Tuesday, February 1, 2011

How It All Began

For over a year I have been contemplating starting a blog. During most of my runs, especially the longer ones, thoughts go through my head that I want you to know about: that you are not alone in the challenges that face you. You are not alone in your struggles, self doubt, or your joys. While running, I compose blog posts in my mind, but when I get home there is no blog yet to contain them. I have many concerns about blogging. I worry what people will think about me. I worry that if I say too much, people will not like me, or will think “who the hell does she think SHE is?” That’s just a risk that I’m going to have to take. 

Last week during a run, I came to the realization that there may be others in a similar terrible mental and physical condition that I was in a few years ago. Every day I put off my blog might mean another day someone is in pain and feeling hopeless. I can’t put this off any longer. I want to help people who feel stuck and hopeless to realize that there is a way to get out. I did it, and you can too. While helping one person is a very noble cause, I don’t want to stop there. I want to help tens, hundreds, maybe even thousands of people. It could all begin with this blog. I’ll never know until I start.

Somewhere along the line, I figured out that no matter what I did, I just wasn’t good enough. I internalized this, made it my own, and nurtured it. Starting in my early teens I recognized that I had a problem with depression. As I grew older, it got worse and I also became overly critical of myself. By the time I graduated from college, life was psychologically very painful most of the time.

I felt like the subject in Edvard Munch’s painting The Scream, so full of angst that I wanted to let out a perpetual scream. Driving home from work I’d think about how easy it would be to just drive the car off the road and roll it down the hill. There were many nights I lay in bed and prayed that I would not wake up the next morning. Life was that painful.

When I looked in the mirror, I could literally see a demon sitting on my shoulder. On an almost daily basis I would scowl at myself in the bathroom mirror, and crying, tell myself out loud that it didn’t matter how much I changed, that I would still be me— as if there was something inherently evil about me. I started hitting myself, so hard at times that I was surprised bruises did not form. In my mid-twenties I finally went and talked to my doctor, who put me on anti-depressants. From then on, the monster on my shoulder was gone, and the edge was taken off, but life was still painful. I tried to ease my pain with food, alcohol and cigarettes. For over a decade, I drank and ate to excess. I would lay in bed until 2am watching TV, eating and drinking wine or vodka, then get up at 7am for work and do it all again the next night. I was a functioning alcoholic. This was my horrible secret that I hid from others. I was afraid that if people knew this about me, they would think I was a terrible person. I have since realized that a lot of people (endurance athletes not excluded) have these types of issues, but don’t talk about them. I’ve decided to talk.

Over the next 10 years my weight ballooned to at least 265 pounds, and I began to have health problems.  My blood pressure was high, so I was put on medication. I started having terrible pain and popping in my knees. After an MRI, an orthopedist told me that my kneecaps are more lateral than they should be and I would have more problems as I got older. He also said that I had a lot of weight to lose, emphasizing the word LOT. My doctor said that Type 2 diabetes was right around the corner. I was in a terrible place both mentally and physically and didn’t know how to get out.

Me proudly displaying a found geocache!
In 2002, my husband and I discovered a new activity called geocaching, in which you use a GPS to locate hidden containers outdoors in urban or rural settings. I credit geocaching with getting me moving. At first, a quarter mile was a long way to walk, but over a few years, as I got more active and confident, I found myself hiking up to 11 miles round trip to find a geocache. I was still as big as ever however. Up until then I hadn’t changed any other habits, but I was proud of my hiking ability for someone my size!

In October 2005, my life began to change in earnest. My husband invited me to come to the gym that he and a friend had been frequenting for a few months. I got on an elliptical, and in only 5 minutes was done. I then switched to a treadmill and walked slowly waiting for my husband to finish his workout. I was the fattest person at the gym. It was all I could do to not burst into tears. The journey ahead of me was too long and overwhelming to comprehend. Afterward, my husband said to me the best thing anyone ever has: My journey may be long, but I was one step closer today than I was the day before.

I began to gradually cut back my alcohol consumption, and ate a plate full of steamed vegetables or salad before consuming meal entrees and sides. Over the next 6 months, I lost about 50 pounds just making these small changes.

Doug with his 3rd place age group ribbon, and me with 5th place.
ORRC Blue Lake 5k, October 2006.
By February 2006, I was tired of walking on the treadmill while people around me ran. So I decided to try running. I upped the pace to barely more than a walk and held that for three minutes. I thought it wasn’t bad, and would continue running some. I will never forget the day I ran on the treadmill for 30 minutes without stopping! In October 2006, my husband and I ran our first 5k together. It was a small race held in Blue Lake Park east of Portland. I had read that ribbons were to be awarded 6 deep in each age bracket. The race was on paved roads and almost flat. Even so, it was, up until that time, the hardest thing I’d ever done in my life! As I ran I imagined that each woman in front of me was taking away my ribbon, and I wouldn’t allow that! I gave it all I had, and at the finish, felt like I was going to puke— but didn’t. (I secretly would like to run so hard someday that I do puke!) I had finished my first 5k in a 9:37 pace, and had earned a 5th place age group ribbon! I was thrilled! That wonderful feeling of success layed the foundation for me to continue running. In April 2007 I ran my first 10k, and in August 2007, my first half marathon (Haulin’ Aspen, which was way more than I bargained for— afterward I could barely walk for 3 days!).

