Training for Tuesday: All Because I Took That Extra, Little Step

Every few months I pop in to say something about how if I can do this, anyone can do this, and maybe you find that inspirational or maybe it's just annoying but for those of you in the former camp, today I'm laying out exactly how I got from zero - that's 0, zilch, nada, seriously can't stress the nothingness enough - to the half Ironman that I am today, 4.5 years after beginning my running journey. I don't write running posts because I consider myself a running expert who has a lot of insightful advice to share; I do it because I genuinely love sharing my story (and getting to know others' in return). I never want anyone reading to get the wrong impression and think that just because I run marathons and triathlons now, I've always run them. Or been able to run them. Five-years-ago me is hysterically laughing at that thought. I always strive to do that as candidly as possible so today I thought I would keep it simple by explaining exactly how I got from point A to point B...and what the next point on my roadmap might be. 
via @Nike

Zero to 5k = 5.5 months
At risk of boring you with yet another tale of how I started running, here is the synopsis: didn't run at all (avoided running the mile for gym class, couldn't run to the end of my block, all of those cliches) before beginning the Couch 2 5k program in April 2011. Those one-minute running intervals nearly killed me that first week, so I am really not exaggerating when I say I started way way way at the bottom.

I had a busy summer so the program took me a little longer than I anticipated and I didn't finish what was supposed to be a 2-month program until August, 3.5 months after I started. The idea is to get you up to running for 30 minutes straight, which is theoretically a continuous 5k, but anyone with simple math skills can figure out that, depending on your pace, you might not make it up to 3.1 miles by the end of the program. *Raises hand* At my 2nd-ever but first real 5k (I had run/walked my first one ever in May of that year, only a few weeks into C25k) in early October 2011, a little less than 6 months after I took my first running steps, and just under 37 minutes after crossing the start line that day, I finished a full 5k run for the first time.

5k to 10k = 3 weeks 
I signed up for my first 10k in June 2011, not even 2 months into C25k, thinking that surely I could make it up to 6.2 miles by October (never mind the fact that, at the time, I had only ever run 2 miles without stopping). Like we already talked about, summer was busy, and when the school year started, things got even busier. I only laced up twice during the whole month of September, and October wasn't a whole lot better. After my 5k I had 3 weeks to my first 10k, and I tried to get as ready as I could but I only made it up to 4 miles in training.

The day of the race, I was nervous as all get out and not sure what I could expect from myself. I knew I could run at least 4 miles, because I had done it before, but I didn't know if I could make it another 2 miles beyond that. I had a bit of a rough start but eventually I was able to get into a groove, and when I made it to the mile 4 marker, Ben and I looked at each other and agreed to keep going for as long as we could (he had done all of the same training I had done up to that point). I ended up running a HUGE distance PR that day by miraculously running 1.5 times farther than I had ever run previously. It wasn't pretty and it wasn't fast, but I made it!

10k to Half Marathon = 5 months
After my first 10k, I backed off on distance for a bit and stuck to running 3-4 milers. I had a friend who wanted to do C25k so I mostly ran with him, but he could already run my normal pace so I used that time to work on getting a little faster. The half marathon was never a goal of mine when I started running, but after I ran my first 10k, I started to consider it. The Shamrock Half Marathon in March was on my radar because my dad had run it a few times and had told me how much fun it was. I knew I could run 6.2 miles, which is not quite half of a half marathon, so one Sunday in December I went out to run 5 miles or so and ended up with a distance PR of 7 miles! A few days later, I finally pulled the trigger on registering for Shamrock. It sold out the next day!

Training for my first half marathon and hitting new distance PRs every weekend was a high like no other. I didn't love all of the training but I loved the way it made me feel. When race day came my anxiety level was on par with the magnitude of the distance I had to cover, and as I stood at the start line I really thought I might burst into tears right then and there. I fought them back, put my nose to the grindstone, and for the next 2 hours and 42 minutes I trudged through the hardest and longest 13.1 miles of my life. As soon as I crossed the finish line, those tears from earlier that morning finally caught up to me. I was disappointed in my performance, but at the end of the day I was a half marathoner, and nobody could knock me down from Cloud 9. 

Half Marathon to Full Marathon = 1 year + 10 months
I was on a pretty steady trajectory for a while, but after my first half marathon, I got a little gun shy. Not only did that race rock me mentally, but it destroyed my shins and I took some time off from running to heal before easing back in slowly (that's also when I got my first bike and started cycling since it was the only thing I could do, and we all know how that turned out ;)). That fall I was back in action and ran my usual 5ks and 10ks over the holiday season, but it took me a full year after my first half marathon to run a second one. A month later I ran my third half marathon, and I very vividly remember crossing the finish line and thinking, "Huh. I could probably turn around and do that again." That was the first time I had ever really considered running a full marathon, but my fate was already sealed.

