The story I’m about to tell isn’t one of any magical quick fixes. So if you’ve come here in the hopes of a quick fix, keep looking. THIS is my full story; the long version, so grab a cuppa and enjoy. I’ll do my best to keep it entertaining, with a dash of motivation along the way.
It is incredible to think back on how I’ve transformed over the years. I’ve always been somewhat active and health conscious — even for those 7 years when I smoked a pack of cigarettes a day — and I always enjoyed running or going on a bike ride when I was a kid. But I certainly ate my fair share of Big Macs, McRibs, Whoppers, stuffed pizza and Chicago hot dogs. But today I’m healthier than I’ve ever been, I haven’t eaten ANY of those foods in years, I workout 5 times a week and enjoy running an average of 20-45 miles a week. I’ve completed 3 marathons, 7 half marathons and I’m just getting started. I’m what some people call vegan, but I like to say plant-based, since I’ll occasionally eat eggs. Plants are my go-to, first choice for food, then beans, then grains, then the occasional egg. 🙂
How did this transition happen?
Because I’m human, I always wanted good health and happiness — but I didn’t have the will to make it happen, because I always wanted it overnight — it always felt overwhelming and I would be discouraged within weeks. Then I realized it wasn’t merely about wanting it to happen, it was having a fixed deliberate desire to make it happen and through a series of small changes and goals, every single day, it would become my reality. There was NOTHING standing in my way except for my own mind. If I ever thought there was something, I just needed to stop and think about the thousands of people throughout history who have made the seemingly impossible, possible. People like Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan or J.K. Rowling or Herschel Walker — the list goes on, and on, and on.
So, where and when did my journey start?
When I decided to quit smoking.
As I stated earlier, I smoked from the time I was 14 years old to the time I was 21. Towards the end, I could barely breathe some nights; fighting my asthma and allergies in the humid Midwestern United States. But if I could breathe enough I would smoke another cigarette, and talk myself out of quitting for another day. I remember numerous times, over the period of a year, stepping outside of various apartments and homes to get fresh air in the dead of winter, so I could have some semblance of being able to breathe. It didn’t matter how terrible and obvious it was that I needed to quit, until I made that definitive decision to improve my health, it wasn’t gonna happen. I had to have the deep, burning desire to quit.
That October day in 1997 when I smoked my last cigarette, I knew it would be my last. How did I know?
Because… I… made… the… decision.
It was at the age of 21 that I understood if you wanted something badly enough, you would find a way to achieve it. People would say to me, “How did you quit?! I could never quit!” I’d always reply with, “You must not really, truly want to quit. It is 100% within your control if you truly WANT and DECIDE to quit.” I had also started running 2-3 days a week, just around the pond near my college apartment. I always enjoyed running in gym class and was on the track team in high school; until I got shin splints and quit. But there I was, a young adult, giving it another shot.
By February of 1998 I ate my last bite of red meat and became a vegetarian (today, it would be called Pescetarian, since technically I still ate tuna and shrimp for about a year… but I digress). I also still enjoyed the occasional bike ride or barreling down a mountain bike trail. Then one day, on the road of all places, I got into a terrible bicycle accident. I was wearing a helmet, but it was summer, and I was only wearing a t-shirt and shorts.
I still to this day don’t remember what happened. All I remember was my elbow hitting the pavement to protect my head and thinking, “I think I’m crashing.” That was when I learned I should stick to running. 😉
It’s all downhill after 30, right?
Jump forward to 2006 right before my 30th birthday.
I made the decision to get in the best shape of my life.
I didn’t want to cross from my 20’s to 30’s feeling weak or out of shape. We only get one life, which coincidentally comes with one body. I was determined to not waste it or abuse it like I did in my youth. I was proud to be turning 30. I did many risky and stupid things in my youth and I felt lucky to be alive, and enjoying all that life has to offer. So, I went to my old standby,
I ran for two reasons — to lose weight and be in the best shape of my life, and to reduce stress. It was a pretty stressful time in my life, and running was my release. Even though it caused a nagging pain in my left knee, I wore a brace and worked through it; eventually strengthening it enough to run pain free. It was at this time in my life where I learned pain doesn’t always mean imminent danger, or more severe injury, or that you should stop what you are doing.
