From Unlikely Runner To Adult Onset Athlete

I never thought I'd love fitness of any kind.  I certainly never thought I'd be an athlete. 

I tried team sports in middle school - I was the worst at all of them. 

I was the worst on the volleyball team. The other girls would avoid hitting the ball to me and would groan when it came my way in matches. 

I was the worst in tennis. My friend and I were the last doubles team (that's the worst of the worst). 

I was uncoordinated. 

I was taller than a majority of the other kids, boys and girls.

My hand-eye coordination sucked (still does). 

I couldn't hit a ball or get a ball in a hoop. 

I fell a lot and bumped into walls (still do). 

The only sport I was decent at was track.  My long legs were good for running, and I ran the 800, placing 2nd or 3rd in all my races, even though I never won (something my alleged best friend, who always came in first, loved to snidely remind me of because girls love to cut each other down).  I didn't excel at the field events, but I got by well enough with the long jump.  

I was skinny and I never felt comfortable in my body.  My boobs were small and the boys let me know that was NOT okay with them. Lovely notes that let me know where I was deficient were left on my locker in 6th grade and lasted all the way through high school.  I wore baggy clothes and was shy.  I went through the braces/perm phase at the same time! (The 80s were brutal.) And I was embarrassed I had to wear glasses to see distance in the classroom. 

My mom worked a lot and was gorgeous but struggled with her weight and didn't have time for exercise.  I didn't have a sister living in the home (my step-sister was much older and lived with her mom), so I didn't have a lot of female role models.  Certainly, none that were into fitness or loved their bodies.

Then, came high school.  There was the long-awaited first boyfriend who physically abused me and then he and his friends bullied me when I finally broke up with him, further deteriorating my self-esteem.  I gave up on sports. I wasn't good enough, I told myself, so what was the point.  But, a friend of mine dragged me to auditions for the spring musical during freshman year, and despite my crippling shyness, I found something I was decent at. I could act pretty well and sing even better.  With theater came friends and community and confidence.  Slowly, I began to blossom. 

I left the thought of any type of fitness or sport behind and became a theater nerd, which forever changed and shaped my life for the positive in many ways.

In my 20s, fitness was for keeping weight off.  I was lucky that throughout college, that wasn't a problem for me.  I remained skinny and could eat whatever I wanted.  I didn't set foot in a gym or outside for any kind of fitness activity during those years.  I continued with theater in freshman year and then abandoned that too and focused on academics and singing.  After college, I went to law school and my first year there was the first year I noticed my metabolism changed and I gained weight rapidly and noticeably (the dreaded "freshman 15" hit me a bit late, I guess). 

I wasn't overweight, but I was no longer the super skinny that most young women were expected to be.  A male friend of mine commented on my weight to my face, so I joined a gym and started to use the weight machines.  I tried to do as many crunches as Madonna claimed she did (500 at a time; I could never get past 200).  I did this in order to lose weight and attract boys.  There were a million billboards and magazines and, well, just the world, telling me that I had to strive to stay thin.  These were my sole reasons for working out and I hated it. 

I hated the environment of the gym; the smell, the sounds, crappy loud music, mirrors everywhere, sketchy, sweaty men hitting on me, the locker room where everyone was self-conscious.  But, I did it and it worked.  I got back into shape and even had some muscles, so that was kind of cool.  But, I didn't want too many muscles, because society had already let me know I was supposed to be skinny, somehow have boobs, and some muscles, but not too many. 

On and off through my 20s, I would join a gym, go for a while, stop going, pay every month even though I wasn't going, and then try and get back on the horse.  I was dating a man I was deeply in love with who had played soccer in high school and college and began running when we were together.  Living in NYC, I walked a lot and that helped me stay in shape even when I wasn't in a "gym phase."  My boyfriend became my fiance and started running marathons.  I went to races and cheered.  I was an excellent supporter and was super proud of him, but swore I would NEVER run and that running was "crazy" and "not for me because I don't have that type of body." 

