I’m going to tell you a couple of things about me that not all fitness trainers will tell you.

I never played sports in high school, I despised running a mile in gym class, and I have never been coordinated enough to excel at step aerobics or anything that requires a lot of rhythm or grace. I have always had to work HARD for things that come easy for some. I don’t say this for pity or as an excuse. I say this because it makes me a better trainer. I will never ask you to as a client to do anything that I wouldn’t or couldn’t do myself. Some trainers don’t have any clue what it’s like to be a “normal person,” (whatever that definition means anymore,) but I know what it’s like to struggle to find your fitness or to get your fitness back, because I’ve been in BOTH of those predicaments. It’s hard and sometimes you just need to take a deep breath and ask for some accountability from someone who will push you more than you feel willing to push yourself.

“WHO”

Nikki Mueller, owner of Healthy Girl Fitness, LLC

  • Certified AFAA Group Fitness Instructor
  • Certified RRCA Running Coach
  • Certified VDOT Running Coach
  • Certified USA Fit Running Coach
  • Race Director
  • First Aid/CPR Certified
  • Background in Pre & Postnatal Fitness Training

MY STORY

When people find out you’re a personal trainer, a fitness instructor, a running coach, or really anything in the health industry, there is a lot of assumption about the kind of person you are. I know this because I had some pre-conceived notions about trainers when I joined a gym in my 20’s at the lowest point in my life. My trainer was blonde, tan, fit, and bubbly. She was all the things that one would imagine a personal trainer to be, and she was amazing at what she did. Despite the fact that she seemed like the girl in high school who would never talk to me, I did what she asked of me, grew to trust her, and she made incredible things happen for me.

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When I started my fitness journey, I was overweight, depressed, and my confidence was at an all time low. I am grateful every day for being brave enough to step into that gym all those years ago because everything in me was terrified. I remember all the eyes on me in my cheap, cotton sweatpants and I was worried about the judgement that others would place on me. But I was ready for a change, and I decided that day that I was going to hire someone to help me take control over my life and I was going to do every single thing she told me to, because I didn’t want to waste my time or my money. And magically, it worked and I lost 80 lbs in a year by eating better and working out.

I also started running, and at first I couldn’t do a lap around the parking lot without getting horrible side cramps because I didn’t know how to breathe correctly. But I started with 3 minutes of walking on the treadmill and 1 minute of running, over and over. Then I gradually increased the running time and found myself able to run 3 miles. From there, I got up to 6 miles, then 10. I did my first half marathon in 2005 and my first full marathon in 2006. I ran 3 more marathons before getting pregnant.

Then I had kids. Though every pound I gained was worth the joy they brought me, I felt like my body had betrayed me. The things that had gotten easy were suddenly hard again. Doing 1 push-up was a challenge and I felt completely defeated. I was sleep deprived, emotional, and weak. I didn’t have the time or the energy to care for myself and I felt as though I was at the bottom of a hole with no shovel. When I finally looked up and saw the sunshine at the top of that hole, I decided to start digging in the dirt with my hands, so to speak. And with the support of some awesome other mommas, I clawed my way out. I found myself able to run short distances with the stroller and take less and less walking breaks. I saw my arms getting stronger and my clothes fitting better. Eventually, I was able to run marathons again, and I found myself faster than I’d been before kids. Things began to happen. All it took was time and putting one foot in front of the other every single day. I challenged my body over and over again. It was hard, but it was possible. I found myself in the best shape of my life. Ever.

After years of pushing myself to these limits, I came to the realization that I had some knowledge worth sharing with others. There are so many people out there who just need someone to believe in them and to guide them down the right path. Despite the fact that I was NEVER that person who stood up in front of a group, I got my AFAA certification a few years ago and started training pregnant and post partum moms as a group fitness instructor. And then I got certified by the RRCA to be a running coach too because I figured it was time to help others scale all those hills I’ve been running for so many years. I’ve had a lot of devotion to running and fitness because, quite frankly, it saved me.

I'm not here to "sell" you on anything. I'm not here to brag about my accomplishments either. I just want you to know that I've been there. I know how hard it is. I want to help others because I couldn't have done it without the help of others myself. I was terrified to put myself out there in the beginning, but I'm glad I did and I just want others to give it a try too. I've got some credentials, but it's honestly it's the life experience that I depend on to make me a good trainer. 

So if you want experience, I’ve got it. I have taken years of classes: boot camp style, spinning/cycling, kickboxing, yoga, barre, and just about everything in between. In addition to this, I’ve run dozens of half marathons, 6 full marathons and counting, more relays than I can count and every other distance under the sun. I’m now running ultras and digging deeper than ever. I write for a running blog called “Run Oregon” and I get to test running gear and run more races than I ever thought possible. I’ve been on every side of the fitness game, from sitting on the sidelines embarassed to active participant, and finally to encouraging leader. I’ve even taught classes and then taken my classes taught by other instructors because I want to experience everything my clients do. I have been in this business in one way or another for over a decade. I’ve been around the block and I can show you some things if you let me try! 

