A Pacer Shares: My Journey from Beginner to Running a Sub 3 Hour Marathon
Written by Chen Wuzei: Codoon Ambassador (Runtopia's parent company) & Sydney Marathon Pacer. Chen has been running for the past 5 years, starting from running 2 kilometers to now running as a pacer in marathons, with an average pace of 4 minutes/km.
This blog post has been translated from Chinese, you can find the original here. All images are from Codoon.
"One cruel thing among us, is that sincerity and hard work can't be exchanged, as is with humbleness and loss of self-esteem."
I'm not sure if you're the type of person, who imagines being unstoppable when running. Maybe it's the combination of boosted adrenaline running through your veins, and music pumping in your ears.
During a single run, I can finish a movie script in my head, starring myself as the hero: unstoppable and determined with every step I take forward.
I don't care about being laughed at. Sometimes when I hear the light rain pattering against the window, I tell myself "The more I don't feel like running, the more I need to run. Everyone else is going to skip their runs today, but I can take that step ahead of them and go out". And my adrenaline starts to build up.
Then, as I go out for my run, the sky is filled with lightning and thunder, and my immediate thought is: "Well, if I'm struck by lightning, my grandparents can have my house..., err no, buy Tencent stocks."
"What would you do if you were truly free?"
"I would sleep until I wake up naturally, then go running on the open highlands... I'd find professional running coaches, and run around the world."
Time to wake up! Life is full of responsibilities, hard work and sacrifice: there's no avoiding it.
But what's true, is that running is an ongoing dialogue between you, and you alone.
1. Hello, Newbie.
Hello, Chen in 2016.
You're 26 years old this year, and you've just found out that your shoulders are habitually dislocated. Starting that dream career in basketball will remain just that: a dream. Unless you want to lose your arms...
Because of this, you've gained extra weight, so you start running to get that weight off.
I can’t wait to tell you what's ahead for you because of running: you'll make so many friends, run marathons, travel the world...
No, it’s still too early to tell you this. You've just finished running your first 2.67 kilometers, your pace at just under 8 minutes/km. You feel excited about your accomplishment, and can't wait to tell the world that you've managed to run nearly 3 kilometers without stopping a single time!
"What we need in the world is not practical advice, but rather, sympathy."
As a new runner, you feel puzzled. It was 2.67 kilometers: bright and clear. In the past, this was something you'd never do, something you couldn't accomplish. But you did it now: you ran your first 2+ kilometers.
You share your accomplishment and wonder why someone would comment so snarkily: "You're walking so fast."
Shouldn't it be: "Awesome, great job."...
After all, you accomplished running nearly 3km without stopping once. Your lungs felt like they were on fire. You felt more exhausted in 20 minutes of running than from an hour of playing basketball.
The other comments read, "Anything under 5 kilometers isn't considered a run; it's a walk."
5 kilometers, that's nearly double the 2.67 kilometers?! I might die running that long... but I guess I'll give it a shot?
You keep trying.
Sure enough, you have slowly begun to feel the joy of running: the runner's high. You set your goal of doubling your previous run, and upping your distance to 5km, and sure enough, you're able to accomplish it.
"Try to slow down, haha!"
"I can run 10km in that time."
"Running 5 kilometers in 45 minutes, who runs that slow?"
...Yes, it's slow, but I tried my best.
When you were new runner, you didn't know anything about running. You wanted to join a running group, but you were scared and felt inferior. You knew you couldn't keep up with the others, and that's all you would have wanted.
But you don't stop, you keep going, running 5 kilometers, 7 kilometers... again and again.
You try to listen to the professionals telling you not to worry, to go step by step, you're still young and have time to improve.
But on the other hand, you feel anxious. Why haven't I improved within these 2-3 months of running? You try to cheat the system by running 200 meters, pressing pause, resting for a while and then continue running again. But even as you do this, your pace is still "only" 5:10.
Maybe those 4min paced runs you see online are not real, how could they be?
2. Don't Keep Waiting, Run Together
Hello, Chen in 2017.
After running for a year, you are no longer alone. Through running, you've made friends who run with you. Through these friends, you share the mutual world of running; they share the same passion as you.
"Chen, the last time I ran a marathon, I saw there were many pacers. The pacer I was following made running feel really steady and easy."
"Yeah, runners who can be pacers are naturally great runners." I reply.
Let's be honest, even at that time, you knew that running is one of the most rewarding things to do for growth.
To grow, is to hope that one day, someone will applaud you for your accomplishments.
It's become apparent that because of your running hobby, you've started paving your path. It's not as complicated as you though: it's as simple as running.
"Run 5km, run 10km, run a half marathon, run a full marathon."
Finish first, applaud after.
You've now run as a pacer in a race to prove that you can run at a steady speed.
Not only have you completed a marathon, you've also improved your speed and gotten a new PB, you now only feel half exhausted after finishing.
Because of these experiences and goals, running is no longer equated with boredom, but it has brought about more meaning.
"Chen, I admire you for being able to keep going."
"No, no, it's just a hobby." I say.
To be fair, hobbies are the things that we do out of passion to feel we're alive. Running is just that.
"One day, I'll be able to run a marathon under 3 hours."
3. Hard Work Pays Off
Hello, Chen in 2018.
After three years of running, not only do you know many people because of running, but many people know of you. You can't even imagine the experiences you've gained. By running, you've broken barriers. You've seen so many amazing and humble runners.
Amazing, yet humble. You look at their pace and compliment them. They are shy and modest. You ask them their insight on how to improve running performance. They share with enthusiasm.
Starting this year, the best gratitude is to share what you've learned.
When you see something good, you can't help but share it with more people and let more people see what you see.
In addition to running, you've also tried trail running, which is a lot of fun, but even harder. How can these runners run up mountains?
How can anyone love this kind of sport?
The experienced runners all run so fast on the trails. If you've completed a marathon trail running, even better.
These trail runners wear the best outdoors clothes and speak with such knowledge.
"Oh, I can't keep going, I can't run. If there's anymore uphill I might pass out."
The person who said these words came in first place during the race.
"Let him run, I'm going to stop at the aid station to eat a bit, I'll catch up to him later." The person who said this really caught up with the runner ahead of him, even after stopping to eat.
Running is no longer just a hobby for you, but through running you've found a deep passion: something that excites you within and gives you meaning.
"If I could go back in time, I'd start running earlier and get to know all these amazing people."
After running for 5 years, I've heard many people comment and tell me that I am their "running goals". The simple truth of it, is that we're all ordinary people, and most of us are just very lucky to have found running as our hobby. For my running time, I'm more than happy to pay for.
The question I get asked the most: "How to improve running performance?"
My answer is: "Just run step by step, improve slowly, little by little, and don't stress about it."
When starting out, it's very likely that you'll have false knowledge of running, and you'll push yourself for immediate results. Don't do that. Mix up your running, don't omit speed workouts, long runs, easy runs. They're all crucial to your improvement. And REST.
But the real trick here is still: You have to explore, run, and pay your personal time for talent.
On my journey from a beginner to a marathon runner, I've noticed there are so many people around me with clear goals.
They wake up before the crack of dawn and run in the dark. They manage to balance work and life. They're clearly tired and not understood by people who don't run.
Even if I don’t understand it, I still run. I run countless times a month just to increase my PR by a minute. Where is the so-said "running goals?" This is clearly insanity.
But I truly feel that it is a good thing for people to have a hobby they enjoy.
"How do you keep going with your running?"
"Don't be afraid of not reaching your goals, of not achieving your dreams. Because, with consistent work, you will."
Nice to meet you, Chen of 2021.