I Was An Unlikely Runner Until Running Changed Who I Am

Growing up, I was never athletic.

I played soccer for a few years with my dad as my coach, and during that entire time, I made one solitary goal. In school, I always avoided PE like the plague. In middle school, I tried to find a way to cut corners during the mile, or at least walk when I thought none of the teachers were looking. When I started high school, I got ambitious. I thought, "Here's a chance for me to try something new!". So I joined the cross-country team, and went to one meeting.

Everyone was so fast, I couldn’t keep up or breathe. I lasted all of 2 weeks before they cut me from the team. During high school, I took a dark turn, and ended up hanging out with the wrong crowd, leading to depression, drug use and various other detrimental life decisions. However, when I was around 15 years old, my mom got me a three-year, pre-paid membership to the gym. I remember being so excited. I felt like I had a chance to turn my life around, and become a strong healthy person. I had no idea how to use any of the machines, and was very skeptical of the weights. I took a few classes with my mom, mostly spin classes and a few weights with cardio classes, but we were both inconsistent and had other things going on in our lives.

It was a slow-going, painful process. I would wear heavy sweatshirts and baggy sweats to hide my body and try to sweat as much as I could. I could only run for short spurts of time. I remember the first time I ran a full mile on the treadmill, I had never felt so cool and strong in my life.

The years between when I first received the gym membership at 15, to 2013, when I was 22, were mostly spent doing inconsistent running on the treadmill, the bike and the elliptical. In 2013 I finally took a good look in the mirror and realized that I was about 15 pounds overweight. I realized that if I didn't change my lifestyle, I wasn't going to live the life that I had always wanted.

I was depressed, suicidal, and I didn't see a future for myself. That's when I realized it's not enough to just show up at the gym once or twice a month, I had to make it a lifestyle change.

From that point forward, I was going to the gym at least 3 to 5 times a week, starting to focus more on my diet and counting calories. I had no idea how much I was eating until I began to log everything, both the workouts and the food.

Running on the treadmill had been the beginning of my running journey, but that was mostly because I was afraid to run outside. I remember the first time I ran outside, after my “lifestyle change.” I brought my dog with me and I was so excited. I didn't even run a half mile, I was so out of breath and dehydrated, I ended up turning around and walking the rest of the way to my car. I was defeated, but not ready to quit.

We did that a few times until finally I was up to being able to run a full mile. I was so proud and it is still such a significant moment in my life.

Fast forward 9 months and I had lost 30 pounds, and I was running at least 3 to 4 times a week on the treadmill. I had even gotten up to a 5K! In 2014, I decided to go for it. I was going to run my very first 5K race on my birthday. My birthday is in February, and it was absolutely pouring. There was so much rain and wind that there was barely anybody there. It was a small race to begin with and I had no idea how it was going to go.

I remember I met a girl at the start and she could tell I looked nervous. She asked if this was my first race to which I replied yes. She smiled and told me to have fun and just go with it. So, I did!

Running those 3.1 miles in the pouring rain was one of the hardest things I've ever done. It was also exhilarating because it was the first time that I ever truly felt alive and from there, I was hooked. After smoking for ten years, I finally quit, and that motivated me further for my healthy lifestyle. I continued my tradition of running a 5k on my birthday the following year. After that, I ran my first 10K, and, ironically, it would take me three years to beat that time.

Then things in my life changed and running took a back seat to other things, like graduating college and moving three times in one month. I wasn't taking care of myself the way that I had previously, and I continued to gain weight and go down a bad path. 2015 was the next time I ran a race, my annual birthday 5k. In 2016, I moved to a new city and my entire life changed. I made a new friend who is a triathlete. I was very motivated by her and couldn't believe that she was able to train for three sports, in addition to working full time and having a family. My life consisted of was working full time and taking care of my dog. I realized that if she could do it, so could I. I started slowly, every day I would run around my neighborhood, which was a 2-mile loop. Then, one day I made a new route which was 3 miles. Soon I had various loops around my neighborhood varying from 2 to 5 miles.

And then this crazy thing happened, I signed up for a 1/2 marathon. I did the best I could with my training, but the farthest I ran prior to that race was 10 miles. I didn't feel ready, but I felt like I had to run the half. The day of race, I felt great. I had talked one of my friends into doing it with me and although she was a lot faster than I am, just having her there to go through it with me made me feel better.

The first ten miles were amazing, I was hitting all my paces, even faster than I was expecting. After mile ten, I started breaking down. I stopped running and began to walk. At a certain point I wasn't even able to walk. I was doing this funky little shuffle dance trying to just make it to the finish line. I told myself it's only a 5K, you can do this!

