The misunderstood life of a distance Runner

As I ran with a friend on a early morning weekday, I found myself in an interesting conversation. It was interesting, that another person who runs, had such a misjudgment on why I run. I am a rare breed, a distance runner who averages more “running miles” than a lot of folks daily commute to work.

My friend did nothing wrong, we had a really good talk. It just opened my eyes to realize that if my running friend had this misjudgment?…how much a non runner must wonder “what the heck does marathon training, or being a distance runner” really even mean? My guess is others don’t even care. In the rare occasion that there’s someone out there, this may interest you? 

True gritty distance running/training is typically very lonely. On the outside it looks the opposite for many, from Facebook posts to the daily grind that people tend to think is easy. I’ve often been told, “I don’t have your energy.” “I don’t have your endurance.” I don’t have time.” I don’t get it.” “There’s no way I could even run 2 miles.” 

Guess what? Everyone starts as a beginner. I remember the first time I ran 5 miles as an adult. I was in so much pain, I came home, got in bed and cried. I didn’t get it, it was hard, it sucked, I couldn’t even hardly finish, how would I ever get to a half marathon (my goal at the time)? It took me several years to even say, “I’m a runner.” 

As a marathon runner, things get complicated. I believe in setting a goal. I use “smart goal logic” to make what I strive for obtainable, yet something I have to work for. My goals are re-evaluated often with the help of a couple very trustworthy people. There’s a lot that goes into goal setting. Where I am in life, how’s my physical fitness level this year? How much time am I willing to out into this session? How much am I willing to give up for the next several months? The truth is, with distance training, you must give up a lot. Training for a marathon is very time consuming, sleep is extremely important, and nutrition is crucial. Let me tell you, if you chose to eat something that doesn’t agree with you on Friday night, and then head out for a long run Saturday morning, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. 

I’ve had people accuse me of “faking” an injury 🤕…what? On more than one occasion. Sometimes when people don’t understand what you’re going through, they tend to come up with their own reasons. Thankfully my injuries haven’t been huge setbacks. Weeks, sometimes months, not years. Doctor’s, rehab techs, chiropractor’s and massage therapist are there to be a resource for you, runner or not. Use them when needed and always do the homework they give you. They went to school and they know better than we do. 

I have been asked if running was fun for me “all the time” and if I struggled with getting my runs in? This person was under the assumption that I LOVE running so much I never struggle with getting up for a run, or even the thought of skipping a run! This actually kinda blew my mind!! I explained it was a struggle that morning when my alarm went off at 4am to get up, get dressed and drag myself out into the dark cold morning! I guess my friend thought that because I tend to love the run so much while we are out there, it’s never a stuggle for me. Truth is, it’s a daily struggle! I chose to use the concept of “don’t think about it, just do it” idea. I’ll take 5 minutes each weekend to write out a quick workout schedule into my work week. It’s just something I do, like getting up for work. I don’t feel like going to work most days, but it’s what I do. When I commit to “training for a marathon” it takes time. A marathon doesn’t magically happen. There’s no such thing as luck in distance running, you have to put the miles in! 

The miles: in training for a marathon, there are so many miles and so many hours that go into it. There’s formulas to use, coaches with knowledge and training plans you can easily get your hands on. I’ve trained using all of these concepts. The deal is to pick one and stick with it for the training cycle. No jumping back and forth, no taking a plan and “tweaking” it so to speak. These ideas lead to frustration. The reason to follow a plan and stick with it, is there’s research behind it. The formulas have backing to them. As a coach myself and as a runner who’s had a coach train me, I know the value in this concept. As a beginner runner I used to take a plan and “tweak” it. I’ve found “from experience” that this tweaking is done often without realizing the value of all the different workouts. From easy miles, to track work, to long runs. They are all valuable and serve a purpose. Taking them out here and there makes the formula incomplete and less valuable. There are times that life happens and we should give ourselves a break. But in general, following the plan is necessary if you are planning on committing to a distance race. 

The human drive: I often have had people ask me why? Why run like you do? I have a hard time putting it into words. My favorite is to talk to a retired runner who shares race stories with me back and forth. When you talk to a distance runner, you see this light in their eyes, a sparkle. You can actually see them go back and experience the memory that was so grand. The memory of hitting the road when nobody was watching. There was no “good jobs” along the way. The grit of showing up over and over when nobody was looking, all paid off. It changes you. It makes you feel like you can conquer anything. You are in a high that you worked so hard for and nobody can steal it from you, nobody. And everything was worth it. 

So why do you run Julie? I run for me. I run to be a better wife and mother. I run for my health. I run for my chronic head pain. I run because it’s my medication. I run because it makes me feel better at work. I run because I love the social outlet of a  run with friends. I run for the loneliness of a hard track workout with nobody watching. I run for the high. I run to clear my thoughts. I run to inspire other’s to do a 5k or to pick up walking. I run for my mental health (running has given me a strength in my most difficult years). I run to help my dreams come true. I run for better self confidence. I run to eat. I run to feel. I run to do “my impossible.” I no longer feel I need to explain my running to others, but I hope this little write up helps the glow in someone’s mind, come to life. I know some of you will get this. Some of you will disagree or not get it, and I’m okay with that. ~dream big things with smart goals my friends 💓

About Julie Mullins (104 Articles)
I am a 41 year-old runner from Dallas, OR. I am married to Jerry (also a runner) and we have three kids (one who will run with us on occasion). I work full time at West Valley Hospital/Salem Health and run as often as I can. I ran in High school but as an adult, started running in 2008. Since then, I have completed 13 full marathons, numerous 5k, 10ks and 15k. I've run two Ultras and just completed my 31st half marathon. My goal is the get my BQ in 2018 at Eugene Marathon! (Pinch me, I DID IT!!!) I also organize a local running group called ZaoFit (on facebook). I LOVE running with others - it is what keeps me motivated to stay consistent, and to keep dreaming big.
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