Lessons In Strength From My 11 Year Old
Just like every single runner I’ve ever met, I never thought I would be a runner.
Sure, running intrigued me. It inspired me. I loved the pictures I would see on Facebook of my friends finishing a race, spending a morning accomplishing something, goal setting, and goal smashing.
I envied it. I certainly wasn’t a runner. I was 5’1 and 225 lbs. I was the mother of twins, a wife, and an employee. I was 36 and past my prime. I was fat. I was out of shape. Runners are in shape. I was not a runner.
Then one day, my 11-year-old daughter told me she wanted to join the youth cross country program in our school district. My Nora loved to run! She ran everywhere she went! I signed her up.
The first day of school marked the first practice for cross country. Like a good sports mom, I made sure she had her water, shoes, and was on time. I brought a camping chair and a regular Coke to chug and settled in to watch her run in the late August heat.
She walked past me at one point, sipping some water, and I found myself screaming at her to “Hurry up! Run!”. She shot me a withering look, one that only a preteen girl could master, and I immediately felt embarrassed. Here I was, 225 lbs., sweating from sitting in a chair, and yelling at her to run, to work harder.
I didn’t have the guts to walk the track, much less RUN it.
My feet were swelling in my sandals. I looked around and noticed that with the exception of a couple of mothers that were dealing with infants and toddlers, I was the only one sitting on the sidelines. What kind of an example was I setting for my daughter? You should work hard, but I don’t have to? You’re strong, but I’m not?
My entire life, I ran from being uncomfortable. I hated being uncomfortable. I feared it. I was very unathletic. I was a chubby middle schooler who, by virtue of a very restrictive diet and a lucky growth spurt, got to be a skinny high schooler. My 20’s brought all the weight back plus 40. A twin pregnancy gave me another 20 to lug around. By 36, I was 225 lbs. I was exhausted all the time. I collapsed at the end of the day, tired from my desk job, and driving kids from one activity to the next. But I was 36. That’s what 36 looked like, right?
My mother died at 43 of kidney cancer. My blood pressure had begun to creep up on me, and with a family history full of congestive heart failure, this wasn’t great news. But I was “busy”. I tried Weight Watchers at least 10 times. Gaining and losing the same 40 pounds over and over. I think I was just resigned to being inactive and overweight. I wasn’t worth the effort.
After practice, I apologized to my daughter for yelling. “I’m not a very good example, I know. You did a great job.” Nora looked at me and just shrugged.
“Why don’t you run with us?” I laughed but she was serious. I told her I would embarrass her. She insisted I would not.
So I did it.
At the next practice, I put on my ancient tennis shoes, yoga pants, and a t-shirt. I stepped onto the track and walked. I would run a few hundred feet, from the bleachers to the trash can, from the yellow line to the white line, little goals of just a few hundred feet. My legs hurt. My lungs hurt. My feet were numb. I sweated more than I thought I could. I managed to do 2.5 miles in the hour we were there. As I waited for the kids to finish their post-run stretching, I was pretty embarrassed about how near death I looked, but my daughter looked at me like I just won Olympic gold. I felt more accomplished than I ever had in my entire life!
She had to get in two more runs a week, Friday and Saturday, so we would go to the track and I would wheeze and sweat my way around. I would try to run the curves and walk the straights. I downloaded MapMyWalk onto my phone and would try to get in 2.5 miles while I was there.
I noticed that despite feeling like I was actively dying while limping along for 2.5 miles, I was only burning a measly 250 calories or so. This prompted me to see just how many I was consuming! I downloaded MyFitnessPal, and counted my calories for a day. I was eating and drinking somewhere in the neighborhood of 2500 calories, and the 250 I was burning barely made up for one of the Cokes I was pounding all day.
So I started counting calories and making logical/healthy food choices. I refused to call it a diet. If I wanted a piece of cake, I ATE THE CAKE, but for the FIRST TIME IN MY LIFE, I. WAS. HONEST.
I didn’t feel like I needed to hide the pizza or hide the cake. I journaled it and held myself accountable for making a better food choice the very next time I ate. No, “WHELP! I blew it. My diet is over!”.
There was no diet. It was just me, eating healthier, eating more veggies and fruit, and making sure that my energy consumption matched my energy burn. By October, I was down 25 pounds.
Then I did something insane. I signed us up for a 5K. I signed up on a Tuesday when the race was Saturday, and I panicked that I had made a HUGE mistake. I’m not a runner! What am I thinking?!?!
Somehow, I showed up. We showed up. I gave my daughter a phone and had my husband waiting for her at the finish line. She left me in the dust almost immediately. I was all alone. Just me, my music, and the energy of those around me. I ran and walked. I felt like I would never see the end of the race. But it happened. 41 minutes later, I crossed the finish line. I wasn’t LAST! I finished! I did it! In that moment, something changed in me. I was hooked.
I have always struggled with anxiety and some depression. I never quite feel good enough. I can be talked out of just about anything. I kind of hated myself most of the time. In those 3.1 miles, I talked myself out of quitting a thousand times. I was on a rollercoaster that had already left the station. I was belted in. The only stop was the finish line. It was thrilling. I set a goal and finished that goal. I did it with my body. My feet carried me to the finish line. The voices that told me to “Stop! This is too hard! You’re making a fool of yourself” got softer. The real me got stronger. I was strong. I AM strong.
Since that day in October of 2015, I haven’t stopped. I did another 5K and then another! I did a 10K, and then I learned to run with people! Those people taught me to interval train. I ran/walked a half marathon! I ran/walked more 5k’s. I started calling myself a “runner”! I learned how to just run with no walk breaks!
I just kept going.
In October of 2017, I finished the Swamp Rabbit Marathon in Greenville, SC with a time of 4:58:12. I ran nearly the entire thing. I had a goal of a time of under 5 hours, and running most of it, I did it. I cried like a baby at mile 25 and seeing my daughter in the stands, screaming at me like I just won a gold medal was the highlight of my life. I did it, Nora! You told me I could! My family and friends were there, and they were proud.
I. DID. IT.
Today, I weigh 122 lbs. I get a lot of attention and comments from people that knew me back in my days of being 225. They’re totally enamored with the weight loss. They ask me, “What did you do? Atkins? Keto? Weight Watchers?” They’re almost frustrated when I say, “Running and eating balanced and healthy. Fueling my body, treating myself when the occasion calls for it.”
Because it’s not about the weight. It’s just NOT.
It was about all the anxiety and depression that running dissolved away from me. It’s about all the courage and strength that running gave me. It’s about me embracing being uncomfortable, that it’s OK to be uncomfortable, and the beautiful changes that happen when you embrace it. It’s learning that I AM strong, I AM worthy, I AM ENOUGH.
Running has given me so many wonderful things, courage, strength, my health, a community, a positive example for my beautiful children.
My daughter is now a high school cross country runner, and we will run our first half marathon together in just a few weeks. I injured my IT band a week ago, and I’m in PT to try to get it back so we can enjoy the race. It’s probably going to be uncomfortable. It’s probably going to not be a PR, but it’s going to be special because we’re in it together. Every time I run, I learn something. I grow. After this half and finishing my PT, I will be back to marathon training, and I cannot wait.
I am strong at 122 lbs. I was strong at 225 lbs. Strength doesn’t have a look or a pant size!