Why I Wasn’t Ready To Run A Marathon 6 Months Ago, But I Am Now

Ekiden 10KI signed up for my first marathon 6 months ago, but I never made it to the start line — and that was a really good thing! I was in no shape to do so, mentally or physically. When I reflect on the athlete I am now, versus the “athlete” I was then, I am very happy that I waited. Here are the top 5 Reasons (but certainly not the only reasons) why I wasn’t ready to run a marathon half a year ago, but I am now.

1) I Skipped Workouts: Having a coach who provides a customized workout plan, 24/7 support, and wisdom about everything to do with fitness and nutrition is a luxury and a privilege. When I started with mine almost a year ago, I was not a very good athlete. I regularly ignored speed work, modified strength work that I thought was too hard, and was generally giving about 60% instead of 110% like I do now. Going from working out 3 or 4 days a week to working out 6 or 7 days a week was a huge shift for me and I always felt like I “deserved” to rest more or go easy on a workout, when I actually hadn’t earned it. There would be weeks during the winter when I looked at my training plan and became so overwhelmed that I shut down and just didn’t do the work. My head wasn’t in the game, and as a result, neither was my body.  Today, I look forward to tough workouts, especially speed and strength work, and I can see how this hard work is paying off with faster and stronger running!

2) Mentally, I Was A Mess: I have documented my struggle with anxiety and panic attacks throughout many of my previous posts, here and here. 6 months ago my anxiety level was hovering around a 9.5 out of 10 most days, making it impossible for me to get through a work day without a breakdown or through the night without bolting up in bed, heart racing, mid-panic attack. My main contributor to this anxiety was a toxic work environment. As a result of this, my running suffered big time and I could not make it through a run without a mid-run or post-run panic attack, which could only be cured with a frantic phone call to my mom or a tight hug from my boyfriend who would guide me through breathing exercises until I calmed down. When I look back on this time, it seems so foreign to me now. However, I know that anxiety is always lurking in the shadows and that if I let my mental health slip, I’ll be back in this dark place again. Luckily I switched jobs, and I can now say that I am in a position I LOVE with people who bring out the best in me.

Mid Summer Night's Run Post-Race Pic3) I Didn’t Have Confidence In Myself: 6 months ago, I didn’t believe I could run a marathon, and I was right. Today, if you asked me, “Jenna, can you run a marathon this fall?” I would answer with a resounding YES. Heck, I just completed my very first triathlon a few weeks ago, got a PB in the 15K distance two weeks ago, and I am running paces that I never thought I’d get back to. I am in such a different place right now and I actually see myself as an athlete for the first time in my life. Of course, this confidence doesn’t just come from within, it comes from having kick-ass training partners, an amazing coach, an incredibly supportive family, and a wonderful boyfriend who joins me in a lot of my training. I don’t think you can ever underestimate the power of having a team of people in your life who believe in you. Although we may cross finish lines alone, few of us would ever make it to the start line without the family and friends who tolerate our long hours of training, incessant talk about our sport, and occasional complaining about sore muscles and being tired. You know what they say, hang around people who are doing the things you want to do, and you will do them too.

4) I Wasn’t Excelling At Shorter Distances: As a first-time marathoner, I won’t know what running 42.2 kilometres feels like until I cross that marathon finish line in October. I’m not running the full distance in my training, so there is an element of the unknown going into the race. What I do know now that I didn’t know 6 months ago is what it feels like to give 110% in shorter distances, in which I have been gaining Personal Bests this summer! So far I have PB’ed in the 10K and 15K distances and the plan is to go for a half-marathon PB next month. My 2013 racing season was less-than-stellar, with anxiety making it tough for me to go fast or push myself to my limits. Only this summer have I finally been able to really go for speed and ride “the pain train” as my friend Mike calls it. Now I know what it feels like to run 5K, 10K, 15K and soon 21.1K with little to nothing left in the tank at the finish line and I feel confident that I can transfer this racing experience to the marathon this fall. Excelling at shorter distances has brought on a new level of confidence and commitment that I didn’t have 6 months ago and for that I am very grateful.

5) I Didn’t Sign Up To Run A Marathon For The Right Reasons: While I don’t believe there is one right reason to sign up to run a marathon, there are a lot of wrong reasons to commit to 42.2K. When I look back to when I signed up for that marathon I never ended up running, I can’t really pinpoint the WHY. It might have been because all my friends were doing it, it might have been because I wanted to run a marathon before I turned 30, or it might have been because it seemed like the next logical step in my running journey, but none of those are really compelling or great reasons to run a marathon. When I signed up for the marathon I will run this fall, I did so because I know I can do it. I know I have the training, the commitment and the experience to make it across that finish line in one piece. It might not be pretty, but I promise to honour the experience by preparing right, running smart, and digging deep when it starts to hurt. Running is a privilege and I am lucky to be part of the amazing running community that exists in Toronto and beyond. This fall I am going to run a marathon knowing that I have hundreds of people who have inspired me to complete this distance and who will be with me every step of the way, on the course, on my mind, and most importantly, in my heart.

