Although I feel like I’ve been a runner since I was a young child and I was on my school’s track team in elementary school, I just ran for fun mostly until after I had finished graduate school in my mid-20’s. I didn’t run on my high school’s track or cross country team nor did I run other than for fun during college. I ran my first 5k race when I was 28 years old. Looking back on it now, while I did know a little bit about running, I knew absolutely nothing about racing.
My first 5k race was under hot, humid conditions on the 4th of July but it sparked something in me and I wanted to race longer distances. You might think after the 5k I would gradually work up to longer distances like the 10k or a 10-miler or even a 15k, maybe eventually running a half marathon. But you would be wrong. I went straight from my very first 5k to signing up for a half marathon four months after that.
My first half marathon kicked my butt as I was woefully under-trained and under-prepared in many ways. I could barely lift my arms above my head after the race (my arms were too weak, which told me I needed to start doing some weight training) but one of the first things I said when I crossed that finish line was that I could do better than that and I wanted to sign up for the same race again the following year. It’s the only half marathon I’ve ever run more than once. True to my word, though, I finished the same half marathon the following year almost 16 minutes faster than I had the previous year. I was hooked on half marathons.
I eventually did run a 10k, 10-mile race, and 15k, but I mostly focused on half marathons. While still in my 20’s, I ran a total of three half marathons including one that’s still one of my favorites, the Kona Half Marathon in Hawaii. I don’t even remember why I signed up for this race to be honest. If I recall, I was planning a trip there for a vacation and happened to see there would be this half marathon going on while I was there and I thought, “Why not?” and signed up. It turned out to be a great decision and I have fond memories of that race. I still remember watching the sunrise on race day, running up some steep hills and running past houses who had their sprinklers going to help cool us runners off on that hot day in June.
Just one month after turning 30, I ran the Gold Rush Half Marathon in North Carolina, one of the hardest half marathons I’ve ever run to date. It was hot, hilly, and humid, which I’ve since then dubbed “The 3 deadly H’s.” This race taught me to do a little more research into race locales and race courses instead of just picking a race and signing up for it. Had I known how hilly the race was and given that it was held during the summer, I most likely wouldn’t have run it. This was before I had the goal to run a half marathon in all 50 states, and it was my third half marathon in North Carolina.
Truth be told, my 30’s were when I really “grew up” as a runner. I ran a whole slew of half marathons in my 30’s, especially once I decided I wanted to run a half marathon in all 50 states. My daughter was born when I was in my 30’s and this was the longest hiatus I ever took from running half marathons after she was born. I actually ran a half marathon, Valley of the Sun Half Marathon in Arizona when I was just barely pregnant. My doctor said I should be fine since I had already run several half marathons and to just take the race easy. When my daughter was little, she used to love to hear the story about how she “ran” a half marathon in mommy’s tummy before she was even born.
During my 30’s, I began to discover all things “proper” when it comes to running, such as proper running attire and shoes. When I was in college, I would just wear whatever athletic shoes I happened to have when I would go out for a run. A bad case of shin splints in college taught me that wasn’t a smart idea but I still didn’t really educate myself about running shoes until I was in my 30’s. I also began to invest in shirts and shorts made of technical fabrics and socks made specifically for running rather than those made of cotton. I wasn’t yet aware of Nuun hydration products but I began to buy Gatorade and drink that on long runs although not consistently. I began to experiment with different Gu’s, Gels, bloks, and Powerbars.
I also ran a marathon in my 30’s, the Long Beach Marathon in California. What should have been cooler, comfortable weather for a marathon turned out to be a nightmare. The temperature on that October morning quickly rose into the 80’s and the red flags were out on the course although the course was still officially open. All around me runners were literally passing out from the heat. I began to experience tunnel vision, where I had no peripheral vision, presumably from heat exhaustion. My husband was waiting for me at the finish, and I called him sometime during the race to let him know I wouldn’t be finishing until much later than I had originally anticipated. I alternated between walking and a slow jog but no matter what, I knew I had to keep moving forward for as long as I physically could. If I stopped for even a second, I knew that would be the end of the race for me. People around me kept asking me if I was OK, so I assume I must have looked really bad, but I just told them I was fine. As soon as I crossed the finish line and saw my husband, the first words I told him were that I never wanted to do that again. It was my one and only marathon.
