When I tell people that I like to run, most people usually ask, “what’s your distance?” While this seems like a simple question, it took me a while to find what I call my “happy distance.” For me, this means a distance where I feel like I am pushing and challenging myself, but where I still enjoy the act of running the race. It is a distance where completing it is not an easy task, but where I do not feel like I am dying a slow death when I finish. And isn’t it important to love the distance that you are running? Despite being an SF Marathon Ambassador, I can tell you that the marathon is not my happy distance. I feel my best when I am running a half marathon; that is my happy distance.
It took me a while to find my happy distance. I first signed up to run the San Francisco Marathon when I was in my first year of law school, when a classmate encouraged me to join with her. I signed up for a training group, and spent my days and weekends training and running. During an 18 mile run, I remember thinking that my entire body was in pain, but I assumed that I would feel differently when I ran the actual marathon. Shortly after that training run, I injured my IT band, and then came down with a head cold that would not quit. I continued training, and the morning of the race showed up ready to run no matter what happened. And, no surprises, I felt terrible throughout the race. When I hit the half marathon turn off I started crying (and did not stop until I crossed the finish). When I hit the Mission my head cold moved to my stomach, and I spent the following miles running in and out of the bars throughout the course to use the bathrooms since I could not make it to the race port-o-potties. To say that I dragged myself across the finish line would be an understatement, and I did not run a single mile for another 2 years. The Marathon: not the happy distance for my body or my mind.
When I started studying for the California bar exam, I realized I needed to get a handle on my stress and find a way to take a mental break from studying. I slowly started running again, but really missed the thrill of running a race. Shaking off flashbacks of the full marathon, I reluctantly signed up for a 5k. When the race was over, I realized that my body felt good and I wanted to keep going. I signed up for a 10k, and, to my surprise, felt great the whole time. I signed up for a half marathon, realizing that I missed that extra push that training for a longer distance brought me. I ran my first half marathon in January of 2013, and it was truly a transformative experience. The race was hard, and I felt like I had to mentally and physically push myself throughout the race. And yet, I still loved running! When I crossed the finish line, I felt exhausted but thrilled (no tears!)- I had found my happy distance!
I am by no means a running expert, but I think it is important that runners (and yes, we are all runners!) find their happy distance. It is important to find what your body and mind can handle, so that you can push your limits, but also make sure you take care of yourself. I recommend starting small and building up to determine what distance makes you happiest. Start with a mile, then try a 5k before moving onto a 10k. You will slowly find that magical distance where you are exerting effort and putting in the training, but loving your run. (Maybe you are a sprinter! Maybe you love ultra running! Oh the possibilities!) One of the women in my training group is running the full SF Marathon this year. She asked me if I wanted to run the full with her, and while I appreciate the thought, I am sticking with training for a new personal record on the second half course – because I now know what distance makes my heart and mind happy.