My First Marathon: From Weighing 300 Pounds to Running 26.2 Miles

Medically reviewed by Peggy Pletcher, MS, RD, LD, CDE on October 5, 2016Written by Charlotte Snead on October 5, 2016
first marathon

For most of my life, I’ve been overweight and on the obese side. At 49 years old, I ballooned up to 300 pounds. I went to bed every night thinking about my weight, and woke up dreading trying to squeeze into clothes for work. I also had high blood pressure and borderline diabetes. I would get out of breath walking up my front porch steps.

I was tired and depressed all the time. After my grandson was born, everything became worse. The thought of him having a fat grandmother made me sad. I wanted to be a grandmother he loved playing with.

I remember the day it all changed like it was yesterday. It was September 29, 2009. I went for my yearly checkup with my doctor. I sat in Dr. Wilson’s office in a hospital gown with tears streaming down my face. She came in and asked me a few questions. I told her how depressed and unhappy I was, and how bad I felt all the time.

During the exam, she found something that alerted her to send me for a colonoscopy. I cried harder because I thought it was cancer. She simply said, “Charlotte, if you lose a few pounds, you will feel better.” To this day, I still credit her with my weight loss. I knew when I left her office that I had to do something.

My weight loss journey

My first thought was to research gastric bypass surgery. But when I got home, I instead researched websites that would help me count calories. I signed up for a calorie tracker and put in my age, height, and weight. It told me how many calories I needed to eat to lose 2 pounds each week.

Before I started to research weight loss, I’d honestly never realized the caloric value of food. But I’ve counted my calories every day since then. I made up my mind that I wouldn’t do a crash or fad diet. I made a decision to eat differently as a way of life. I never called it a diet.

Basically, I ate what I wanted, but counted calories. For months, every bit of food that passed my lips was counted.

I eventually learned that I could eat more and still lose weight if I started exercising. I also learned that if I ate healthy food, I could eat more. My one guilty pleasure a few days a week used to be a Cadbury chocolate egg, which was 150 calories.

I also joined a gym and worked out to help burn extra calories. I became very strong and started developing muscles. By early 2012, I’d lost 137 pounds.

Losing weight was like a dream to me. I liked what I saw in the mirror. I loved how active I was. I treated myself better, and so did others. I was even more confident and outgoing.

Why I started running

On May 13, 2010, I started running. That day changed my life. It was about eight months after I started losing weight. I was 50 years old.

I ran (if you can call it that) 2.42 miles. I followed the run/walk combination in the Couch to 5K plan. I was so sore, I could barely walk for the next few days. I’d tell people I was a runner inside a nonrunner’s body. I was still very big, and sometimes I was embarrassed to run outdoors or at the gym because I didn’t want people to laugh at me. But I quickly got over that and eventually stopped caring.

My first official race, a 5K, was in 2011. I finished in 35 minutes, 37 seconds. I was still several pounds overweight. But I ran the entire race without walking, even though I was wearing terrible sneakers not made for running.

I felt alive. I cried. That’s when I really fell in love with running, and knew that I’d never stop.

My journey to running a marathon

After the 5K, my husband hugged me and told me he knew I’d never stop running. How could he tell? By the look on my face after I crossed the finish line. He was right.

I started a blog, I Run in the Rain, to chronicle my journey and hopefully encourage others. Around the same time, I made the difficult decision to get body lift surgery. I underwent a circumferential body lift (lower body lift) and brachioplasty (arm lift) to get rid of all the loose skin around my waist and arms.

The surgery was costly and involved a tough recovery. But luckily, I was back to running in no time. I also had a flat stomach and nice arms for the first time in 30 years.

After that, I grew more confident and happy. Without the extra skin, I enjoyed running even more. I even signed up for my first half marathon, a challenge that hadn’t even crossed my mind before as something I was capable of.

I didn’t have a training program, but I ran a lot of miles in order to accomplish my goal. Since then, I’ve run over 50 official races, including four half marathons.

Training for a marathon: What it takes to run 26.2 miles

After I ran my fourth half marathon, I couldn’t stop thinking about running. I felt so strong and good. Finally, I felt like I was officially a runner. I was in pain, I couldn’t walk down steps, and I could barely walk after the race. I felt like I was 25 years old!

My husband called me an athlete. I’d never heard that before, or felt like I was athletic. I was still a slow and steady runner, but I was a runner. I felt invincible. So I signed up for my first full marathon, the 2014 Rock ‘n’ Roll race in St. Louis.

