It’s hard to believe that at the beginning of this year, Wendy Fry was a gluttonous, lazy slob. (Her words, not mine.)
From just the email interactions we had as she trained for her first marathon, I knew there was much more to the enthusiastic, motivated woman I was talking to than those words conveyed.
And there was: Wendy, back in 2006, had made some drastic changes to her diet and fitness level to get ready for a 48-hour dance marathon to benefit pediatric cancer research (The Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon, aka THON).
To get in shape, she ate a pescetarian diet (that’s vegetarian + fish) and exercised regularly by walking 4-5 miles every day and doing some cardio and light weightlifting. She even cut caffeine out of her diet.
It worked — Wendy successfully completed what she had trained so hard for. “It’s the healthiest I had ever felt in my adult life up to that point,” she says, “and raising so much money for pediatric cancer research was the best part of it all… I felt really accomplished and maybe even a little invincible.”
Back down to Earth
If you’ve experienced the feeling of accomplishing something like this before, you probably know that this sort of thing has the power to — no exaggeration — change the course of your life.
You set a goal, you work harder at it than you knew you were capable of doing, and you discover something in yourself that you never knew was there. And when you actually achieve what you’re working toward, you become addicted to that feeling.
As Wendy enthusiastically told me, “I felt like I could do anything after those 48 hours!”
But, as you might also have experienced, sometimes the people close to you aren’t ready for you to change.
“I started telling friends and family, ‘I think I’ll run a marathon someday,’ but I wasn’t surrounded with the cheerleading section I anticipated.
“One person’s response was, ‘Yeah, right. Go drive 26 miles down I-95 and then tell me you can run a marathon.’ I felt discouraged, deflated, and defeated.”
And so Wendy gave up on that dream. “I let it go,” she told me, “and I moved on with my non-marathoner life.”
Fast forward a few years, to 2008…
It’s funny how quickly you can slip back into a rut after what should have been a transforming experience. Just two years after making so many changes to her health, Wendy had officially become the “gluttonous, lazy slob” and her marathon goal that had held so much intrigue for her before was now just a distant memory.
After college I moved from my healthy little college bubble, with a local farm, lots of fresh produce, and plenty of healthy whole grains, to Atlanta, the capital of fried chicken and waffles, cheese grits, ribs, pulled-pork, and so on. I planned to remain mostly vegetarian after the move, but I found myself so tempted by these new foods.
I allowed myself excuses: I can’t die without trying a chicken-fried steak! I quickly ignored all I had learned about healthy eating, and this, paired with the stress of a new full-time career in a new city… I just let it all go.
My roommate and I used to frequent Waffle House, not just for Sunday hangovers but for stressed-out weeknight dinners. I ate Chinese food at least once a week. I also ate school lunches almost every day (I’m a teacher) and we all know how ‘healthy’ those school lunches can be.
I’m hesitant to use numbers because I don’t think they’re always the most accurate measure of good health, but in my opinion it’s safe to say I was 15-20 pounds overweight.
How Wendy started running
But somehow, somewhere, Wendy found the drive to get back to the healthy, energetic life she knew she was supposed to have. And so she started running.
In her emails with me, Wendy put “running” in quotes. Why?
“I call it ‘running’ because it was really like this: jog a bit, get a cramp and walk, jog a bit more, get tired on a hill, walk home. Total distance: 0.9 miles.
“By the end of the summer I could sort of run/walk a whole two miles. It wasn’t great, but it was an improvement.”
We’ve seen this one before. The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, right? If you’re out of shape, the solution isn’t to go outside and try to run a marathon, or 10 or even three miles. That’s overwhelming, and when you think what’s required will be so difficult and painful, you won’t do it. The victory is getting yourself out the door and moving for 5 minutes. Then come back the next day and build on that.
“Over the next two years I sort of ran a little here and there, and did a couple 5K’s. I was starting to enjoy the early morning relationship I had with my treadmill. It felt pretty good logging two miles before work a few days a week.”
What finally caused “the switch to flip”
In 2010, Wendy had discovered at a routine physical that she had high cholesterol, and had decided to make some changes to lower it. A year later, in January 2011, when Wendy was scheduled to go in for her next physical, she realized that she had done nothing to improve the situation.
I dreaded going back to the doctor and hearing bad news again, so I changed my diet. No more fried foods and no fatty meats… which eventually turned into no meats or fish… which eventually turned into no animal products. I didn’t sit down and say ‘I’m going vegan today.’ It was gradual process that just made sense, and it felt great.
The week I officially gave up dairy I dropped 5 pounds. In one week. It was like magic.
When Wendy finally did go in for that physical, she got some great news: she had reversed her high cholesterol (which supposedly was genetic and therefore difficult to change).