I would sit outside at brunch in Brooklyn on marathon day and cheer on the runners.  It was inspiring.  I felt a stir somewhere inside me, but told myself again that that "wasn't for me."  A friend of mine got me to go to a yoga class, though.  I loved it.  I felt energized after.  But, again, it didn't stick - too much money, not enough time.  I was in my 20s living in NYC and working as a new lawyer - not much stuck in those days.

My 30s were all about having babies.  My runner boyfriend and I got married and moved upstate.  I got pregnant and life shifted to focusing on having a family.  When I had a miscarriage in my 2nd trimester with our first baby, we were devastated.  I had gained some weight since it was later in the pregnancy and I found myself depressed and still carrying a (now empty) small baby belly. No one identified it at the time, but I had postpartum depression.  I needed a goal that spring to get out of the funk I was in, so when one of my friends asked if I'd run the Freihofer's Race for Women 5K with her, I agreed and downloaded a C25K program. 

This was before we all had smartphones, so I printed out my little schedule and brought it with me to the local YMCA so I could train on the treadmill (because winter in upstate NY).  Freihofer's is one of the country's biggest women-only 5K and attracts elite women as well thousands of runners of all different abilities.  It's a huge event in my city and really inspiring. 

I ran that race and hated every step.  It was hot and humid and crowded and I didn't feel confident or happy.  I felt like a lumbering, red-faced elephant and a failure as a woman in this sea of women.  A failure because I couldn't even grow a baby right.  I finished and swore I would never run again.

Fast forward 5 years.  I had two healthy kids and a disaster of a marriage that was exploding before my eyes, much of it my fault.  I was reeling in postpartum depression from our second baby who was still an infant and I had never recovered or been properly treated or diagnosed with PPD from our first kid who was a little under 3.  Shit was bad.  Really bad.  I was at rock bottom and having suicidal thoughts for the first time in my life.  Luckily, my therapist saw this happening and hooked me up with a psychiatrist who diagnosed me with years of untreated depression and a lifelong anxiety disorder on top of the insanely stressful and heartbreaking situation I was living through.  I got some meds (something I swore I would never do) and she suggested all the usual things: more sleep, better-eating habits, and exercise to help aid in my recovery.  I couldn't stand the thought of another failed gym attempt, but come New Years Day, I took advantage of one of the many deals and signed up. 

I had kids now.  I had to get my shit together.  I had to become a better, more confident person for them. 

Even if it meant going to a gym.  Turned out, I still hated the gym (shocker).  By this point, my life was stabilizing.  My ex and I were living separately and finalizing our divorce.  I was seeing our kids were going to be OK.  The meds were helping with my anxiety and depression, but they were also causing me to gain weight and I wasn't nursing anymore, which had helped keep my weight in check.  When a mom on my Facebook mom's group asked if anyone would be willing to train for Freihofer's and maybe we could hold each other accountable and run the race together, I jumped at the chance to try my hand at running again. 

I downloaded the C25K app (we had smartphones now - yay!) and put my gym membership to good use following the app on the treadmill.  In April, I moved off the treadmill and started running outside.  This time around, there was social media and I posted runs to keep myself accountable.  Some of my friends who ran were supportive, and when I posted how much I HATED outside running and never wanted to do it again because I loved the treadmill (I know, I know), they encouraged me to keep trying to run outside and to work on slowing down my pace while I got used to running without the devil's sidewalk. 

A few weeks before race day, I had finished my C25K early and was sitting at my computer wondering what to do for the upcoming mother's day weekend when I saw an ad for a mother's day 5K.  Even though I had been planning on Freihofers as being my goal race, I decided to go for it and signed up.  Two days later, I ran my first 5K in 6 years and I PR'd!  I was so proud.  I was now much older and had had two babies and yet, I ran faster than I had years ago.  The feeling of pride and confidence this gave me was enough to hook me. 

A couple of weeks later, I ran Freihofer's with the mom's group gals- some who had never run a 5K before, some who hadn't run one since pre-kids.  It felt so different than it had years earlier when I ran that race.  For once, I looked at the crowd and took it all in instead of just focusing on my inward thoughts and cutting myself down.  I saw women of all shapes, sizes, colors and athletic abilities coming together to celebrate the strength of womanhood and our bodies.  I began to truly appreciate all my body had been through: The pregnancies, miscarriage, etc. I was still strong, I was still standing, and I was running.  More importantly, I wasn't alone. 

