Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal: Training for a Half Marathon as Mother and Son

As a full-time education consultant, Allison Zmuda works with educators to grow ideas on how to make learning for students challenging, possible and worthy of the attempt. Over the past 19 years, Zmuda has shared curricular, assessment, and instructional ideas, shown illustrative examples, and offered practical strategies of how to get started.

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By Allison and Cuda Zmuda

This is not the story of a 41-year-old stroke victim and a 12-year-old Type 1 diabetic running a half marathon. It is a story of how two people set a big, hairy, audacious goal and did it paired with some lessons we learned along the way that are applicable to any goal.

Cuda goes first.

training for a half marathonMany people asked me, “Why run a half marathon?” My answer was, “because I can do it.”

I decided that I wanted to run the half marathon after my mom did. Training for the half marathon was hard — hard to fit into my everyday schedule and hard to get the energy to get me through the runs. A lot of time I needed to walk or stop all together. I felt at times like that it was a mistake to try to run such a hard tiring race. I still remember all the days of getting up at 5:00 in the morning to go for runs before it got super hot and humid out.

As we kept increasing the miles, I had to start carrying my meter with me in case I felt low. Sometimes my mom motivated me by designing the route so we could end at a cool breakfast place. Other times my dad and sister followed us in the jeep cheering us on. If you add up all the training mileage we ran over two marathons!

When race day came I was excited but so nervous. I began running and I felt great. At first I was doing it to see how fast I can run it. But when we were going throughout the course I realized that it wasn’t about the destination, it was about the journey. Then I took a breath and began to actually take a look around and I enjoyed it a whole lot.

The last mile showed me that I had courage and perseverance to finish the race. After the race was over it felt so good to wear the medal. I felt accomplished. My mom kept telling me during the training that I could do anything I set my mind to. I finally understood what she meant.

Mom goes second.

half marathon
Crossing the finish line!

I was very leery about gearing up for and actually completing 13.1 miles.

Little history. Five years ago as I was struggling with writing a book, I procrastinated by looking on the Internet for more tangible struggles. I settled in on what I thought was a daunting challenge — running a ½ marathon in our hometown. I immediately thought that the physical struggle of running and the conceptual struggle of writing would go well together. The good news was that I turned the book in two months later and started upping my mileage.

The bad news was that one month after that I had an acute stroke that initially made me paralyzed on my right side. After several weeks, of physical therapy, I started walking again, building up one miserable block at a time. The unexpected struggle of learning how to walk again was not something I had in mind.

When the half marathon approached, my husband suggested that I pick up the running shirt anyway for future motivation. I called Paul Wright, an experienced running/triathalon friend to be my guide on race day. No training plan, just a desire to get that medal. As I hobbled through the race, I relived all of what happened to me from the stroke until that day and started to heal. Being on that race course started to liberate me from defining myself as a stroke victim.

Fast-forward to my son’s request’s to have me be his partner in the race. There were lots of reasons not to do it. But if it gave my son even a little bit of liberation from his diabetes, I was all in. This time, it was about using the training plan to work on pace, stamina, and heart.

How we made it through — training and life lessons.

  • half marathon

    Breaking a task down into manageable parts helped make it feel doable. Based on the goal for that day, we came up with a run-walk plan, evaluated its impact in real time, and modified it based on how our bodies were holding up.

  • Even when you don’t feel like it, do it anyway. There were times we dragged ourselves to get out of bed … to get through the mileage … but we always felt accomplished after it was over.
  • When you lose your focus, when you attention wanders, exhale and try again. That’s how you learn.
  • Thinking and feeling are connected. If you have a worried thought, you will feel more anxious. Stop worrying about what’s up ahead or fixating on what you have done in the past.
  • Partners make most tasks more enjoyable and powerful. We inspired each other when one of us felt we couldn’t. The task connected us together before, during, and after the half marathon because we really saw one another.
  • Take care of your body. Hydrate (even if you aren’t thirsty), focus on form and breath (instead of going through the motions), take a break and ease up (even if you just want to get it over with).
  • Share your task and your plans with others to help you stay accountable and get them to cheer you on. Saying our big, bold goal initially made it feel more real. Talking about the plan during training created a ton of support: advice from other people that did the race, moral boosts along the way from friends and family driving by in their cars, and shared pride as we talked about what we did that day.
  • Celebrate the accomplishment. Our goal was not how fast we could go; our goal was to go shoulder to shoulder throughout the journey doing the best we could and having fun while we were doing it.

What’s one big, hairy, audacious goal that you have? Where are you on the journey? Share your story.


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Ellen McNett
Ellen McNett
4 years ago

My goal is to integrate music into my curriculum. To do that requires that I get much better at playing the music. This in turns requires much more time for practice than I currently put into it, and a boost in attitude. My motivation is low because it is not coming easy to me. That was an important insight into the minds of my struggling students as well.

4 years ago

Thanks for sharing your personal story Allison. I appreciate the connection to how we can tackle any large challenges. Inspirational!