In hindsight, waiting nearly 2 years between my first half and first full marathons was the best thing I ever did. I was injury-prone at the time and in fact, after those 2 half marathons in the spring I had to take a little break at the beginning of the summer. I started preliminary training 7 months before the marathon so that I could build my mileage back up slowly and safely. I was able to do just that without any injuries, and I ran my first full marathon in January 2014, 2 years and 9 months after I started running.

Running to Sprint Triathlon = 2 years
I know this isn't an obvious sequitur, but it made the most sense to me because obviously you have to be able to run to do a triathlon. I don't even think I knew that triathlon was a sport when I first started running in April 2011. When I got injured in April 2012, I immediately bought a road bike and started cycling. After 9 months of riding 15-20 miles a week and 6 months back into running, I signed up for my first sprint triathlon. I had never actually swam laps in a pool, but I had always been comfortable in water so I hard could it be? In April 2013 I went from try-athlete to triathlete and have been hooked ever since!

Sprint Triathlon to Olympic Triathlon: 5.5 months
After my first tri, I caught the bug. I caught it bad. When I crossed the finish line I immediately wondered when I could do another, and my mind started to wander to longer distances. The next distance up from a sprint is an Olympic (sometimes called International), and I found one that was both later in the season and relatively close to me: Outer Banks Olympic Triathlon. In September 2013, just 5 months after my first triathlon ever, I finished my 5th lifetime and longest-to-date triathlon.

International Triathlon to Half Iron Triathlon =  2 years + 1 month
The thing about triathlon is that it's a seasonal sport, so there are bound to be some big gaps in between them. The OBX Olympic tri was my last of the 2013 season, and when 2014 rolled around, I had big plans to move up to a half Ironman in June. What I neglected to remember is that I already had my first full marathon on the books for January, plus another marathon in March, leaving me just under 3 months to go from the marathon to half Ironman. It seemed like a good idea in theory, but after finishing 2 marathons in a 2-month time frame, I was in desperate need of a training break and decided to table the HIM for the foreseeable future. 

It wasn't until the spring of 2015, after I finished another marathon with no plans for another in the immediate future, that I could really focus solely on triathlon training the way I needed to to attempt a 70.3 mile race. While I think I could have successfully finished a half Ironman the year prior like I had planned, in hindsight I'm happy it took me over 2 years to get to the Beach2Battleship start line, because it made getting to the finish line that much easier and sweeter. I finally became a half Ironman on October 17, 2015 - just over 2.5 years after my first foray into triathlon.

Half Iron to Full Iron Triathlon: ???
One of my goals for Beach2Battleship was to use it to assess whether I ever want to do a full Ironman. It wasn't a major focus of mine throughout the race, but the thought did cross my mind when I was about 30 miles into the bike that I was really glad that I only had another 26 to go and not another 80 (or, you know, a full marathon to run after that).

The problem with a full (other than training for 6+ months and spending 12+ hours out on race day, I mean) is that my criteria (Ironman brand race on the east coast in September/October) limit the options quite a bit. I've narrowed down my options for a full to IM Chattanooga or IM Louisville (year TBD). And, following my half-to-full marathon pattern, I would really like to have more than one HIM under my belt before attempting a full. I'm already registered for IM 70.3 Atlantic City....which isn't until September 18, 2016 (only a few weeks before both full IM races, which will sell out several months before race day, meaning that I'd have to make up my mind about the full long before I ever get to my 2nd HIM start line).

After I finished B2B I was really thinking I'd try to attempt 140.6 next year, but registering for Atlantic City did a lot to satisfy my need to do an Ironman-branded race (even if it is a half and not a full). There are so many logistics for me to think about before considering a full, and so much about 2016 is out of my control and completely unknowable to me at this point that I don't see myself being able to make that decision without rushing it.

Ultimately, I've come to realize that my journey is mine alone. Some have done more than I have, others have done less; some have done it sooner than I have, others have waited longer. Looking back, I can say with complete confidence that I've hit every new target at exactly the right time for me. Over the past 4.5 years I've gone from slightly overweight (and a lot insecure) to physically and mentally stronger than I ever imagined. And it's all because I took that extra, little step. Over and over and over again until I got where I am. And I keep taking them because, even though I'm not sure that I know where I'm going, I know they're the only way to get where I want to be.



  1. I always love hearing about how people got where they are. I was the same way back in the day in gym class: the teacher said we had to finish in under 16 minutes to pass because it was possible to walk 4 laps in 16 minutes...which is exactly what I did. I'm pretty sure 16 year old me is laughing pretty hard at me too. It's so encouraging to see your timeline too. Looking back, it seems like it all happened in the blink of an eye, but really it was a longer journey than most would think. I can't wait to read all about your Atlantic City HIM training !