Marathon training begins

I researched many marathon training programs, and I eventually decided on the Hal Higdon novice plan.

Online, I read many people’s accounts of marathon training. It’s said that the training is the hardest part, and the marathon is a piece of cake. I don’t know if I agree that it’s a piece of cake, but the training is grueling.

The plan starts out easy, but by the 10th week of an 18-week training regimen, it becomes very hard, time-consuming, and tiring. I’d work 11-hour days, come home and run, shower, roll my legs, and go to bed. I’d get up and do that again for 18 weeks.

My husband, Kevin, rode his bicycle alongside me on all my long runs and carried my fuel and water. He dealt with my frustrations and whining, comforted me when I cried, and encouraged me the entire way.

I remember after my 18-mile run, I came home and sat on the front porch crying. I was ready to stop and go back to just enjoying short runs. I told Kevin it was over for me. He basically told me to “buck up.” He reminded me that I would have regrets for the rest of my life if I quit. That was a turning point, and my next long run of 20 miles was relatively drama-free.

Marathon taper week

There are many stories of the taper. Most of them are true. This is what I experienced before the race:

  • I was more stressed than I was on my long runs.
  • I had more time on my hands.
  • I was worried that I wouldn’t be ready for the 26.2 miles.
  • I wanted to eat all the time.
  • I was a ball of nerves.
  • I kept a spotless house.
  • My yard looked incredible.

The day before the marathon, I went to the race expo and spent tons of money (as usual). I was convinced by a sales person that buying a 26.2 sticker wouldn’t jinx my run. I feared it would, but I bought it anyway and tucked it away.

I spend the rest of the day with my grandkids, and they went home early so I could get some rest and get ready for my marathon early the next morning. I set out all my gear and fuel that night, getting ready for the 5 a.m. wakeup.

Marathon race day

I always have butterflies the morning of any race until I line up with the other racers. That always calms my nerves, as it did the morning of my marathon. I met up with some runner friends and visited before getting in my corral with Kevin, who was running the half marathon.

I’ve always loved St. Louis in the early mornings. We ran toward the Gateway Arch, which always gives me goosebumps. I felt good and happy for about 10 miles or so, until my husband and I split ways. What I didn’t train for was the loneliness of a marathon.

The big crowd was for the half marathon, and when I left that group, I realized that I was in for a big challenge. I really did get scared.

During the training, you’re taught that nothing prepares you for after mile 20. That’s so true. At mile 19 or so, my left knee started hurting so badly that I felt it would buckle and cause me to fall. Of course, I cried.

But I wasn’t crying because of the pain. During the training, you learn how to run past pain, if possible. I was crying because I felt that I wouldn’t finish. I started feeling like a failure. I worried what my family and friends would think. I worried what my grandson would think.

I believe my knee started hurting because of a steep downhill near mile 19. I hobbled along the best that I could for about 3 miles. I was honestly about to quit when the pain started to lessen and went away. I was so relieved, I must have smiled the rest of the way.

The finish line

When I got into my last mile, a volunteer gave me a fist bump and said “one more mile.” I felt so good on that last mile. I was smiling with tears in my eyes the entire way. After the last turn and when the finish line was visible, my heart was pounding. I knew then that I would be a marathoner.

Earlier in that week, I told someone that I just wanted to finish on my feet, strong and smiling. I did.

My son was the first one to get to me after I crossed and received my medal and thermal blanket. We aren’t normally huggers, but we hugged so hard. I was crying and he told me he was proud of me. Then came my grandson, who reminded me how he helped me train by doing squats with me. Then my husband came running up to me. I fell into him in pain and sheer happiness.

Finishing that marathon is still in the top five highlights of my life.

The long road ahead

The following year, I started out running strong. I applied for the Chicago marathon lottery and was accepted. But I reluctantly deferred for one year due to family obligations and increased responsibilities of my job, including increased hours.

 During the past year, I’ve had severe health issues which sidelined my running. In May, I had colon surgery to remove 12 inches of my colon. My first worry after cancer was that maybe I’d never run again, let alone train for Chicago. Luckily, my surgeon was also a marathoner. He said that he would get me back on the road so I could train. Within three weeks of the surgery, I was running again.

People always ask me what I like about running. It’s hard to answer. I have a love/hate relationship with running. I love how I feel after I finish a run. I love how it changed my life. I am a runner. That’s part of who I am. I dread the day when I won’t be able to run, but that day isn’t today.

I’m currently in week 12 of 18 of my Chicago Marathon training, which is coming up in October, 2016.

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