fitness

Sisters Running

I’ve written many times about how pivotal running has been in my life. When I started running in my early 30s it provided me with confidence in other areas of my life, mental clarity, a true sense of fitness and a feeling of appreciation and acceptance of my body that I didn’t have before. The drawer full of medals from full and half marathons has not always minimized my Imposter Syndrome, but the medals have contributed to my ability to redirect that part of my brain to more worthwhile endeavours.

I always love hearing about other people who’ve caught the running bug and how running has contributed positively to their lives. It’s especially sweet when it’s people I care about.

Ashley and Carly are my nieces through my brother-in-law of several years. They are 31 and 29, respectively. They are both very smart. PhD smart. Ashley has a PhD in Laboratory Medicine and Pathobiology and Carly has a PhD in Microbiology and is currently working on a post-doctorate in San Francisco. They are also very sweet and interesting. So, I loved hearing recently that they were both newly hooked on running! And, they’ve been inspiring each other, even though they don’t live in the same city. Carly’s actually the one that introduced me to Strava to track my runs. She has run a couple of half marathons on her own in San Fran and Ashley recently completed her first 10K.

Aside from being interested personally, I thought it might be inspiring for others to hear about their running journey so I asked them some questions, and not surprisingly, they provided very thorough answers! Without further ado, let’s hear about Carly and Ashley’s running journeys.

Ashley

A photo of Ashley hiking in Ferris Provincial Park in Ontario (an activity she did regularly before taking up running)

When did you start running?
I started a structured running program for the first time ever in June of this year. Before that, I had done very short runs here and there, but no schedule ever stuck for a long period of time.

Why did you want to start running?
The most significant motivator for me was a desire to be heart healthy in the face of health anxiety. As I’ve aged out of my 20s and into my 30s, the growing realization that my body will not last forever has increasingly highlighted the inadequacy of what used to be my very sedentary lifestyle. Over time, I realized more and more that adding an exercise routine to my life would not only improve my physical health, but would also act as a way to combat my health fears. I knew that if I was actively doing something to make myself healthier and stave off illnesses associated with an inactive lifestyle, that I would feel less anxious about potentially developing those illnesses.

Did you have challenges? What were they?
Yes, I had many challenges (probably unsurprisingly), and I would categorize them as physical and mental. I personally found the physical challenges (including but not limited to sore ankles, a nasty blister, and the fatigue you feel when you push your personal limits) the easier ones to overcome; the real difficulties came with the mental challenges. First, it was a big challenge to incorporate a new routine into an otherwise busy life, and to stay true to a new schedule without deviation. My days had seemed full to the brim before adding 3 runs a week, and sometimes the idea of fitting a run into a busy, eventful day seemed overwhelming. To overcome this challenge, I really had to focus on my end goal (improving my health) and continually remember that the only way to achieve it was to stick to my schedule. It also helped to remind myself of my priorities in life – since becoming healthier was always the obvious top priority, it was easier to accept when other things had to take a backseat. Second, even once I had committed to stick to my schedule and start a run, I still found it mentally challenging to get through a run to completion, especially for the long ones – it seemed daunting to face running for 60, 90, 120 minutes while becoming increasingly drained and exhausted minute by minute. In order to stop myself from checking the clock every single minute, I had to find ways to distract myself. For me, I found that watching something on TV worked well (I often did my runs on a treadmill). For others, I know that other distractions such as podcasts or listening to music work well too.

What did you like about running in the beginning, if anything? What do you like now, if anything?
Ever since the beginning, I’ve loved the sense of accomplishment that comes with completing a run. It has always been so satisfying to know that you’ve overcome whatever personal challenges stood in your way to achieve something that you wanted to achieve. That feeling of accomplishment has only grown as I’ve continued a solid running schedule and is a huge positive aspect of running.

What tips have people given you that have helped your running the most

Set a schedule and stick to it.

My sister is an accomplished runner and I was lucky to have her guidance and support through the entirety of my first full running training programme. Some of her tips throughout the way included:

  • If you miss a run in your schedule, don’t beat yourself up too much and don’t let it be a reason to give up and stop. Reschedule that run and try again another day.
  • Try to learn the difference between the feeling you get from strengthening a body part, and the feeling you get from injuring a body part. If you feel like you’re injuring a body part, stop and try again another day.
  • Do your research to find a good pair of running shoes that works for you.
  • Run outside, if you can – it’s a good way to enjoy nature (I completely ignored this advice because a treadmill with a TV worked better for me – so to each their own!).
  • Most importantly for me: there is nothing physically stopping me from achieving this. My body can do this. The biggest hurdle is mental, and once I overcame that, I can achieve anything.

Although not a tip that my sister directly gave me through words, one major lesson I did learn through her actions was the benefit of having a support system to give you these types of tips along the way. Even if your support system isn’t there to give tips, it’s so helpful to have someone to just to lend support and encouragement. Knowing that my sister believed in me and knew I could do it made me believe in myself as well.

Carly

A photo of Carly running in San Francisco. Photo credit: Jacob Portukalian

When did you start running?
I’d run on and off for the past several years, no more than maybe 15-20 minutes at a time on days I felt like switching up my exercise. More seriously I picked up running again in February 2020, right before the pandemic hit, with the goal of running a half marathon.

Why did you want to start running?
Originally it was a bit practical – I was tired of paying $90/month for the gym to lift weights, which I had felt like I was plateauing on, and wanted to take on a new challenge. I also noticed that I was lagging in my hikes and while skiing with friends, and I wanted to improve my cardiovascular health. When the pandemic hit, and I couldn’t use the gym anyway, I took that as a new opportunity. Running was always something “I couldn’t do”, so I liked the idea of seeing what I was capable of. I found a beginner 12-week half marathon training program online and immediately scheduled all the runs on my calendar. I wasn’t able to travel for that time, so it was the perfect timing.

Did you have challenges? What were they?
When I first started, I had really bad knee pain in one knee. Within the first few weeks of training I got a new pair of shoes and insoles, and over time the pain stopped. I think it was a mix of becoming stronger and the better shoe support. I’ve also struggled on the mental side: with self-image while running, feeling like I’m not a “real” runner because of my pace, or having self-doubt about what distances I could handle.

What did you like about running in the beginning, if anything? What do you like now, if anything?
I’ve always struggled with anxiety, and I love how running brings me into my body. It’s a great de-stressing tool for me after work, to clear my head. It also helps me sleep better. Now, I like that it’s always right there and immediately available to me – I can always put on my shoes and go out for a short run. I know the routes around my house and the relative distances of each. It feels like another skill I have added to my arsenal.

What tips have people given you that have helped your running the most?
Mostly to stay consistent. That if you have a run scheduled, and something else gets in the way, to always, always try to go. To just put on your shoes and step out the door, and run as far as you can, even if it’s not as far as you’d hoped. Creating a routine in that way really pushed my running to the next level.

On a more practical note, some things that have really helped me are new, well-fitting shoes and insoles, a fanny pack for holding my phone and keys, a pair of Bluetooth earphones and electrolyte cubes. Seriously, I probably eat an entire pack of those on my longer runs.

Anything else you would like to add about your running experience.
It’s been extremely empowering to wear a sports bra while running outside and feel like a “real” runner. All it takes is consistency, and confidence will follow. If I can do it, anyone can!

Dear Readers, I hope you’ve enjoyed Carly and Ashley’s stories and tips about running and if you run, or are interested in taking it up, I hope they have inspired you.

Nicole P. is currently running in shorts and a tank top, but this picture reminds her what is coming!

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