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Conquering the Half-Marathon: Colleen Schwartz, Runner to Racer

Colleen picked up her game to start running quickly. (Photo by of Jason Todd)

In our March issue, you'll find four inspiring half-marathon stories from readers who went from couch to 13.1, from jogger to racer and more. For the remaining Wednesdays in February here on The Fit Stop, we're sharing more personal stories from women who tested our half-marathon training plan.

Written by Kate Branciforte, editorial intern

Colleen Schwartz considered herself to be a “casual runner,” but after training for and completing her first half-marathon, she is officially a racer! Although the initial thoughts of running competitively scared her, Colleen was determined to rock the race. After crossing the finish line at 2:03, Colleen has caught the racing bug. “I love getting a runner’s high,” she says. “I wish I could bottle it!” We caught up with Colleen to find out how she squeezed in extra gym time and what convinced her she really could go the distance.

Conquering Fears Although 13.1 miles is a tough distance to tackle, the run wasn’t what worried Schwartz most come race day. “What happens if I have to go to the bathroom in the middle of the race?” If you’re a runner, you know exactly what she’s talking about. Our advice? Go to the bathroom before heading to the race (leave early!), then make a pit stop at the port o’ potties once you’re there. Often not the prettiest loo you’ll visit, but it’ll be worth it when you see runners darting off course to handle their um, business, while you fly by.

Musical Motivation We all know music can be a huge motivator and Schwartz used it to the max during long training runs. “Thank God for Rihanna and Beyonce,” she says. “These runs would be torturous without them. I probably spent more time planning my mix than I would spend running to it, but I had every song I could possibly want in the palm of my hand!” When you catch yourself feeling lackluster about hitting the pavement, try creating a new playlist or downloading throwback tunes that bring up happy memories. And don’t be afraid to use negativity to kick-start your sweat sessions. We all have bad days, and sometimes “a really bad day at work leads to a surprisingly easy five mile run,” Schwartz says.

Mini Milestones “Once I did the 11-mile training run, I knew that I physically could do it, which was a huge mental boost,” Schwartz says. “There is something incredibly powerful about finishing 11 miles and feeling like, ‘Yeah, I can do two more, I know I can.’” When you think you’ve reached your edge, remember that you can likely push further. A lot of the time, negative thinking sets in when the going gets tough, making it seem like we’ve reached our limit. Our bodies are capable of doing so much more than we think, so challenge negativity with the power of positive thoughts and having a mantra like “Yes, you CAN do it!” in mind.

Gym Rat Workouts No matter how hard we try, sometimes we have to bring our workouts indoors. During the winter when lines for treadmills get too long, try Colleen’s sneaky swap:  “Since I run to music rather than watch TV, I ‘volunteer’ to take one of the treadmills without the TV,” she says. “Sometimes I can move up five places in line!” Another gym plus? There’s no excuse to skip the stretch. Stretching is just as big a part of training as running, so don’t sell yourself short. Colleen hit a speed bump in her sixth week of training when she started feeling pain in her left hip. Fearing an injury would land her on the sidelines, she became extra cautious. “I should have been stretching much more then I was,” Schwartz says. “My husband became my stretching partner-in-crime to help keep me accountable.” Also try foam-rolling during any long-distance training, which really gets all those knots out.

Mental Mantra Running long distances is often more of a mental game than a physical one. When Schwartz needed a pick-me-up, she relied on this mantra: “A bad run is still better then no run!” Other mantras we love:

  • “If you walk now, it’ll only take you longer to finish!” —Fitness Editor Jenna Autuori-Dedic told herself while running her first marathon in NYC this year
  • “Just keep running, just keep running.” —Editorial Assistant Samantha Shelton sings this to the Finding Nemo tune in her head to help keep her feet light.
  • "One mile at a time." —Web Editor Collen Moody tells herself, especially on long runs when the double digits start to seem overwhelming.
  • "Don't stop believin'." — Senior Editor Bethany Gumper sings the famous Journey song to herself when she needs a quick boost during a tough run.

Having someone cheering you on is another great way to stay motivated through the whole race. Those sideline cheerleaders are all there for you! Revel in it. “I saw my friends cheering for me around mile four,” Schwartz says. “They were awesome, and knowing they were there was a huge help.” Not only will they be there to catch you after crossing the finish line, but they’ll help celebrate your accomplishment afterward too. We’ll cheers to that.

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