Sometimes, it’s ok to push through pain — something I never, ever did growing up because I was always afraid of the worst.
I gradually worked my way up to 3 miles, but never had the courage to go further than 1.5 miles away from home.
What if I couldn’t make it back? What if I got hurt? What if I ran out of water?
What if, what if, what if.
What IF I made it?
What IF I was strong enough?
I never asked myself the latter questions, I always, ALWAYS had the former ones bouncing around in my head, drowning out any positive thoughts.
Until I found Mr. Zucchini Runner. (Don’t let the name fool you, he is no runner — golf enthusiast, softball coach, volleyball fanatic, tennis novice, yes. Runner? No.)
Every person comes into your life for a reason, you learn SOMETHING from everyone. Some just have a greater impact than others. Some teach you what NOT to do in life and some give you the strength to keep going. Some may even drag you down and make you feel like you are sinking; my advice is cut the cord on those swiftly and don’t look back.
Happily ever after?
I was living a happy and stress-free life, which no longer required running as an outlet. This was an amazing thing… especially since I had been diagnosed with bursitis in my hip joint a year prior. So, my running was pretty nonexistent. Everything I had read and researched about bursitis was pretty serious and there wasn’t really a “cure”, except for maybe surgery and I was NOT a fan of that idea. This is a good time to mention I fainted when I got a mole removed back in ’99. 😉
It was about 6 months into our relationship and we both started to realize we were gaining weight — we were no longer svelte singles. We both LOVE to eat and LOVE to bake, and in the process of being swept off our feet, we felt invincible. Only our bodies are not immune to fatty, high sugar, foods, eventually it caught up with us and luckily we were paying attention.
When I first saw pictures from Christmas ’08, I was shocked. Where had my runner body gone? What’s with that chin? Was that part of getting older?
Then I saw this picture from February of 2009 and knew it was no longer just bad lighting, or a bad angle!! At this point in my life, I learned there are many, many reasons for gaining weight. Typically people equate weight gain with a person being unhappy or depressed and trying to fill a void — well, that couldn’t be further from the truth for us. We were both finally, very, very happy! As a result, every day was a celebration which quickly caught up with us both.
One fall day in 2009 we were watching a show called Running the Sahara. It was incredible. It followed 3 guys who ran across the Sahara Desert for 111 days STRAIGHT. Watching them fight through obstacles and enjoy the miles they logged, was life changing for me.
As I watched in awe, all my negative “what ifs”, started turning into “why nots”. Why NOT me? Why NOT push through the pain of the bursitis? Why NOT run a marathon? Wait, what? Damn you “Biggest Loser” for putting that thought in my head!!!
When Running the Sahara was ending, and the men had stepped into the Red Sea to reflect on the 4,300 miles they had just run, I turned to Mr. Zucchini Runner and said, “If these guys can run for 111 days straight. I most CERTAINLY can run a 26.2 mile marathon.” We talked it over and he said he would help me train — even though he hated running.
Why are you running a marathon? That’s crazy.
If this were an 80’s movie, I would cut to a training montage of us playfully running and goofing off at a park, smiling and sweating, jogging and backlit from the suns rays.
Lucky for you it’s 2013 and you are reading this blog, not watching a movie. PHEW.
Plus, as we all know, real life is not always fun. Real life, can be downright crappy sometimes.
I had a training plan all set up, a race picked out and I was determined! I was scared too, but I had Mr. Zucchini Runner in my corner, what could possibly go wrong?
We went on our first run; I made it 3 blocks before I was bending over in pain from my bursitis. I gathered myself up, shook it off and walked a block — not all pain is bad, remember? We started up again and 50 steps later… BAM! A shooting pain in my hip joint. Tears began to well up in my eyes… not for the pain, but for the immediate defeat. We hugged while I cried. No words were spoken.
I limped home alone, in the winter darkness while Dan finished walking our dog Rocco. I was feeling that all too familiar feeling of defeat; I was feeling sorry for myself.
Then I suddenly got ANGRY. That anger pushed me to make a decision that forever changed my running future and my health.
I got a second opinion on my bursitis diagnosis.
