One of the things I love about doing this project is seeing the myriad ways people work their way to a BQ. Here’s an amazing story of Lani T who got her BQ after weight loss surgery and a lot of hard work.
Congratulations, Lani! I’m sure your story will be an inspiration to many.
Check out Lani’s before and after pictures at the bottom!
Weight (at the time of first BQ): 118 (weighed 200 pounds three years ago)
At which marathon did you get your first BQ? What was your finishing time? Tell us a little about the race.
Mountains 2 Beach Marathon 2015, 3:54:48. (5:12 under)
This is one of the “feeder” races for Boston. Since the bulk of my races have been more casual/social (runDisney, local trail races, etc.), the energy and feel were very different with this race. You could tell this was a feeder race; eavesdropping on the shuttle to the start of the race, people were talking about their various strategies (“I’m going to try to bank a few seconds on mile 11” etc.). There were zero tulle tutus or fairy wings in this crowd! It was also interesting to see so many “international teams” there. I saw groups from China, Mexico, and other countries, where people wore matching shirts. Some of them had coaches who hopped between members and offered words of encouragement or advice (“You’ll want to hydrate in the next 10 minutes”). All in all it felt like mostly “all business” — people were there with a very specific goal in mine. People seemed so focused.
How long had you been running when you ran your first BQ? Did you run in college or high school?
My very first experience running was during summer school before my junior year in high school. My classmate was into jogging around the track after class, and she invited me. Trying to run an entire lap was excruciatingly difficult, so I started by jogging half a lap, then walking the back half. I eventually managed a full lap, but still needed to alternate a walking lap. It took me a month before I could do 12 laps–3 miles–using this jog/walk method.I remember exclaiming to my parents that I was able to do 3 miles; I was SO proud! When my father found out I was doing walking intervals, he laughed and told me it didn’t count. Way to support your kid’s efforts to get in shape, old man.
It took another two weeks before I could wean myself off of the walking and actually jog all three miles, unsupportive parent be damned.
My foray into running didn’t last much longer than that summer, but at least I’d gotten past the “I can’t breathe while I run” phase.
When I graduated high school and headed to college, I was having a conversation with my ex-boyfriend, who was a year behind me and a high school cross country athlete. Somehow we got on the topic of the Honolulu Marathon (I lived in Hawaii at the time) and how he’d completed it, so I asked him if he thought it was something *I* could do. His answer: “Oh, maybe one day.” I asked him if, given five or six months, if I could train enough to run that year. He laughed (do we see a theme here?) and told me he didn’t think so.
Well, I showed HIM. I finished (I want to say with a finish time of something like 5:46) that year.
After that, my weight would yo-yo as my life wove in and out of fitness and exercise. After a while, we had a running joke that I only ran marathons once a decade, since that’s about how it worked out.
So the short answer to your question is, I’d started running back in 1979, and yes, I ran in high school and college. But it’s not at all what you’d assume. I typically only ran about 6 months every 10 years.
The last time I started toying with running was when we had the means to travel to Florida to do the Walt Disney World Marathon back in 2003. Since then, we periodically signed up for one of the Disney races off and on, but I was morbidly obese at the time, and my challenge was to go fast enough not to get swept at the back of the pack.
What was your approximate lifetime mileage at the time of your first BQ?
Probably somewhere around 4,000 miles.
How many miles did you run in the year before your first BQ?
Approximately how many races did you run in that year?
12 races, but they were all half-marathons. I ran 3 fulls in the first quarter of 2014, but I realized my Achilles tendinitis would never allow me to get my speed back up to where it should be, so I cut way back in the spring/summer of last year, and stopped running fulls.
Did you follow a canned program? If so, which one? If not, can you give us an idea of what your training philosophy was?
For this race that I BQed with, I used the Half Higdon Advanced 1 program, with a little adjustment, and it worked pretty well. I’ve looked at the Hanson, as well as Higdon’s Advanced 2, but for myself, I find that just one long weekend run isn’t enough; I need a medium-long run in during the week, too. I can’t train for a full marathon running only 35 miles a week.
Did you run with a running club or utilize a coach?
I joined a racing team with the local Fleet Feet but my race was not on their calendar, and I wound up mostly sticking with the Higdon plan, and getting support from the online community.
Did cross training play a role in your training? If so, how?
I took an interval strength training class once a week, and I also took yoga once a week. However for two months out of the training, I wasn’t able to attend either class and I felt like I missed out. I think it’s real important for runners to do things like squats, and I can’t espouse the benefits of yoga enough. It’s essentially an hour of stretching, with a lot of zero impact resistance. It lets me stretch in ways my regular post-run stretch can’t do.
Did speed work play a role or specific workouts play a role in your training? If so, how?
I tried to follow the Higdon plan, which included tempo and intervals, but typically I only did one speed workout a week. Part of that was due to my wanting to be careful not to strain my Achilles, and the other was that it was hard for me to a track.
Any other thoughts you would like to share with those of working towards a BQ?
Yes. Unlike most people who fill out your survey having been athletic all their lives, or lost a lot of weight from running by itself, I “cheated” by getting weight loss surgery. And I’m here to tell you that surgery is *NOT* cheating. At least not the surgery I got.
Three years ago, I underwent a form of weight loss surgery called a “vertical sleeve gastrectomy” that made my stomach smaller (no constrictive band, no bypass of the intestines, etc.) to control my runaway appetite, and to rein in all of my health and medical issues like high blood pressure and sleep apnea. I’d been a recreational jogger (albeit in a lot of knee and foot pain after every outing), but I incorporated exercise in earnest after the surgery, and really picked up running as my main form of fitness.
I made goal weight by my first surgery anniversary, having lost 85 pounds. I did it by eating less, and running a lot. And I discovered that the lighter I got, the faster I got.
Trying to BQ was a completely aspirational goal… but part of me was still that morbidly obese middle-aged woman. Would it even be possible for someone like me to BQ? I’ve never been athletic, and for the longest time, when I looked in the mirror I didn’t see an athlete (although it progressively became easier to see myself in the mirror; back before the surgery, I would turn my face so I wouldn’t have to see my own reflection).
As proud as I am of what I did this weekend, I’ve been there. I know that it’s just as challenging for my “before” me to finish my half-marathon in 3:46 as it was for my “after” me to finish a full in 3:54. That said, qualifying for Boston has been one of the proudest achievements of my life. I worked long and hard. It didn’t come easy, and I did easy, and I did the training mostly by myself (but with lots of love and support from friends, including some who were at the race in person).
If you have a dream to one day BQ and you’re wondering if it’s even remotely possible, yes it is! It might take a long time. You will need to train, study up, strategize. Pick a good feeder race. Your ducks may need to all be in a row, and you will likely try many times before you succeed. Maybe you develop annoying hot spots that turn into crippling blisters (IMS Arizona Marathon 2014), or you trip on a crack on the asphalt and take a mad tumble that makes it hard to breathe and makes you worry that you’ve broken a rib (Oakland Marathon 2014), or you have to take a whole season off to see three podiatrists, an acupuncturist, and a physical therapist to help heal your Achilles tendinitis. But don’t give up. You can do it!