Training For & Running My First Marathon

This piece is not about what marathon training plan I used. It is not about what workouts I did or if they were on city streets, a track, or treadmill. It is not about my nutrition and meal plan while training. This piece is about a few of the many things I observed on runs and the marathon itself. It is about my meditative and reflective relationship with running. It is about facing my own doubts and anxiety in achieving goals and just living life. It is about my personal, mental, and emotional growth while training for and running my first marathon.

I faced a lot of my own personal demons throughout marathon training, but I can say with confidence that running never put me in a more negative mood. Some runs left me absolutely euphoric, some left me feeling mediocre, some kicked my butt and left me dead tired with worn, flaming legs. No matter how the workout went, all runs made me feel good. Thank you endorphins. This is not a new discovery, for me or for proven research on the benefits of exercise. What was a new discovery for me was training my mind as much, if not more, as my body, especially during long runs with mileages ranging from 14 to 20 miles.

Training for and running a marathon undoubtedly shaped my stamina and fitness to the best it’s ever been in my life. In each long run, I broke the circuit board for my mental and physical strength, setting a new boundary and continuing to push past it in the following weeks. Each week, each workout was a tiny journey of its own, and while it certainly was not all highly disciplined or polished, overall, each week I set a new standard for what I was capable of.

Each run was an opportunity to practice being in the present, checking in with myself mentally and physically. In each run I tapped into and practiced keeping my head space steady. I’d take mental notes of small, pleasurable sights and moments along the trail, to record them later in writing: a young girl wearing a tiny pink sequined backpack, a guy with long tied back hair and shaved sides walking his pet pig, an older gentleman wearing a shirt that said “I love pho” in black and white lettering, fleeting rainbows lined by dark grey puffy clouds, blossoming succulent flowers in the early spring, exchanging passing smiles from passing runners to validate our dedication before sunrise or in pouring rain.

During tough miles, self-doubt would sometimes creep in under a guise of self-preservation. I’d think about doing weekday morning workouts that afternoon as I lay groggy in my warm bed at 5:30AM. I’d think about cutting long runs short and heading back to my car so that I wouldn’t get sick. But I knew these were excuses so I tried my absolute best to keep going. I kept going and kept taking in the the seemingly huge, challenging aspects of difficult runs so I could push through and later recall on them for strength and determination: a cowardly catcall no more than three blocks from my apartment on a before run dawn, a few hundred feet of crying uphill during a rainy and windy 18-miler, words from people in my past that would eerily echo in my head saying “you’re not mentally strong, you’re just not worth it, you should keep things to yourself so that you’re not a burden.” 

In late January to early February, running had helped lift the heaviness of depression and anxiety from my chest. I felt focused and clear, unclouded by fleeting attention spans and depleted mental energy sources. Any existential dread I had about the world or my own life seemed to lift during and after my runs and positively effected my mindset in other areas of my life. I became meditative and grounded through running. That feeling lasted after the workout and with more running, the more I felt it and flowing motivation. But I remember very vividly after running my first ever 20-miler, that night, as I lay on my back in bed, trying to fall asleep, the pain in my chest settled in, like a dense rock was placed right on top of the space between my breasts. I counted on my tired body to easily fall asleep, but my heart and mind were whirrling awake. I started crying. I felt overwhelmed, I felt sad, and this was after my greatest physical accomplishment thus far. I realized that running was helping me cope with my own growing pains, but it wasn’t a cure. I was an important gear in the mechanisms of my personal growth

On race day, I told myself, today’s long run is 26.2 miles. Despite a much earlier wake up call of 4AM than the usual 6AM during training, I told myself the marathon was just another long run, not a race. If I didn’t tell myself this, I knew I would stand in my own way and or self-sabotage. I knew that nerves, anxiety, and my unhelpful ability to overthink everything and anything in the span of .02 seconds could derail my race day experience — if I let them.