You should have SEEN my face when the new physical therapist told me I didn’t have bursitis. That’s right folks, all I had was an irritable piriformis muscle that could be fixed.
With physical therapy he said I would be able to run a HALF marathon by June 2010. I originally had my sights on the San Diego full marathon, but in 2010, they hadn’t introduced the half yet so I found a half marathon in April I could do.
This is where you can insert an 80’s montage.
I remember the first 5 mile training run Mr. Zucchini Runner and I did together, we were 1/4 mile away from home and we looked at each other and I said, “This is the furthest I’ve ever run in my life!” He said, “Me too!” and we both laughed and gasped. 🙂 By April of 2010 we were gearing up to run our first ever half marathon TOGETHER. He decided since I was “only” doing a half marathon, that he would do the whole thing with me – training runs, the race, everything. Do you see why I was so happy? He is an amazing person. I can honestly say having him right next to me, on every training run, made all the difference in the world. I had a partner. If something went wrong, we could lean on one another. Sure, I could have done it by myself — I think — but it was so much better WITH someone. Not to mention we ended up losing quite a bit of that happy weight. 🙂
Our agreement was simple: if he was running with me through training runs and the race, I would run with him come race day. Meaning, side-by-side, no matter what. For me this meant running slower than my normal pace, but there was never a doubt in my mind that we wouldn’t cross together. We were a team. Even if it meant stopping for him to use the restroom at mile 4. 🙂 At mile 7 I told him I really saw no reason to EVER run a full marathon. ha!!
It was totally worth it and a moment I will never forget. I get emotional just looking at these pictures again! It is good to look back and see how far we’ve both come, and this race was what started it all. For me, running has and always will, come first in fitness.
Just one more?
If you are a runner, you can relate to catching the racing bug. I totally caught that… and decided I would run a second half marathon in November of 2010. So here I am crossing the finish line of my second half marathon. Mr. Zucchini Runner was SO thrilled when I told him he didn’t have to run and train for this one with me. 😉
By this point, the bug had turned into a normal way of life. Paying for and training for races, became my gym membership. I decided to run my third half marathon in January of 2011. I had high hopes for this race… until I realized how hard it was to avoid the sweets of the holidays and keep off the extra pounds. I was struggling with my training and looking back, I realize now that I needed a new challenge. To top it all off? Our home flooded Jan 1st 2011; which coincidentally caused all the lost weight to come back with a vengeance.
Needless to say, I was a little distracted come race day and I hadn’t really trained for the 3 weeks leading up to the race. It was a sad, frustrating race for me. I also had my left knee almost collapse under me at mile 12. Was it that old pain coming back to haunt me? Maybe it was related. But I found out from my trusty physical therapist what an IT band was (Iliotibial band) and how to strengthen and stretch it to keep running. Stopping was never an option for me.
Right after this race, and while dealing with the aftermath of our home flooding, I decided I didn’t have enough stress, so why not finally DO that marathon in San Diego in 2011? SURE! I had 5 months to train! Perfect! It can’t be that bad!
I was adding mileage like crazy, with long training runs in the 18 and 20 mile range, so I didn’t believe I needed to reign in the terrible food habits we had created during the displacement from our home. By the time I reached my first full marathon in June of 2011, I was the heaviest I have ever been.
I didn’t even purchase my race pictures from this race – and I always do; despite their ridiculous cost. I was SO PROUD of myself for finally completing my original goal of finishing a marathon! I was so excited to see my pictures and see my buff self running. Only, I was NOT buff. I was actually embarrassed by how heavy I looked. How could I be so heavy?? I just ran a marathon! I knew people didn’t lose weight when training for a marathon, because your body hangs onto every last calorie, but c’mon! That is when I learned valuable lesson #238.
Thankfully, by the time I was viewing those photos we had already started the at home workout program, P90X. The meal plan portion of P90X changed our diets drastically. It was another pivotal change, that we didn’t recognize at first. When we ordered it, I had every thought, every other person probably does.
“I don’t know if this will work.”
“Working out at home, inside? Blah.”
“I’d rather run outside.”
“Fine. I’ll do it.”
