“Run often and run long, but never outrun your joy of running.” — Julie Isphording
I am Tamil and never ran growing up (well, maybe occasionally to catch an ice cream truck or the mittai wala (candy man), but never just to run). Running just to run was an alien concept to me, and as a kid with a dust allergy and asthma, I was asked to keep out of our school’s dusty playground. When I came to the U.S. in the early 2000s and met a few friends that ran races, I was surprised that people would pay money to go run.
Fast forward to when I turned 39 (I still lie about my age to my weigh machine but doesn’t everyone?), something in me wanted to try running and see what it was all about. I ran two miles on a treadmill, probably at about an 11-minute pace. I didn’t think too much of it, but then I went back again next day. I ended up running through the summer of 2015, aiming for 25 miles a week.
I never had any close friends that ran races regularly, so I had no idea about the races people run. Once in a while I would read about someone doing a marathon, but running 26 miles seemed like a life-consuming task. After a few months, my aimless running came to an end out of pure boredom and the lack of real goals. It seemed like I spent more time taking selfies during these runs than understanding the idea of running. I went back to my Body Pump and Body Combat Classes, which I believed exist to keep people thin so we can eat more snacks without gaining weight.
I started dating my now-boyfriend Matt late February/early March 2016 (we both have different versions of when we started dating), and he and his friend Shannon were planning to do one race per month. So this past April I signed up for the Carlsbad 5000 with them and ran my first-ever 5K. Running with us was Shannon’s friend Priscilla, who’s been running for last 10 years — a real runner. During the Carlsbad 5000 I tried to run along with her as if I were her running buddy, and without realizing how fast or slow I was running, I ended up finishing the race with 7:58 pace (Priscilla finished with a 7:27 pace and got one of those cool “First 250 Finisher” medals)!
Something about seeing a seven-minute-something pace made me think I could run. So I signed up to run the La Jolla 5K a few weeks later (where Priscilla was running a half marathon) and ran a 7:39 pace! I thought to myself, “It must not have been an accident that I ran so fast.” (Little did I know that the La Jolla 5K is one of the easiest 5Ks, with about a mile and a half of downhills). Next I signed up for the OC Marathon/Wahoo’s 5K and ran a 7:43 pace. Every 5K I ran I felt horrible: my lungs hurt and my throat dried out. But when I saw the finish line and I read my finish pace, I wanted to run again! And I wanted to run a better time, and with less struggle!
I would go home and read articles on how to run faster, and then I would go back to run again and struggle miserably. I just knew it wasn’t easy. I talked to people I met at races who ran faster and was given tons of words: strides, Fartlek, hill training, hill repeats and what not. I was like a kid in kindergarten with a calculus book. Nothing made sense, but I went back and asked more. But mostly I ran on my own, making my own mistakes, and if I get lucky, have a friend or two explain a few things to me.
In all of this trial-and-error, I didn’t realize the concept of “time and training.” I would see this guy, Roberto Ferrito, at almost every 5K race, and he almost always would win our age group with a sub-6:30 pace. I was amazed at his speed. While trying to figure out how to keep track of my race times, I stumbled upon Athlinks, and this site data opened up a whole new way of looking at running, like a time travel into people’s running past. On Robbie’s (Ferrito) Athlinks profile, I noticed his 5K pace go from 7:30 to 6:15 over the course of 2012 to 2016. So then I went back and asked Robbie about how he gotten faster, and he offered a perspective I didn’t have before: you simply don’t wake up and run faster; you work your way up to your speed over time. Robbie helped a lot with training tips and shared how he picked up running in his late 30s and trained hard to get to the speed he runs now. His responses opened up a whole new door for me for training. Athlinks helped me figure out the right kinds of questions to ask in order to understand what it takes to run faster.
Since April 2016, I have run about 15 races in the Los Angeles, Orange County and San Diego areas, including the Harvest Half Marathon and even the Renegade Summer Trail Run. I learn by making mistakes, so I am allowing myself to make mistakes. Some mistakes are easy to recover from, and some aren’t. For example, I ran my first half marathon, the City of Laguna Hills Memorial Half Marathon, on May 30, 2016, without much training and learned that the IT band will give out if you increase miles like that without training. Not to mention, that was the first time I even knew where exactly my IT band is!
It has been an interesting experience learning to run and to have run about 15 races and 70 race miles in only the past few months. But in all of this, the most important thing I’ve learned this year is that I really love running. I like the gratitude I feel every time my Garmin ForeRunner beeps at the mile mark. That beep reminds me how grateful I am to be able to run, for my health, and the people I have in my life that support me and love me. Running usually keeps me away from things physically but I feel more close to everything I have in my life when I run! It’s a joy I would never be able to explain it in a single blog post; I just know that running is my happy place!
Mahesh Sethuraman lives in Orange County, California, where he’s a computer software/solution architect and works with super-smart computer nerds. After his boyfriend got him running 5Ks in early 2016, Mahesh fell in love with both him and running. In his personal time, he loves running with the Snail’s Pace/South Coast Road Runner’s/Endurance Shop running groups. His current goal is to train and run a marathon in 2017.