“WHAT”

I’ll meet with you for a half hour consultation to see if we’re a good fit for each other and to find out what your goals are. I offer the following services:

  • One-On-One Personal Training: You’ll get customized full-body workouts that focus on both strength and cardiovascular training. You will primarily use your own body weight and some resistance bands for the majority of the exercise sessions, so fancy equipment is not necessary.
  • Partner/Group Training: Have you ever had an accountability partner? Find some friends who want to join you and I can train you all for a more cost-effective option that’ll be fun as well as challenging. Similar in style to the one-on-one personal training, you'll get a full body workout with both strength and cardio training with friends!!
  • Run Coaching: Whether you’re looking for 1 session or ongoing training, I can help you accomplish what you’re looking for to get you ready for a race or just to feel stronger running around your neighborhood.
  • Group Run Coaching: Everything is more fun in groups, especially running! Have a friend or a group of running buddies do it with you and it’s like a weekly “friend date” except sweatier.
  • Customized Plans: Are you training for a specific race? Trying to transition from one distance to another? Wanting to reach a new PR? I can build you a plan to get you there!
  • 8 Week Run Training Program: My goal is to offer Fall, Winter, Spring, and Summer series sessions to get you race ready or just to have fun out there running with other like-minded people. This will be an hour long class that meets once a week for 8 weeks and will cover things like speed work, hill intervals, and other tools to make you a stronger runner.
    • SPRING SERIES! Choose your own adventure:
      • Wednesday nights April 24th thru June 12th from 6:30PM to 7:30PM at Oregon Episcopal School track (6300 SW Nichol Rd)
      • Thursday mornings April 25th thru June 13th from 9:30AM to 10:30 AM at Vista Brook Park (6697 SW 88th Ave)
    • SUMMER SERIES!
      • Wednesday nights July 10th thru August 28th from 6:30PM to 7:30PM at Oregon Episcopal School track (6300 SW Nichol Rd)
      • Thursday mornings July 11th thru August 29th from 9:30AM to 10:30 AM at Vista Brook Park (6697 SW 88th Ave)
“WHERE/WHEN”

CUSTOMIZED MOBILE FITNESS TRAINING:

I can come to you! I have some clients with small children and it’s just not feasible for them to go to a gym and have to find childcare, so I’m willing to come to their homes and train them while their little ones sleep or play. I also have a studio available to me if you're not sure where to meet, though availability is limited. I’m also happy to meet up with you at a park or another destination of your choosing. Gym equipment is not necessary, so consider me your mobile trainer. 

Please note that I live in SW Portland, and I have some time constraints in regards to traveling too far. I prefer to work in the SW Portland/Beaverton/Tigard area, but feel free to contact me to see if we can work something out.

Currently, I also have these options available (as seen on the "What" tab):

8 WEEK RUN TRAINING PROGRAM, SPRING SERIES:

COMING SOON! 8 WEEK RUN TRAINING PROGRAM, SUMMER SERIES:

“HOW”

PERSONAL TRAINING & GROUP FITNESS TRAINING:

Strength and cardiovascular training are what I offer as a personal training instructor. I believe in doing whole body workouts rather than "leg day" or "arms day" workouts because I realize we have busy lives and we want it all. All of the workouts I plan are with resistance bands and body weight, so they can easily be done at home or on vacation without the need for fancy gym equipment. 

RUNNING COACHING:

As a running coach, I can train you both on a track and off. If you are looking for a hill workout, I'll take you there. If you want speed, we can do that too. If there's a specific race you are training for, let me know and I'll create a plan and work it around your schedule. If you are looking for a group to run with, I've got 8 week training sessions every season as well as weekend options for you to find people to sweat with. 

I’m here to help you reach whatever goals you have, as your happiness is my ultimate objective. All my workouts are totally customizable to your needs. 

My style is fairly laid back. My philosophy is that I’ll make you work as hard as you want to. If you want to put in the work, I’ll bring it. If you want to dial it back, I’ll help make that happen too. Ultimately, it’s YOUR workout, so you put in what you want to get.

“WHY”

It hasn’t been about being skinny for me in a long time. By the time I hit the age of 40, I knew that I no longer cared about fitting into cute size 2 jeans. I just wanted to feel good, healthy, and comfortable in my skin. That’s where the “Healthy Girl” creation came from, because that’s what I believe in. I knew I wasn’t alone and that I could help men and women out there who needed someone to offer them encouragement and support in a safe, judgement-free zone.

As cliché as it sounds, I started Healthy Girl Fitness because I truly want to help other people reclaim their bodies and their confidence the same way I did. I want to improve the lives of people who are willing to work for it. I spent so much of my life overweight and unhappy and I gained so much in taking control of my body. I want to help others achieve the same thing. Ask any of my clients or my friends and family and they will all tell you the same thing: I am passionate about this.