Knowing we had friends doing it too, helped us to keep pushing play every day. They had started before us and gave us some good tips. I remember my first run, the day after Plyometrics. I could barely move my legs!! That summer I decided to focus on P90X and less on running. The Arizona heat is brutal in the summer and running outside was becoming less and less fun… plus I really, really, really don’t like treadmills and gyms.
Suddenly working out in my living room didn’t seem so bad.
As I stated above, the real change happened with the complete nutrition guide that came with the program. We followed that extremely close (I modified to meet my vegetarian diet) and that is when I realized my diet needed a major overhaul. Being a vegetarian since February of 1998, I had become a bread hoarder. I’m not talking mere slices of bread, I mean anything made with flour. Pasta, crackers, dinner rolls, pizza crust and of course, sandwich bread. I had already switched over to whole grain, but it didn’t matter. The amount I was eating was far above what a normal person should eat and I didn’t even realize it! Vegetarians always hear that, but we often think, “Oh no, not me.” Yes, ME. That was me!!
I did end up losing about 10 pounds when all was said and done with P90X, but it wasn’t where I wanted to be. By November of 2011 I ran my 4th half marathon, and really crushed my time from my previous personal record. I was SO STOKED! Carrying less weight seemed to be helping!
My newfound diet had me choosing much better foods and planning ahead more. It was a very slow process, but over the next couple months I was down an additional 5 pounds, making for a total loss of 15. In January, I ran my second full marathon.
I wish I could say this marathon went really well because of my weight loss… but instead it was very painful, and filled with spikes and lulls in my emotions. This is when I learned the importance of mental strength and not over taxing your brain before a race.
Running is 80% mental and 20% strength. Just like weight loss is 80% diet and 20% exercise. I overtrained for this race, and Mr. Zucchini Runner, my magical man, got sick for the first time in our 4 years together, the day before my race – we’re talking puking sick, stomach bug, race preventing sick. I spent the 24 hours leading up to the race absolutely freaking out that I would catch his stomach bug. Of course I felt horrible for him as well, and it was killing me that I couldn’t help him more than bringing Gatorade and water to his bedside while he slept all day.
I couldn’t even give him a kiss goodbye before the race. I was so bummed.
His sickness, combined with my overtraining, progressed into me crashing and burning at mile 15 of this race. [Picture me, with my shoe off, sitting on a large rock on the side of the road, calling Mr. Zucchini Runner in tears, telling him to come pick me up. Yeah. It was bad.] But I made it through… by sheer will and an amazing support system of friends and family who came to cheer me on along the course. Not to mention, Mr. Zucchini Runner, feeling better and coming out to cheer me on. He refused to let me quit (I begged him to let me quit) and instead he ran with me for a mile, to keep me going.
This man is incredible.
I also ended up beating my first marathon time, despite stopping to cry and also use the restroom. 🙂
By March of 2012 I ran my 5th half marathon, and beat my personal best… again. Needless to say, I was a little stoked. And I was down about 20 lbs. by this point.
In April I ran my 6th half marathon – which I used as a training run for my third full marathon, in none other than San Diego! It was all on gravel and that’s when I learned never race a half marathon on gravel! LOL
In May of 2012 we decided to read the book Forks Over Knives.
I decided to take the plunge first and cut out dairy for 2 weeks and just give it a shot. It was tough at first but after 2 weeks, I felt better, I had more energy, I was getting creative with my food and best of all, I dropped the additional 7 lbs I was trying to lose! All of a sudden people were asking me if I lost weight! It took losing those last 7 lbs so quickly for anyone to notice! (The picture below was taken right after my first two weeks of no dairy…)
Heading into my 3rd full marathon, I was fighting off an injury that was slowly nagging me in the weeks leading up to the race. That puppy decided to creep up with a vengeance at mile 22. By mile 24 I made the decision to pull out of the race. I could barely walk and my goal time was shot. It wasn’t worth it to me to finish and potentially injure myself.
YET to this day I still regret that. Who knows what would have happened had I pushed through THAT pain. It was a stabbing, oh my gosh I can’t walk pain… so I probably made the right call in the end. But it was still heartbreaking getting dropped off at the finish and seeing other finishers getting their medals. That’s when I learned that the pain of quitting lives with you much longer than the pain of pushing through to the end.
