Racing Against Myself

run blog header

Running has always been hard for me. My struggle with this type of physical activity has had a way of making me feel weak, which is probably why I learned to dread it. Combine that dread with an abnormal discomfort-level of being chased, it all just added up to one thing: running was not for me (I blame my older brother and cousins for traumatizing me as a child :P). Oh and how could I forget that I was also born with a heart murmur. So there’s that.

Yet, here I am at 23-years-old, with a 10K and now a half marathon under my belt.

I’ve noticed that in the past couple of years, organized races have become a huge thing. It’s no secret that their increase in popularity is due to the recent trend-shift toward a healthy lifestyle. There’s a walk, run and obstacle course for everything these days! It’s a hot commodity right now.

Maybe I was part of that wave of individuals that came across this movement and jumped aboard. At the forefront though, I just wanted something to work towards in terms of fitness.

Getting Back-To-Basics

Athleticism has never been my forté. Growing up, I tried out and joined sports teams for different reasons other than pure enjoyment of the sport. (Mostly for the cute uniforms…) So, health was never a priority of mine until college.

Living on campus my first year of college should have been the perfect time to get acquainted with the gym since it was included in my tuition fees. However, it was still tough for me to get myself on a good schedule. Why you ask? I never really went to the gym prior to college.  The need to be “fit” was not important to me in high school and in my head the “gym-timidation” was real. In high school, I ate whatever I wanted and did not experience any negative changes because of it. (Oh, those were the days). So, when I found myself in the gym as a freshman and sophomore at university, I felt lost. I had no clue how to use anything except the cardio machines…and I never really learned much about the gym until 2015. Until then, I used free weights, classes and cardio machines…oh I loved those cardio machines.

It was only until after my first year of college when I noticed that there were a lot of factors I didn’t experience in high school that led to weight gain in college: lifestyle change, stress, not really knowing where to access healthy options, the convenience of on-campus markets…oh and did I mention stress? I didn’t even fully notice my weight gain until the end of freshman year. I’m not saying that I became overweight, but it was definitely a time in my life when I realized that I needed to start caring about myself. So, after moving out of the residence halls and into an apartment to start my sophomore year, I made it a goal of mine to really pay attention to what I ate at least.

From then, I fluctuated amongst various diets and occasionally going to the gym. I became pescatarian my second year, vegetarian for most of my third year, vegan for a bit after that, back to vegetarian and eventually transitioned back to consuming red meats and poultry when I realized that majority of my diet ended up being carbs…bad carbs. However, through all of that, the most important lesson I learned from my “interesting” eating habits was really knowing what I was consuming.

That “Vegas” Body

In 2013, it was all about turning 21 and with that came my first trip with my friends to Las Vegas “of age.” As much as I’d like to say I didn’t let the whole “you need to be Vegas ready” stigma get to me, it did. At this point in my life, my desire to “be fit” didn’t originate from myself just yet. I would learn that a little later down the road. Regardless, it was during this time that I truly saw how good working out could feel. During the months leading up to July 2013, I worked out multiple times a week, maintained a mostly vegetarian diet and I saw the fruits of my labor. I lost weight, which was the only goal of mine at the time. BUT, after that long awaited Vegas trip, I noticed that I worked out less and less, especially when classes started up again in August; my last full academic year at SDSU. The “Vegas body” goal no longer existed, so my desire to work out diminished.

Running for ME

I used school, work and my internships as my excuse to let a couple months slip by with out really working out. I delved into my work, my extra curricular activities and of course my classes. Then, when January 2014 rolled around, I decided to sign up for my first ever race with hopes that forcing myself to stick to a training schedule would garner me fitness results…and I want to say they did; but in a much different sense. It was the first time I did something fitness-related purely for me. I ran the most I’ve ever run up to that point in my life. I was doing the thing that I thought I hated so much and was so bad at. I began to understand the appeal.

20140426_134519
I even convinced my family from time-to-time to join me for a beach run

It definitely wasn’t easy though. I was born with a heart murmur, so a lot of my training revolved around learning to manage it, listen to it…and when to stop. (But isn’t that just like anything else in life?)

SIDE NOTE: I genuinely hate mentioning having a heart murmur. To this day, it presents itself as more of a mental block than a physical one. But when I do cross the line and push myself slightly over that edge where I feel it’s affects, it scares me. I am aware that I need to really listen to my body and not push myself too far, but at the same time I need to differentiate between my physical limitations and mental obstacles. It’s a constant struggle that I hate having to deal with. But to put things in perspective, I shouldn’t be complaining because there are a lot of people that suffer from much more serious conditions. I am definitely grateful I am able to do the things I am able to do.

Anyways, to calm my anxieties about this part of my running journey, I saw a cardiologist to get the official OKAY. I remember this doctor’s visit vividly because it was the first time I ever addressed my heart murmur as more than something my parents told me I had. The cardiologist, who also runs competitively, validated that while I do have a heart murmur, I could run the 10K. He pushed me during the tests to really gauge how much control I had over it and he was impressed. That gave me a sense of confidence I had never felt before.