My 30’s were also when I first experienced anemia. Prior to this, I had never experienced anemia so I didn’t know what to look for. All I knew was I had slowed down considerably when I tried to run and I was becoming more and more out of breath even during simple everyday activities like walking up a flight of stairs. Finally, I went to my doctor, was diagnosed with anemia, and began taking supplements with high doses of iron along with folic acid and Vitamin C. In hindsight, I most likely was anemic for some time before I went to the doctor, and it took several months before I truly felt like myself again and even longer until my running times fell.
In my 40’s, I feel like I finally became an educated runner. I discovered Nuun hydration and Honey Stinger fueling products. After trying so many different hydration products, Nuun was such a revelation for me. I love how it’s low in sugar and has all natural ingredients. I have a picky stomach and have had trouble with so many different things I would try to eat on long runs but with Honey Stinger products, I’ve never had any issues and am so happy to have discovered their waffles, bars, and chews.
My 40’s have also been a time to read books on running, which I’ve devoured. There are so many well-written, educational books on running out there. Some of my favorites so far have been Let Your Mind Run by Deena Kastor and Michelle Hamilton, Run the World by Becky Wade, Endure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance Book by Alex Hutchinson, Runner’s World Race Everything: How to Conquer Any Race at Any Distance in Any Environment and Have Fun Doing It by Bart Yasso, and Roar: How to Match Your Food and Fitness to Your Unique Female Physiology for Optimum Performance, Great Health, and a Strong, Lean Body for Life” by Stacy Sims and Selene Yeager just to name a few. All of the above links are to reviews I wrote on the books.
Anemia reared its ugly head once again in my 40’s but this time I was more aware of the signs and symptoms and caught it earlier than I did when I was in my 30’s. Despite going to multiple doctors, I never got a straight answer about the cause of my anemia. I had an endoscopy to rule out anything major and some other tests were done but nothing definitive was ever determined. I suspect mine is from foot strike hemolysis (you can read about that here) combined with the fact that I was not diligent about taking a daily supplement with iron. After round two with anemia, you’d better bet I take a multivitamin with iron every day now!
One unexpected thing that happened in my 40’s is I set a PR (personal record) at a half marathon. Most people think they’re well-beyond a PR in their 40’s and I was no different, especially given the fact that I’m not new to running. However, at the Star Valley Half Marathon in Thayne, Wyoming, all of the stars were aligned perfectly for me on that day and I ended up finishing the fastest ever at a half marathon. Needless to say, I absolutely loved this race and highly recommend it to anyone that wants to run a fast half marathon in a small town with the beautiful mountains of Wyoming around you.
You may be wondering about other things like cross-training and how that’s changed over the years. When I was in my late 20’s and early 30’s I would ride my bike quite a bit, but after my daughter was born, I found myself on the bike less and less. In my mid-40’s I began to ride my bike once again and remembered how much I enjoyed going for a bike ride. I didn’t do much strength training in my 20’s but I definitely made that a priority in my 30’s and have continued that into my 40’s. I discovered standup paddle boarding in my late 40’s and have been loving that as a form of cross training. Yoga has always been a high priority for me and I’ve been faithfully going to one yoga class or another since my late 20’s.
I’ve been fortunate that I haven’t had that many running injuries considering how long I’ve been running. Sure, I had shin splints in my 20’s, iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS) in my 30’s, and minor things here and there but nothing major. I’ve been diligent about listening to my body over the years. When I’m running, I do a mental body scan to see if there are any aches or pains. If I have a sharp pain that doesn’t go away on its own, I’ll end the run and try to figure out the root cause. For me, often a knot in a muscle will cause pain and if I can work it out either by myself or with the help of a massage therapist, the pain will go away. Just about the only time I’ve had to take extended time off from running because of running injuries is when I didn’t stop running when I should have, early on when I began experiencing pain.
So now I’m looking forward to the next decade of running in my 50’s and beyond. I hope to be one of those people who’s still running as long as I live!
What about you? How has your running changed over the decades or are you a relatively new runner?