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When I first decided to lose some of the excess weight I gained in college, I had no idea what I was doing. Never an athlete in high school, I’d never followed a coach-prescribed workout, lifted weights with my team in the weight room, or observed strategies and techniques on the field. It was a clear, sunny day (as usual) in Isla Vista, the densely populated enclave housing UCSB’s student body, when I first decided to make a change. I started resenting seeing photos of myself tagged to Facebook, not wanting to believe that the puffy girl in the photos was how I presented myself to to the world. This shift in behavior occurred sometime in 2007 or 2008. I believe I wore something resembling pajama bottoms and an oversized-cotton t-shirt, my high school P.E. shoes clunky and awkward. I couldn’t make it down the block without stopping, my lungs and heart wholly unaccustomed to any exercise apart from walking or beach cruiser biking.

For some reason, I liked the challenge and started taking advantage of the beautiful places to run near UCSB. Campus Point, the lagoon, and Sands Beach became regular places for me to run/walk a handful of miles. I started improving, walking a little less each time and running farther when I could. Once I give myself a goal, I become hell bent on reaching it, feeling guilty if I don’t do what I set out to do. Crossing things off in my planner gives me great satisfaction, and I began treating my workouts as another item on my to-do list.

When I signed up for my first race, the Jungle Run Half Marathon in my hometown of Los Gatos, I was as clueless about racing as I had been about running when I first began, but I arrived on game day far more prepared. Never one to be without a plan or to half ass anything, I followed Hal Higdon’s Intermediate Plan practically to a tee, adding distance and speed workouts to my regimen each week.

My goal for the race was to run the entire thing and not stop. After a mostly sleepless night I accomplished just that, running my first race and first half marathon in 2:04. After the race, I walked/hobbled home with my mom who had been waiting at the finish line.

Cotton is not your friend during a race.

Cotton is not your friend during a race.

I made two newbie mistakes post-race: I didn’t eat any protein (my dad picked up bagels) and I soaked my aching muscles in a hot tub (instead of an ice bath). I couldn’t walk the next day, but I also couldn’t stop smiling. I had accomplished something I had never thought possible. Just five short years prior to that first race, I had proclaimed that I’d only run if I were being chased.

After the first half marathon, I was hooked on the endorphins and sense of accomplishment achieved through running and racing. Since that first race, I’ve ran two other road halves, two trail halves, two road marathons, one trail marathon, and several other races of varying distances. I may not wear cotton tank tops to race anymore, but I still surprise myself every time I cross the finish line.