That failure – albeit injury induced – later drove me to great personal success, but only after hitting rock bottom first; coupled with the onset of our dog’s fatal diagnosis of Aspergillosis.
After the heartbreaking DNF (did not finish) in San Diego, I felt the constant need to prove to myself I was a good runner. We did another round of P90X, but this time, I kept running – and almost as many miles as I was in the Spring. I only made it about 45 days through P90X, but Mr. Zucchini Runner stuck with it! Initially, I was making great strides in my pace, and felt very strong! But eventually it caught up with me, as I was literally running myself into the ground. By September I caught the WORST cold that seemed to linger for 4 weeks. It coincidentally magnified a painful hip flexor injury I feared was approaching.
Eventually I was paying a visit to my physical therapist again, and getting treated with an electro-stimulant 2 times a week, among other strength training.
In the end, I was out of running for 3 months.
In the graphic below, don’t be fooled by October and November, I only RAN 9 miles in October – the rest was walking or on a bike (don’t worry, it was slowly and had big tires ;)). In November, I ran 7 miles.
Brutal does not begin to describe that experience.
By the end of September, I was beginning to wonder who I was without running. It had become such a staple in my every day life, that I didn’t know what to do with myself. I had all this free time and wayyyyyyy too much time to think about it all.
I found myself asking over and over again in my head, “Who am I without running??”
I needed to figure that out. I needed to stop putting so much weight into the running portion of my life, and remember I had other interests.
Everything happens for a reason… and as awful and dark and it was for me, it was the absolute best thing that could have happened. It made me realize many things about myself, here are the highlights:
I was physically stronger than I thought.
I was also mentally weaker than I thought.
I absolutely love running, just for the sake of running, not for a PR.
I finally signed up for a ceramics class, which I wanted to do since high school – I realized I loved it just as much as I thought I would.
I wanted to do something more meaningful with my life.
As I hinted above, those 3 months were pretty dark for me and had me seriously contemplating life and my purpose here. It sparked a flame inside me that had been burning so softly, for so long.
I suddenly had this drive, this passion to do something different. I didn’t know WHAT yet, but I knew it would involve fitness and nutrition. I started this blog, Zucchini Runner, on January 1st of 2013. I had so many ideas and plans and I didn’t even know where to start. Sharing healthy, 100% vegan recipes seemed like a good start. I also wanted to share my running adventures to possibly provide some inspiration as well.
Good nutrition, running and using P90X had worked for me, why couldn’t it work for you? Why NOT you?
A New Outlook
In 2013 I came back to running with a completely refreshed mind and spirit. I ran my personal record on my 4th (or 3rd, depending on how you look at it) full marathon.
And in June I visited San Diego for a 3rd year in a row to run the half marathon. I beat my personal record, again. 🙂
Right now I’m pretty happy with my current running achievements and I guess that is why I felt confident taking some time off this summer to focus on my personal development and non-running fitness (aka cross training).
Below are my before and afters photos spanning 2 years.
Having a support system is so important!
Dan and I after his second sprint Triathlon. He dabbled in them for a bit…
Gettin’ my jump on doing plyometrics.
Now we are doing FOCUS T25 because I decided P90X AND running was too much for me!! When I heard about a NEW Beachbody program that only took 25 minutes a day, 5 days a week I was SOLD!! Look for a post about this in the coming weeks. We are almost done with Phase I, so I’m excited to compare my new before and after pics. My goal right now is to build up my glute and core strength and I think it’s working!! I can feel a difference. I wasn’t convinced that 25 minutes a day would do much, but as you can see I’m sweating up a storm!! UPDATE: Here is the T25 Review.
In the end, my fitness journey has been one of many ups and downs and that is not unique. That will be yours too. It’s just a matter of not letting those downs, keep you down for good.
I hope this has been both inspiring and entertaining to see my growth, and how far I’ve come. I didn’t start out running 100 miles a month, that’s for sure. I think you can see that everything I have accomplished was from HARD WORK. Nobody made me get up and out of bed every morning to run, I wanted improved health and this was my way to go about it. This worked for me, and if you made it to through the whole story… you deserve a BIG VIRTUAL HUG. Thank you.
P.S. Running and working out this much, also takes a lot of prehab and recovery!
I wouldn’t trade it for anything.