I will officially be hosting my “Meet a Runner” Series in December, however, due to recent events I felt like Heidi’s story should be shared sooner rather than later. Please take a moment and read Heidi’s very moving story. I didn't glam up her story or edit her responses in any way. This is 100% Heidi.
Heidi Arnold a kick butt 40 year young runner from Philly and this is her running story.
Heidi started running in around 2010 “I always said “I am not athletic”. I took a class that taught me to see my assumptions about myself and let go of them. Since then, when presented with an idea, instead of saying no, I say “do I want to do this?” and I’ve tried a bunch of things like climbing mountains, and found new joy. So, I was on the YMCA treadmill walking to get healthy, and started going faster, and found myself running. When I noticed, I was surprised, because I have always hated, HATED, running, and at this moment, I didn’t hate this. One day I saw a button on the treadmill that said “5k” so I pressed it out of curiosity. I totally had no idea what “5k” meant. Really. After a few of those, I figured it out. I signed up for the YMCA 5k, about 2-3 months after that first treadmill jog.”
What’s your running surface of choice? “Road. Trails have tree-root tripping/rock ankle turning issues, and I really like to experience nature in more detail at a slower pace. I save trails for hikes, backpacking, and mountain climbs. Treadmill is too boring, and often too hot. When I’m on a road, I can run with my inner spirit. I live in suburbia, but we are lucky to have hawks and sometimes bald eagles hunting overhead. Sometimes I turn to follow them, as if I could possibly keep up. I love running towards the setting or rising sun. I close my eyes and feel the warmth soaking through, enjoy the orange glow inside. I feel most alive and powerfully at peace like that.”
Have you run any races? If so what is your favorite race so far? “My favorite is still my first distance event. I’m so proud of it showing me what I can do-opening a world I never thought I belonged in. Broad Street 10 miler, 2012. My local running friend and partner used to bug me to do it with him. We’d been running maybe two years off and on. I said no all the time. Eventually he caught me in an odd moment and I guess I said yes. It was like 2-3 weeks before the event. I had only done 3-4 miles before then. I “trained” up, maybe to 6 miles, maybe a little more? Like I probably ran 4 more times. It’s comical what I got away with. I shouldn’t even have been in it at all. It sold out in March(?) in 5 hours, as I found out while riding the subway up to the race (a friend of his legally transferred their bib to me when they couldn’t run). We went as a group of three, started together, lost track by running three different styles, and then caught up with each other in the last mile, and crossed the finish line at the exact same time. Within days I registered for a half marathon, and I’ve been stuck on distance for the next 2.5 years.”
Other than PRG are you in any running clubs or groups? “No. PRG has been a great thing to join. I was on my own amongst my friends as a runner before I was put in the group. Since then, another friend has gotten into running from it, too. I still have the “I am not a real runner” mindset, although that’s starting to crack away.”
What are your favorite pieces of running gear? And least? “Best-Gloves. Took me three years to add in something so simple. Warm hands when facing an early morning race start. Warm fingers when running below freezing. Take them off and tuck them in a belt when I’ve warmed up. Stretchy, breathable, just so comfortable. Also, calf sleeves. I bought them for the “red socks” frenzy in the week after the Boston attack. Happened to wear them on every long run. When I finally ran one without them, I learned what they do. Prevent cramps from exhaustion. Least-Any bra that chafes. I’ve gone through so many. Moving Comfort at $60 a pop felt great at first, but after a few months, I’d find my skin rubbed off after a long run. Even the adorable VSX broke down and failed after two 20 milers. I still have its zipper marked into my flesh a month later. Right now a $12 Joe Boxer, of all things, is the no-chafe, lift, separate, protect, no bounce winner. It just doesn’t look too good on its own.”
What inspires you to run? “I have kids, a stressful job. Who wouldn’t run fast in the other direction? Now, I look in the mirror, and don’t feel grossed out at how I look in sweatpants. I don’t want to lose that.”
Favorite recovery food? “Beer n brownies. I learned this during Philly Marathon last year, where strangers in front of Manayunk bars will hand this out to runners. In the middle of the wall, that perfect balance of sugar and taste and nutrients just did me so much good. I passed up the rest of the Gu stations with a “thanks, but I just had some beer and brownies!”. Of course a banana is mandatory. You’d think I could eat anything after burning 1000-3000 calories, right? Actually my stomach gets incredibly sensitive, and I can only eat little amounts, and have a very picky appetite. If I overdo it, it’s a bad situation. I’ve put my boyfriend in charge of my recovery, because he’s more sensible, and isn’t affected by my big fat runners high. He currently likes to feed me Pad Thai post marathon. (Now, if I could only turn over my credit card to him to prevent me from registering for more races during that drugged up runnerbrain state.)”