So there you have it, the 5 reasons why I wasn’t ready to run a marathon 6 months ago, but I am now. Starting today, my coach has me making the shift to full-tilt marathon training and with 2 months to go, I couldn’t be more excited, nervous, happy, and scared all at once. Get ready marathon, because here I come!

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I’m A Triathlete: IronGirl Canada Race Recap

Jenna IronGirl SwimThree days ago I completed a triathlon. 10 weeks ago this wasn’t in the plan. I had no intentions or desires to complete a triathlon until my training buddies from Tribe Fitness (ahem, Jenna and Emily) brought up the idea of doing IronGirl Canada. IronGirl is a race put on by the IronMan brand and it’s a Sprint Triathlon (500m swim, 20k bike, 5k run). After signing up for the race I had two very important things to do: learn to swim and get a bike!

Getting a bike was easy. I went to Giant Bikes in Toronto and purchased my lovely and fast Giant LIV Avail 3! Riding a road bike for the first time was scary, I’ll admit it. My first official ride on the bike had me riding an average of 15k/hr; on Sunday at the Triathlon I completed my 20k in 42:47, with an average of 28k/hr. Swimming was a bit more tricky, but thanks to my awesome group of training buddies and FREE pool access at the Regent Park Pool, I was able to get into the water at least twice per week for lane swim. I remember the first time I swam, I was completely out of breath after one lap, or 25m. On Sunday I completed my 500m swim in 14:47, without stopping! Yeah! The “easy” part was the run, although it didn’t feel so easy after 20k on the bike, but I completed that in 29:04 for a grand total triathlon time of 1:31:35.Jenna IronGirl Run

Going into the race, I told myself that my goal was “just to finish” at least under two hours, but secretly I wanted to finish well. Training for this triathlon has been the most challenging and rewarding thing I’ve ever done and it’s only in these past 10 weeks that I’ve truly come to feel like an athlete. Coming off the bike, I knew I was in a good spot to finish around 1 hour 30 minutes because I had completed the combined swim/bike portion in one hour. My goal for the run was to complete it in around 27 minutes, but I didn’t really anticipate how heavy and tired my legs would feel, and even running at a 5:40 pace for the first half of the run felt like the slowest and hardest pace ever. One thing I would do differently for my next triathlon is practice more bike/run brick workouts so that I can get used to running on fatigued legs and learn how to push the pace. My run was pretty uneventful until I wiped out at 4k on the trail portion of the race. We were on completely flat ground, I was running with a lot of room around me, but I think I must have just tripped on something and went crashing to the ground. The wind was knocked out of me for a few seconds, but I dusted my dirty self off and picked it up for the last kilometre and finished the run in 29:04.

Jenna IronGirl BikeThe amazing thing about this race is I finished within a minute of my fellow Tribe Fitness training buddies, showing that we really pushed each other to excel and that we had all competed to the best of our abilities. I am SO  incredibly proud of Jenna, Emily, Kate, Ali, and Alisha, and I could never have done this without them.  I feel so incredibly lucky to belong to such a wonderful community of athletes. The Tribe Fitness men were also out in full force, cheering us on and giving high fives from the sidelines. Best cheer section in the race, if I do say so myself. My two sisters also joined me for the race and they totally rocked their first triathlons, too! How cool is it that my parents can say they have daughters who are triathletes?

A big THANK YOU must also go out to my Coach Brock Armstrong of Skywalker Fitness!  I started training with Brock late last year, and although the 2014 training year started off pretty rough with my allergy attack, the gains I’ve made as an athlete would never have happened without his expertise, understanding, and support. From my very first email to him about this “crazy triathlon idea” to the hundreds of questions that followed, this never could have happened without him.

I know that training and racing changes you, and the way I feel after completing IronGirl is so incredibly amazing that I wish every person could feel what I feel. I feel like I can do anything. If you asked me to sign up to do an IronMan 70.3 in 2016, I would! Well, that’s the plan at least. If any of my friends, seriously any of them, came up to me and asked me if they could do a triathlon in six months or a year, I would say YES because I truly believe that anyone can do this. I know it sounds cliche, but achieving “crazy goals” is possible. With the right friends, the right training plan, the right cheerleaders/support team, and an iron will to succeed, you can do anything.

Jenna IronGirl Friends