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360 YOU: TrackClubBabe on How She Found Joy in Running

Our 360 YOU spring 2022 mentor Kimberly Clark dives into how changing her relationship to running helped unlock her larger purpose.

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I wasn’t “supposed” to be a runner.

If you told me when I was in high school that running would be such a huge part of my life one day, I wouldn’t have believed you. I joined cross-country as a senior so I could have the sports experience (every other team I tried out for rejected me, and cross-country, mercifully, didn’t have tryouts), but I struggled with stress fractures in my shins and came in last at races—so when that year of running was over, I was done with running.

For years, I told people, “Oh I’m just not cut out for running. It doesn’t work with my body.” And that’s the story I believed for so long. And so I didn’t run.

I decided to pick up running on a whim to run the 10 year anniversary of my first marathon (another great idea I had in high school: running a marathon completely untrained!).

Kimberly Clark during her marathon run in high school. (Photo: Courtesy Kimberly Clark)

The crazy part was, this time, I really enjoyed running. I was going through so much in my own life at the time that going out for a run became the time in my day where I processed tough things and finished a run feeling more at peace with everything. I became addicted quick.

The best part of being a new runner is that every day running feels like the biggest accomplishment and confidence booster. I loved running and started improving, though it wasn’t the improvement that motivated me in the beginning. It was how running made me feel.

I soon found out what the legendary Boston Marathon was and decided to make it my goal to qualify. I did end up qualifying for Boston, but then after that, so motivated by how my hard work had paid off, I decided to do even more hard work—expecting an even bigger payout. It didn’t work. I ran the Boston Marathon 19 minutes slower than my qualifying time. And so began a long period of regression from running and total insecurity in the sport.

For several years, my relationship with running was very difficult. Something that I loved, I now used against myself. I struggled with my body image, my running performance, how I related to the running community, feelings of failure… all because I allowed my worth to be tied to my running performance and completely sucked all the joy out of the sport.

The feelings of insecurity led to more poor running performances and it became a never-ending cycle that I was stuck in for three years.

But I broke out of it! And that’s the most powerful message I could have for anyone going through it with their running: You don’t have to stay stuck—and running should be fun.

It didn’t happen overnight, but I started focusing on finding ways to “win” each day. I took a hard look at my training, figured out what was missing, and went back to the drawing board to work on that. I realized that I was doing my running no favors by dreading every single workout, feeling like a total failure, and speaking negative things over my running. Our words create our reality, and I had to start changing my words to start seeing something different.

It wasn’t long before things started clicking again. I started running out of my mind and just loving the process of getting faster and working hard. I figured out the secret to great running: actually loving it.

(Photo: Courtesy Kimberly Clark)

In order to have a sustainable approach to running, I had to find a relationship with running that now worked for me: one where I celebrated each run as the achievement it was; one where I celebrated my body for being amazing and giving me the gift of running; one where I felt like the winner I already was.

I find that my story is one that a lot of other women can relate to. We are instantly drawn to running because of how it makes us feel in the beginning and then somewhere along the way, we allow things to steal our joy in running and make us feel “less than.”

I want you to not feel alone in this journey, to realize you are capable of so much more than you can even imagine, and to know that this is supposed to be fun and enjoyable. So whatever it takes to get back to that, let’s do that.

It doesn’t have to be joy or performance in running. It can be both. And really the secret to a long and happy running journey is to put your body and your mental health first.

When I started running, I was so hungry for advice, for affirmation, for encouragement, and I didn’t feel like I got that. I needed the training information and game changers that would really help me to improve. I needed someone to say, “I see so much potential in you.” That’s what so many of us need to really thrive—someone breathing life into our dreams. So that’s my goal: to make it feel like you have a running cheerleader on board for your big dreams. And to give you tools to help you get there.

So, if you haven’t heard it recently:

  • Your goals aren’t too big.
  • You’re more than capable of reaching them.
  • And there are such good things ahead for you. Get ready!

I’m here to be your teammate and cheerleader to help you reach whatever goals you’re looking for with running: whether it is to find joy in running, hit a performance goal, or run your first mile—you can do it. I’m so excited for the ways we’ll break down all those different things that will help your running to thrive over the next few months. Let’s go!