What I learned from my Second Half-Marathon

About a year and a half ago I ran my first half-marathon. Then I all but stopped running. It’s not that I don’t enjoy running, because I obviously do or I wouldn’t have run a half to begin with, but first I was taking a break after all that training; then the weather was too hot; then too cold; then we were living in a van. Next thing I knew it was a year and a half later and I hadn’t run in ages. When I moved to Wellington I decided to sign up for the Round the Bays half, convinced Steve to do the same, and started running again. I learned a lot from the Vancouver Half-Marathon, my first-ever race, but I still picked up a few new insights this time around.

Before the race and ready to run!

The first thing I learned is that in some ways, it is like that old adage about riding a bicycle. Obviously you’re not going to jump back into running after not training for ages and immediately be able to run that whole 13.1mi/21.1km, but running a race requires mental training as well as physical. Before training for my first half-marathon I had never run 13.1 miles before. The longest run I could find in my Runkeeper records was 10 miles, way back in 2012. Usually I topped out around 5 or 6.

Training for my second half-marathon was different because I knew I could finish it. I had a good suspicion that I could back in Vancouver, but for this one I already knew because I had done it before. Getting over that mental hurdle (running pun, ha ha) made it much easier to jump into training and push myself toward that 13.1 mile goal.

While the first thing I learned came at the very start of my training for Round the Bays, the second arrived at the very end, as I crossed the finish line. I ran my first half-marathon in 2:08:12. That time around, I didn’t have a goal time because I had no benchmark for how fast I was and I just wanted to finish. This race, my goal was to finish in two hours or less. And… I didn’t. According to the official race results, my final time was 2:00:42. Just 42 seconds longer than my goal: close, but not quite there.

After the race and ready to sit!

I’m a perfectionist, and I hate not meeting my own expectations. There are a lot of excuses that can be made– a serious head wind for most of the course, a rumour that the track is just a bit longer than a half-marathon (and the GPS on my phone would seem to back that up)–but at the end of the day, I just didn’t quite get there. Usually I’m pretty hard on myself when I “fail” at something, so I expected to feel disappointed that I didn’t achieve my goal.

Instead I felt proud and excited. I cut seven-and-a-half minutes off my previous time, with half as much training as I did for the last race. I also felt energized–after my last half-marathon I felt like there was no way I could see myself running a full marathon in the future. Now? It seems like a definite possibility (with a good bit more training first, of course). I’m happy to celebrate my victories instead of dwelling on my “failure,” and now I have a goal to work toward in my next half.

My main goal is to not stop running for over a year like I did after the Vancouver half. I’m enjoying a week off from running this week to rest and recharge, but I’m looking forward to getting back to it next week and breaking that sub-2 hour barrier in my next race for sure! And maybe then I’ll be ready to turn 13.1 into 26.2! Or not, but I’ll be glad to succeed or fail at whatever comes next.

My unofficial race results—ready to do even better next time!

Stepping Back to Go Forward

I used to be a fairly good pianist. Not impressively good, I don’t think I had the raw talent and I certainly didn’t have the dedication to practicing to take it anywhere beyond a serious hobby and a minor role in my high school orchestra. But I was also far better than “knows chopsticks and picked out the melody to ‘My Heart Will Go On’ once”; 12 years of lessons (more, if you count the keyboard classes before I was old enough for private instruction) will do that to you. At the end of each school year I participated in a program called “piano guild,” in which students were tasked with playing—from memory—a number of pieces for an adjudicator. One year, I presented 10 selections by Bach. In others, I included movements of sonatas by Mozart and Haydn. So yeah, I was good.

Then I went away to college. And grad school. And across the country. And to Canada. And I just stopped playing. Sure, I occasionally got to put my fingers on a set of keys, but I never made any effort to seek out regular access to a piano so I could continue practicing regularly. 

And that’s okay. I’ve always loved making music, but it’s just something I enjoy rather than an unyielding passion for me like it is for some. So letting it fall by the wayside wasn’t a heartbreak. 

Still, though, I have always enjoyed it, so since I’m back at my parents’ house for a few months before Steve and I head off to NZ, I decided I wanted to shake some of the rust away and start playing again. My parents were kind enough to have the piano tuned, and I’ve made it a point to practice a few times each week.

Here’s the thing: I’m still good. You don’t just lose your skills at something you worked at for over a decade just because you spend some years away. I don’t remember most of the songs I once knew by heart, but I can still play them if I look at the sheet music, and they still sound pretty decent. 

The problem is this: while I know logically that I am undeniably rusty, my intuition doesn’t seem to be able to make the connection. I still have a degree of muscle memory so my fingers try to fly over the keys a tempo to hit notes they don’t quite know anymore. 

Continue reading “Stepping Back to Go Forward”

Successfully Failing (aka the obligatory navel-gazing 2014 review post)

The most important thing I did this past year was learn how to fail. A brief and probably incomplete list of things I failed at in 2014:

  • I don’t even remember if I made New Year’s resolutions so if I did I’m sure I failed those. Certainly any that had to do with consistent running.
  • My Goodreads 2014 book challenge: I read 39 out of my intended 52 books, although in my defence I was reading plenty of academic texts and articles for my thesis.
  • Update my blog: I think I was aiming for twice a month, which I nearly averaged (22 posts counting this one), but most of those posts came at the start of the year, and there were a few months I didn’t write at all.
  • Getting a job in Galway (I did do some freelancing at least)
  • NaNoWriMo: I did it for 2 years in college, took a year off last year because I was doing my MA, and planned to complete it again this year. I got 20k-some words in and that was the end.

I’m sure there are more 2014 failures that I’m forgetting, but what’s important to me is that I’m okay with it. I mean, I’m not okay with it—I obviously want to do better in 2015—but I don’t regret trying anything just because I wasn’t able to complete it or  be the best at it.

I’ve always been a perfectionist, and I still am, but my fear of failing doesn’t outweigh my fear of trying. When I look at previous years, my regrets come not from failure itself (I learned a long time ago that it’s okay not to be perfect), but from realising that I could have pushed myself further and didn’t, stopping at the level at which I knew I could succeed. A big one that comes to mind was studying abroad in Spain: it’s still one of the best things I’ve ever done, but looking back I wonder if, had I been willing to step further outside of my comfort zone and go into a course that wasn’t all Americans or spend more time conversing with native speakers, would I have gotten even more out of it?

When I compare that to another Spain-related topic from this year—writing my thesis on Francoist oppression of the Basque Country’s publishing industry—I see the difference. I could have written on an easier, more comfortable topic, relating to journalism or even Castilian Spain, and not had to deal with the fact that there was so little information on the subject and that much of that information had to be translated, by me, from Spanish (though luckily not from Basque). I didn’t fail my thesis, of course, but I chose a topic that I knew would give me a harder time and probably not a better grade, because I was willing to take the risk.

I’ve also learned to look at my “failures” positively. I would never have considered myself a “glass half-empty” type of person, but there was a time when I would’ve looked at some of my “failures” above and thought “I failed my reading goal” or “I failed NaNoWriMo” instead of “I read 39 books this year” or “I wrote 22,000 words in under a month.” Far from feeling discouraged about trying again, I’m motivated to push myself to do better next year.

I don’t think I’ll ever be accused of playing it safe by anyone other than myself, but I’m ready to do more without knowing what the future holds. For example, in the past five years I’ve lived in four countries on two continents, but each time I’ve moved has been for school, where there’s a set plan and a fairly predictable outcome. When I go back to the United States in the next few months I’m immediately planning a move across the country—but this time I don’t really have a plan. And I feel good about that.