Crossing that finish line was one of the most emotional experiences I've had. I immediately started crying and a group of ladies near the finish grabbed me and asked, “What's wrong, are you okay?” I sobbed in their arms and said, “I can't believe that I did it!” I couldn't walk for two days, it was a horrible recovery and I realized I was not in good enough shape to accomplish what I wanted to do.

After that first half marathon, I kept going. I ran 5k’s, 10k’s, and started new traditions, such as running a charity race on Thanksgiving and an all-women’s race in June. I switched up my workouts, I began working with a coach and going to track on Saturdays, I ran farther more often, but also did speed and hill workouts. I even ran a few more half marathons.

Then, I got this crazy idea that I could run a marathon. I had no idea how I was going to do it, I didn't know really anything about consistent training or even how in the heck one person runs 26.2 miles at one time. So, I did the only thing I knew how to do - I Googled it. I found the CIM website and I decided that that was the marathon I wanted to run. Luckily, they also had a first timer training program, which set up group workouts with coaches who were very experienced and allowed you to work with them on this journey. The program was about four months long and it also consisted of running a half marathon, a 20-mile run, and then the actual marathon.

During the training, I doubted myself. I didn't know if I could do it and those thoughts lingered with me to my detriment. I missed a lot of workouts but overall was more consistent than I had ever been. I met some amazing coaches who really changed the way I view training. They were so supportive of me and followed up with every little thing, including any injuries I felt or any issues I may have had during training. There were hundreds of us trainees, and I still felt like I received individual attention from all the coaches. On the day of the marathon, I knew that I was going to be able to finish within the allotted time limit of 6 hours. I really wanted a sub-six marathon time, I know that I am a slow runner, but my heart wanted to finish sub-5:45 or even 5:30, but I knew that that wasn't necessarily possible.

A lot of people warned me about going out too fast and I did not want to be one of those people. It was my first marathon and I was the only person I had anything to prove anything to. I showed up to the workouts (mostly), I showed up on race day, and I was ready to go. I started off slowly, focusing on my form and on the road, clearing my mind of everything except finishing strong.

While I ran through various neighborhoods, I finally reached my own and I had an epiphany. The year prior I had attempted to get brunch with one of my friends, but we were unable to because the restaurant was closed due to the CIM road closures. I remember saying to her, “I can’t believe people would rather run a marathon than eat brunch, that’s crazy.” Now, a year later, I was running the same race that had prohibited me from getting my brunch the year before. I realized that I really had come full circle. I gave that race everything I had, and I ran a very smart race. I walked when I had to, I ran cautiously, as I wanted to avoid getting injured or burning out.

The closer I got to the finish line, the more excited I got. I saw one of my coaches, around mile 23 or 24. He said that my form was great, that I looked to be in good shape and to keep going. When I was about .2 away from the finish, I saw another one of my coaches, and he told me that he was going run me in to the finish. I started speeding up, and he looked at me and said, “Oh, you want to race?!” I said “YES!” and I sprinted to the finish. Somewhere around the corner he stopped, but I never looked back. When I finished that marathon, once again, I was full of tears.

It didn't matter that I had ran hundreds and hundreds of miles during training, that I had already ran about 20 races including several half marathons throughout my running career. All that mattered was that I had just ran a marathon, something I never thought in a million years I could do or had any business in doing.

As I'm writing this, I am about 3 weeks out from my second marathon. I decided to switch from road to trails and it has been such a difficult ride for me.

It's so hard to go from being someone who is overweight (technically still is), extremely depressed, unable to sometimes even get out of bed, to somebody who runs anywhere between 13 to 20 miles FOR FUN.

This is an amazing feat. Running marathons, running in general and all the training that comes with it has changed who I am as a person. I'm not weak, I'm not pathetic, and I know in my heart that I am so strong, mentally and physically. I've always had so much respect for runners and now that I know what it's like to be on the other side as one, I know how hard it is. It doesn't take just strength or training or practice. It takes consistency, dedication, motivation, determination, and the mental strength to never give up.

I have had various injuries and difficulties during trail running, more so than I have with road racing, including hydration issues and fueling improperly. But I've never been happier. I used to be afraid of single track trails, especially at high elevation. I always had to have someone be in front of me, as a safety barrier. Now I run those same trails alone, through rivers, over trees, and up insane elevation. I am terrified of this next marathon, but even if all I do is finish, I still did it, again.

Marathon training has changed who I am. Running has changed who I am. I will always respect the roads and trails, and I will be forever grateful for the life they have given me. I wasn’t meant to be a runner, and I could come up with a million reasons why I wouldn’t be able to do it. But running has taken away my excuses. Running is my truth. There is no cheating in running. You do the work, and it shows in your performance. You do not do the work, and that also shows. I want to perform at the best of my ability, even if I have no business even trying to. For that alone, I will never give up.

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