You’re a mule, not a racehorse

By Rachel Crooks

My first month of marathon training is complete! My foam roller has become my best friend and I have definitely been frequenting running stores more than is entirely necessary. It’s been great and I’ve already learned a lot.

My biggest learning so far is the importance of building a low intensity training base. Prior to starting the marathon program, my philosophy for every run was to go as fast as I comfortably could – my barometer for success was trying to constantly beat previous times. Learning to slow everything down is a big adjustment, and setting out with a goal to keep my heart rate low feels backwards. During one frustrating run in Nose Hill when I was having trouble slowing down and my heart rate kept shooting sky-high, I developed a mantra based on my horseback riding days, “You’re a mule, not a racehorse”. For the marathon, I’m not out to win any trophies – I just want to keep plodding along until I cross that finish line.

It hasn’t all been frustrating though – on a run after our session on technique and form, I was being passed by an elite-looking runner who said “Wow, you have great form!” – if people are noticing, I must be doing something right!

One of the best things about the program so far has been training with like-minded people. Being someone who has only run alone in the past, having a sense of community and a shared goal has been incredibly motivating. One thing I really appreciate about this program is the diversity in experience levels. The alumni have the first-hand knowledge and tips, but it’s also nice to talk to other newbies and share fears, “Have you seen the schedule? Can you believe we have to run for four hours?!”.

So far I’ve been pretty comfortable with the program – we’ve been running distances that I’m very used to, but in the upcoming month our runs start to get into the 1+ hour range. I’m looking forward to these runs and I think that is where pacing myself will become key for me. Moving ahead, I think the biggest challenge for me will be perfecting my work-run-study balance – I’m applying to medical school in the fall and am writing my MCAT in July. I could study physics… or I could go for a run in the warm spring sun.

Tough choice!

Meet Rachel Crooks

Rachel is one of two new guest bloggers who will be writing for 42.2 for the 2016 marathon training season. She will be writing monthly blogs on the second Saturday of every month, updating us on the ups and downs of her journey from 0 to 42.2. I sat down with Rachel to find out a little more her and her running journey up until now. I can’t wait to see what this season has in store for Rachel. Good luck girl! 

Age: 23RachelRunning_01_small

Occupation: Research Assistant with the Hotchkiss Brain Institute

Goal Race: Dublin Marathon

Before joining the UofC Marathon Training Program, how much running had you done before? What was your longest race, if any?

I ran on and off for a few years but then around January 2015 I started running more regularly. I think I did it mostly because I was stressed out about exams and just needed to do something else other than study. That’s when I really started to get into it and began doing it consistently and I kind of fell in love with it.

At most I’ve been running about three or four times a week. They mentioned that we should be able to run three times a week by the time the program started so I feel like I meet that requirement pretty good.

The longest distance I have ever run was in January of this year when I did 18km. Usually I run shorter than that but that was a pretty victorious run for me.

What made you decide to train for a marathon?

I think it goes back to when I was younger, my dad used to run a lot. I remember going out to Victoria when he was doing the Victoria marathon and stopping at different points on the route and just being amazed that someone would run that long. So that kind of planted the seed in my brain. But it’s never been something I really seriously considered until I started running regularly and I started thinking it would be really cool if I could go and do that myself.

What made you decide to join the UofC Marathon Training Program?

I thought about training on my own and I just wasn’t super jazzed about it so I looked at a few different programs. I knew I wanted something that would keep me accountable but a lot of other training programs were pace based or were not directed at a first-time marathoner so it was really intimidating to think about going to do something like that.

But when I found this program it just seemed so friendly. It was especially helpful when I went to the information night and heard about other people’s experiences and heard stories from people who had never run a marathon before about running really long distances. Everyone was so friendly and I just like the way it is set up. For the weekly runs to be based on times instead of distances and the other little things like that seemed like a really good fit for me.

What are you most looking forward to through this journey? Is there something you are really excited about?

Having done a few runs with the group I think that it’s going to be really great having that social aspect to the training and having that support along the way is going to be really important.

I think it will be a big victory to do my first half marathon since I have gotten close but have never actually made that full distance. So doing it officially in a race will be really cool.

Do you have any concerns going into the marathon training season?

I would say going into this I was really worried about the pace that I was running at and that I would just be the slowest person here but after the first few runs I realized I am going to be ok. That fear is lessening but it was the big one going in.

What made you decide that blogging was something you wanted to add to your journey?

I have kept my own blog for a long time and when you sit down to write something it’s always a good way to process all your thoughts and reflect on the kind of stuff you’ve been doing. I wanted a way to be able to do that and also in the future it will be great to have something to look back on.

What’s coming up?

For this marathon training season I am really excited to announce a few awesome new things for 42.2!

I started this site to document what it’s like to run your very first marathon. As everyone who has run a marathon knows, it’s a really special experience and I was so excited to take on the challenge of sharing that experience with others.

But now that I’ve finished my first 42.2, it will be a little hard for me to do that.

So… I am getting some help!

This year I will be featuring two runners who have joined the University of Calgary Marathon Training Program as they train for their first marathon. They will each be writing a monthly guest blog so that we can all follow along on their journey.

I am looking forward to taking the spotlight off of myself and shining it on two new amazing runners and soon-to-be-bloggers!

