The Finish, Not the End

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In October of 2017 I did the impossible.

I did the crazy. The “It would be stupid of you to even try,” according to my ex-husband.

I did the thing I hadn’t even dared to dream. I ran Arkansas Traveller, a 100-mile race through the Ouachita National Forest, over Forest Service Roads, the Ouachita Trail, access roads, jeep trails, and one portion that only resembles a trail once a year, when it is bush-hogged for this very race.

Only two years before I was collapsed on a bathroom floor, thinking I was dying. I was so unhealthy, so tired, depressed, anxious, worn out.

The impossible: 100 miles. When I tell people I do this, they almost always ask, “How in the world can you run a 100 miles?”

And what I tell them is, I can’t run 100 miles. No one can run 100 miles. But you can run a mile, and then do it 99 more times.

Here’s the distinction: My brain cannot hold 100 miles of running. It’s too big of a thing to hold in your brain, and I think that’s why most people don’t attempt feats such as this. You have to chunk it down or you can’t do it. Most of us take it one aid station at a time. One segment at a time. Run from here to here, then a little further. One of my secrets is to break it down into the tiniest of tiny bits: 100 steps, a decimal point of a mile, to the top of the hill, around the curve. Whatever gets you a little further.

You do this, and you trust that the process of running, of going just a little further, of keeping your feet moving, will get you to where you want to go.

That’s also the secret to how I went from what the doctors called morbidly obese to an ultra runner in just over two years.

There were so many times over my lifetime that I lost a little bit of weight but then gave up, discouraged by my slow progress. Weight loss is slow, and the goal seems so far out of reach. Someone once said to me, “You didn’t get unhealthy in a day, and you won’t get healthy in a day either.” Wise words, but how discouraging!

It wasn’t until I learned how to just take the action without a mind for the results, just believing that I was doing something positive for myself, my health, and my family, that I actually saw the needle move on the scale in the direction I had always wanted it to go.

I had always been striving for the goal, and impatient for the journey. I had to do something different. I had to learn to enjoy the times I got out the door and got moving. Enjoy the taste of the roasted vegetables I made for dinner. Enjoy the unexpected pleasure that came when I stopped eating before I became uncomfortably full.

When I decided to run 100 miles for the first time, I was nervous. Terrified, in fact.  But there was a part of me that understood — I already knew how to do this. Just do it the way I lost weight, changed my body, changed my life. Just keep going.

In 2017 I did the unexpected (unexpected even by me). I finished the race in just over 24 hours. In 100-mile races, a sub-24 time is a big goal, and I had almost accomplished it.

So I went back in 2018 and hit my goal.

In just over a week, I’ll toe the starting line again. I’ll have a goal, to hopefully do even better than I’ve done the last two years. I’ve had several great finishes in ultra running, but I don’t consider it the end … I can always improve.

But I also know the lessons of the hard road. And while I’m out there, I look forward to taking a minute to look at the stars, and say a prayer of gratitude for how far I’ve come.

Not just 100 miles. Much further than that. 

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Shame on Who?

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Body shaming is a big topic these days. In fact, when you start to write about health and fitness it can kind of feel like a minefield. How do you write about changing a lifestyle or making good decisions, without people feeling like they are being pressured into making those decisions? So right off the bat here, I want to deal with the topic of shame.

First: shame is the most ineffective force for change. Guilt and shame don’t motivate; they paralyze us.

Second, the most debilitating shame comes from within. Sure, it starts with those around us telling us we are imperfect, but once we’ve internalized shame, it becomes a constant ache.

One beauty pageant judge, a couple of grownups commenting on my weight, some snide remarks from the girls at school … that’s all it took.

I remember the first time I tried to shame myself into losing weight. I was in about fifth grade. It was beginning to be summer in Mississippi. My dad’s friend had just bought the dollar store in town, and he wanted to highlight their clothing selection, so he decided on having a fashion show. My sister and I were invited to participate. We would get to choose any outfit we wanted and it would be ours after the show.

I found a cute skirt in the shade of turquoise that is still my favorite color, and a checked shirt that was bright and cheery. Problem: the skirt was just a little too small.

“Are you sure you want to get that?” my mom asked.

I was sure. I thought this could motivate me to lose some weight before the fashion show, which was still a few weeks away.

Of course, I didn’t lose a single pound and I was miserable and embarrassed during the fashion show. In fact, I grew some. The skirt was even tighter. I looked awful and I knew it. I was so ashamed.

That incident stands out to me, but there were so many times I tried to shame myself over the years that I had lost count by the time I was 25.

The vow usually lasted about 36 hours, or maybe even just until dinner if we were having something I liked. Then I would indulge, ashamed of my lack of self control. Adding shame upon shame, weight upon weight. That’s how shame works — or rather completely fails to work, at least not the way we want it to.

If you’re trying it now, just stop.