When May came around, I actually felt pretty ready for the San Diego Safari Park 10K. I had so much adrenaline running through me that morning that I didn’t have an appetite (bad idea) and was actually shaking of nervousness. However, once the race started, it seemed to fly by. It was such a great introduction into the running community because everyone had positive energy pulsing through them and while running is definitely a solo sport, I felt like I was part of a big team. I was also lucky to have shared the experience with one of my college roommates and one of my best friends from back home.

Up with the confidence

After feeling so good about the race, I gave myself a little break from running and working out. I spent the summer enjoying being back in the South Bay and spending my time with family and friends. I turned 22 and was really comfortable with my body the way it was. I didn’t run much during summer 2014, but in order to stay somewhat active, I took up rock climbing with my cousins and friends. This was the first time I realized that upper body strength is just as important as strong legs. It actually makes me laugh remembering these moments of realization. DUH! Of course upper body is just as important as lower body strength. BALANCE IS KEY for everything in life.

It was during this time that my older brother introduced me to weight lifting as well. I’ve been interested in it for a long time, but always observed and never practiced. So, I started learning the basics. But that’s all. I learned a few things and didn’t really progress much. THEN, my final semester at SDSU came around. DUN DUN DUN.

Efforts to stay active

From August – December 2014, my focus strayed away from fitness as a main source of happiness to savoring EVERY last moment of my college experience. I hiked whenever I had the time to, I truly enjoyed my internship and freelance PR experiences, I tried to put myself out there more whether socially or emotionally, I went to Disneyland as much as I could, I made it a goal to increase the frequency of “yes” leaving my mouth as opposed to “no.” Which I did and I regret nothing 🙂

After I officially finished my time at SDSU, all I had was work. In order to fill my time, I joined the gym that was across the street from my apartment and out of pure spontaneity, signed up for my second race: my first half marathon.

I began running again, printed out a schedule and posted it on my wall. I told myself that I would stick to it and check off each day. On the days I wasn’t running, I worked out target parts of my body to start building up strength. It felt good to develop my own schedule that didn’t revolve around classes and school-related activities.

IMG_4364
I even bought myself new running shoes to bring me through my training ahead of me.

Running through times of transition

Honestly, training for this half marathon was a very on-and-off process, which I definitely paid for during the race itself. I was going through a very interesting few months prior to the race. I was only working part time, as well as continuing to do freelance PR projects on the side, but the combination did take a lot out of me at the end of the day. Additionally, I had plans to move out of my SD apartment by the end of April, so that whole process required plenty of time and effort. Whenever I made trips back home in the South Bay, I tried to sneak a run in.

By the time I was officially back in the South Bay, I veered off of my running schedule. I got distracted by the move and being surrounded by my family and friends 24/7 again. At this point, I told myself that because it’s my first half, it’s just about finishing. So I ran whenever I could…or felt like it.

May 2015 became even busier as I used those first two weeks to prepare to finally walk across that Viejas Arena stage. After the commencement ceremony, it was all about getting ready to visit Portland for one of my best friend’s 23rd birthday. Luckily for me, I was able to sneak in a run and work out while I was there to counter-act some of the indulgences I was caving into.

The busiest July EVER

June through July became very gym-oriented. I still ran, but I upped the amount of times I went to the gym, especially before I started my new internship…my first in the South Bay.

I purposefully and maybe even foolishly made July 2015 my most ambitious month in the year:

  • July 3rd: me and my older brother’s graduation party
  • July 4th: Independence Day celebration with the family
  • July 6th: first day of my new internship
  • July 7th: turned 23, celebrated with my family
  • July 12th: day trip to Santa Barbara
  • July 18th: HALF MARATHON DAY!
  • July 24th – 26th: Birthday trip to Vegas
IMG_3897
Butterfly Beach, Santa Barbara ❤ 7/12

 

So, with all the activities that happened prior to the half marathon on July 18th, I balanced gym and running time as much as I could. It was hard emotionally and physically because every run seemed to be getting harder instead of easier. I suffered from shin splints and ankle pain, but I pushed through anyway.

Thought process through my first half marathon

The morning of the half marathon, I was in disbelief. I just went through the motions of my pre-race routine. Woke up at 4am, changed, ate breakfast and at around 5:30am, my two best friends and I were on our way to Huntington Beach to bib pick up. It was gloomy and rain was expected, so I was relieved that it wouldn’t be hot.

Start time was 7 am and when my friends asked me if I was ready, I said I wasn’t. At that point, all the days I didn’t run and all the days I felt pain while running were on my mind…which probably wasn’t the best train of thought. When the announcement was made to gather at the start line, I was still in disbelief.