  2. That's an amazing story! I started running around then too. I couldn't finish a mile, and this year I did my first marathon. Sometimes it's hard to believe how far I've come. I vote IMF Louisville because I love the city, though it has some hills! My marathon was the Kentucky Derby Marathon in April and I battled some hills midway through. Also, it rained the entire time, but I loved it! I'm glad I found your blog!


  3. Incredible story! Its amazing how far you have come in such a relatively short period of time. Like you said its your journey and whenever you decide to do a full Ironman will be the right time for you. I can't wait to see how you choose to train for Atlantic City!

  4. Thanks for sharing your story! It's always nice to be reminded that fellow athletes just didn't fall into being marathoners, triathletes, etc. We all have to start somewhere!

    I'm currently wondering if a Spring marathon is maybe too soon for me, given what's going on with my foot. I hope that it will heal naturally as most tendinitis does, but I can't help to think that maybe I'm setting myself back and I should think smaller for next year. Ugh. The mental game is the toughest part of all this.

  5. oh i loved reading this. i had no idea you started cycling because of a running injury, very interesting. i remember watching my first (actually, only) triathlon and it made me want to do one. they are so inspiring! i also love to hear (or read) about someone's journey, especially if they started from the bottom. KC has been running since he was like 10, and I'm just like shut up, you don't know what it's like haha. But really. It is a bit more inspiring when someone started from the bottom, because that's where I started too.
    Hmm. So you're definitely going to have to decide on the full before you've even done the 2nd half? Wow. pressure! I know the Louisville one is pretty popular and brings lots of people in (well, for Louisville, we have that and the Derby lol) so at least you wouldn't have to worry about accommodation ;) Anyway. I'm excited to follow along on this journey!

  6. we all start somewhere and we were all newbies at one point. i still consider myself a newbie when it comes to muay thai since i only started last year but i've come a long way since then (way better form/technique and less spastic) that my trainer has been commenting a lot on how clean i spar/throw combos instead of always correcting me or tell me to calm down lol.

    i love hearing how someone started and how they excelled at what they love doing. your journey towards being a tri is awesome!

  7. I feel like I always have to make that same disclaimer: Literally, ZERO, as in NO MILES, as in, NEVER RAN BEFORE. We've talked about this, but I do think our journeys and the fact that we became runners in our twenties with literally NO background is important to note when discussing where we came from and where we're heading.

    "Training for my first half marathon and hitting new distance PRs every weekend was a high like no other." -- Couldn't say this any better. It seriously was amazing. And different from the marathon, because even though the distances were shorter than marathon training, they were firsts in a HUGE way and really pushing limits. By the time I was marathon training, I knew that I could push myself to reach a new distance. I wouldn't have signed up for the marathon if I didn't. But I wasn't sure I could run a half marathon until the first time I did it, ya know?

    Maybe triathlon doesn't feel like an obvious next step after running, but it definitely makes sense to me. Maybe that's because I've known you almost as long as I've been a runner? ;) Not saying I'm running out to pick up a new bike tomorrow, but I do think that would be a more logical next step than ultramarathons, for me and probably a lot of people!

    Not that you need me to approve it, and not that I know anything about triathlon, but I think you're making the right choice in focusing on IMAC in 2016 and shelving the full for now. Let's not forget about the two marathons and at least two other half marathons you're planning in 2016, right? Also, you're crazy and I love you for it.

    Your last paragraph though. Yes. That's something I've had to remind myself of more than once. By some standards, 0 to 26.2 in less than 2 years is a big leap. But other people have made that leap in under a year. Some people do three a year. Some people do a half marathon every month. But you've helped show me the importance in personal journeys and enjoying and appreciating them wholly, so thank you. Thank you for always sharing and being honest and inspiring!

  8. It is incredible too look at the different journeys/times it took you to go from one thing to the next. So inspiring!!! Everyone's journey is so different, like you is yours alone. You should be so proud of how far you have come and for always being so open and honest about how you got there. It is so inspiring to me and your other readers! You keep on keeping on friend!

  9. Great Post Alyssa! When the timing is right to do a full, you will know it... but then again I think it's one of those things where you really have to push yourself outside your comfort zone even just to get the courage to sign up. No need to rush the process... enjoy the journey!

  10. It's interesting that you actually did distances in order! Maybe I should do a post about my journey. I've actually technically still never raced a 5k. I did one with my mom 2 years ago, but that was just for fun. I went from nothing to half marathon in 6 months. Then I didn't do anything for a year, and then I did a 10k and a few more halfs. I ran a full in 2013, 3 years after starting to run. It is crazy to think I've done 2 full marathons, because I was SO nervous about just doing a half initially!

  11. I love not only reading your story but realizing that Ive watched you live a small part of it through your blog. Its an awesome thing!

  12. Enjoyed reading your progression from couch to running to tris to 70.3! Funny...if things go according to 70.3 will be 2 years after Quantico :)