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I am a RUNNER. (Never thought I’d say those words, but now I’m owning them)

I am a RUNNER. (Never thought I’d say those words, but now I’m owning them)

March 27, 2019651Views


I was never athletic.

All throughout my childhood and teenage years, I shunned sports (with the exception of a brief and unremarkable foray into softball at age 12), and loathed gym class. I saw sports and fitness as something I was “too cool” for, activities that didn’t fit into the image I held of myself as a rad punk rock chick. I carried this attitude, and a substantial amount of weight, with me for the first 38 years of my life. Then I started to see the older adults in my life suffering from the ill effects of a lifetime of less-than-healthy habits. I realized I was approaching middle age, and that if I didn’t make some changes, I’d meet the same fate.

My first step was to change my diet. I embraced plant-based eating, mainly because I wanted to eat bread and still lose weight. I walked when I could. I lost about 20 pounds, which was nice, but it wasn’t until a “Biggest Loser”-style challenge was launched at work that I really started getting serious about exercise. I joined the YMCA and started taking boot camp classes, swimming, and using the cardio equipment. I lost more weight and won the challenge. Then a coworker suggested that I sign up for a sprint triathlon. I laughed heartily. A triathlon? ME?

But the idea stuck in my head like a bad pop song, and so I signed up. Biking and swimming I was okay with, but it was the running that I hated. And when I say I hated it, I mean, I HATED IT. Loathed, despised…you get the picture. At any rate, I knew I had to start running in order to be successful at the triathlon. The days that I ran were my least favorite. I DREADED getting out there and had to force myself to run/walk for a half hour at a time. I signed up for a 5k in June, my first real race. It was awful. It was hot and humid and my hands swelled up and I came in very close to last. But I did it, and I didn’t die. So I signed up for another one, all while continuing to swim and bike and go to classes at the Y.

The triathlon came and went. I didn’t finish because of a flat tire and lack of preparation, and although I was pretty disappointed, I moved on. I had to stop swimming because of some tendonitis in my shoulder, but I continued to run. Well, kind of. I ran about once a week, maybe less, but continued to do 5Ks for the next year or so. I started to hate running less and less, but still refused to get serious about it because it wasn’t “cool,” and if you know me, you know I’m very, very cool (this is false).

This 41-year-old woman, who was obese most of her adult life and considered exercise to be sent from the Devil himself, was a runner.

Then something happened. I realized that I liked running….kind of! Or at least, I didn’t hate it. I started to run more than once a week(ish). I signed up for the 2018 Portland Thanksgiving Day Four-Miler and freaked out because I’d never run four miles before. The day of the race was so cold I had a panic attack at the starting line, and I had to breathe and tell myself that I’d be fine once I started running. And you know what? I was. I finished the damn thing with a time that I was satisfied with….still slow, but faster than I’d been prior to that race. I ran the Holiday Dash just a few weeks afterwards and had my best 5K time ever.

It was during this time that a friend suggested I sign up for the Maine Coast Half Marathon (she was doing the marathon). I had to make sure she had sent the message to the right person. Me? A HALF-MARATHON???? Maybe in a year or two, but in MAY? I was just freaking out about running four miles in November! But again, I found that I couldn’t get the idea of it out of my head. Impulsively, I signed up. Then that same friend (I really need new friends) encouraged me to get a bib transfer for the 2019 Mid-Winter 10-Mile Classic, which is 10 miles…in MID-WINTER!!

At left, Bethany after she had her PR at the Holiday Dash in 2018. At right, Bethany after the Mid-Winter Classic. “My expression in this one is basically ‘Holy shit! I did it! Also please feed me and I’m in pain,'” she says.

Against my better judgement, I did it. I ran (and walked) 10 miles. I finished the race, and was happy with my time. It was hilly and long and I was freezing towards the end, but I did it. This 41-year-old woman, who was obese most of her adult life and considered exercise to be sent from the Devil himself, was a runner.

That was a little over a month ago. I continue to train for the Maine Coast Half Marathon, as well as the Portland 10 Miler and the Old Port Half Marathon. I also incorporate weight training and boot camp classes at Dynamics Fitness & Performance into my week, and cross-train on non-running days. Every day someone tells me that they can’t believe how much better I look (I’ve lost over 135 pounds and gained some muscle), but most importantly, my sense of self has changed dramatically. I can call myself a runner and not follow it up with self-deprecating remarks. I know today that I can be healthy AND cool (because as previously mentioned, I am extremely, extremely cool…it can’t really be emphasized enough). For me, that has been the greatest gift of my experience so far.

*** If you have a story about conquering a fear, challenging yourself, or doing something you’d always wanted to do, and you’re open to sharing it on fitmaine.com, I’d love to hear it. Email shannon@fitmaine.com ***

Bethany Mulkern

Bethany Mulkern

I’ve been described as “quirky” more times than I can count. I have two boys who light up my life and I enjoy cooking, music, and all of the coffee when I’m not working out.