So who are we going to be hearing from this season?

I am thrilled to introduce to you…

Rachel Crooks


And Kaitlyn Fulton


Stay tuned for an introduction blog on Rachel I will be posting tomorrow (Friday, April 15)! Then, you’ll get to read Rachel’s first post on Saturday, April 16, with her other post’s coming out on the second Saturday of every month.

Kaitlyn’s intro post will be coming to you during the last week of April, with her first post coming out on Saturday, April 30, and her follow-up post’s coming out on the last Saturday of every month until the race.

This season – in addition to posts from our guest bloggers – you can expect to see:

  • Alumni profiles
  • Gear reviews
  • “Best of” Calgary running lists
  • Race highlights
  • And updates on my running journey

I ran a marathon, I can do anything!

The experience of training for – and running – my first marathon has given me a lot of things. It made me stronger, helped me make new friends and allowed me to check a big item off my bucket list.

But a sort of unexpected thing it gave me was a new motto (if you can call it that). Over the last few months anytime I’ve faced any sort of adversity, I’ve simply said to myself, “I ran a marathon, I can do anything!”

There has been many times since October that this one thought has motivated me almost instantly.

When I began to seriously think about applying to university to finish my Communications Degree I thought, “I ran a marathon, I can do anything!”

I have now been accepted to that degree program, am about to finish my first class and am on my way to earning that piece of paper.

When I attempted cross-country skiing for the second time in my life this winter I thought, “I ran a marathon, I can do anything!”

And on Sunday morning when I REALLY didn’t want to get out of bed I thought, “I ran a marathon, I can do anything.”

See? It works in all kinds of situations.

Throughout my life I’ve always been pretty outwardly confident, but as someone who’s also pretty critical of myself, I tend to doubt myself a lot. Since finishing my marathon I feel like I have gained a deeper confidence than I’ve ever had. And I am not talking about the “I can do it” cheerleading you do to make yourself feel better before a big presentation at the office, but a more real confidence where I am not just telling myself I can do it, but actually know I can.

While this has been really good for me, I might have broached the over-confidence territory this winter. I made a solid commitment to myself to stay in shape and somewhere between strength training, an extra-hard effort in a 10-km race and a cold sprint for the bus stop — combined with a lack of caution due to my newfound strength and an old sciatic injury — I managed to injure myself.

The official diagnosis is a herniated disc (L5), and the recovery time is indefinite. According to my physiotherapist, having a lower back injury as early in my life as I did (I was 12), means I will likely be susceptible to those kinds of injuries for the rest of my life. Good to know I suppose…

However, it’s not all doom and gloom. After a few weeks rest and a few weeks of physiotherapy I am back to running up to an hour at a time. And this time I am back running with an extra dose of humility.

So do I still think, “I ran a marathon, I can do anything?”


But from now on I will be proceeding with a little more caution.

I’m back baby

After a rather long (and unintentional) blogging break, I am finally back.

After finishing my marathon in October I was tired but so incredibly proud of what I accomplished. I not only finished the race but also completed my 30-day blog challenge and I don’t regret a thing about either.

Even though the UofC Marathon Program doesn’t run through the winter, I am pleased to share that I still did!

Here’s a short recap of what I’ve been up to over the last few months:

Saturday runs

I am happy to report that I kept running on Saturday mornings with a lot of members of the group, which really helped keep my motivation levels up and helped me to maintain my cardio fitness. I had worked so hard to get in the shape I was in that there was no way I was going to let myself slip over the winter.

Strength, Speed and Stamina

The first class I joined for the winter was a Strength, Speed and Stamina running course with UofC Marathon Training Program head coach, Colleen Parsons. This class was 13 weeks long and each week built on the previous with the ultimate goal of increasing our speed and stamina during a time when we weren’t necessarily working on distance training.

In January we started with a timed 3km run on the track at the university, which we planned to compare to a timed 3km run at the end of the course. Over the 13 weeks we worked on strength building on the stairs, then moved on to speed and stamina with a series of sprint repeats on the track at our goal race paces. For a bunch of marathoners, timed 400+ metre repeats are a pretty big challenge but near the end of the course I think all of us could really feel ourselves building capacity that we didn’t have previously.

This will absolutely be a course I do again next year. (Hopefully next year I will actually be able to finish it! … But more on that later).

Strength Training

I’ve heard from a lot of runners that a little bit of strength training can go a long way when it comes to improving race times. So over the winter I joined a core and strength training class with one of the marathon training program coaches and long-time member, Jennifer de Cocq.

The once a week class is a mix of circuit training and short cardio hits that is hard to explain because it’s different every single time. That’s actually one of the things I love about it. If you are looking to really increase your overall strength and fitness level this is a great place to start. Jen is a great instructor and motivator and I really enjoyed her class over the winter.

Looking forward

That brings us to now. The UofC Marathon Training Program is in full swing, having started at the beginning of March. We have a HUGE group this year with lots of new members, which is super exciting for everyone.

However, my excitement has been dampened by my very first running injury.

Over the next week look out for posts about what you can expect to see on the blog this year (now that I’ve finished my first marathon), and about how I managed to injure myself. But unfortunately that’s all I can leave you with today.