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Running a Half-Marathon and the Illusion of Accomplishing Goals

by Ashley on January 15, 2013 · 7 comments

3m half marathon

The thing about setting goals and accomplishing them is that sometimes, they aren’t what they appear to be.

When I decided to run my first half-marathon, I was not a runner. My exercise routine consisted of yoga once or twice a week and 30 minutes on the elliptical here and there. In the past, I had dabbled with running, working my way up to two miles on the treadmill, but still, I wasn’t a runner. I had no interest in running races or building up to 13.1 miles.

But then things changed. I set a goal and I was determined to make it happen.

In November 2011, I decided I would run my first half-marathon in February 2012. I trained for four months. At first I was only running for one minute because that’s as long as my lungs and my legs would allow. But slowly, I became stronger and faster. I ran four days a week with my long runs on the weekends. By February, I was up to 11 miles. I still took walking breaks, but I was in the best shape of my life.

On February 19, 2012, I ran the Livestrong half-marathon. It was a life-changing experience, to be cliche. The race was challenging, with countless hills- which I unfortunately did not include in my training. It was seriously tough. Still, I felt an overwhelming sense of pride when I crossed the finish line and was impressed with my time of 2:37:58. My training had allowed me to run 13.1 miles and I accomplished that goal.

Gold star for me.

Fast forward to January 13, 2013 when I ran my second half-marathon.

Honestly, I didn’t train at all. I was still practicing yoga once or twice a week and would sporadically run on the weekends, but my longest run was 5 miles and I only reached that distance the previous weekend.

I went into this second half-marathon with the expectation that my time and my pace would be much slower. Since one of my goals for 2013 is to run three half-marathons, I knew I wanted to do this race, but I told myself I would be happy if I finished within three hours, taking several long walking breaks. I didn’t want to injure myself because I hadn’t trained, so I told myself I would take it easy.

But then on race day, something happen.

Of course my feet were aching and my ankles were sore, but I felt strong. My legs continued pushing my forward. My breathing was slow and steady. I was in the zone and I was seriously impressed with myself.

I crossed the finish line with a new personal record of 2:23:14. Almost 15 minutes faster than my previous time!

How is that possible? I didn’t train nearly as hard for this race, but I still blew my previous performance out of the water. If you were to look at my two times and compare them side my side, it would seem that I trained much harder for my second race, but that isn’t the case.

The truth is, there are several factors that went into play. This half-marathon was a much easier course. It was almost entirely downhill, with only a few small hills during the last mile. It’s amazing how much that can improve your time. Plus, the weather was cooler, which means it was better for running, in my opinion.

And I think that’s something we need to remember when setting our goals and when looking back to assess our progress. It can be so easy to compare our goals to those we see our friends setting and those floating around the internet. But in reality, each goal is unique and the process of reaching that goal will look different for every person. And that’s okay.

Just because you reach the finish line 15 minutes faster than before, it doesn’t mean you actually trained harder or longer; it might mean this race was easier. And just because it takes two months longer to reach the same goal as someone else, it doesn’t make your accomplishment any less valid. You don’t know their story, what experiences may have prepared them for this, or how long they have been working toward this goal. All you know is that you did you best, you put in the effort, and you made something amazing happen.

The process of achieving goals can be a bit of an illusion, so don’t be distracted by the glitz and mirrors of it all. Just find out what makes you feel alive and then figure out how to inject more of that into your life. That’s how you’ll be the real winner of this race.


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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Paulene January 15, 2013 at 9:19 am

Congrats on your PR! Your first half sounds a lot like my first – lots of hills which I didn’t train enough for. I agree that having cooler weather and an easier course definitely helps.


Stephany January 15, 2013 at 12:53 pm

Way to go on an incredible PR, Ashley! That’s so amazing.


jobo January 15, 2013 at 3:25 pm

Congratulations!! Awesome job on both of these! I also think it sounds like you went into this recent half marathon with no goals or anything in mind and maybe that helped you feel freer as you ran? Woohoo!


Manda January 16, 2013 at 8:37 am

I’ve never been a runner but I’ve been contemplating doing Couch to 5K for a while as we’ve all got to start somewhere! This inspires me – perhaps one day I’ll be able to complete a half marathon, too :)


Jessica Lawlor January 20, 2013 at 7:57 pm

Congrats on your unexpected PR, Ash! Don’t you love when stuff like that happens?

Your original half marathon time is very close to my first half marathon time, so you give me hope that I also can knock a chunk of time off and PR in the future :)

As a side note, do you use some special kind of app or website to write a quote over a photo like you do in the above? I love that!


Kerstie January 20, 2013 at 10:19 pm

You have no idea how inspiring and accurate this was to read!

It’s always hard when you start comparing things, but nevertheless, as someone who wants to get better at running congrats on finishing two half marathons :)


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