From Rower To Runner: Shifting My Mindset Around Competition + Training

I was a rower throughout high school + had rowed on Michigan’s D1 team my freshman year.  I loved the grueling practices + dedication that came with training for a competition.  Pushing myself to the absolute maximum was a way of life. But it hadn’t always been that way.

Prior to finding rowing, fitness had never been a part of my life.  Rowing was the only kind of fitness known to me, so after leaving the team, I was lost.  Without the structure of my team, the guidance of my coaches, + the motivation of competition, exercise went from an activity I looked forward to each day to being a monotonous chore that I hated.  In the months following the end of my rowing career, I went from a person praised for their athletic accomplishments to being undeniably out of shape.  I had gone from running stadium steps in The Big House to barely running a mile without being gassed.  I was embarrassed by the person I was becoming yet lacked the motivation to change it. 

I needed something to train for.  In rowing my training always had a purpose + I missed the feeling that came with the accomplishment of each new goal after working towards it for several months.  I chose running because it was convenient + the half marathon because it would take months to train for ++ keep me occupied for a while.  I set out to complete a 13.1 mile race as a means of accountability for living a healthier lifestyle than I was living.  What I received was a re-ignited passion for fitness, a new mindset around competition + training, ++ a new love for running.

Along this journey there were a few crucial things I learned —

One of the hardest things I had to do was learn to compete against myself + for myself only.  As an athlete, if I entered a competition, the expectation was to go for the win – never just finish the race.  The idea of entering a competition with the goal of completion took me a long time to accept + this manifested in my mentality towards training.  I initially ran my training runs at paces that were far too fast for me + ultimately would be unable to finish them.  I over trained, irritated old injuries, + became increasingly more frustrated ++ discouraged. 

Learning to be adaptable in my training was another struggle that took me a long time to overcome.  As a very Type A person, I thrived off following a plan exactly + I was sold on the promise that completing every workout as prescribed was what would guarantee my success.   I needed to accept that missing or modifying a workout was not the end of the world.  Additionally, I needed to realize that running at this volume was new to me + how my body responded to this volume of training was unique.  I needed to listen to how my body was feeling + train smartly.  Sometimes this meant cycling instead of running, sometimes it meant an extra rest day,  ++ others it meant running slower than prescribed. 


The reality is, you won’t be motivated every day.  There will be days you don’t feel like running or you start your long run + feel like stopping a couple miles in.  While these days are not the majority, being able to train through them is crucial to your overall success.  I had always considered myself a self-motivated person.  In reality I was ignorant to the fact that I had always been dependent on an accountability squad: my teammates and coaches whom I did not want to show weakness towards. 

Before this journey, I’ll be honest I never loved running.  I later discovered it was because I had never run for the sake of running.  Running had always been either a portion of a conditioning program or a default mechanism of exercise that I did when I had no access to gym equipment.  As I reached the middle of my training, I noticed a shift in how I viewed my runs.  They became my escape from school projects, exams, + other stressful aspects of life.  I began to notice the endorphins upon finishing a run + the release of stress I felt while running.  I noticed the beauty in the parks I ran through, found the best places to watch Ann Arbor’s beautiful sunsets, + even noticed how much better I was able to focus when I completed my runs in the morning before class or work.    

I began to once again love the challenge.  I loved pushing myself in the last 0.5 mile of a long run, I loved the struggle of going up a steep hill + finally reaching the top.  I, once again, loved exercise + pushing myself.  Deciding to start this journey was one of the best decisions I’ve made.  I could barely run a mile when I started but crushed my goal of finishing the race.  Anyone can be a runner if they want to regardless of where they’re starting from– you just have to focus on enjoying the process + running your own race.

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PSA: Looking for a running-focused workout program + community this summer? Always wanted to run 13.1 miles without stopping? Join CHAARG Run Club! Registration is open until May 29 — see more details here!

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