From Last Place to a Consistent Pace: My Journey to Becoming a Runner

By Shelby Mongan

I decided at age 10 that I was not and could never be a runner. I have the Presidential Fitness Test to thank for that, unfortunately. Middle school is not a fun time to finish last in the mile run in front of the rest of the class. Even though I played sports throughout middle and high school, I still always thought I would always be bad at running and would never enjoy it.

That’s precisely why, when I crossed the finish line of the Hot Chocolate 5k here in Chicago on November 5th, I burst into happy tears. I had done what felt impossible; I became a runner.

I learned a lot over the process of training for the race, and more than just running form!

Get out of your own way

I struggled to call myself “a runner” throughout the process. I felt like I wasn’t in shape enough, wasn’t fast enough, wasn’t experienced enough to claim the sport. The box I put myself in was the main thing holding me back. I hit a point, though, where I was running so often that I had to challenge the ideas I had about myself. I made the change eventually, but the training process was mentally much harder because I didn’t believe in myself to change.

Trust the process

I remember finishing the first training run of my program (I used the Watch to 5k app with my Apple Watch, which adapts the NHS’s 9-week program) feeling like a 5k would be impossible. I was struggling to run a minute at a time. How would I ever be able to run for a half hour or more?! This is the place I’d normally stop when I tried to start running in the past. I’d feel overwhelmed and give up after day one. This time around, though, I decided to take a different way. Forget trying to run for 30 mins at a time. The goal was to run 3 minutes at a time. And when I got there? Really celebrate it, then shift the goal forward another 2 minutes. It took a long time for the goal of 5k to feel doable, but setting an early goal of 1k made all the difference.

You are made for hard things

From the beginning of my training to the race itself, running kept presenting challenges. Sure, the distances got longer and the times got shorter, but there were always times that pushed me. The weather would be bad, the treadmill would be boring, my knees would protest, my head wouldn’t be in it. The mantra I started repeating to myself was, I’m made to do hard things. I’ve overcome so much in the past. I had to remind myself that these challenges would be no different. 

Find the fun

In the past, I’d dip into running because I felt like I “should” do it. I’d go out once, hate every second of it, and then swear it off for another year or two. I made it into a miserable obligation instead of an opportunity to move my body, care for myself and have fun. When I was training for this 5k, joy had to be the name of the game! I made myself a playlist chock full of guilty pleasure music that was only for running. I said hello to every dog I passed. I pictured myself as a character in a movie, running from a dragon or toward a treasure. Joy was the goal. Before long, I started actually looking forward to my runs, even as they got tougher.

I’m happy to report that after learning these lessons, I’m still a runner today! I finished my first 10k this year and am still in love with running, even when I don’t have a race to train for. I encourage you to try something new, challenge your expectations of who you are, and most importantly, fall in love with movement. It has changed my life, and it can change yours too.

Shelby Mongan is the Leadership and Development Training Lead at Vitality Group. She cultivated a love for learning and training in academia and found herself a perfect fit in Vitality’s training team. Outside of work, you can find her going on hikes with her dog and husband, doing yoga and kickboxing, or curled up with a book or a video game.

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