Couch-to-5k-to-Marathon-to-Ironman: What I Learned by Stacie Edington

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Stacie Edington manages the College of Engineering Honors and Engagement Programs Office at the University of Michigan. She earned herMaster of Science in Executive Leadership from the School of Business Administration at the University of San Diego and her BA in Sociology from the University of Michigan. She is an endurance athlete, who has completed the Chicago marathon, a 5k swim and the Ironman triathlon. Stacie can be found on twitter @sjedington

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When people find out that I completed Ironman Florida, they often ask me “What inspired you to do the Ironman?  I could never do something like that. I can barely even run a mile!”  Well, the truth is, I am not some magnificent athlete who always dreamed of doing a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike and 26.2 mile run.  I started my journey just like most of the other people I know.  I got off the couch and trained for my first 5k.  When I was done with that, I decided to train for my first 10k. Then, after a few more races, I trained for my first half-marathon and eventually my first full marathon.  Somewhere during that time, I also signed-up for my first sprint triathlon, followed by my first Olympic triathlon.  I’m simply a couch-to-5k runner who kept going.  I am the proverbial tortoise in the race to a healthy life.

So, here are a few pieces of advice from one tortoise who found a way to persevere.  I learned all of these lessons during my original couch-to-5k, but they continue to be true and important to my training every day.

Buy running shoes and socks.

Your feet are really important (arguably, the most important equipment involved in running and triathlon training). Go to a running store and have someone asses your gait and recommend a pair of shoes specifically for you.  Also, I learned the hard way that even though some socks are sold in the “athletic” section of the store and have the Nike swoosh on them, they are not running socks! Cotton socks + my sweaty feet = bad bad blisters! Any running store will have a wide selection of appropriate running socks to choose from.

Run slower, ride slower, swim slower.

If you are miserable when working out, then go slower! By running at a super slow pace when I first got started (almost comically slow), I was finally able to cover the entire distance without walking, which helped me build endurance.  Think about it like this…If  you’re absolutely miserable for the entire workout, how much are you going to want to do it the next time? Run, ride or swim at a comfortable pace. Eventually, you will be able to pick it up and go a little faster.

Run a little less & stretch/strength a little more.

Stretch at the end of every workout and add in some light resistance training with every other run. Believe me, you will feel better overall and will be less likely to get injured. After a workout or run, I always dedicate a good chunk of time to stretching.  Also, with every other run I do a small amount of resistance training to strengthen my weak areas (hips, glutes, abs). Even if I have to cut my run 5-10 minutes shorter to make time for the stretching and strengthening, that’s what I do! I also use that time reflect on how the workout went and set some goals for future workouts.

Can you walk and chew gum at the same time?

This was the most important advice about running that I got when I first started. My mouth gets really dry, even just while running a short distance. Chewing gum helps prevent that cotton mouth feeling and also keeps my breathing rhythmic.  I chew sugar free with a minty flavor (Eclipse is my favorite).   My running experience is much more pleasant since I started chewing gum (and my post-run breath is probably better too!)

Set short-term goals.

In order to keep motivated over the months it takes to train for a race, I set many short-term goals along the way.  I set two different kinds of short-term goals:

Weekly goals – I create a plan that shows my intended workout for every day of the week.  (BTW, some of those days say “Rest”. )  As soon as I finish the workout (including stretching), I put a checkmark next to it on my plan.  At the end of the week, if at least 5 of the 7 days have a checkmark, I draw a smiley face.  Even on days when I don’t feel great during the run, giving myself that checkmark reminds me that I have actually accomplished something.

Personal/Fun goals – Every 2-3 weeks I plan a workout that is a bit of a stretch.  It doesn’t need to be a huge stretch, but just enough to give me something to strive for.  For example, one of my personal goals was to ride my bike from my house to my parents’ house.  The distance was about 35 miles (which was one of my farthest rides at the time).  The idea of riding to a specific destination gave me something to prepare for and something to celebrate when I had done it!

Align yourself with people who support your growth.

Let’s face it, as Americans we do not get a lot of support for being healthy.  Surround yourself with people who support your healthiest self.  Relentlessly pursue opportunities for positive reinforcement. Maybe hearing “good job!” from other runners on race day is all you need. If that’s the case, sign up for more races (that’s what I do).  Races give you an opportunity to celebrate your hard work with others.  Do you need supportive training partners? Consider joining a triathlon or running club. Do you have some friends or colleagues that are trying to pursue a healthier life? Spend more time with them. Choose to spend more time with those people who will best support you in your journey.

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Keep going.

Finally, no matter what level of fitness you are, just keep working at it. You are going to be great, so KEEP GOING!

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