How I’ve survived and thrived during training for the WVU Medicine 13er

by April Henry

When I was in college, I once told my housemates: “I do not run unless I'm being chased.” That was my story, and I stuck to it until about two years ago.

Looking back, I realize I made the decision not to run because I didn’t believe I could. I grew up as a chubby, non-athletic girl. I took dance class and participated in gymnastics when I was young, but neither was incredibly arduous. And I didn’t exhibit much dedication to those two activities; they were just for fun.

So when this overweight mom of two showed up at HealthWorks in the fall of 2013, it was, well, an interesting turn of events. I started with the 5 a.m. spinning class, and a few weeks later, I enrolled in a circuit training type class. The latter was a good mix of strength training and cardio. But because running was such a small part of the cardio portion, I somehow convinced myself I wasn’t really running. We were talking five or so laps around a small indoor track. I mean, I did grumble with every single step, but still. This did not involve crosswalks and an iPod on my arm and a GPS and a heart rate monitor.

Another big change happened in April 2014. One of my new found friends at the gym invited me to go on a run. A real run – on sidewalks through intersections with crosswalks. This was serious. We would start at HealthWorks and go to the intersection near the WVU Coliseum. And then we would run back. All the way back to HealthWorks. We would run the whole way, without walking. Almost four miles.

Despite my college-age declaration, I agreed to this running nonsense. It was excruciating. But when those 3.85 miles were over, I was different. I began to discover the power of being an excuse eliminator. The only thing stopping me from doing another 3.85 miles the next day was my own mind.

My adventures continued throughout last summer. I ran regularly about three times a week. I invested in a good pair of running shoes. I got a little armband thingy for my iPod because listening to killer music during exercise is a huge motivator for me. After thinking maybe I was developing some sort of food allergy, I learned there is a real thing called Runner’s Diarrhea.

When I told my mom I was doing a 5K, she asked, “How many miles is that?” I responded with a very cool, nonchalant, “It’s only three miles.”

Only three miles? You have changed!”

Last fall, a group of my HealthWorks pals started training for a half marathon in Myrtle Beach. At the beginning of their training, they ran three, four, or five miles. Totally doable for me, so I tagged along frequently. Once they reached six miles and beyond, I slipped back to the mindset of the non-athletic girl who didn’t believe she could do it.

I’m not sure when I started hearing about the Morgantown Marathon. But I do know this – as soon as I caught wind of the possibility, I began speaking positively to myself that if there was a half marathon, I would participate.

A few months later when registration opened in spring 2015, I signed up. I wanted to do it early. No backing out that way. I was holding myself accountable.

Although I had been mentally preparing for months, I officially began training for the WVU Medicine 13er the week of June 15. I have followed a 14-week program, shared with me by the same instructor who introduced me to the indoor track. Run three days a week, strength train two days. OK, fine, I’ve not been as committed to the strength training part as I should be. But I have trudged through every single run on the schedule so far. 

A few weeks ago, I bought another running gadget: the hydration belt. I felt really dumb wearing it at first, but it is super handy to have water at any moment I need it. I also learned that drinking too much while running is not the smartest idea because a belly full of water feels heavy and uncomfortable. On the plus side, however, I now know which buildings in the Evansdale neighborhood are open early in the mornings and which ones have the nicest bathrooms.

In addition, I am happy to report that I still have all my toenails. Apparently, losing toenails is also a thing among runners. Perhaps it affects full marathoners more. As a girl who loves a good pedicure, I am thankful for 10 toenails. I have complete confidence that they will all still be intact after the race as well.

I am not afraid to admit, this training regimen has been hard. Full of the most challenging mental and physical tests I have ever faced. Like the soreness, for example. God bless my husband for putting up with my aches-and-pains complaints, especially after the long runs. From getting up super early and running in the darkness before the sun rises, to struggling with negative self talk that says “You are slow” or “Just walk for a few minutes” – it has all been difficult.

For me, each run has been a breakthrough. I take pride in crossing off the day’s required mileage when it’s complete.

I have celebrated every milestone, largely because there have been so many firsts. The first time I ran six, seven, eight, nine, 10, and 11 miles – all of them came during this training season.

Fittingly, the first time I run 13.1 will be Sept. 20 for the WVU Medicine 13er. It will be one of my greatest accomplishments in life. But not just because of the 13.1 miles. The true accomplishment will be finishing the training – 240 total miles. The 13.1 miles at the end are simply the culmination of a decision. A decision to persevere, to eliminate excuses, to seek solutions.

Changing my mind changed my life.

I can’t wait to cross the WVU Medicine 13er finish line. There will be sweat and tears. I foresee quite a bit of good tears.