It didn’t hit me until I was about one mile into the race that I was in for a few hours of this…of running on my own. I had never traveled 13.1 miles by foot until that day. At around the two mile mark, I felt my ankles hurting already and was mad at myself. I’m glad I was able to text my friends so I could feel their support even as I ran further away from them. It wasn’t until mile three or four, (I think…all the miles seemed to have blended in my mind at this point) when I got a runner’s high. I took my time and kept repeating to myself that it was finally happening.

I even got emotional at multiple points during the race. I was alone for majority of the race since I decided to not push myself to run any faster than I needed to and it was during these moments when I was able to enjoy the view and think…a lot. Around mile eight, I actually got embarrassed when I realized I was tearing up. I don’t know exactly why I was getting emotional. I think it may have been a combination of my body yelling “hey you are tired, maybe you should sit, my mind yelling back “NO! Keep going!,” the view of the beach filled with early-risers getting their morning surf in and constantly being reminded that I was actually still running.

The second time I got emotional was when I met up with my two friends who decided to join me for the last 3-4 miles of the race. I almost cried when I saw them running towards me. Up until that point, I was telling myself “almost there,” “running with Tina and Mojo will be easier,” “when you see them that means you are more than 3/4 of the way through” and many similar thoughts. So when I finally saw Tina running towards me I thought it was someone else at first. Then I saw Mojo and it sunk in that they were with me until the end.

It was this last leg of the race that the clouds decided to clear, the temperature rose to 80 degrees and my calves decided to start giving out on me. I spent the last 3 miles running then walking, running then walking. I was so mad at myself because I felt like I was failing and every half mile seemed to go by SO SLOW.

Mind you, the whole time, Tina and Mojo were there to encourage me, to tell me that I was almost there. I appreciated all of it then and I appreciate it much more now, but during that time, I was just past that phase when verbal encouragement helped. It was all mental at that point. I almost hyperventilated at one point because I felt my heart murmur acting up. I’m glad Mojo and Tina were there to remind me to breathe and slow down.

Finishing…that’s all

The last mile and a half SUCKED. My body kept telling me to sit. Even when I finally walked across the finish line, I resisted not plopping down right there. I put on a smile of gratitude for the race organizers as they cheered for me and offered me refreshments as I crossed the line. Out of the couple of hundred people that signed up for the small race, I came in absolute LAST. Which meant the staff was waiting for me to finish so they can clean up and get out of the heat. The fact that I was absolutely last, makes me laugh at myself, but am not upset about. I don’t even remember my time to be honest. All of the combined miles I walked definitely affected my time. My triumph comes with having successfully traveled 13.1 miles by foot for the first time ever.

I was just happy to finish. I didn’t even want to do anything after that. But, in order to gain the calories back, my friends and I went to eat. Which was a bad idea at first because all I felt was nauseous. It was so hard for me to eat with out feeling like it was going to come back up. But I forced myself because I knew the shaking I was experiencing was from hunger. It took a while for my body to transition from what I call “survival mode” to “normal mode.”

After that, my friends and I went to grab boba and enjoy the down pour of rain that decided to happen AFTER the race. Anyways, I came home and was just relieved and happy with myself. All of those months of squeezing in runs, while not consistent, helped give me the strength to actually finish.

When will my next race be? I don’t know. For now, I just want to concentrate on gaining strength by putting in gym time. People have asked me if I ever see myself running a full marathon. That amount of miles scares me. I can’t fathom using my legs and feet to get myself to travel that far at this point in my life. So my answer is: MAYBE. If I would do another race, it would be another half marathon. The goal would be to not just finish, but to make decent time.

What I learned

So, what did this journey teach me? It taught me a new level of respect. I look at my medal laying beside my bib number on my desk and have never respected athleticism more. Fitness, not only running, but a lifestyle of fitness, is an amazing thing to have a passion for. Fitness is a mental and physical cycle of realizing you are weak, working the parts of your body that are weak, feeling the physical break down of your muscles, feeling the strength gained from that hard work and doing it all over again.

True athleticism to me is more than aesthetics. A person that truly lives a healthy lifestyle works out to become a better version of themselves on a daily basis. Majority of my life, I looked at self-improvement in a mental sense: self-confidence, self-acceptance, furthered education, etc. But in order to really live a healthy lifestyle, the physical must accompany that mental drive. Running is just one of the many physical activities that push you towards that sector of self-improvement. Training and running my first half marathon has redefined my idea of balance. From this point on, I will always have a deeper and more meaningful reason to stay active.

So, I encourage and commend anyone out there that has their mind set on some sort of fitness goal. It’s easy to be tempted and to stray away from working out. But, if you keep reminding yourself the reasons why you are putting yourself through the pain and effort, IT’S WORTH IT…just for the natural post-workout high and confidence boosts alone. Also, I’m not opposed to well-deserved rewards. Hence why I scheduled a celebratory Vegas trip the weekend after my race.

It’s not about the number on the scale, it’s not about looking good in a bathing suit, it’s about living a life that always looks to improve and learn…it’s a race against no one but your past self. The aesthetics are just a bonus 😉

Sincerely,

❤ Mez

IMG_4134