'In-progress' reflections of an aspiring marathon runner

What half-marathon training has taught me about life and balance

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Sarah Kim is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily.

Emma Klein | Cavalier Daily

When an old Hokie friend of mine asked to meet up during the winter break to catch up over dinner, I was overjoyed — both to share our first-semester stories and to satisfy my intense Thai cravings. Little did I know that she had an ulterior motive. The moment she asked me to run a half-marathon with her, hesitation and doubt rushed in. In high school, we ran cross country together, but I ran for fun, not for the competition — not to mention that my exercise regime had consisted of crawling up the Gooch/Dillard stairs and eating Runk ice cream every day that semester. But for some reason, I instinctively agreed because I knew that I needed a change from my first semester lifestyle. And why not cross it off my bucket list while I’m still young and healthy?

After our dinner date, my friend and I scoured the Internet for half-marathon training plans and races. Our promise to keep each other accountable by texting updates and sending daily words of encouragement officially sealed the deal. A lot of changes were made, which involved sleeping way earlier than my usual 2 a.m. bedtime during fall semester and a lot more physical movement, but these small steps became the foundation for the longer strides that will be crucial on race day. 

My eight weeks of half-marathon training thus far have taught me a lot about myself — the physical struggles my body could endure and the self-discipline I could acquire. Here are some of the reflections I have learned so far. 

Learning to start small

Similar to a New Year’s resolution, the first week was somewhat easy, but as my weekly mileage and AFC visits increased, so did the amount of schoolwork and stress I had. There have been obvious benefits — improved time management and feeling more productive throughout the day. 

However, it has changed my perspective of work as a whole as well.  These running plans required me to start off at a small mileage and gradually add more miles each week to build my stamina, endurance and speed at a steady pace. I was able to apply this same approach to my school work. Rather than choosing to do work all at once, I began to see my schoolwork as a drawn-out process rather than a rapidly put-together product done in one sitting. I saw these final results to be rewarding in terms of both quality and grades.

Motivation

Intentions are important. As a penny-pincher, I struggled to pay the heavy race registration fee. The idea that I had to run “to make the money worth it” was one of my earlier sources of motivation. As I began to add training into my schedule, rather than thinking of it as a chore to accomplish, I visualized it as a daily challenge to the start of my day. Will I be able to claim victory by pushing through? Will I be able to run my split time faster? Or will I not finish in the end? 

Once midterms hit, my inner laziness and sweet-tooth demons were unleashed, and I had to constantly compromise with and rearrange my training — I definitely felt its painful repercussions during the long runs, especially when I didn’t hydrate or eat enough the night before. Acutely understanding how these mistakes correlated with my performance helped me gain a larger understanding of how and why self-discipline is the overarching idea that factors into good nutrition, hydration and sleep.

Finding peace in a big world

Training has become progressively easier as my body has adjusted to the regular freezing morning runs, bland pre-workout bananas and the creeping fatigue I feel in the late afternoon. My overall mood has improved as the negative energy that comes with morning exhaustion is flushed out. There is also something quite mystical about running on Grounds on early Saturday mornings with so few people in sight. I’m so used to being drowned by the flood of students walking about that I regard the empty sidewalks as a sight for sore eyes and something I finally have the chance to fully own. 

Living as a student in the University bubble of roughly 24,000 students and as human in a world of 7.7 billion people, the lonely aspect of runs helps remind me of how small of a person I am. But it also reassures me that I am never alone — no matter how early I am awake, there will always be someone else in the world who is going through their daily routine trying to make a name for themselves as well. It is easy to think that the world is so full of conflict and anger that we forget that we are just humans trying to live together. Taking 40 minutes to remind myself of this little thought and witnessing natural beauty in morning fog and barren trees have changed my views on the dreary winter months of January and February. 

The race is only two weeks away, and I’m both anxious and relieved to accomplish this feat. Will I be training for a full marathon race after? The answer is most likely “no,” but one thing is for sure — there’s nothing that gets me more pumped up than hitting the pavement while listening to a Bon Appetit podcast episode and dreaming of the Coco Verde acai bowl waiting for me at the Juice Laundry.

Sarah Kim is a Life Columnist at The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at life@cavalierdaily.com.

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