Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Toastmasters Speech: Becoming an Unlikely Runner

The second speech in the Toastmasters manual is called "Organize Your Speech". The focus is to have a solid opening (tell them what you're going to tell them), three or so specific points (tell them), and solid conclusion (tell them what you told them). After the initial ice breaker speech which is about yourself, you can make the topic of your speech anything that works with the goals. 

It's kind of hard to think of topics with basically infinite options! But for this speech, I decided that a certain familiar topic lent itself well to organizing around three topical points: How I became a runner.

Title: Becoming an Unlikely Runner

(I opened the speech by displaying my marathon shadow box.)

These are mementos from my first full marathon, which was last year’s Portland Marathon. (FYI, this year’s race is this Sunday, if you have any interest in spectating a marathon, it’s a good one.)

It came as a surprise, even to myself, that I was running a marathon! As a kid, the only running I really did was the required mile in PE class each year. I was part of the group walking and chatting at the back. Only in eighth grade, the last year we had to do the mile test, did I even make an effort - and ended up meeting the required standard for my age by a whole four seconds.

But, every once in a while after that, in high school and college, I’d occasionally go for a run. I was never fast, and I always took walking breaks, so it never really occured to me to pursue it more seriously. But four years ago I ended up becoming a runner, and eventually a marathon finisher. It was a process to get there, though, what enabled me to do so, and what I would recommend to anyone else wanting to start running, is to:
  1. Start small, with a run/walk interval program and work up to longer distances.
  2. Join with friends to make the sometimes-tortuous process more fun.
  3. And work towards a goal, with race registrations set to be a motivation.

First, start small. Anyone who’s tried to jump headfirst into something without adequate preparation knows it’ll be overwhelming, and you’ll probably quit as soon a the initial excitement wears off. You can’t get ready to run a marathon overnight; you can’t even be ready to run a 5k overnight!

When I got serious about running, I used a program called Couch to 5k. There’s a website with an outlined training scheduled, and there are a myriad of phone apps with similar programs. It alternates run/walk intervals, starting with very small running times - 60 seconds - and longer walking times, and eventually reversing that to run for longer times with less walking recovery, and eventually running without a break.

There’s no shame in taking walking breaks, even later in your running career, especially as you’re trying to achieve a longer distance or faster pace, breaking it down again into smaller pieces might be what helps you get there.

And after accomplishing the 5k distance, I did a 10k race, and then worked up to the half marathon. After a few halfs, I finally felt ready to tackle the full distance. Had I gone from the couch to a marathon training plan, I would have been miserable - more miserable than marathon training was anyway - and probably quite running forever.

Another crucial tool when I was getting into running was running with friends. Two coworkers were interested in it at the same time, and we did the C25k program together. We not only accomplished running, but it provides a lot of time with no distractions to chat and get to know each other better! It made it a fun-but-challenging activity into just plain fun. Those two friends no longer work at the same firm, but the bond we forged doing C25k has maintained our friendships!

If you don’t know anyone you runs, you can make friends for that purpose by joining a running group. There are plenty of such groups if you look around, many targeted for a specific goal race or a certain group like women or moms. Though I haven’t joined a formal running group, I did join a team for triathlon training, and it was hugely beneficial; so much I probably will look for a group for my next goal running race.

Setting a goal race - also useful while running. As the name C25k implies, it is intended to prepare you for racing a 5k. Knowing we had a race to be prepared for was a great help in sticking to the C25k program, especially when running for a whole 3 minutes at a time made us feel like we were dying. Our goal was the Race for the Cure, which is a huge event, high energy and people of all levels participating - from the elites doing 6 minute miles to people taking an hour plus to walk the whole thing.

Though I’ve developed a love for running, I still have times when I’m busy and it’s hard to make the time for it, or I just get burnt out and lose motivation. I still use race registrations to keep myself motivated, setting a goal to achieve to keep me getting out the door and putting the work in.

So if you’re ever cheered on at a race, or heard someone brag about setting a new PR, but never thought you could do it, too - reconsider. Running is truly an accessible sport that virtually anyone can do. Ease into with small steps, make it social by running with friends, and set goals to keep yourself motivated, and before you know it you just might be calling yourself a runner.


  1. Nice speech! I wish someone had told me when I was young how to learn how to run. I know that it would have helped me a lot to feel like it was a skill I could improve rather than just an activity that made me want to die.

    1. Well, it is nonetheless true that the process of improving often makes one feel like dying. :)


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