I Never Thought I'd Be A Runner Until Running Changed The Way I See Myself
I never thought I’d be a runner…
I have always battled my weight. I was the “chunky”, “big boned” kid in elementary school. Never really fat, but never really not-fat, either. In high school, I was athletic and fit, but still a size 9 or 11. The senior boys gave all of the volleyball team nicknames and mine was “Healthy Shannon.” They didn’t mean it as a compliment. Or, at least I didn’t take it as one. The problem is my hips and legs; no matter how fit I am, I have big hips, butt, thighs, and calves, disproportionate to my small shoulders, bust, and waist. At one point in high school, I got down to 118 lbs (I’m 5’7”) with a 20” waist. Didn’t matter. I wore a size 3 or 5 on top and a 7 or 9 on the bottom and when I looked in the mirror, I thought “Thunder thighs”. I jokingly described my shape as bowling pin rather than pear or apple.
I entered university feeling bigger and bulkier than most of my “normal” friends and the all-night studying sessions and discovery of late-night pizza delivery did nothing to improve my shape. I stayed active and managed to keep off most of the weight, but developed poor habits and a love for beer that would ensure my weight issues would emerge full-on once I moved to the world of work. And it did. My weight skyrocketed over the next few years and I climbed from my relatively stable size 11 to a women’s size 18 by the time I turned 25. With very few exceptions, I would stay around here for the next 15 years.
My twenties and early thirties passed. I got married, we bought a house, my career was great. It was during this time that my husband and I decided to try to have a baby. It took us three years of pretty dedicated effort to finally conceive, and it hit me like a hammer that I needed to do everything in my power to ensure that this baby, this precious gift that we had been given, needed his or her mom to take really good care of herself while they were sharing her body. I changed my diet, started practicing yoga and walking regularly, and I kept my gestational weight gain to only four pounds, leaving the hospital 20 pounds lighter than my pre-pregnancy weight. A year and a half later, Sam was joined by a brother, Ethan. Sleep became a thing of the past-I don’t think we slept more than 2 hours at a stretch for a year. Between the sleep deprivation and my punishing work schedule, I gained back all of the weight I’d lost plus 20 more pounds. By Ethan’s third birthday, I was 230 pounds and a size 22.
Something had to give. I got winded chasing my very active boys around or going up a flight of stairs. Although I was “healthy obese” (i.e. no hypertension, diabetes, or cholesterol issues etc), I knew I was a ticking time bomb. I joined an online diet/lifestyle community and started tracking everything I put in my mouth and the first 40 pounds came off pretty fast. And then, plateau: ¼ pound here, no loss there. I added some fast walking and the next 10 came off. Plateau again, this time no movement. Someone suggested I start running a little to boost my metabolism and I laughed.
Fat girls don’t run. Running was for the skinny, the young, the SuperFit.
But after losing 50 pounds and seeing the potential to get truly healthy, I thought it was worth a try. The first day, I picked a walking route away from busy streets (and witnesses) and I set the goal to run 1 minute without stopping, then walk two minutes. I made it 30 seconds. Totally defeated, I almost gave up but I made myself continue to try to run for 1 out of every 3 minutes for my entire 3-mile walk. When I finished, I was sweaty, exhausted, and already beginning to feel the shin splints. So, I tried again the next day. And the next. Before long, I was making that 1-minute goal for the entire 3-mile route. And I was hooked.
I set the goal to run a whole mile without stopping. That took longer, but I did it in about a month. The confidence boost that I got from setting a goal and achieving it was immeasurable. I would come in, all sweaty and smelly and my husband would ask, “How was your run?” and he meant it! I had become 'A Runner'! Meanwhile, the weight had started to come off again. The joy and satisfaction that I received from achieving my goals, goals that I set and that only I could be accountable for, motivated me to keep moving forward. By September, I registered for my first 5k and the following May, completed my first half marathon, hitting my goal weight along the way.
I am now the veteran of four full marathons, 14 half marathons, a bunch of 5 and 10ks and more hours and miles on the pavement that I can count. But running gave me so much more than medals and some tech shirts.
Running tells me that I can set a goal and accomplish it and that I can change what I need to change.
I had a successful but unsatisfying career, so I quit my job, went back to school, and pursued a Master’s degree in Nutrition, and currently, a PhD in Epidemiology. I wanted to be more involved in philanthropy, so I started running for a charity, raising over $17,000 to date to fund blood cancer research.
Most importantly, I have learned to accept the body that I was given and the decisions that I can control. I am never going to have long, thin legs, but I do have strong, capable legs that can run for MILES. I am never going to model in Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit edition, but I do model healthy habits, attitudes, and behaviors to my kids- I am Healthy Shannon, in every sense of the word. I will never make Forbes’ Richest in America list, but I hope to be published in The New England Journal of Medicine someday. Running has taught me that I can do what I set my mind to and that all goals, even laughable ones, are achievable by putting one foot in front of the other, one step at a time.
**For more from Sarah, follow her on Twitter at @CinciRunnerMom.