8 Things I Learned From Running My First 20K


This past weekend I ran the Dam to Dam, America's largest 20K, which I signed up for back in March. This was the first race other than a 5K that I have ever competed in, and it was such a blast. The adrenaline was pumping as the 7,000 runners gathered for the start. It have never experienced anything like it.

Dam to Dam 2012 Starting line

Dam to Dam Destination

I have been training since early February. I gave myself more training time than needed, but my goal was not just to run a 20K, it was to make a lifestyle change--to make running something I can and will want to do long-term to benefit my overall health. My goal was to finish in 1:35, and I did it! 1:35:18 was the official time. There was nothing left in the tank, just the way it should be.

What I Learned

  1. Runner's high is a real thing. After every run, while I should be completely exhausted, I got a feeling of accomplishment that I can't really explain. A burst of energy derived from the fact that I didn't want to do it, yet I willed my body to complete the task.
  2. I prefer listening to audiobooks over music. Music allows my mind to think too much and focus on the pain. Audiobooks were a great way to stay engaged and keep my mind off the physical toll I was putting my body through. I used my iPhone and Audible.com for downloading and mostly listened to The Hunger Games and Catching Fire.
  3. It's important to fuel up. Running more than five miles makes my muscles ache and cramp. I tried eating jelly beans but found them hard to chew and too sour. I switched to Shot Bloks and found them to work great for me. Keeping the energy going on long runs is key. I also carry a palm water bottle for hydration during training.
  4. Mental preparation is necessary. Completing the long runs was actually easier than the shorter runs. I think I mentally geared up for them more. "I have to run 11 miles tomorrow." vs. "I only have to run three miles tomorrow." ONLY being the key word that got me in trouble.
  5. I'm a morning runner. Due to limited family time in the evenings before Rooney goes to bed, it was best for our family that I run in the morning. This was a difficult change, but after a week it wasn't a big deal, and we really saw the benefits in our evening time together as a family. I also liked knowing that I didn't have to shower twice a day anymore, and I didn't have to think about my run all day at work. It was already done! Bonus: It's cooler in the morning. This spring has been a scorcher already.
  6. It's all about commitment. After signing up for the race, I felt a strong commitment not only to stick to the training, but also to try my best. It wasn't always easy. In fact, during most runs there were periods of wanting to walk and/or quit. But the satisfaction of not giving in and completing each run has built some great character.
  7. Slow and steady wins the race. I used the RunKeeper app to keep track of my times and distances. I love the simplicity of the interface on the iPhone and on the website. My only critique is that the GPS sometimes would flake out and it would tell me that I went further than I actually had. (I used their routing feature online to plot out my runs beforehand, so I knew when it was being finicky.) This app helped me learn how to pace myself. I discovered I was starting out way too fast and over time I got better at the tortoise mentality.
  8. You have to fight through the pain. At mile 8 during the race, my right calf tightened up immensely. It was like being hit by a hard line-drive baseball. It was really painful! I grabbed some water and spent a few seconds trying to stretch it out. No good. Still throbbing. I could have quit, but I didn't. I decided to fight through the pain. I definitely did some praying to my Father that he would help get me to the finish line, and He did. I made it. It was tough, but I learned a lot about my limits and how to fight through difficult and unpleasant situations to achieve a goal.
Dam to Dam support group

It was so fun to be supported by family and friends. My mom and nephew came down, and my girls were there to cheer me on, too! Beautiful weather also made for a super enjoyable after-party in downtown Des Moines.

Have you ever trained really hard for something? Had your sights on a big goal? What did you learn?