If you have a weight loss journey can you provide a brief description of your start and current progress? “I did lose about 40 lbs from a healthy diet, but this is before I started running. Actually, I’m very glad I did it like that. I call it laziness-but it’s SO much easier to exercise at a lighter weight. I tried to start jogging years ago, and it was a hard and miserable experience-definitely couldn’t get far enough into it to start enjoying it. The asthma was an issue, which weight loss has probably helped. After running, I eat so much from hunger that I can’t lose weight. I feel like the only person that can gain 5 lbs from running a marathon. After this next one, I think I’ll take a break and diet down 10 lbs. My knees would seriously rather me bounce a few less pounds on them.”
Have you seen any health improvements? “Since regular running my arthritis (knee since 16) and asthma are nearly nonexistent. I used to take regular medicine for nasal allergies, and now I’m on none ever with no symptoms. I stopped taking a stimulant for ADHD.”
What if a runner stereotype that you would like to debunk? “That fat people can’t run. I’ve not put it to the test, but I’ve met so many people who are overweight and even obese that are distance runners. I am so impressed by them and their fortitude.”
If you run races, how do you feel about receiving a finishing medal for short distances like 5ks? “I love bling. I didn’t participate in sports when I was a kid, and was sorta jealous of the trophies my friends had on their bookshelves. Now I understand. I wish there were more short races that have medals, because my kids are seriously motivated by that kind of thing.”
Have you ever traveled for a run? If so how far? What was the race? What did you like and dislike about your race/trip? “I live in Philly but grew up in Chicago. I work for Bank of America, and they give employee discount and guaranteed entry. Since this was “THE MARATHON” of my childhood (even though I was not athletic and never thought I would be) it was my ideal first marathon. I missed 2013 registration, so I got in 2014 and travelled. I stayed with my family, brought my boyfriend, and my sister and nephew came out to watch. I’ve NEVER had spectators at an event before, and it was so very special. It was also a ton of work, coordinating all of those events and people, and wore me out. Four days ahead I woke from a terrible nightmare… that I had signed myself up to jump out of a helicopter in 4 days and I was so worried about how I’d be able to do it, had been practicing for it, jumping out of a helicopter a few feet off the ground, over water, etc. I woke up and I was like “duh, is this related to worrying about the marathon? Thank GOD it’s just a marathon I signed up for. I can do that. I get to stay on the ground the entire time!!!? I’m looking forward to doing the Philly marathon this weekend-and just waking up and going to the start line. Easy peasy, no stress-right!? Traveling did make it more special-I get the “race weekend” thing. The theme even carried to the flight-1000 miles away I was eyeing people’s shoes, guessing who would be running with me. On the way back I made sure to wear my medal through airport security, (oh, do I have something metal on!?) and I got a big cheer from one of the guards! J”
Do you run outdoors at night and if so do you carry any protection? Do you wear reflective gear and lights? I don’t. I need to get some. I stay on the side walk, mind my crossings, use slow residential streets, or trails. I love running at night in the summer, but during the cold fall it’s really lonely and depressing.
Tips or advice for beginner runners or runners who are thinking about quitting? “Do what feeds the joy. Running is a very miserable thing to be doing if you aren’t enjoying it. I try to keep a smile on my face as I run. If I can’t smile, something’s wrong. Growing up, my (unathletic) family made fun of the faces of joggers-they always looked so miserable. I’ve gotten compliments on my smile during races. Smiles are important-joy is important. When you express that out in front of others they react, and then they put amazing stuff out there, too. It makes the world go around. I mean, there are studies showing that any exercise you enjoy has more physical benefit than others. But who needs a study to just want to do things you enjoy? So, if it’s taking a rest day, running slower, stopping to enjoy a view, changing a route or company- do what you’d rather do instead of what you should do. Also, “Be a person who ran today”. When have we ever regretted going out for a run vs. not having gone? I recommend just two miles. The first one always feels bad and lies. Takes a bit to warm up your body. If by mile 2 you still aren’t feeling it, go ahead and head home-fair enough. Maybe you are sick or injured or worn out.”
