I signed up for my first race before I ever took a running step. That's right, I committed myself to a half-marathon before I had run a mile.
I had no idea what went into training and didn't have a clue about proper shoes, hydration or fueling. I'd never heard of GU or Body Glide. I’m not sure I knew how far a half-marathon would be.
Heck, I didn't even know yet if I liked running.
But at the urging of someone who helped me find my way in life, I reluctantly and nervously attended an informational session hosted by the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's Team in Training program.
TnT promised to get me across the finish line of the Disney Half Marathon. In return, I'd raise $3,500 for them.
I took a deep breath and signed the paperwork. Total commitment.
That was almost three years ago. As promised, my team and coaches did get me across the finish line 13.1 miles later – smiling, even - and I did my part by reaching my fundraising goal.
Another goal checked off life's list, right?
Crossing the finish line of my first half-marathon was only the beginning. I immediately signed up for my next half-marathon a few weeks later. Then another, then another. By the end of that first year, I'd run five or so half-marathons and cut 20 minutes off my finishing time.
I kept running with TnT and joined the team as a mentor, supporting new runners and giving them advice on fundraising. I've helped dozens of runners achieve their goals - just like my teammates helped me.
Collectively, the athletes I’ve mentored have raised more than $25,000 for charity. My weekly team runs are often the highlight of my week, despite the fact that they seem to come way too early on Saturday mornings.
To date, I've completed 10 half-marathons, one full marathon last year and even ventured out for a duathlon (a 5K run, immediately followed by a 30K bike and another 5K run) in May.
The point is, I've always had something to work toward, a date on the calendar, something to keep me focused and training thoughtfully.
Those who know me constantly ask what I'm training for, mostly because I've always been training for something. For the first time since I started running, I don't have an answer. I don't have a race date on the calendar.
That's not to say that I'm not focused.
I still keep detailed training logs and charts. In all honestly, I probably keep them excessively and obsessively.
I enter all of my runs and bike rides into my new favorite online training tool, Dailymile. Plus, I have two "old-fashioned" charts that I keep on my desk at home - one that basically starts as a blank calendar and a separate list-style sheet with the headers "run" and "bike" across the top. (The photo above is an actual snapshot of my desk.)
I tally the miles by week, again broken up by running and cycling miles, and by month.
I religiously monitor my progress toward my personal goal to run and bike 2,010 miles in 2010. (I've just hit the 1,100 mark for the year, so I'm well on my way to reaching that milestone.)
I look for trends in my training, which is easy with hard-copy logs that provide an immediate visual. I see large “X’s” on the days I don’t run or ride my bike. I see when my pace improves over time. I see when I put in so many consecutive days of running or riding that my body might need a rest.
Drive and motivation aren’t something I lack. But for the first time, I have no carrot at the end of the stick. I don’t have a finish line in my sights. I don’t have something to celebrate when I get there.
There is no “there.”
That might not be entirely a bad thing. It’s nice to have the freedom to run when I want, how far I want. It’s nice to go for a bike ride for relaxation and enjoyment, not because it’s part of a regimen of cross-training.
I need to enjoy those things while I can. I suspect, given my nature, I’ll find my next race challenge soon enough. With that will come a training schedule to follow and a goal to keep me moving forward.
Until then, I’ll be content just running because it’s what I like to do. And, as I always say, just because I can.