The Journey of Finding Yourself as a Runner
Ellen Deleu
Ellen Deleu • Jul 15

The Journey of Finding Yourself as a Runner

by Ellen Deleu

When I started running, I did not set out to participate in a running event or complete a certain distance in a set time. The first small personal goal was to complete a 5-kilometre run without walking. I found that music was a great distraction and key motivator during my runs. Gradually I added additional kilometres and eventually ran 10 kilometres comfortably. 

After a few years, I started to play with the pace. Every run was logged on a treadmill so I didn’t have to worry about headwinds or rain and I could run in my shorts and T-shirt all year long. 

Some seven years into my running journey, a last-minute and impulsive decision to join in on a 15 km race, gave my running a new dimension. It was a feeling that exceeded the runner’s high and the crowds cheering me on gave me an immense amount of energy. There was a great ambience at the finish line where runners were sharing their race experience with each other and were congratulating finishers they did not even know. All my indoor training hadn’t made me aware of this existing running community.  I found myself heading outside for my runs more frequently and started tracking runs on a sports watch. Three months later I ran my first half marathon. I was eager to progress in both distance and speed. 

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Joining a running club was a game-changer. I joined in on a series of their training sessions: intervals, fartlek and long slow runs. I invested in the necessary running gear such as wind stoppers, gloves and a neck buff, and to my own surprise found myself heading out in all sorts of weather conditions. It was interesting to hear how each member of the club had their own reason to run. Some members had marathon plans, others could tackle training better in a group or just simply enjoyed the company of others. I set myself a goal of running my first marathon the year after. Incorporating a mix of training sessions, I built up the necessary endurance whilst maintaining a certain pace. My working hours made it impossible to keep attending the club training sessions so I returned to my trusted treadmill for the interval sessions whilst the long slow distance runs were banked outside. I felt ready to complete a marathon. 

As I stood at the starting line of my first marathon and saw the other participants I questioned myself. They were armed with belts stacked with gels and water bottles. The only thing I was holding was my iPod. Was I missing something? 

As I stood at the starting line of my first marathon and saw the other participants I questioned myself. They were armed with belts stacked with gels and water bottles. The only thing I was holding was my iPod. Was I missing something? Doubt quickly made way for the rush of excitement that streamed through my body as we set off. I crossed the finish line on the banana I ate for breakfast and the sports gel I accepted at the 30-kilometre mark. What took over a little less than four hours felt like only a fraction of that time. The stream of runners and the enthusiasm of the crowds made me experience the race in a state of trance. I never hit that notorious wall towards the end of the race. It was truly a unique experience. Upon crossing the finish line the exhaustion made way for a euphoric feeling that lasted at least another week. 

Running had without a doubt become an irreplaceable pillar in my life. I prioritized running even during busy work weeks and enjoyed exploring running routes during my holidays. Four years after my first marathon I met my husband, also a runner but a very different type of runner. He shivers at the thought of having to run indoors, uploads and analyzes his runs on Strava and really heads out into an event with a mentality to go fast or go home. He and his equally ambitious friends set the bar high. Influenced by their enthusiasm I joined them and registered for the Barcelona Marathon. My preparation was very different to my first marathon. I followed a training program with a specific goal pace, experimented with sports nutrition during my training sessions and became a lot more conscious of my eating habits and need for recovery. I now too belonged to that group of participants who wore a belt full of gels. Having completed a specific training program my focus was solely on running the marathon at a 5:00 min/km pace. The off-course ambience was fantastic and the Spanish crowds made me feel like a real champion, yet I was less aware of it, too busy checking my watch and timing my gel intake. My dedication paid off and I achieved my goal and I wanted more. I wanted to be sore after a race, like my husband and his friends were. They were avoiding staircases at all costs the week after the race. I wanted to find my threshold pace.

A professional coach introduced me to heart rate zone training schedules. Based on the amount of lactate production, several threshold heart rate zones were defined. The interval training sessions were brutal as the lactate built up in my legs and arms. The long slow runs were painfully slow. Becoming faster however came at a cost. Over the next year, I never even made it to the starting line of any race, always being floored by one or another cold or flu. I was discouraged and no longer understood what running meant to me. 

I decided to burry my rigid training schedules and often set out for runs with no particular goal. On certain days I appreciate an easy run to help gather and organize my thoughts. On other days a good interval session eases stress and tension. I no longer worry about pace and just listen to what my body is capable of that day. I regained my love for running and participated again in events that were on my bucket list such as the Valencia marathon. 

Now solely an outdoor runner and still without a Strava account, I feel a mutual appreciation when crossing other runners. When I nod to them, I often wonder how their journey started and which reason brings them to the park on a Saturday morning at 8 am to complete a run. 

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