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When she changed her mindset about food—and discovered all the benefits of running beyond weight loss—she felt stronger and ran faster.
Hometown: Twin Cities, Minnesota
Occupation: Registered Dietitian
Time Running: 18 years
Reason for Running: I run because the sport has taught me that the impossible is possible.
Growing up, I ran cross-country and track in junior high and high school but didn’t take it very seriously. I started running more and more in college and completed my first half marathon, the Okoboji Half Marathon, in 2011. Then, I ran my first full marathon, The Twin Cities Marathon, my junior year of college in 2012.
But I started running more for all the wrong reasons. I felt that to be a good and serious runner, I needed to lose weight and look a certain way. Today though, I run for better reasons and know that you don’t need to look a certain way to be a runner.
For my first marathon (the Twin Cities Marathon), I convinced my boyfriend (now husband) to run it with me. We had no idea what we were doing. I remember being confused as to why they were handing out gels at mile 17. I didn’t even realize you should fuel during the marathon, but I took it just because everyone else did. I look back and laugh at this moment because I teach runners to not make the same mistakes I did.
I remember getting a Nike watch while training for my second marathon and was so excited to be able to know exactly how far I ran versus using MapMyRun and hopefully remembering the route I created. But, I still didn’t fuel during this second marathon; I didn’t learn my lesson! I thought hitting the wall was normal and just part of long runs.
However, I finally figured out proper fueling during my fourth marathon, the California International Marathon in 2017. I carb-loaded, had my prerun breakfast figured out, and even took a few applesauce pouches during the race. I ran my current PR then, so it’s safe to say proper fueling paid off.
The truth is though, there was a time I was embarrassed to share my history with dieting and feeling that if I wanted to be a runner I needed to “look” a certain way. But since I’ve gotten real about my journey, I’ve had so many people tell me that they appreciate my story because it shows that even if you didn’t always run for the right reasons, that it doesn’t have to be that way forever.
I used to feel that as a dietitian who worked with runners that no one would want to work with me if they knew I struggled with disordered eating as well.
I spent years running my body to the ground while underfueling. It didn’t happen overnight, but I found myself tired of tracking everything in MyFitnessPal and stressing over every little thing I ate. When I changed my mindset from less is best to fueled is best, I started seeing a difference not only in my running performance, but also in my energy and mood. I realized that things I thought were normal—like being exhausted for days after a long run—was all related to how I fueled my body.
When I started fueling my body properly both on and off the run, I saw huge improvements in my running times. I ran an 18-minute PR at the California International Marathon in 2017, and a lot of that success was simply proper fueling.
I am now focused on helping other runners fuel their bodies to run strong. I hope my story is inspiring to other runners because so many runners have been on a diet at some point in their life. I have many clients who reach out and feel they need to lose weight, but also want to improve performance. I talk a lot about how these two things don’t typically go hand in hand. I like to ask potential clients who want to lose weight, but also want to run strong: What is more important? Would you rather lose weight, or would you rather improve performance, even if that meant you didn’t lose weight or you didn’t lose it as fast as you hoped?
Focusing on weight loss can often mean restriction—something I learned firsthand. And restriction so commonly leads to a decrease in performance. I just want to help runners perform well and feel their best, on and off the road.
Currently, I am running five days a week. I completed my first 50K trail ultra, the Copper Corridor, this year and I can’t wait to run another one. The ultra race had such a different feel to it than any road race that I’ve run before, and I loved it. I said I would never do a 100-mile race, but after helping a few clients gear up for theirs, it makes the distance seem more appealing.
Running has taught me how strong I can be and has brought me so much joy. I was able to run over 1,000 miles while I was pregnant with my son and now get to share countless miles with him in the stroller. Sometimes running is my ‘me’ time, but it is so special when I can share it with him. Even after the not-so-great runs, I feel better than how I did before I went for the run.
I want other runners to know that it is so common to turn to running as a method of losing weight, but to know that even though you found running this way that you can (and should) continue to run for other reasons. Running can bring so much into your life: stress relief, sense of accomplishment, friendship, and a sense of community. If you’re looking to start running, think of your why, and what you hope running will bring to your life.
If your rest day follows a speed workout or long run, you may find yourself more hungry, because it is common for running to wipe out your appetite after you finish your miles, and that appetite might come back on your rest day. So eat up. If you try to eat less just because it is a rest day you may even delay recovery.
Your running partner may be able to do the same run without fuel or water, but that doesn’t mean you should try to do the same. Focus on giving your body what it needs to perform.
Setting goals is great but don’t let it weigh too much on your experience. Remember you did, in fact, pay to do this so enjoy it.
→Applesauce Pouches: They are so versatile and work well for both a prerun snack and during-the-run fuel.
→Nathan VaporHowe 2.0 Vest: I prefer to wear my hydration vest versus carry a handheld. Not only are there lots of pockets to keep everything organized, but drinking from a straw versus a squeeze bottle is easier for me.
→Brooks Launch Running Shoe: I find this shoe versatile. It’s light enough that I can do my speedwork in it, but also comfortable enough if I have a long run on the schedule.
→Senita’s Baseline Shorts 2: These are my favorite shorts to run in. High-waisted and the longer length prevents any thigh chafing. And there are so many pockets on these shorts!
We want to hear how running changed you! Send your story and submit your photos to us via this form. We’ll pick one each week to highlight on the site.
Emily Shiffer is a freelance health and wellness writer living in Pennsylvania.
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