If you just started following me, you probably know that I train for ultra marathons and have been running for years. It can be hard to imagine that I was once new to running, but I promise you I was! And today I want to go into that story and how I got to running ultras.
My first introduction to running
I didn’t really start training with the intention of running a race until college, but let’s go back to middle school. Running was a foreign concept to me, but I had been athletic my entire childhood. I started playing softball and soccer when I was 6-8 years old.
My first introduction to running was in middle school when my friend and I decided to check out the running club. We went for a run that felt like the longest run of my life through my neighborhood. Since I knew the neighborhood, my friend and I cut off a LARGE chunk of the course and were some of the first back to school.
While waiting on the lawn in front of school for everyone else to return, a student arrived at the last street crossing just as a car was driving down the road. Now, this road isn’t a busy road. The speed limit is 25 or 30 mph. Somehow, the student and driver didn’t see each other…. And the driver hit the student. I remember seeing him get hit and FLYING through the air before landing and skidding on the concrete. The driver ended up being one of my neighbor’s friends. The student was okay, thank goodness, but needless to say, this was my first and last day at running club.
Running in high school = punishment for field hockey
Fast forward to high school. I played field hockey and softball and still hated running. Many of you can relate to this. Running was our punishment at field hockey practice – specifically sprints, which aren’t my forte. I’ll never forget the pit in my stomach that I would get when we watched our coach walk down the hill to the field without any practice gear. We knew it would be a “conditioning” practice AKA nothing but running AKA hell on earth.
I played field hockey all 4 years. After our season in my junior year, I decided I was sick of my coach making fun of me for being slow and wanted to get faster for senior year. I stopped playing softball after sophomore year, so I had loads of time to train that spring. This also corresponded to when I got my driver’s license and my very first gym membership. I started lifting and running after school to get my mile time down. Part of try outs every summer was running a timed mile, and I usually landed somewhere in the 9-10 minute mile realm.
I’ll never forget one of the first runs I went on around my neighborhood. I grew up in a cul de sac in the middle of a rectangle of streets. This rectangle made the perfect loop. It was about ¾ of a mile total, pretty flat, and close to home. My first attempt I didn’t even make it halfway before walking. I was D Y I N G. Absolutely dying. I was not a natural born runner.
That spring, I kept at it – running and lifting A LOT. I worked my way up to running 3ish miles at a time, multiple times per week. During this time, I also started struggling with my relationship to food, but I don’t want to go into that in this story. That’ll be a different podcast/blog if anyone is interested in hearing my story.
Back to high school – I trained that whole summer for my last field hockey tryouts ever. August 2007. The timed mile. The faster girls on my team could run close to 7 minute miles. I ran my heart out during that mile, coming in at 7:45. I WAS ECSTATIC. But joke’s on me – I still sucked at sprints and dreaded conditioning workouts. No matter how much you improve in running, if you’re pushing yourself, it’ll still be hard.
From hating running to training for 2 half marathons…
Okay so then college. I didn’t run much my freshman year, but I did spend a lot of time at the gym – mostly on the elliptical. At the end of my freshman year, I contemplated signing up for a half marathon. I was considering running the Baltimore half marathon, which would give me an excuse to go home for the weekend (I was very homesick my first 2 years of college). Why a half marathon? I didn’t know anyone who had run a half marathon at that time and thought it would be SO BADASS if I did it. So I signed up. I found Hal Higdon’s beginner half marathon training plan and started following it.
After not running consistently since high school, I dove in head first to this training plan in May 2009 and got hurt in the first month. Classic doing too much too soon. Luckily, my race wasn’t until October, so I had time to recover and continue training. Somewhere in the 5 months of training, I fell in love with running… and ran my first half marathon in 2:03. I immediately signed up for another the following spring close to school. I was fully drinking the running kool aid at this point.
Spring 2010 I was considering transferring to a school closer to my parents. School was only ~4 hours from where I grew up, but I was lonely and homesick often. I applied to, got accepted to and visited the school close to home. I hated it.
… and walking onto the cross country team
Devastated and lost, I still had running and my race. By then, all of my friends knew me as a runner, and one day close to my race, my friend Natasha told me I should run cross country for school. “There’s no way… I’m not a good enough runner for that,” I thought to myself.
My mile times were back in the 9-10 minute mile range by that time, and I knew the cross country girls were MUCH faster. Somehow, though, I found one of the captains of the team on Facebook and messaged her about joining the team. “Let me set up a meeting with the coach!” she said. I was terrified.
I ran my second half marathon in 1:58 in May 2010, and I was ECSTATIC to break 2 hours. Shortly after this, I met with Coach Alfano. I don’t remember much of this meeting except describing to him how I trained for 2 half marathons within the past year by myself after never having run consistently before. He admired my dedication and told me I could walk onto the team the following year. I couldn’t believe it. ME – a D1 cross country runner?!? I had to be dreaming.
He sent me the summer training plan, and I happily immersed myself in running all summer. Joining this team was the best decision of my college career. I was no longer homesick every weekend. I spent the majority of my time with my teammates, some of which became my best friends. It was terrifying the first month or so (my teammates were so fast!!), but I started improving and really loved running. I wasn’t the fastest on my team by any means, but I worked hard and my 5k times dropped throughout the fall season. At the end of my first year, Coach offered me a partial athletic scholarship due to my hard work and improvement. I was elated.
Senior year was my second and last year on the team. I got even better that summer, even with studying abroad in Spain for a month. I ran my fastest 5k (20:35) and mile (5:55) that fall season and could consistently run mid 6-minute pace in workouts and mid 7-minute pace in easy and long runs.
I’m not telling you these numbers to brag – the winning girls in college were MUCH faster than this. I’m telling you these numbers to show you what’s possible with consistent training. It can be hard to believe where you can get when you’re just starting to run and have trouble continuously running, but if you stick with it, you’ll be surprised with how you can improve.
From cross country to ultramarathons
After my senior year in 2012, I moved to Colorado for grad school. Somehow, I discovered trail running and fell in love even more. Moving to altitude was like starting over with running — I couldn’t run more than a half hour without stopping.
In 2015, I learned about ultramarathons. I didn’t know anyone who had ever run one and thought it would be SO BADASS if I did (sound familiar?). I signed up for my first 50k in 2016.
If you’re just getting into running or are thinking about getting into running, I hope you find my story inspirational. It can be hard to think of ultrarunners as people who once didn’t run at all, but we all started somewhere! And maybe one day you too will be running ultras (if that’s what you want). All you have to do is start and stick with it.
If you want a plan to follow plus loads of information about running, my newest program Ready to Run will be coming out in September 2021. I am SO EXCITED to bring this to life and can’t wait to help others start running (or start running consistently). Make sure you’re on my email list to be the first to know when I open the waitlist for this program and when the program is available.