I stuck to the same strategies I used during long runs, to practice being in the present and checking in with myself mentally and physically. I relished in moments along the course that made me smile: viewing the downtown LA skyline in the rising run at mile 1, reaching the top of a hill to view Walt Disney Concert Hall with a taiko drum soundtrack at mile 4, smelling chili dogs at mile 6, spotting the Burning Man symbol painted on the back of one runner’s t-shirt at mile 10, Yakult and red bean buns being offered at mile 24, rediscovering my love of orange slices upon eating them at many different points. I was also reminded of so many LA memories along the course: part of a viola lesson on the stage of Walt Disney Concert Hall during high school, senior prom in Hollywood, shows with my family at The Pantages, my first warehouse party upon moving back to SoCal last year, new memories with new and old friends in West LA as part of my twenty-something life. The race route was the best tour I’ve ever had in LA and also a trip down memory lane, one way on the path reminiscing and feeling pride for the, the other towards new growth and nurturing the relationships I’ve been so lucky to create and have here.

Running my first marathon was incredibly surreal. My senses felt like a digital reel downloading and recording its surroundings, running out of mental storage near the end, where I remember not being able to think in complete sentences other than “you got this,” and recalling a dream I had about running towards the ocean as I was running along the ocean in the last mile. While I’ve done my best to savor the post-celebration of completing the training for and running my first marathon, the experience has left me feeling empty. I welcome in varying my workouts and setting other goals,  but I am also excited and looking forward to my next race, continuing to grow and learn about myself in my reflective and meditative relationship with running.

2019 Intentions

While a friend and I were in an Uber from downtown LA to our high school town a few days before the New Years Eve, I asked them what their new year’s resolutions were. “To stay on my current trajectory of what I’ve been doing.” We talked about goal setting, how change happens over time with accumulated and consistent action, and how, for a lot of “new year’s resolutions,” you have to stick with it for much longer than the year that lay ahead.

During the last few days of 2018, I took the time to journal out a personal 2018 recap. I journal almost daily, having reached the final pages of the Moleskine I started in January 2018. I used these final pages to focus on reflecting on the year’s changes and make connections that I may have not be able to as it was happening. I was able to look at a year full of coming back home to myself, meeting new people and reconnecting with others who hadn’t been part of my life in years, and getting comfortable being uncomfortable with spending much more time alone. I approached my 2018 reflection with some of the things I try to practice every day, mindfulness, being in the present, as well as acting from a place of love instead of fear. In beginning 2019, I echo the words of my friend in staying on my current trajectory of what I’ve been doing.

Be as Consistent as Possible

Everything from gaining a skill, cultivating friendships and relationships, and basic life and health maintenance require daily attention. Whether it’s keeping a habit tracker or writing out and revisiting personal goals, being as consistent as possible in my daily actions is what has shaped and will shape change in the long term. For me, I break down big goals by looking at what I can do daily to reach them. In 2019, this includes daily action towards running my first marathon (shout out to the LA Marathon in March) and reading 25 books in 2019 (currently reading Bad Feminist by Roxanne Gay and Dune by Frank Herbert).

I say be as consistent as possible because I know I will miss days, but I do not want to fixate over these small blips. I know that there have been and will be days when I will be lazy and not want to run or work out, but I know that running and or working out will condition my body to be able to run 26.2 miles by March. I know there have been and will be times in the evening when I mindlessly scroll through Instagram when I instead could be reading, but I know that I just have to acknowledge that I have the choice to put my phone down and pick up a book instead. I aim to stay focused on what I can do now, what I can do in moving forward, and learning from what I did or didn’t do in the past before letting it go.

Daily Joy and Gratitude

Many of my journal entries include a section where I start with “GRATEFUL FOR TODAY” and then I list anything and everything that falls under this category. This practice has really helped me in finding mini moments of happiness and silver linings throughout the day, as well as help me move forward when I’m mentally stuck or frustrated. When I’ve had off days, and the last thing I want to do is journal about gratefulness, I do it anyway, and find myself, genuinely, in a much better mood and well equipped to move forward

Choice & Action

I believe in choice and action. I have choice agency and control over how I want to live my life and what I want to do in it. The choice and action I do have control over have everything to do with myself, in being self-aware, acknowledging my strengths and weaknesses, integrating anger and pain in the path towards healing, my reactions, my responses, my mindsets.

