I just wanted to look good at my high school reunion. Little did I know my vanity would change my entire life.
I was one of those forgettable types in high school: not pretty enough to be popular, too smart to be cool, not nerdy enough to be brainy. I floated in between the cliques fairly easily, always blending, yet never belonging.
When the 20th year reunion plans started coming together on Facebook, I immediately felt the need to go back to my hometown and be everything I wasn’t in high school. I imagined gliding through the rented event space, past clusters of foil balloons decorated with “Class of 1993,” Duran Duran playing softly in the background, looking beautiful, successful, and confident.
I had the successful part down. At the time, I was married with two healthy kids, we lived in a lovely home, and I had a thriving real estate career. But for some deep reason that I can’t quite explain, I wanted nothing more than to make a knock-your-socks off impression in front of my old classmates.
Now, I wasn’t what anyone but a Hollywood producer would call fat. A few months earlier, I had started following a whole foods, plant-based diet and that was beginning to help me lose some extra weight. But mostly, I had your average, mom-of-two-young-kids-with-a-stressful-career body: soft, stretched out, and a little rounder and puffier than it used to be. Not bad, but not knock-your-socks-off.
So I started running.
I had dabbled a little in running a couple times in my life, but it had never really stuck. I ran a half marathon one fall in my twenties in an attempt to get over a painful breakup, but couched my running habit with the onset of cold weather and the reconciliation with my ex, who later became my husband.
I knew running would be the quickest means to the end I wanted (to look hot for people I used to know a million years ago).
But I hated nearly every step.
When I’d leave the house to go on a run, my husband would call out supportively, “have fun!” More often than not, I’d snarl back, “Fun? I’m going running. I’m not having fun. Running sucks.”
And running did suck. Every single time.
But it worked. Along with carefully eliminating everything that tasted good from my diet, I lost a handful of pounds in time for the reunion. I got the compliments from the popular kids and the smart kids that my 16-year-old self so desperately wanted 20 years earlier.
Honestly, I looked great. But for some reason I kept running.
I was feeling strong in my new body and thought maybe I should try running that half marathon again, just to see how it would go.
So I did. And I beat the time I had gotten 10 years earlier by about seven minutes, which felt amazing.
As I shared my accomplishment on social media, I began to pay attention to other runners in my network. One acquaintance from high school (who didn’t go to the reunion) mentioned that she was training for the Boston Marathon.
And so right then and there, my sights were set on running Boston.
I quickly learned that you can’t just run Boston because you want to; you have to qualify by running another marathon first in a certain time graded for your age. I needed to run a marathon fast, so I picked the one in my backyard in the mountains of North Carolina held the following spring.
Now, most experienced runners would say that there is nothing about running a marathon in the mountains that is going to be fast. And certainly not one held in March when it could be 15 degrees and snowing, or worse, 40 degrees and pouring rain.
But I was not an experienced runner and signed up anyway, boldly planning to qualify for Boston on my very first try.
Yeah, that didn’t happen.
Once I was signed up, I was all in. Enthusiastically, I dove down the online rabbit hole of information on how to train for and run a marathon. I learned about weekly mileage, long run progression, and interval training. I found a free training plan from a company called RunnersConnect that told me exactly what I needed to do to run a 3:30 marathon, 10 minutes faster than what I needed to qualify for Boston.
I did it all. But it didn’t work.
Race day was cold and rainy and I fell apart somewhere around mile 18 and had to walk/jog to the finish. I crossed the line in a respectable 4:02, which was 22 minutes short of what I needed.
Missing my mark by so much lit a fire in me. I don’t know where my belief came from, but I knew that I could have finished in time, if I had only done a few things differently. I just knew that I could be much, much faster.
I was hooked.
One day, I saw an ad for a race outside of Salt Lake City, Utah. This was also a mountain race, but in only one direction: downhill. Surely, I could qualify there.
I signed up and followed my free plan again. This time, however, it worked.
My legs had gotten a little stronger, my speed days crept a little faster, and my long runs were a little easier. I started eating all the plant foods that would nourish and support my running, instead of restricting calories for weight loss.
Running was no longer something I was doing to change my appearance, but instead something that gave me strength and purpose.
I wasn’t running; I was training.
I crossed the finish line in Utah with just 90 seconds to spare. I used every ounce of that strength I had built to earn my goal time. And I was ecstatic to able to race the Boston Marathon the following April, tears of joy mixing with the cold rain on my face as I lopped yet another 12 minutes off my personal best.
Fueled by the exhilarating sense of accomplishment from my hard work, I continued to train and race two marathons a year for the next four years. Each race I progressively lowered my time and earned a Master’s Champion title along the way.
My final marathon came in 64 minutes faster than my first at 2:58:41 at age 42.
I am often asked how I was able to progress so quickly, from someone who didn’t run to a champion Masters athlete that could run 26.2 miles in less than three hours.
Is it genetics? Special training? Hidden talent?
Sure, there’s got to be at least a little genetic ability in me, but maybe not as much as you’d think. My dad was a life-long recreational runner, diligently marking his three morning miles on a wall calendar in the kitchen every other day.
But there are no elite athletes in my family tree, far from it.
The reason that I was so successful in running marathons came down to equal parts passion and desire for accomplishment. Running still sucked at times, but I loved that the more I worked at running, the better I got. I loved learning everything that I could about how to run and train better and eventually hired the coaches at RunnersConnect to help me take my training even further.
Soon I joined running groups in town and found a tribe of like-minded people who were as obsessed with running as I was. I added strength training twice a week and trail running once a week. Gradually, started building my weekly mileage up from 30 to 40 to 60 miles per week, eventually regularly clocking months of 70 and 80 mile weeks. Finally, I topped out at 90 miles in a single week.
In a typical week, I ran a hard track session on Tuesday with the running group, a fast tempo run ending at a brewery on Thursday, ran a medium-length, medium-fast run on Saturday, with a long run up to 22 miles on Sunday. The days in between were slower, coming in a 8-10 miles.
I rarely took a day off and rarely got injured.
Yes, it was a lot.
Soon I became a coach myself at RunnersConnect, teaching others what I had learned. Not everyone I coach is as “all-in” I as was as a runner, but we all share the love of running and how it can transform our lives.
Today, I coach full-time and I don’t train as hard as I used to.
Now I find far more joy from helping others achieve their dreams than I ever did for myself. My passion is no longer to see how fast or how far I can run myself, but to help other runners become their very best.
I still love to run and may race again someday. But it will be for the pure joy and not the numbers on the clock. Don’t get me wrong, being a fit and strong runner is something I never want to get away from, but it’s for a larger purpose now.
Not to mention, I’ll still want to look good at my next reunion.
When you are ready to transform your life and your running, I’m here to help. Begin your plant-based running journey with me today!