Written by Noel Pain
Published by Canadian Running
Change in all things is sweet. - Aristotle
Runners come in all shapes and sizes and runners start their running lives in all shapes and sizes. One east-coast runner who also writes and blogs for Canadian Running magazine transformed her body, her mind and her career by putting one step in front of the other.
At age thirty-three Michelle Kempton was living in Nova Scotia and working as a computer programmer but as much as her mind was working, her body was not. Michelle was morbidly obese and knew it was time to make a change. It was a battle long overdue and one that many Canadians can understand. Michelle was a chubby kid who gained weight as she got older, things were worsened after having twins and she hit her peak at 285 pounds.
Tired of being tired all the time and not being able to do simple things like taking a walk in a local park, Michelle was ready for a change. Seeing her healthy and fit father have a heart attack also told her that she might have hereditary factors working against her.
FACT: Approximately one in four Canadian adults are obese, according to measured height and weight data from 2007-2009. Of children and youth aged six to 17, 8.6% are obese. - Health Canada.
Another runner and friend of mine, Pam MacCormack has transformed her body and life as well. Pam lost 150 lbs. and started running late in life, at the age of 61, and finds there are still challenges and ups and downs to life and running but she says she’ll never look back. “It has transformed how I think of myself, how I approach life and what I believe I am now capable of doing. It is never too late.”
The turning point
The turning point and path that led Michelle to running was when gym work wasn’t quite getting her to where she wanted to be and her personal trainer suggested doing some walking/running intervals. Finding it brutal, she still stuck with the gym and the running but she only ran alone. Eventually runs became longer and after a lot of hard work running became easier and she was running up to 60 kilometres a week and finding others to join up with. When Michelle joined up with others she also realized that runners comes in all shapes in sizes, fit ones, but as many different shapes, running styles and speeds as there are runners.
Michelle not only transformed her body, found fellow running friends but also found she could combine a new passion with a lifestyle and job change. Setting aside a desk job, she started a race management company called United by Running and with five friends founded the Heart & Sole Running Club last year.
After seeing a newspaper article about Michelle in my home town’s newspaper, having seen her name in Canadian Running magazine and having briefly made contact with her running club, I decided it was time to say hello.
What are your running PBs, what are your short term and long term running goals?
“I used to define my PBs by time (25 min 5K, 52 min 10K, 2:21 half-marathon), but now I’ve committed to making personal bests more about how I feel during the run and trying to not obsess over my watch.”
“My short-term running goal isn’t actually about reaching a milestone for myself. In 2012, I want to pace others in races. Pacing is great - you make lifelong friendships, it takes the pressure off yourself to keep running faster and harder than the last time and is always an awesome celebration at the finish line. It requires sacrifice and commitment for others - but the reward is beyond words - I’ve had friends paced me on PBs and I appreciate them a great deal - it’s my way of giving back.”
“I don’t make specific long-term goals, because my life is constantly changing - who knows where I’ll be in a year. Right now a marathon isn’t on the horizon, but that doesn’t mean it won’t ever be. I’m a runner - I hope to still be able to say that next month, next year and when I’m really old.”
What has running taught you about yourself and life?
“Even though I never have considered myself an athlete or a role model - I’ve become one. I didn’t realize when I started my journey, that my story could give hope to others who feel the way I used to about physical activity. Running is the only sport that I’ve ever embraced - it has opened my world up to new people, amazing friends, a supportive community and a new lease on life. Being a runner is pivotal in how I define myself and how others see me. I would have never thought 5 years ago, when it was painful to run a few feet, that I would transform into a runner! I’m glad I never gave up.”
How difficult and scary was it to make such a career change and how do you feel now?
“Blurring the lines between work and play seems right for my family and I. It’s going to give me the opportunity to be home after school with my twins and even volunteer at their school run club. That wouldn’t be possible if I didn’t make this career change. It’s also going to give me an opportunity to exercise regularly and help others. I’m not scared, but I do have one fear - getting injured. This spring - I’m instructing a Learn-to-Run, 10K and Half-Marathon Clinic. I have a rigurous schedule, with a lot of miles, hill-repeats and track workouts. But as long as I’m injury free, I’ll have a job that doesn’t seem like work! What a dream come true.”
What can you tell others who may be in the situation you were when you first started running?
“You really need to know the reason why you want to run - remind yourself of this every time you want to quit. Running will likely feel hard at first, but it will get easier. If you want it bad enough, you’ll get over the hurdles and recover when you hit the wall! Expect there are some days you will love running and others where you hate it - this is normal - but regardless of your last run - tie up your laces the next day and be optimistic that it will be a great run today and you’ll feel strong.”
Now that you call yourself a runner and are part of the Canadian running community, do you finally feel happy with yourself and self-image?
“My weight always fluxuates. Before a big race I’m strong, fit and feel good. After I finish a big race, I tend to reduce my mileage, weight packs on fast - it sucks but my body does need to rest but morphs in size if I don’t run enough. I’m not sure that I’ll ever be completely happy with my looks. Does anyone ever feel thin or pretty enough? I’ve never been there, so I don’t know if it exists - but I do feel more comfortable in my own skin and much happier. Every run, I think about all the people who can’t run - someone with cancer, others restricted by a wheelchair or even those with the lack of support or confidence to try - it helps me to appreciate how privileged I am to be part of the running community - that outweighs how I feel about my beauty or size. My soul feels good.”
Amazing and inspiring story Michelle, hope to see more of your writing in Canadian Running. For those on the east coast check out some new races to the mix including an all female race, a pirate inspired race weekend including a marathon and prize money and a new relay focused on the number seven.