Shame doesn’t make you feel energetic or capable. It erodes all of the things you need to accomplish your goals. It takes away much, and gives nothing.

If you’re trying to shame someone else, anyone else, for anything, stop that too.

Sure, it would be a great idea if everyone could achieve their goals and dreams for everything. Not just losing weight, but being a better parent, having a clean house, running a certain distance, keeping to their schedule, etc.

But to the people who try to use shame — bosses, exes, supposed lovers, “well-meaning friends,” even some (the worst) coaches — they are destroying the thing they are trying to build.

To those who are trying to build something: let go of shame. Look at that person you are. Love them. When you start loving that person you are, that’s when you start wanting to do your best for them.

Three words and they all start the same way: shame, should, shit.

Shame starts with “should.” Someone is beating you up psychologically by telling you what you “should” or “shouldn’t” be. Or, worse, you’ve internalized it enough that you are doing it to yourself. Suggestions, requests, advice, are all great, but once someone pulls that Shit of Should on you, time to walk away, baby.

The other side of shame: I can remember, too, the first time I looked at myself with compassion. I walked away from all the Shame and Should and Shit and really looked at myself. Some friends helped by telling me how they saw me. A weight dropped from my mind, from my body. I was on my way.


Start Here

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As I write this, I’m staring age 50 in the face. I’ve reached the point in my life where I realize my kids will never be interested in my advice, or if they ever are, I will probably have forgotten what it was.

Sometimes it seems like I don’t have anything all that special to share, but many of my friends assure me that I do. They ask me questions, probe for my advice or guidance. It doesn’t always seem like I’ve done anything special, especially when I’m struggling, as all of us struggle, as all of us have our highs and lows.

But I did do something: I turned it around. At age 46 I took a big, big step and completely remade myself.

See: I’ve always been fat, since I was seven years old. Some people will be offended hearing that. Some people will be really angry, hearing that from someone who currently wears a size two or four. But listen to what I mean: I’ve always identified as fat. I claimed fat, cleaved to fat, wore fat as a mantle.

When I was a child, my rude uncle Edgar saw me running through the living room: “That child sure is getting fat.”

A child’s beauty pageant judge: “She has a great smile and stage presence, but she is a little too fat.”

My first boyfriend’s dad: “You used to be fat didn’t you? You will be again someday.”

 I was fat, the awkward non-athlete: slow to first base in softball, completely incapable in basketball, tripping over my own feet, chosen last for teams and only after the teacher INSISTED.

I began playing rugby as an adult and discovered a degree of athleticism, but clung to “slow and fat.” That’s what I would always be, I figured.

Meanwhile I was living the life I felt I deserved. I married a guy who barely tolerated my presence on most days, never wore nice clothes, slumped and hunched and made myself small.

I really have no idea what happened, except that one day I knew something had to change. The perfect sequence of events brought me to a desire to change, and a way to change.

 I never went on a diet. I never joined up with any of the eating fads that seem to plague us in an endless series of silliness. I just … changed.

I want to tell my story, in pieces, in lessons, in digestible bits, and the first part of my story is in the title of this essay: Start Here.

Because the lessons I learned are being learned over and over, even by me. There are days when I feel I’ve lost my motivation, my direction. Days when I feel like I don’t have a way to go forward.

But on those days I still know: START HERE. It’s the only place to start from.

There was a day I got on the scale and I weighed more than I had ever weighed in my life. I looked at that number and thought about how I felt. I was tired — exhausted, in fact. I was sick. I was depressed. I felt unloved, unworthy.


There was a day I saw an image of myself that only showed my posture, and I thought, “I look like I’m apologizing for being here, on this earth.”


There was a day I tried to just go for a walk up the hill that I live on, and every joint hurt. Less than a tenth of a mile in, I felt like I was going to throw up. When I got back to the house there was a letter waiting for me. My doctor wanted me to go in for further testing. They suspected an autoimmune disease.


There was a family vacation that was every possible kind of misery, and for some crazy reason I thought it would also be good to have family photos taken during that vacation. My relationship was imploding and there was seemingly nothing I could do about it. My body felt miserable. I was in every kind of pain: mental, emotional, physical. When we viewed the photos, I thought, “This is how I look?” I was even bigger than I thought. Way, way bigger.


There was a trip to visit my brother where we took my kids to a museum, and I barely made it through the short walk around the museum grounds. Finally we sat down to lunch and my brother pulled out his phone to track his calorie intake. My brother, who looked completely different than he ever had before, because he had just taken charge of his health and lost 80 pounds. “What is that?” I asked. And he showed me.


And I did.

Start. Here. Wherever you are. You woke up today, start here. You managed to get out of bed and stretch, start here. You managed to plan your day in your calendar, start here. You ate a good breakfast, start here. Whatever your goals, whatever direction they take you, start here.