Harlem Run co-creator Kayla Lauricella explains how she started running to lose weight and eventually learned to enjoy the sport.
Meet Kayla Lauricella
I met Kayla Lauricella in September 2014 when she showed up to the very newly formed Harlem Run looking for a community to run with. At the time, both of us were pursuing master’s degrees in counseling psychology at Teachers College, Columbia University and immediately bonded over our shared belief that mental health and physical health are directly tied to each other. Over the past three years, I’ve loved running and growing with Kayla and watching her transform. I am indebted to her for all of the ways that she has supported and co-created Harlem Run (including managing our weekly blog). I hope that her vulnerability here and her story will help other women and would-be runners normalize what they might be feeling, find what works for them to keep moving forward and overcome self doubt!
Name: Kayla Lauricella
Year started running: 2009
What made you start running?
When I started college, I set out to become healthier by cleaning up my diet and exercising more regularly. Throughout high school, I was extremely overweight, with my highest weight creeping to 210 pounds. I knew it was time to make a change in my life, so I began cutting certain foods out of my diet and walking two loops around my lake house neighborhood. I slowly started incorporating running into my walks, starting with one block and gradually increasing my running time. As I started to lose weight and reap the benefits of my hard work, I discovered the wonderful outlet running provided me. Before I knew it, I was running the two loops nonstop and started thinking about long distance running. Over the past eight years, I have run several races of varying distances and ran my first marathon in New York City in the fall of 2015. I have also lost more than 75 pounds and have changed my lifestyle for the better.
What was your biggest struggle in your running journey?
One thing no one told me about weight loss was that, despite losing a ton of weight, it often comes back. Not necessarily all and not necessarily at the same time, but a natural part of the weight loss process is learning what works, what doesn’t, and fluctuating during the process. I was horrified at the possibility of putting weight back on and would fear falling into the same patterns. This was why, after moving to New York City, starting graduate school and going through other life transitions, I panicked when I gained 25 pounds. This coincided with beginning training for my first marathon. I had been thrilled to run my first marathon and prove to myself that I could do the impossible, but during the months that led up to the run, I felt ashamed to go out in public or even look in the mirror. Though 25 pounds is not a lot, to someone who struggles with body image issues and feared getting back to that low point, it felt like a death sentence. My issues with my weight were complicated by the fact that I was training for a marathon, and so, naturally, I was hungry. My sadness led to me taking my hunger to the extreme: I began binge eating nearly every day to mask my feelings of inadequacy. Unfortunately, my brain began to associate running with the negative feelings I got from binge eating, and I grew to resent running. Though I made it across the finish line and got my medal, I was mad at running and fell out of love with it.
What is your greatest running achievement?
My greatest achievement is not one single moment or event–it’s the years and passion that I have put into the sport. When I think about the countless early wake-up calls, Saturdays dedicated to long runs and hours spent on my feet, I feel in awe of everything I have accomplished during my time running. Whenever someone asks what I do to stay in shape, I feel so proud to call myself a runner. There have been so many memories–both good and bad–associated with my running journey and those are all my greatest accomplishments.
I know that you fell out of running after the TCS New York City Marathon. How did you get back into the sport?
It took me nearly two years to get back into running after sorting through the negative feelings I had after the NYC Marathon. I ran my first race, the Airbnb Brooklyn Half Marathon, in May and felt amazing. However, I still don’t feel the need to dive back into the running life 100 percent. I’ve learned now that my relationship with running can be whatever I want it to be. I currently have not gone for a run in about a month (maybe more!), but I’m planning on going to Harlem Run tomorrow and feel great about it. Learning to balance it has been the best blessing!
How do you balance running with everyday life?
I’ve recently started to let life take over and learned to enjoy running, rather than treating it as a task that needs to be done no matter what. Part of learning to love running again has required me to be flexible and not beat myself up if I miss a workout or spend a few days enjoying friends and family rather than stressing out about a missed run.
What is the greatest thing running has given you?
Running has given me everything! [It’s given me] some of my best friends, soul-searching moments, amazing sceneries, and, most importantly, confidence. Running allowed me to lose more than 75 pounds that were holding me back in life, and for that I am so grateful! Running has given me a purpose and something to always come back to.
Is there something you’ve always wanted to try (a race, a different fitness routine or fad) but haven’t?
A destination run! I’ve stayed pretty local for all of my races, but would love to explore a new city while running.
What’s your advice for someone struggling with weight and self esteem issues who wants to make a change in their life?
There is no deadline for losing weight. So many times during my journey, I would stress myself out over not starting soon enough, or not eating healthy enough on a particular day. This usually involved big events where I thought I “needed” to look thin–beach vacations, weddings, etc. The truth is that life needs to be enjoyed, and when I have allowed myself to take things at my own pace (with of course a little bit of pressure!), I have felt the most positive about my body, and ironically have been at my lowest weight. Slip ups are okay. As long as you are on the right path, there is no need to drive yourself crazy trying to be perfect.