Well, I did it! I completed the 2016 Disney Half Marathon in Orlando, Florida earlier this month. In hindsight I can say it was definitely a very rewarding, very exhausting experience - and I am so glad that I did it.
I learned a lot in my journey as I prepared for this half marathon. For one thing, I discovered that running is a form of therapy for me. It isn't just good for me physically, it has truly improved my mental health as well. Even on days when I have a bad run (and it happens, trust me), I walk away feeling happy. And when I complete a road race of any length - oh wow do I feel amazing inside and out. I have read countless articles about depression and anxiety and how exercise can help relieve symptoms of both, but until recently I didn't really believe that it could be true. I have battled depression and anxiety my entire life and now I finally feel like have a lifeline to help me through it.
I also discovered a strength in me that I did not know existed. I have mentioned before in previous posts about how running requires a lot of positive mental energy and how one negative thought can ruin a run. But there is a lot of push and pull between mental energy and physical strength when I am running; sometimes I start off feeling good mentally but physically I am not quite there and then as the run progresses I feel better physically but now my inner voice is telling me to quit. I have a lot of runs that go like this with a back and forth argument in my mind that I am forced to endure. When I first started training for the half marathon, I would often succumb to these arguments: "Fine body/brain, you win, I am done", and just like that, my run would be over. But over time I learned to push through the physical discomfort as well as the mental anguish and just keep running. I found that if I endured the inner turmoil long enough, it would eventually pass. As a person who despises physical and mental discomfort probably a little more than the average person, overcoming this problem while running was a huge feat for me.
In addition to the triumphant lessons learned during my training, I also learned a hard lesson about listening to your body when there is severe pain or discomfort and recognizing the distinct difference between "I need to push past this" and "Houston we have a problem". My foot doctor recently diagnosed me with a condition called Morton's Neuroma, and I have it in both feet. It can cause numbness and a lot of pain while walking or running. I estimate that the condition probably started in August or September this past year and I didn't see my doctor about it until oh, a week ago. Not smart. So basically I have been running and enduring sharp shooting pains in both feet for several months when I could have received some relief by getting my orthotics adjusted by my doctor (which is exactly what he did for me last week). For months leading up to the half marathon I assumed the pain I was feeling was because I needed more training and during the half marathon I thought the pain was evidence that I didn't train well enough for the race. I completed a half marathon where for about 6 miles I experienced intense pain in my feet and all the while I wrote it off as pain that I needed to push through. Wrong wrong wrong. Only after the race (when my toes remained numb for about a week following) did I realize that something might be wrong. That's when I saw my doctor and found out that the pain and numbness I had been trying to push through was basically pinched nerves in my feet and it was a real condition that required treatment (i.e., no amount of training was going to resolve the problem and not treating it can make it worse over time). This lesson was a big one for me: if you feel pain, especially new pain you never felt before, don't assume it's something that you need to push through, always get it checked out. It's never smart to risk doing damage to your body by ignoring a physical problem. Know the difference between needing more training and needing medical help. And if you don't know the difference, seek medical help just to be on the safe side.
I can say that I definitely learned a lot more from this half marathon experience than I did the last time I trained for and ran a half marathon (ten years ago). And in spite of it all, I have already started training for another half marathon. Am I crazy? Maybe. Stay tuned to find out more...