And so a little part of that marathon dream woke up again, and she asked her doctor, “So, do you think a marathon might be in the cards for me?”
Seems Wendy’s doctor was just as supportive as her friends had been when she first floated the idea of a marathon past them — he was very skeptical. But after an EKG cleared Wendy’s heart for it, her doctor said that marathon training would be alright.
Then Wendy took the step that she hadn’t taken before, when she had let her thoughts of a marathon fade away: this time, she took action.
How Wendy went “all in” (the key to making yourself follow through)
In Wendy’s words:
I was Googling ‘marathon training’ like crazy, looking for as much information as I could to start coming up with a serious training plan. I also knew I wanted to stick with a vegetarian diet because of all I had learned about food and health (Food, Inc. and Forks Over Knives really impacted my dietary decisions) and low and behold… there was No Meat Athlete with a marathon training plan for vegetarians… lucky me!
I went ahead and downloaded the Marathon Roadmap and read it cover to cover. I even printed it out and put it in a three-ring binder so I could write my goals in where it tells you to, as silly as that sounds.
I also printed all sorts of things to keep in this binder (a course map of Savannah RNR, confirmation and hotel information, etc). I signed up for a few 5K’s and a half marathon to keep my training on track, and I kept all of my bibs in the binder as a reminder of how far I’d come.
The first chapter of the Marathon Roadmap is all about commitment: pick a race, decide — and I mean really decide — that you’re going to do it, and then take action that seriously commits you, like signing up for the race. And that’s exactly what Wendy did:
“I chose the inaugural Rock N Roll Savannah Marathon as my target race, and reluctantly reserved an expensive hotel — I was all in.”
What training for your first marathon is really like
I really enjoyed the long runs. I started to notice that each week when I’d build, the mileage from the previous week would feel so easy. Your body really does build endurance and tolerance for the miles as you train.
I live in a really hilly area so sometimes I would skip the hill workouts (my least favorite) and just run around on the hills. I love the speed workouts because that’s when I sweat the most, so I feel like I’m really working my body to its maximum. I usually do those on a treadmill. I also like tempo runs because it feels sort of like a race, and I feel really accomplished when I’m finished.
For cross-training I mixed in swimming (which was a great break for my joints), weightlifting, and yoga. I especially like doing hot yoga the day after a long run because it forces me to really stretch. I skipped a few runs here and there when my knee was bothering me, or if I had too much going on, or if I just wasn’t feeling up to it that day… but the key is to not beat yourself up over that… just realize that tomorrow is a new day, and you will cross that finish line if you just keep doing your best (and don’t skip the long runs).
Training was tough, but it happened. There were a lot of sacrifices; I’m not going to lie. It’s a huge time commitment to train for a marathon, and I realized that early on. If it were easy everyone would do it, so you can’t go in expecting it to be easy. But it is possible. That’s what you need to remember.
No surprises here, I hope. Training for a marathon is hard work, and that’s why it means so much when you do it.
As for being a southerner with a plant-based diet…
Eating vegan was hard too, and still is. Especially when you’re eating out with friends and your burrito comes with cheese and you have to embarrassingly send it back. But, people get over it. I was a waitress so I get that it’s annoying to have a special order, I just try to remember to tip well and smile. That helps, just smiling and being friendly about it.
I was not nearly perfect about my eating, but it’s really important to watch your nutrition when you’re training. I found that the smoothie for breakfast, salad for lunch (or dinner) was a huge help in keeping me nutritionally in check.
So is it worth it?
You can decide for yourself. Here’s what Wendy has to say about how going plant-based and running a marathon has changed her life:
Two Saturdays ago, I crossed the finish line of the Rock N Roll Savannah Marathon with a smile on my face and 5:19 on the clock. And about 6 of the miles were on the highway… which made me giggle, because of what Mr. Negative told me in 2006 about driving down 95 before I decided to run a marathon.
What I think is truly the best part of all of this is the way I’ve changed. My body feels so much lighter and healthier. I rarely get sick anymore, my acne is gone, my chronic sinus infections are gone, seasonal allergies are gone, frequent stomach upsets are gone, and I’ve lost almost 20 pounds (I’m only 4’11, so that’s a lot for me)!
I also feel changed mentally… I’m much happier, less stressed and anxious, and overall I feel more connected to the world around me. I just feel great!
So, in about 6 months I went from a gluttonous, lazy slob to a vegan marathoner! If I can do it… anyone can!
You read that right. Anyone.
I hope you believe it. They call the marathon “everyman’s Everest,” because running 26.2 miles isn’t reserved for elite athletes. If you want it badly enough, you can do it too. Just like Wendy.
Huge thanks to Wendy for sharing her story with us. Leave her a comment to congratulate her on her amazing transformation!