What started as a way just to keep busy became an opportunity to face my feelings head-on and strengthen my sense of self.
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Credit: Elle Trice/RDC_design/Getty

Girl signs up for a half marathon. Girl creates a training plan. Girl sets goal. Girl never trains....and, you probably guessed it, girl never runs the race.

ICYMI, I am that girl. Or at least I was that girl for the past three races I signed up (and paid!) for, but failed to commit to, convincing myself of infinite reasons to quit along the way — sleep, work, potential injuries, just one more glass of wine.

I was a full-on commitment-phobe when it came to running races.

Making Excuses Is Easy 

I've always been a very driven person, but when I moved to New York City from Georgia two years ago that drive was disrupted by anxiety brought on by the adjustments many New York-transplants likely experience: the seasonal depression, the overwhelming ratio of concrete to (very little) nature, and the rude awakening that is a $15 (once $5) glass of wine. All of this change became overwhelming — so much so that soon my motivation to accomplish even tasks that I used to look forward to disappeared. Simply put: I was anxious, unmotivated, and feeling less and less like myself.

While I realized what was happening, I struggled to find a way to reclaim my ambition, ultimately landing upon the idea that if I could just channel all of my attention and effort toward more commitments — half marathons, dietary changes, yoga — I might be able to distract myself from this newfound nervousness and thus, reclaim my mojo.

Repeat something over and over and sure enough, you’ll start to believe it — at least that as the case for me as I convinced myself that the more goals I set and the more pressure I put on myself, the more I’d be able to fend off my icky feelings and rediscover my motivation. And so, I signed up for a half marathon…and another…and another. Before moving to NYC, I loved to run. But just like my ambition, my passion for pounding the pavement slipped away as my anxiety increased. So, I was confident training would keep me busy and, in turn, my mind a little less anxious. (Related: Why Half Marathons Are the Best Distance Ever)

However, I was a pro at finding excuses each and every time I signed up for these halfs and it came time to start training. See, I was still keeping up with hot yoga and sessions at Barry’s Bootcamp, so, skipping out on training and, eventually, each race became even more justified in my head. One race I was supposed to run with my friend and then she moved to Colorado, so why do it myself? Another I was supposed to run in the spring, but it was too cold to train in the winter. And yet another race I was supposed to run in the fall, but I changed jobs and let it conveniently fall off my radar. There wasn't an excuse I couldn't and wouldn't use. The worst part? I really did sign up for each race with the best intentions: I truly wanted to push myself, to cross the finish line, and to feel as if I accomplished something. In short, I reasoned and rationalized until my decision to not commit felt valid and safe. (Related: How to *Really* Commit to Your Fitness Routine)

Ellie and Friends Post-Marathon
Credit: Ellie Trice

My A-Ha Moment 

Looking back, it's not incredibly surprising that these undertakings just further overwhelmed me and soon turned into inconveniences that I’d easily toss aside. Evading your emotions rarely works in the long-run (i.e. toxic positivity). And pushing yourself through a long to-do list when you're already feeling a little, well, stuck? Yup, that's sure to backfire.

But hindsight is 20/20, and, at this point, I had yet to come to this realization — that is, however, until one night in Novemeber while working on Shape's sneaker awards. I was sorting through interviews with experts and accounts from product testers praising certain pairs for helping them reach a new PR or power through previous marathons, and I just felt like a hypocrite. I was writing about crushing goals when I couldn't seem to commit to one myself.

And really, truly recognizing that stung but, it was also kind of freeing. As I sat there, stewing in shame and frustration, I finally (arguably for the first time since moving) slowed down and saw the truth: I wasn't just avoiding training, but I was also avoiding my anxieties. By trying to distract myself with a growing list of races and responsibilities, I had lost substantial control over areas of my life as well.

Similar to a bad date who can't seem to commit no matter the number of nights you spend together, I was failing to commit to this thing called "running" despite having a positive history with it. (I mean, why else would I have signed up all of these times? Why else did I bring running clothes to work every day?) So, I sat down and tried to remember why I wanted to train and run a half marathon in the first place.  (Related: How to Find Time for Marathon Training When You Think It's Impossible)

Something Finally Stuck

When I signed up for another half marathon in September with this new perspective on my behaviors, I was hoping this would finally be the race where I'd actually cross the finish line and regain my confidence. I now understood that just adding another goal to my to-accomplish list wasn’t going to kickstart my ambition and rid me of my anxieties. Rather, it was the act of working toward that goal that could hopefully help me get back on track.

Ellie With Half Marathon Medal
Credit: Ellie Trice

I couldn’t control the city's dark winters or the lack of nature that originally caused my anxiety, and I couldn’t control unexpected changes in plans, whether that meant staying late at work or losing my running buddy to a new city. But I could rely on a specific training schedule and that could help me feel a little less anxious and a little more like myself.

After these realities set in, I let my newfound motivation spark a flame: I was ready to *actually* train and now needed the plan to help me stick to it. So, I turned to my best friend Tori, a four-time marathoner, for help creating a schedule. Knowing me better than most, Tori took into account that I typically wouldn’t be able to do my runs in the a.m. (I am not a morning person), that I’d prefer to save those weekends long runs for Saturdays instead of Sundays, and that I'd need an extra push to really follow through with cross-training. The result? A perfectly curated half marathon training plan that took all of those factors into consideration, making it practically excuse-free. (Related: What I Learned from Helping My Friend Pace a Marathon)

So, I dug in and started really working through Tori’s set-up. And soon, with the help of my smartwatch as well, I realized that, as long as I maintained momentum, I could not only run the lengths designated in my plan but also run them faster than I ever imagined. By logging my miles and the pace of each one on my device, I got into the habit of competing with myself. As I pushed myself to beat my pace from the day before, I gradually became more and more motivated and started to find my stride not just with running but in life.

All of a sudden, the training I once avoided at all costs became a joy with each day offering the chance to make myself prouder than the last — with each second I ticked off or just each mile further I ran. I was having fun. I was on fire. And soon I was running an 8:20 mile — a new PR. Before I knew it, I was saying no to late nights and going to bed early because I couldn't wait to beat my time on Saturday morning. But the most amazing part was that a lot that anxiety started to slowly fade away as it was replaced by endorphins, belief in myself, and, thus, a reclaimed sense of drive. (See also: Why You Should Tap Into Your Competitive Spirit)

Map of Run From Smart Device
Credit: Ellie Trice

Ready for Race Day...and Beyond

When race day finally rolled around in December, about six weeks after starting Tori's training plan, I legit sprung out of bed.

I ran the laps around Central Park, past the hydration stations and bathroom breaks I once would have easily used as excuses to stop. But things were different now: I reminded myself that I had (and have) control over my choices, that if I really needed some H2O, I could totally take a break, but it wasn’t going to stop me from following through ‘til the finish line. This 13.1 distance was a milestone for change, and I was finally committed to making that happen. The small things that once held me back became just that: small. I finished the race at a time nearly 30 minutes faster than expected, clocking in at 2-hours, 1-minute, and 32-seconds or a 9.13-minute mile.

Since this half marathon, I've changed the way I see commitment. I commit to things because I truly want them, not because they will distract me or offer an escape from my problems. I'm invested in the challenges in my life because I know I can — and will, due largely in part to my drive — overcome them. As for running? I do it before work, after work, whenever I feel like it really. The difference now, however, is that I run regularly to feel energized, strong, and in control, no matter how overwhelming city life can be for me.