Training for a half-marathon, and other ways to draw attention to yourself: A personal essay

Illustration of abstracted figures running towards a checkpoint.
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I have always had something of a sub-par relationship with running. I somewhat enjoyed it and ran track in high school but never felt inclined to do more than that. I have never considered myself a long distance runner by any means. Within the safety of a gym, running was easy, but boring — I’ve learned that an hour and a half is the most amount of time I’m willing to spend staring at a gray, popcorn-textured gym wall in front of me with a small plastic fan blowing back and forth and only hitting me every five seconds or so. Yet, it was outside of my sphere of comfort to explore anything but this — running outside was an entirely different story. Sure, 8 miles or so on a treadmill was fine, but those who ran outside in the neighborhoods and spiraling streets of my cookie-cutter hometown; those were the real runners. 

Within me lay a lingering guilt for residing in the mundane trail that was the polyvinyl chloride running belts on steel frames, cushioned between the peppy Zumba room and the free weights area, in which “gym rats” of insatiable knowledge and strength lifted heavy things and made me feel self-conscious when I attempted to do the same. But upon my move to Berkeley and my new gym, I quickly exhausted my tolerance for staring at a new wall (this time its texture was flat, a nice choice). Upon the unprompted decision to sign up for a half-marathon, I pledged to myself that the days of running on a conveyor belt were over. 

Sure, 8 miles or so on a treadmill was fine, but those who ran outside in the neighborhoods and spiraling streets of my cookie-cutter hometown; those were the real runners. 

There are certain things that are just itching to be said — it’s only human nature. Half-marathon training, I’ve found, is one of those topics just begging to be brought up. Yes, I would tell my friends as soon as they would express interest (I had already brought it up): “I am training for a half-marathon!” 

However, telling this story was a lot easier than actually committing myself to run farther than 4 or 5 miles multiple times a week; I was right in believing that running outside was far more difficult than sinking into mental immobility and staring at a wall for an hour and a half, unshockingly enough. 

The beginning was hard. The first time hitting 5 miles was a triumph, as were all of the following. With each new mile, the “hardest mile” kept getting prolonged. When I ran 5 miles, I found the second to be the hardest; when I ran 8, I found it to be the sixth. Yet, as I continued running each day, I found that, my time spent running — the time before and after the hardest mile — wasn’t at all spent pondering over how much longer I had to continue or how much pain I was in. I had always found myself conscientious of how quickly I was going or if I looked stupid, yet after a certain number of miles, I cared less about that and was starkly more interested in the naturality of it and the fact that, only a few months before, I had struggled to even run at all. 

As with all things, there have been many, many days where I simply haven’t wanted to run. In an attempt to fulfill two resolutions —running a half-marathon and staying organized — I created a running calendar for myself that I update each Sunday to hold myself accountable. I gave up relying on sole motivation a few years ago after a particular creative writing professor at my community college commented on its discrepancies, in which the crux of the lesson was that, while motivation is rather cunning, its appearances are often limited. Nothing would ever get done if we relied on motivation alone, and doing things only when the muse of motivation rears its head would result in a very incomplete story. Though his wisdom was in respect to writing a short story, I have begun to link the sensations of writing and running together as more similar than I originally presumed — both are so awful to start but incredibly rewarding once complete. While running at the gym was something that felt effortless and required very little preparation, running outside is taxing, cold and hard. But like writing, it is ultimately so rewarding.

With each new mile, the “hardest mile” kept getting prolonged. When I ran 5 miles, I found the second to be the hardest; when I ran 8, I found it to be the sixth.

I flipped through Google a few months ago and stumbled upon a quote that attested to how much you come to learn about yourself in marathon training. It sounds cliche — and it is — but I suppose cliches become that way for a reason. Assuming that same logic, I have learned about how quaint the back roads of Berkeley are and how inviting running is to everyone. I sometimes find myself missing the yellow-gray popcorn wall I used to face for hours on end, and I sometimes miss the simplicity of going to the gym with no plan other than to stare at it. I even sometimes miss the rush I would get from making eye contact with a gym bro as he waits for me to finish using an entire bench to prop up my water bottle and lift 5 pounds over my head until I’m tired. Running makes me feel structured, but at the gym I feel chaotic and unrestrained — and sometimes I miss that feeling. But we aren’t good for each other, and nothing about it makes sense. I suppose someday the gym and I will meet again, but until that day comes, I will be running outside, chasing that feeling — very, very slowly  

Contact Taylor Carolan at [email protected]