This is obviously easier said that done, but I do believe that an intention like this is all about cultivate an awareness to practice this with each moment. It’s the small differences and choices that add up.

A Year of Fran n Fitness

It’s been a year since I started my Instagram account, @fran_n_fitness! A lot has changed in the past year, including my relationship with fitness, working out, and even my “why” for Fran n Fitness. One of the only guaranteed constants in life is constant change. Throughout that, working out and making time for fitness has been a grounding part of my life and routine.

Some really awesome concrete progress and events includes:

  • Deadlift weight from 115 lbs in May 2017 to 160 lbs May 2018
  • Squat weight from 115 lbs in May 2017 to 140 lbs in May 2018
  • 15 minute half-marathon PR from May 2017 to May 2018
  • Signing up for my first full marathon
  • Solo hiking in Arches National Park and Zion National Park

These are just a few concrete changes I’ve highlighted, in addition to progress photos, tracked meals and water intake, among others (right now I’m wishing I had done a body composition scan at one point, to see how those stats have changed!). Even more notably and awesome are the intangible changes and progress I’ve made. This past year of overall consistent working out and taking care of my body (physically, mentally, and emotionally) has been how I’ve coped with some of life’s punches. Earlier this year, I even reached two extremes. One where working out was a lifesaver, the other where I was using working out as an escape, but was able to recognize this and realign fitness in a healthy, productive way. At this reflection point, I’m really proud for prioritizing myself and integrating fitness into my lifestyle. I’m incredibly blessed and privileged to be able to do so. I am much more comfortable in new gyms, especially in the weight section where more often than not, is filled with only men (recently my worries when weight training are either not having a spotter or realizing my basic addition skills are very slow as I try to figure out which plates I need to add to the bar!). I love trying new fitness classes and activities as well as feeling good about crushing a challenging, new workout or being humbled when I get my butt kicked. I’ve become more in tune with my body intuitively with regards to nutrition, rest, where my limits are, and pushing those limits.  Through fitness, I’ve physically done things I never thought I would do or be able to do, I’ve made a home and routine in new cities where I felt isolated, I’ve created myself when I was in a relationship where I lost myself, and I’ve gained so much internal mental strength and resilience during some very difficult personal times.

Since being back in the LA area, I have not felt the need or desire to post as much to the account for two reasons. First, I’ve been reflecting on my relationship with and usage of social media. Since being back, I’ve felt more able to be myself, more understood and represented in my surroundings. One of the main reasons why I started Fran n Fitness was to bring my one experience in representing #asianamericanfitness, especially at a time when I was living in an area that I felt was not as overall as diverse as the LA area. Regardless, I still view Fran n Fitness as a small form of representation in a larger, important dialogue. In the past year, just the few people who have told me directly that they like my page or are glad they found it, has been some of the inspiration added to my “why” to keep sharing my experiences.

Secondly, I’ve also been practicing more mindfulness, being present, and relishing in life without making aspects of it known to the internet. In creating Fran n Fitness, I’ve affirmed that it is easy for me to openly share and write about myself, but it can be very exhausting, especially when it reaches the point of where I feel like posting is a forced obligation or I am just not being genuine. While I do like sharing, I am always striving to be genuine with what I do share, good or bad, making sure I am living my life for myself and not shallow social media gratification.

If you’ve read any of my other blog or Instagram posts, you’ve probably gathered that Fran n Fitness is not just about fitness. It really is an internal, self-growth journey via creating a holistic, active lifestyle. In setting fitness and personal goals, I’ve realized that somethings never end even when I reach a goal. Life is full of seasons of change, transition, and reflection periods. I am always growing and learning as a person, trying to approach each day as an opportunity to improve and strive to be better while pushing through my own days of laziness, lacking motivation, or abundant procrastination, and ultimately making the decision that will serve my soul!

Here’s to a year of Fran n Fitness and seeing where else this lifelong journey will take me. Thank you for reading! What have you gained on your fitness journey?