I ran that race faster than I had the prior time I had run it, although not faster than the mother's day race.  Hugging all my sweaty mom friends at the end, each beaming with pride, sealed my fate as a runner and I never looked back.

It's 4 years later now.  I'll be 41 next month.  I've continued to go through ups and downs - relationships that haven't worked out, raising 2 kids, 1 with special needs, an ex-boyfriend who was emotionally abusive and scoffed at me the first time I referred to myself as an "athlete."  But, I also have found my tribe - a wonderful local running club which is full of supportive and inclusive people, and some other online running groups, mostly filled with supportive women (like the #badassladygang).  Running has changed my entire life.  I have so many friends I wouldn't have otherwise. I have a community.

I continue to find and explore new depths of self-love I could never imagine existed.  My whole world and my entire perspective on life has shifted.  My body, mind, and soul are much more positive and healthy than they were in my early 30s or even my 20s.  And the crazy thing is, I get stronger every year! I'm so aware now of how society portrays what fit and strong women are "supposed" to look like and I throw up the biggest middle finger to that. 

I still have days where I think negative things about my body or wish the scale read a different number, but now I can right away say, "Hold on.  Remember what this body can do! It had 2 babies without any medication.  It has run half marathons, a full marathon, trails and roads, a Tough Mudder, a duathlon, and Ragnar relays.  It can do a 1 hour hot yoga class without puking.  It can stand for 6 hours during the Women's March.  Be kind to this body.  You are incredibly lucky to have found your strength." 

I have been so inspired by women like Kelly Roberts that this year, I am taking the next step in this journey and becoming more vulnerable and open to the scary people on the internet.  It started at the beginning of the new year when Another Mother Runner posted a yearly goal sheet and asked people to fill them out and submit them.  Next thing I knew, Tish Hamilton (who I knew and admired from Runner's World and now works at AMR) asked to profile me for their website.  Me!  I did a nervous phone interview and didn't die from the whole experience.   I also learned around that time that I was accepted into the Skirt Sports Ambassador program, which I had tried unsuccessfully to get into the year before. 

And that's when things started to really opened up for me.  I realized my participation in this movement to change society's views on what strong women look like had the potential to really make a difference, but only if I was willing to put myself on the line more.  I'm not shy and I have a thick skin, so why not use those attributes to promote all of these things I have been benefiting from for years? I realized the potential was there when Kelly announced National Sports Bra Squad day last summer and I organized an event in my city.  I thought maybe one or two of my friends who felt sorry for me would show up - over 20 women did - all in their sports bras, many for the first time ever.  It was an amazing and empowering event and women were messaging me after asking for me to organize more events like it.  I was too busy marathon training and working and being a mom to take that on, but what I realized was there was so many women are yearning to start loving themselves as they are.  And that goal is accomplished so much easier when you have a #badassladygang to support you!

So, this year is the year I am stepping out more.  Pushing my comfort zone.  I have a public Instagram account (so scary) tied to my fitness activities.  I am an ambassador not only for Skirt, but for zensah and honey stinger.  I have been submitting writings on these topics whenever the opportunity arises and I even have a blog.  This is all crazy town to me, but I've had friends and even strangers reaching out to me over the last couple of years telling me how I have inspired them to get active and push their boundaries and to engage in self-care just by posting all my activities and the effects being active has had on my life.  Those effects have zero to do with weight.  I remain basically the same weight I have been for the last couple of years. 

Medical charts tell me I border on "overweight," but what I am is strong.  And getting stronger. 

(My doctor has never brought up my weight and when I brought it up with her at my last physical, she shrugged and said: "You're doing everything I would tell you to do to stay healthy and you ARE healthy, so whatever.")  I am happy with my body and myself so much more than I ever have been my whole life.  That said, I know this is just the beginning for me and I continue to journey forward.

For more from Bethany, check out her blog or follow her on Instagram!