Meet Lydia, a Mom of 4 Who Lost Over 80 Pounds and Changed Her Life with Running

One of the reasons that I enjoy long term 1-on-1 coaching is that I get to see an incredible amount of improvement over time.

New Beginning

As the months go by, little victories are celebrated occasionally. A few pounds here. A minute PR in the half there. The improvements multiply over time and eventually you barely recognize who you were six months ago.

This is one of the reasons why when I start working with a new runner, we start with a 3-month block of time. Success just doesn’t happen in a month.

From bettering race times to losing weight and improving your mood, running provides a great outlet to living a happier life. Today I want to share an incredibly inspirational story about Lydia, a runner I coached for over a year.

Lydia came to me in the fall of 2010 and decided on a whim to hire me as her coach. She had never been coached, wasn’t particularly fast, and didn’t run consistently.

Lydia’s Story – The Beginning

“I was worried about spending money for something that was a hobby, but I knew that this hobby could help save my life. I was tired of feeling like I was always trying but never getting anywhere. I read a few articles that I felt were among the best information I had read. I was impressed and decided to hire you pretty much on impulse.”

Finally, an impulse buy that’s actually good for you!

Lydia had run a few half-marathons but was frustrated with never knowing how to train. Her running was off-and-on and her motivation levels were all over the place. The stock training plans she followed didn’t seem to take into consideration that she was overweight and she always felt like she had been run over by a truck.

“My legs were sore all the time. My feet were weak and after each half-marathon, I felt sick and was so sore for days. I hurt myself both times because I wasn’t prepared. I needed some direction,” she recalled.Lydia Before Running

So we started strengthening her feet with specific foot exercises that help runners develop strength in the arch and foot muscles. Her mileage increased slightly but more importantly, became more consistent.

Lydia remembers, “After I started coaching, I felt like my running became more focused and goal oriented. But I was surprised that most of the running I did was easy. I thought that a coach would be like high-intensity personal trainers on TV that are constantly pushing people to kill themselves in every workout.

“I thought I would have to be miserable and sore all the time to get better – but I’ve been less sore in the last year while running more than I have in my entire life!”

I’m hardly a drill sergeant, nor do I like the motivation tactics of the trainers on Biggest Loser.

Reaching Big Goals

Lydia’s goals weren’t as simple as finishing a half-marathon or qualifying for Boston. Even more was at stake – her health and well-being. Lydia challenged me as a coach to make running enjoyable and a lifelong passion that she would continue far after our coaching relationship ended.

I convinced Lydia to give up her Garmin and start running by feel. Instead of fretting over your exact pace, learning how to enjoy your run (no matter how slow or fast) can help you appreciate running in the long-term.

It worked.

“I was obsessed with my Garmin and watched my pace and distance constantly,” Lydia recalls. “But you encouraged me to give it up and when I did, I found that my ‘easy’ pace changed and I started running faster overall.

“I used to be so anxious about my pace but running by feel has changed that. The change wasn’t quick, but I was surprised at how easy it was and that you let me do it on my terms. You let me grow and improve at my own pace.

“Running started out as a hobby, and now has become so ingrained in who I am that I feel it is a second career.”

Finding joy in running is a huge goal and one that eludes many runners who slave away on the treadmill hoping to lose a pound or two. But Lydia’s second goal was a bigger challenge: lose her unwanted weight safely while still running races.

I used a three-pronged strategy to keep her healthy: no intense workouts, mostly easy mileage and strides, and a lot of body weight exercises. My goal was to injury-proof Lydia so that she could run consistently – the key to her weight loss.

With consistent warm-ups and warm-downs, plus a healthy dose of strength exercises, Lydia succeeded. “A big result from having you as a coach is injury prevention. I haven’t been injured, from running, the entire time I’ve been with you.”

Curious about why she said “from running?” She did get hurt while I was coaching her, but from slamming her foot too hard on the floor during a karate class. Nevertheless, a runner who can fight is dangerous. I’d watch your back if I were you.

Her workouts were mostly short fartleks, but more intense sessions were included in the pool or bike. Cross training can be a valuable tool to build fitness and increase weight loss without the risk of injury. We used it consistently in Lydia’s training to bring her to where she is now – over 80 pounds lighter than two years ago.

Where is She Now?

Lydia has transformed from an inconsistent, overweight 2:35 half-marathoner into a lean running machine, posting a recent PR in the half-marathon of 1:41. She’s lost over 80 pounds.

Lydia After

Lydia describes how her outlook has changed: “I always trusted your advice and it changed my life. My outlook on health and running has dramatically changed. I’m now patient with improvements to both my overall health and my running. I would wholeheartedly tell anyone that hiring you will change their life.”

In fact, I coached her so well that she fired me.

She says, “From your coaching, I have developed a deep rooted confidence in my plan for myself. I don’t worry about what others around me are doing. I know that I will continue to improve with the things you have taught me.”

