I vividly remember training for my first half marathon in 2012. I planned my training runs well in advance of the race because I was certain I was going to get hurt or give up and would need time to convince myself I had the guts to try again. I read every article I could find about nutrition and how to prevent injury, and found myself transforming from someone who was unathletic to someone who packed running shoes for family vacation and other travels. (To me, that’s always how you knew someone was passionate about running.)
That first training cycle was magical in my eyes and led me to believe I reached the destination and that it would be smooth sailing from there. Little did I know that not all training cycles are like that. Since then I have had textbook training cycles and others where I had to take a break due to injury or illness, forgot to train (oops), and after babies, when I trained like I was training for my first half again, with pride, excitement, and fear as I taped my schedule to the fridge. This training cycle was two fold for me; my first half marathon as a mother of two and my first half marathon since moving back to Pittsburgh in the summer of 2018.
My family and I are so fortunate to live in a community that supports the mission of Kids of Steel and serves as a Kids of Steel site for members of the borough, not just elementary school students. Signing up my three year old for Kids of Steel elevated my training and passion for running to the next level. Not only would race weekend be about achieving my goals, but her achieving her goals too. She’d hop in the stroller for our run to “run practice”, as she called it, and she’d push herself with every morsel she had in her as she smiled, played, and ran with kids far bigger than her. After practice, she’d hop in the stroller and tell me how great it was, how fast she ran, and that she can do hard things.
Like many others reading this, I grieved when Troy Schooley made the announcement that the race was moved to a virtual race. I cried for the dreams of runners and that life as we knew it was paused. For a few days I didn’t want to run while I mourned the fact that my goals were put on hold, but eventually I got out there. My head was in a fog, but as time passed, my grief turned into action as I found myself pushing to go a little harder and a little further.
In early April, my toddler ran her virtual kid’s marathon. I had intentions of making a big race day for her, but it didn’t pan out that way. One morning she asked if we could run a race (this was her understanding of the kid’s marathon), so we did. It was natural and fun, and brought running back to its purest form as two people ran side by side (with a baby stroller in tow), laughing and reminding each other that we can keep pushing and do hard things.
I made the decision to run my virtual Steel Challenge on a different weekend than what would have been race weekend, cutting training a little short, but I couldn’t stop thinking about running my virtual half, so I went for it. It was by no means how I imagined my first Pittsburgh half marathon would be, but it was exciting in it’s own way. While the official half course would have taken me through iconic areas of the city, my personal course brought me through iconic areas of my childhood and adulthood. The first few miles took me past the homes of childhood friends and allowed my mind to wander to those memories, and mile eight brought me to the elementary school I attended, which is home of the same track I run with my toddler and baby in tow. My personal race ended with my family, waiting at the end of the driveway, cheering me on as I passed the house because I wasn’t quite done yet. When I finally paused my watch, I cried. This time I didn’t cry because I was grieving the fact that race weekend wouldn’t unfold as I envisioned, but because I was proud of that moment, and all of the miles and self talk that brought me there.
It’s safe to say this training cycle is not the one anyone has planned. Training schedules fail to include unpredictable spring weather, global pandemics, and the grief and stress one goes through when the world around them drastically changes, but this cycle had all of those things (and a broken toe, but that’s another story) and will be one to remember. Whether you are getting ready to run your virtual race, on a run for your health, or are asking yourself “what’s next?” in terms of your athletic goals, remember, we can do hard things.