When I asked Heidi this next question I had no idea that I would get such a response. This is why I decided to share Heidi’s story now.
What run, personal or race, are you the most proud of accomplishing? “As I was writing this last night, PRG runner and my new friend, Tiffany Eckler Furguson was being killed by her ex. We met in PRG, and I talked with her about the separation, supporting her journey up and out. What running takes, so does getting out of domestic abuse. What I am most proud of is running DESPITE a bunch of things. I was an overweight kid, always picked last for gym class teams. I decided “I am not athletic” a long time ago. I LOVED a few things, like cycling and paddling, but never pursued them because of this idea. When I started running, I was living in an abusive marriage. There were very few positive things to hold onto, but they were precious. I ate more healthfully and started to exercise, probably because my soul was attracted to the positive health of it. My husband never minded the yoga classes I took at the YMCA, but when I started running on my own, little things started to pop up. When I ran my first 5k, it was two blocks from the house and a nice day. I asked if he’d bring my two sons out to see me finish. He BLEW UP, yelled at me for half an hour about how I shouldn’t try to change him into a cheer leader. I learned a lesson not to ask for any kind of support. He’d regularly point out to me “you know, you don’t HAVE to go running.” It would be said with a particular judgmental tone of voice. Like when he’d try to make me feel weird if I cleaned something that was dirty…. “What, do you LIKE cleaning or something?” I felt guilty when I’d ask him to watch the boys while I went out for a short run. Eventually, as my confidence was growing in other ways, I’d just let him know, and ask if it was OK. One day he snapped “Sure, and while you’re out, make sure to run in front of a car and get killed!” (This wasn’t a statement out of concern.) This was in front of my second grade son, who stared at me with such an expression of confusion as he tried to understand this statement. I knew this was intended to keep me from going, but I just calmly thanked him and went out anyhow. He started accusing me of having an affair with my running partner. This running partner (clearly not my type) I spent no time alone with. He was married to one of my best friends, and was supposedly one of my husband’s only friends. He had very little money. I changed the password on my PERSONAL checking account-a little thing that held lunch money for work. So my husband said he was my sugar daddy. Yeah. Obviously designed to punish me for running.
When one lives in the control and manipulation of an angry spouse, one’s reality is slowly twisted so we can’t tell what’s what anymore. As little as I could trust myself, I could see there was some sort of logic in all of this. Running is good for me. It asked nothing of him, took nothing from the family resources. I wasn’t buying any special equipment, paying race fees at this time. It simply threatened him that I was doing something good for myself. At the same time I was going on this running journey, I was finding how unhealthy my life was. I couldn’t shake a growing anxiety, even though I was doing all of the right things (like exercising) for myself. I talked to my doctor, and he refused me medicine. He asked: “Do you feel safe in your home?” and I broke down. Went to get help at a domestic abuse center. I separated from the 20 year relationship. As busy as I was, I kept running throughout this. These were times away from him when I felt safe. I was in public. He didn’t know exactly where I was. He had the kids to watch. The exercise burned off some of the useless fear, and made me more tired to find sleep at night. As a now single mom watching two young boys, I’ve had to get creative to get my training runs in. I’ve packed my gear to stay in the hospital with my son’s appendix issue, and went for runs while the nurses saw to his needs, or family visited. I’ve run around in circles in the street in front of my house while one stayed home sick. I’ve fed them dinner at the track, them doing their homework in the bleachers while I ran laps. I’ve run to the vet and carried back a 40lb bag of dog food because I knew if I got in the car for errands I’d never get out again to run. Running expresses the freedom that I have. The same skills I used to get out keep me going to my goal distances. The focus, the determination, the ability to shut down non-essential negative input, and go for something very far ahead. I was tired out in that relationship, but after getting out, I climb mountains and run marathons… hmm...what kind of energy drain must that have been? Two and a half years after separating, it still seems to get to him that I run. I register for races during weekends that they stay at his place. I had to ask him to take the boys an extra day so I could go to the Chicago marathon. 12:30 AM, he starts texting me about the kids’ emergency information. Obviously I cannot ignore this. He rants about a bunch of stuff. I had to dig to find out-there was no emergency with the kids. They were fine. He was just trying to sabotage my sleep the night before. It didn’t work. I ran, I finished, but I had to shut down all of that negativity.”
Thank you so much for sharing your story Heidi. Your strength and courage are a true inspiration to us all.