Give a woman a fish, she’ll eat for a day. Teach a woman to fish, and she’ll eat forever.

Be Like Lydia

Lydia’s not some weirdo success story who lost a ton of weight overnight with some shady acai diet pill. She put in the work and made a commitment to being a healthier, faster runner.

But it’s not just about “trying hard.” Willpower only gets you so far – you have to set up a system that makes success easier and more likely. For Lydia, that system was hiring me as her coach to increase her accountability and design a custom program that was personalized to her needs.

You may not need the 1-on-1 guidance of a coach. Maybe you need…

These things make success easier because they serve as constant reminders of your goal and help you stay accountable. It’s not just about willpower – which often fails.

I don’t have television at home. Instead of spending time on the things I really care about, I was wasting time watching mind-numbing reruns of Jersey Shore. Sure, I tried to be productive and only watch what I wanted. But willpower failed me.

So I made one high-level decision that removed willpower from the equation: I cancelled my cable subscription and put the TV in the closet. Simple – and no willpower needed.

If you’re struggling to improve as a runner, forget willpower. Think about how one or two big changes to your routine will enable you to reach your stretch goals. How can I help you get there?

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  1. I have a huge stretch goal that’s been in my head for a few months. When my mom was 37, she ran a half in 1:43. Now, granted, she is 5’3″ and at the time 110lbs soaking wet, and I’m 5’7″ and while not overweight, I’m not in a runner’s body by any means. I turned 35 in November and ran a 2:10 half in the fall. That means 2 years to beat that 1:43. My goal for this year originally was to merely get under 2:00 for my half, but I’m thinking I need to kick up my short term goals.

    I have the MCRRC Speed Development program starting in a few weeks to help, but in the meantime I’m also starting to make some incremental changes in my diet to help me on my way. SR and following the community in twitter is going to be playing no small part in this challenge.

  2. Lydia is a great inspiration, her progress is amazing and, as you said, a testament to what a coach can do for you. And you are spot on about willpower – sometimes its better to avoid the battle. I’m that way with junk food – never ate it until we had kids, and they get smothered each holiday (and in between) with candy and sweets from relatives, etc. Maybe it’s time to go on another purge, as willpower just isn’t working.

    • It’s how I was with my TV – I just cancelled it and it’s saved hundreds of hours of productivity. Otherwise, I might still be watching old reruns of House… I vote for the purge (one final binge, that is – not the trash).

  3. Thanks Fitz and thanks especially to Lydia for sharing her personal testimony about the value of personal accountability and having an expert guide in your corner. I especially value what you included, that her ascent included less intense stuff or speed work (ok, really none, at least till she was further into her training, from what she has shared) and instead focused on developing a love for running, something that kept her healthy and that would be sustainable. I need to remember that so I don’t dive too quickly back into, or integrate too heavy a mix of the sexy stuff, intervals and other speedwork, as I come back from injury. Lydia is a strong person and a really impressive athlete. Thanks for helping her reach toward her potential! As an aside, I’ve really liked the Rebel Running Guide that Steve Kamb and yourself collaborated on and plan to use some of it in coaching the local youth running group this spring. Also, thanks for the contest and discount code recently for the Building a Better Runner DVDs. I bought them and they are awesome! Keep up the great work on your super helpful site!

  4. You mentioned to me after a comment I put up about GPS’s a few posts ago, and was chagrinned, when you told me to drop them from my training. A few days later my Garmin broke down and figured karma had intervened, I decided not to run out and get another right away and do what you suggested. I ran my training runs by feel and a few weeks later PR’d a very hilly 10k by almost a minute (42:21). I couldn’t believe it! I’m currently training for a Spring HM and looking to break 1:30. And let’s just say, there will be nothing on my wrist except my Road ID! Thanks Jason! Great post!

  5. Wow, wow, wow! Lydia totally rocks and she looks awesome (and probably feels it too!) from all the work she’s done. She’s not only a winner for what she has accomplished for herself but also for her children. One of the best things we can do as parents is to lead by example.

    PS – We have been tv-free for nearly 2 years and don’t miss it. Our free time is spent outdoors (running!) and our children play outside.

  6. Wow, I’m totally inspired. I have some knee pain, which took me out of running a couple of years back. After that, I put on 35 lbs (meaning I need to lose about 65 now). I just started running at the Y on a treadmill as I don’t have to worry about foot placement and I can focus in the mirror on my form. It allows me to get back into running with a low risk of injury.

    Reading this article has been totally inspiring and I’m really happy that I’ve started again.

    thanks, Mike

  7. This story is inspiring to me as well – thanks to you both for sharing. I’m one of those ex-jocks who works best with goals, but needs to go gently to improve strength – so, this story is right on target for me. I’m struggling with knee pain, but have found that sticking with my running program (strength training, interval training 2-3 times and 1 long run per week) is helping me to stay injury free, listen to the pain (and apply ice liberally *grin*), and feel the real satisfaction of knowing that this approach – going slow to go fast – is working for me.


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