Just as all runners are different people and run for different reasons, the words "Personal Record" mean something different to each of us. For the elite runners, a PR could mean qualifying for the Olympics or achieving a new World Record. For me, someone who just completed my first race one year ago, a PR means progress. My speed, or lack thereof, doesn't define me nor should yours define you. As someone who has found a passion in running and racing I have registered for and run many races over the last 12 months, most of them for fun. My two half-marathons in March and April were different.
Back in September 2012, I was the amazingly lucky winner of a personalized race training plan from Jason Fitzgerald and #runchat. When Jason asked me about my goals I told him I wanted three things: to become a more well-rounded runner, to be able to run a 5k without having to take walk breaks, and to become faster. Jason took my goals and running history and crafted a 16-week training plan unique to my needs. It was pretty awesome.
The week before I was scheduled to begin my training, I had coffee with a fellow runner. He asked me why I take walk breaks when I run and instinctively I responded "Because I have to." As soon as the words left my mouth I questioned their validity and so did he. He suggested I run as far as I could and then the next time try to run a little bit farther. I scoffed at his advice and we eventually went our separate ways.
One week later my father invited me for a 3-mile run and as we took off, he asked me the same question: "Why do you think you need walk breaks?" Again I felt myself wanting to say that I couldn't run without them but instead I responded "I don't know." In that moment I vowed to try and run the entire 3 miles. Guess what? I did it. Actually, we did it. (Thanks, dad!)
There was no finish line or medal that day but it's one that will stand out in my mind for a long time to come because it was a day of progress, not just physically but mentally as well. That day taught me that my biggest obstacles are not hills or treadmills or speed work. No, my biggest running challenge would be to overcome my own doubts. As I began utilizing Jason's training plan I felt myself becoming stronger both physically and mentally. My running buddy Rose accompanied me on many a long and hilly training run and I love her for it. She has taught me a lot about pushing myself out of my comfort zone to a place where progress can be made.
My training plan incorporated my March half-marathon as a training run or "B" race. Many runners have at least one time goal in mind for their races but I've always just told myself to run like hell. My goals have never been about beating someone else, my biggest competition is myself and those annoying doubts in my head. When I set out to run, either around my block or in a race, I run to make progress.
Back in March I secretly hoped to finish that race faster than my previous half, even if only by a second, because it would mean I had improved. I ended up finishing that race almost 8 minutes faster than its predecessor and I could hardly believe it. Something inside of me started to push those lingering doubts a little further away but they weren't gone completely. I continued to follow my training plan, my long runs peaking at 15 miles despite only training for a 13.1 mile race. I may have wanted to curl up in a ditch during some of those runs but I seldom faltered in my training.
I didn't have any expectations going in to this weekend's race. My friends kept telling me to trust my training, that I had worked so hard and I was all set to PR. I urged them to be quiet, not wanting to get my hopes up only to be disappointed. Again I had no specific time in mind other than to beat my own previous best.
When I tell you that two days later I still sit here in shock, it's the truth. Somehow in 4 week's time I managed to drop almost 12 minutes off of my previous best half-marathon. I wasn't trying to do it, it just happened and that's what I love most about it. I worked my butt off for 16 weeks and I blew my own goals out of the water. I am not ashamed of that in any way and I will not allow anyone to make me feel bad about it. It is a testament to my own strength and dedication, proof that hard work does pay off.
I realize that every race will not end quite this way and I'm ok with that. Those training runs and races where you end up walking more than running or crying more than laughing? Those are progress too. They teach us to take the bad with the good, they give us something to chase after and fuel us to be better runners. Find your strength, quiet your own doubts and run like hell. I wish you PRogress.