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From Depressed And Overweight To Boston Qualifier

What started as an outlet for depression became a love-affair with running.

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*Courtesy of RunHaven

I was about to turn 40. We had moved from a place I loved with friends who were like family to a place I hated and felt like a complete outsider. It had been more than a year, and instead of adapting and adjusting, I became more and more bitter. I went from anger to depression.

Depression wasn’t anything new for me. I’ve struggled with it for 25 years. I had been able to keep it under control for the most part with medication until we moved. Now it just wasn’t enough. I went through counseling and had people praying for me, but I was sinking deeper into that pit of despair and hopelessness. And I was gaining weight. To cope with the move away from great friends and all I knew and was comfortable with, I turned to eating. It helped numb me some. But mostly what I got were headaches and fat.

I knew I needed an outlet. At least I was aware enough to see this. My kids were just getting to the age when I could leave them by themselves for a short time, so I decided to run.

Running wasn’t anything new to me, either. I ran track in high school and college, and I ran 5Ks and 10Ks after that. I even met my husband while we were both training for the same race. But after our first child, running hurt my body. So I stopped — for ten years.

Since I used to run, I figured I could just pick up where I left off. HA! I had heard about this couch to 5K plan, so I printed it out. (I did not have a smartphone.) I remember being so mad at myself for letting myself get so far out of shape. I couldn’t even run a few minutes at a time. Lucky for me, I am stubborn, so I kept at it.

For this 5K, my goal was 30 minutes. I did not make my goal — I finished in 31:27. Now I was mad! This was my reason to keep running. I still didn’t enjoy it very much, but I had to prove to myself I could beat that time. Gradually, my mental state began to improve, and I started losing some of the weight I had gained.

I met by chance — or as I think, divine appointment — a group of ladies who ran together every weekend. They welcomed me into their group, giving me a reason to keep running, along with friendship. They pushed me to run faster and farther than I thought possible. It was this group of ladies who encouraged me to sign up for my first half marathon. It had been three years since my first day of C25K, and now I was training for 13.1.

My weekday runs were on my own, and they became my healing time. The pain of depression was still a reality, but as I ran, the ache lessened. I would run and pray, run and cry, run and just be. I looked forward to my running time because I knew it gave me a better perspective on life. I started to look around me and think of all I had to be thankful for instead of all I left behind. It was so cleansing. With every breath and gasp of air, I let go of anger and depression. There’s a line in the song “Your Grace Finds Me” by Matt Redman that I would sing: “I’m breathing in your grace, and I’m breathing out your praise.” It became my mantra. Weekend long runs with friends brought the laughter back into my life.

We ran that half marathon, and even with a beginner’s training plan, I squeaked out just under 2 hours. By now, running had become a lifestyle. I read everything I could about running and listened to podcasts on running for motivation.

After completing a few more half marathons and feeling comfortable on a structured race plan, I decided it was time to tackle my first marathon. Based on my half-marathon times, I discovered a 4-hour marathon goal was not far-fetched. I had this great idea to see what time I would need to qualify for Boston. For a 45-year-old female, I needed a time of 3 hours, 55 minutes — only five minutes less than my current goal. Should I go for it? Sure! Why not? I was only halfway through my 20-week plan, so I naively increased my mileage. Things were going surprisingly well at first, but the increased mileage was harder on me than I thought, and I wasn’t recovering well. I ended up extremely sick with the flu four weeks away from the marathon. Since I was stubborn like many runners, I kept trying to run even though I had not recovered. I had too much time and energy invested to give up. I would run this marathon with a new goal of just finishing well.

I made the rookie mistakes — I started off too fast, and I didn’t fuel enough. I hit the wall hard at Mile 18. I walked from Miles 22-23. I told myself I didn’t come this far to walk to the finish, so I pulled up my big girl panties and ran on to finish in 4 hours, 13 minutes.

I knew if I hadn’t been so sick, it would’ve really been a possibility to BQ. I needed some time to build up a stronger base and get healthy, so I started paying better attention to what I ate. I cut out sugar and refined carbs. I ate more protein and added more veggies. What a difference those changes alone made in my energy! It also took off those last few pounds my body hung onto. I knew my weak spot was my IT band, so I integrated hip- and glute-strengthening exercises twice a week. I read an article on Facebook about the best U.S. races to qualify for Boston. One of them was Erie, Pa. That was perfect for me since I am from Pennsylvania and my parents still lived near Erie. I hadn’t been to visit in a couple of years, so it just made sense.

I searched through dozens of training plans and decided on the “Own It” plan from the book Train Like a Mother. It turned out to be the best plan for me. It was flexible but tough enough to build my base and hone my speed — all without causing injury or burnout. I am so thankful for my two friends Deb and Rick for running with me and following my training plan. Without these things, my dream of qualifying for Boston might not have come true.

During this time, my husband was laid off from his job. Our future was — and still is — completely up in the air. I credit all those miles for keeping me from sinking back into depression. It would’ve been easy to hold off on my plans. After all, we would be packing up and moving soon, and we didn’t have much income. I am so grateful to my husband for supporting me and making this trip and marathon happen. We decided that I would run, but even if I qualified, the trip to Boston in April just wouldn’t happen. With so many unknowns about the future, it just wouldn’t be feasible. I was OK with that. I just wanted to run the best I could, qualify if I could and run under four hours if nothing else!

I was well prepared. I planned to run negative splits because “that’s what I’m good at” and to fuel every 3.5 miles. A race couldn’t have gone better. I redeemed everything I did wrong in my first marathon. By Mile 22, I knew I would finish under 3:55.

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I don’t think I stopped smiling until well after I crossed the finish line, in 3 hours, 53 minutes, 24 seconds. I did it. I am a Boston Marathon Qualifier.

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