Doug and I started coming to Central Oregon for long weekends several times a year to hike, geocache, and drive on the back roads. After a while, it got to where we didn’t want to go back to Portland. From our first trip to Central Oregon, I felt very strongly that there was something waiting here for me, and that every moment I wasn’t here, it was passing me by. We made the move to Bend in September 2007. We closed on our house in Bend the day before my birthday in 2008, and quit smoking for the third and final time before we moved in.

Many wonderful things have happened in my life since moving to Bend. In May 2008 I heard about a new running store in town, Fleet Feet Sports Bend. The first few Wednesday night group runs were just me and owner Rod Bien, or then store manager Sean Meissner. I thought “good” runners would be stuck up or elitist, but these two proved me wrong. I was welcomed right away. I will never forget my first group run. It was just Rod and I running up Galveston to Mt. Washington Drive, and back via Overturf Butte. Even though I was so slow and barely made it up to the Mt. Washington roundabout, this fast guy trotted right alongside me with tiny, shuffling steps. I lost count of how many times he said “good job.” I had been welcomed into the running community with open arms. It was good to know that people who didn’t even know me yet believed in me.

In September 2008, I hired my first running coach. Anyone can hire a coach to help them achieve their running, or other athletic goals. You don’t need to be a fast, super-experienced, or elite runner. You only have to be willing to lay out some money and be accountable to your coach and training plan. Anyway, I had been mentally stuck at half-marathon distance and didn’t know how to go farther or faster on my own. Ironman Chad took me from pained half-marathoner to “comfortably” completing 50k ultra-marathons.

Getting friendly with an iguana. Isabela Island, Galapagos, Nov. 2008
In November 2008 I took another leap of faith and attended a running camp hosted by Dreamchasers in the Galapagos islands. I was very worried about being the least experienced and slowest runner there. It was there that I first met Lisa Smith-Batchen and Matt Hart, two gifted ultra-runners who would become instrumental in shaping my running future. At this camp I was welcomed by people who called themselves ultra-runners, and felt accepted and at ease right away. While in the Galapagos, I decided to stop taking my anti-depressants. Over the previous decade, I had stopped taking them at least twice on my own (without telling my doctor or my husband) to see what would happen. The results were not good. This time I felt I was ready to let them go. I have been off anti-depressants ever since. I still have my down days, but overall my life is quite happy now.

I am telling you all this because I want you to know that even though you may have strikes against you— in my case morbid obesity, depression, self-deprecation, and addiction to food, alcohol and nicotine— you can overcome! Set a goal and get started by taking one small step each day toward that goal. Focus on the present— doing what you can do today— not on how far away your goal may seem. If you have difficulty believing in yourself and your ability to create positive change in your life, just think of me and I’ll be there with you. I believe in you! You can do this! Now get out there and go after your dreams one day at a time!


  1. Laura, I don't know what to say other than you go! I love the start and look forward to keeping up with it. I am working at becoming more active again and you are inspiring me to do more. Thanks. Eric

  2. You are my hero. You were in 2005 when you started geo cacheing, and you are now that you have taken the step to help others (like me!) who need inspiration. Much, much love!

  3. Can you stand one more person telling you how amazing you are? I'll do it! :) You're also a gifted communicator. Thank you for sharing your journey, and for inspiring others - because I know you will - to find their amazing selves, too.

  4. Laura, your blog is powerful and moving. I had no idea you had suffered so much from depression. I'm so happy that you have found a healthy way to move through it, and although the road will not always be smooth, I think you're on a great path for yourself and I look forward to reading more. You got me through some very dark mornings going to school, sometimes the only thing that got me out of bed and going to zero period was knowing you were waiting for me to complete the walk...

  5. It was always a honor and privilege working beside you. Those who have fought the greatest battles and overcome the darkest hours truly have earned the right to lead others. You are one of those mentors! You go girl!

  6. Laura, Yours is a wonderful story, thanks so much for putting this in words. I already know some folks that NEED to read this.

  7. I'm absolutely speechless here, Laura...I knew a little about some of your past, but Holy Crap - I really had no idea! I look back fondly, and proudly, of the huge steps you've taken over the past almost 3 years that we've known each other. Not only do I consider you my friend, you are one of my heroes.

  8. Someone posted your story on my Facebook page and I followed it to your blog. What a journey you have been on. Please continue to Blog,you are a wonderful source of inspiration..Thank you for being you and wanting to be more. Rocky in Edmond's Washington

  9. Absolutely wonderful! And I have a similar story that I need to share as well. Good for you to not hold that in any longer! We all have our story to tell...and yours is an inspiring one! Keep up the GREAT work!