From 5Ks to Half-Marathons
Have you ever wanted to learn something new, but were a little too nervous? Sometimes those first few steps are the most difficult.
Patricia Kawryga wasn’t a runner. That all changed when a friend encouraged her to join a training program and run a 5K race. Now, miles and miles later, Patricia has completed not only dozens of 5Ks, but six half-marathons. For this month’s Fitness column, she shared her story and inspiration with us.
SWM: Did you run much before the No Boundaries program?
Patricia: No, I was not a runner before joining No Boundaries. I was never very athletic growing up and hid in the locker room during phys ed! As an adult, I enjoyed walking to stay active, but that was all the activity I really did for many years.
SWM: What prompted you to start the program?
Patricia: In March 2013, a friend of mine, Sandy Tucker, told me about a Fleet Feet program she had heard of called No Boundaries. She explained that it teaches people how to run and, at the end of the training, we should be able to run a 5K. Sandy was thinking of signing up and encouraged me and my daughter, Erin, to join, too.
Against my better judgement, Sandy, Erin and I all decided to give it a shot. On the first day, we were put into groups based on previous activity. I was in a strictly walking group. After the first week, I switched myself into one of the running groups to be with Sandy.
SWM: Was running initially difficult? What was the biggest challenge?
Patricia: Running was difficult. Saying that it was hard is an understatement! The No Boundaries training is very gradual; you start with small run/walk intervals and build each week. When I first started, we had to run for just one minute. It was the longest minute ever! As the weeks progressed, more running was added. My first coaches were Alan and Kate. Week after week, they put up with my whining as we began to run more and walk less. They were so encouraging and helpful throughout the training, I didn’t want to quit or let them down.
The biggest challenge was convincing myself I could actually run a 5K. Our coaches assured us that if we did the training and our “homework” runs, we would be successful. In June 2013, I completed the Runapalooza 5K at 57 years old! I crossed that finish line in about 55 minutes. Since that first 5K, I’ve done dozens of 5Ks, with a personal best of about 34 minutes.
SWM: Did you have an a-ha moment during your initial training, when you knew you wanted to run more than the 5K?
Patricia: After my first 5K, I signed up for No Boundaries about 10 more times! I always felt a little too slow for the “advanced” programs and often went back to No Boundaries, where I was comfortable. I got a lot of teasing from the coaches about how many times I did the program. Coach Mallory, who is in charge of No Boundaries, told me I couldn’t sign up anymore! Of course, she was joking, but I started to wonder what I should do next.
It was around that time that my daughters decided to sign up for the Syracuse Half Marathon. I hate missing out, so I decided I would sign up, too, and moved on to distance training.
SWM: Tell us about distance training.
Patricia: I signed up for the distance training program in January 2016. I was placed in Coach Tish’s group with other runners around my pace. The great thing about distance training is there are groups for people of all paces; nobody is left out or left running alone.
Distance training is a lot different than what I was used to. We had speed workouts on Wednesday nights and long runs on Sunday mornings. We ran in the cold, snow, wind, sleet, rain and darkness.
The first week, we started out running four miles and, to my surprise, I did it! Week after week, we added miles. And, week after week, I amazed myself by completing it. There were always coaches running with us. Their encouragement and support is what got me through.
SWM: Tell us about the moment you crossed the finish line of your first half-marathon.
Patricia: The day of the Syracuse Half Marathon arrived — April 3, 2016 — and it was a blizzard! As my daughters and I made it to the OnCenter for the start, my nerves started to get the best of me. Even though I’d trained, I had no idea if I could actually run 13.1 miles.
We had some time to kill before the start, so everyone was waiting inside the OnCenter, trying to stay warm. Out of nowhere, a guy walked up to me and nudged my arm. I turned around and was shocked to see my brother, Bill, who lives in Virginia, standing in front of me. He had driven up to surprise me and run his first half-marathon, too!
When it came time to go outside and line up, I started to get nervous again. I had never been so afraid of anything as I was of not finishing in time and being asked to move off the course. When the race began, I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. The conditions were bad; there was snow, wind, hail, sleet and rain. The roads were slippery and visibility was poor.
Somewhere along the course, I met up with Coach Tish and we ran together, encouraging each other not to quit. As I neared the finish line with Coach Tish, I saw my brother, Bill. He had already finished, but came back to run the last quarter-mile of the race with me.
As I neared the finish line, my emotions started to kick in and I could feel my eyes tearing up. I crossed the finish line with Bill and Tish and immediately cried! My husband and daughters were waiting at the finish line and we all hugged and cried. My time was horrible — 3 hours and 14 minutes — but, considering the conditions, I was happy to finish and get that medal.
I have now done six half-marathons and completed my goal of finishing in less than three hours!
SWM: What’s your advice for someone just learning to run?
Patricia: Know you can do it. Don’t give up and stick to your goals. Trust in your training. I’m a perfect example of that; I know I will never win a race, but I’ve crossed every finish line of every race I’ve done!
Most of all, it’s important to have fun and enjoy the process. It’s not going to be easy, but it’s worth it! SWM
For more information on Fleet Feet’s training programs, visit fleetfeetsyracuse.com/training.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.