push myself a little more each week compared to the previous one. But then I decided I wanted to commit to a real challenge. I set a goal of running an organized half marathon race (13.1 miles) before the year ended. I researched some training plans and picked one that seemed both manageable and challenging.

I ran my first race at the end of June: a 10K run in Homer, Alaska that fit into my training plan. 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) would be the furthest I had ever run up to that point, but I felt ready. I completed it without an issue, perhaps even leaving a little too much gas in the tank (it helped that the entire course was slightly downhill). That race made me confident that I’d be able to run a half marathon this year. I decided that I would run it during the annual local Kenai River Marathon scheduled for September 30.

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I followed Hal Higdon’s Novice 2 training plan, with some modification. The plan has a couple of races built into it, but there wasn’t always a race available that lined up with my schedule. I ended up running an extra mile on those weeks, which essentially jumped me ahead a week in the program each time I did this.

Running training plans are designed to allow you to peak on race day. Since I had been using race weeks to skip ahead in the schedule, I was going to peak well before the September 30th half marathon. Fortunately, I found a half marathon in Anchorage, Alaska that fit perfectly with my schedule.

I registered for the August 19th race, the Anchorage Runfest Skinny Raven Half Marathon, and continued my training. I didn’t skip a single day of training. I discovered a sense of discipline that I never knew I harbored. I got up at 5am and ran before work. Wind, rain, fatigue… it didn’t matter; if I had a run scheduled that day, I ran it. Towards the end of my training, my plan looked something like this: Rest on Saturday and Sunday, run 5 miles on Monday, 4 miles on Tuesday, 5 miles on Wednesday, rest on Thursday, long run on Friday (I generally added one mile to my long run each week, peaking at a 12 mile long run the week before my half marathon).

Excitement built as race week approached. My plan called for a taper week before the race, where you run fewer miles than you had been in order to get your body in a rested state for the race.

August 19th arrived. My training was complete. Now it was just a matter of cashing-in my training for a good experience, a shirt, and a medal.

Up next: There are victories, but there’s also defeat.

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