You think you can’t do it, but you just need someone to help prove that you CAN. And you WILL!!

Testimonials

Nikki is truly an amazing trainer. She has the perfect combination of passion, drive, and commitment to her clients. She knows just how to motivate and push, as well as offering encouragement throughout. Her professionalism, knowledge, and diverse training methods are the perfect scenario to achieve success and set a great foundation for a healthy lifestyle. She has my highest recommendation.  

- Mindy

Highly recommend!

After my second child my core muscles were non-existent and I couldn't seem to find time to exercise. Then I ran into Nikki. As a mom, Nikki knows what areas I need to work on and what exercises it will take to get back in shape.  She formulates workouts based on my needs and gives me homewok to help keep me on track. She is flexible and able to work with my busy schedule. My mental state, physical strength and endurance have all improved since I started working with Nikki. 

- Karen

Training from a mom to a mom

There are not enough wonderful things I can say about Nikki Mueller and her training. I have taken both strength training classes and running training with Nikki and her subtle motivation flows throughout all fitness ventures. She is truly the "lead by example" type of trainer. Nikki's whole life is about bettering herself physically and creating a life worth being proud of, and that inspires me, everyday to get up and get moving! She motivated me through passively watching her live her fitness lifestyle to the fullest as well and actively, when she is pushing my to go "just one more mile"!

-Robyn

Glowing Review for Nikki's Training

Nikki is one of the most positive and motivating instructors I've had. While she is gentle and encouraging by nature, her workouts are rigorous and challenging. Nikki has high expectations for herself and those she instructs and her vast knowledge and personal experience guide her instruction. 

- Karin

Group Exercise Instructor Recommendation

Recent News

Be The Example

Have you ever gone in to get your hair done and the stylist had horrible hair? Have you ever seen a dentist or hygienist with bad teeth? Be honest .. If you had, you’d kinda judge them, right? Because if they are going to get it right for you, shouldn’t they be the best example of what they do best?

I think about this every time I meet a new client. Whether they want to hire me to be a new personal trainer to get back into shape or they are coming to one of my seasonal 8 week run training sessions to improve for their next race, I think about what I look like and wonder if they are noticing a dentist with bad teeth.

I’m not saying that I’m grossly overweight. I know that I’m not. I couldn’t run as much as I do if I were. But I think people come to expect that if you are a fitness trainer of any kind, you should have a hard body and no visible fat on your ass. I don’t look like Jillian Michaels. I jiggle when I run. I’m sometimes okay with that, but truthfully, I’m mostly not. Because I wonder how people judge me. It shouldn’t matter, but it does.

There was a time, about two years ago, that I was in the best shape of my life. I was running races fast, I had never-ending energy, and I could keep up with or lead anyone in a workout. I could fit into a size 4 and sometimes smaller. I had enviable arms and actual visible abs. I could also do a 22 minute plank and I did a 60 minute burpee challenge after a long marathon training run. Does this sound like I’m bragging? That’s okay if you think so. Because I was really proud of how fit I was then. I worked hard for it, and it doesn’t come naturally to me like it does for some people. I earned every one of those muscles I gained.

The person I was then looked more like a fitness trainer than the person I am today. But that person wasn’t living a sustainable lifestyle. I have a family. I have clients. I have a life. There was a time that I was working out 5+ days a week on top of running. I was gone, a lot. I ate pretty clean, but I missed the things that made me happy, food and otherwise. What I was looked pretty in a pair of jeans but it wasn’t very happy inside. Proud, sure. Strong, yes. But joyful, no. Because it’s never enough. It’s never fulfilling in the end.

These days, I enjoy things more. I used to work out, and now I’ll take the kids to the park instead. Instead of watching every crumb that goes into my mouth, I’ll take my sons to a coffee shop and split a donut with them. I put my client’s workouts before my own. They invite me to work out with them, but that’s not why I’m there. I’ll take classes sometimes and struggle through them. If you were next to me in my Barre class, you would see I’m doing modified push-ups these days. I’d like to do them from my toes, but it’s more important to do them right than to worry about my pride.  I don’t always want people to know I’m a trainer, because they might look at me and think “why would I pay HER to train me when she so obviously isn’t in shape either?”

But here’s the thing. I think some of my clients actually like that I look like a real person. That I have curves and soft spots. That I admit that I drink beer and eat ice cream after the kids go to bed. And I think back to when I was at my lowest point in my life, my most lonely and unhappy. It was also when I was at my most overweight. There are lots of people who are “fat and happy” but I was not one of them. Seeing the hardbodies at the gym when I finally decided to turn things around actually discouraged me because it was so out of reach for me. I wanted a trainer who’d been where I was. Someone who knew how hard it was in the trenches. The people that didn’t have to struggle for every inch lost, those that could eat what they wanted without a thought in the world.. Those people were awesome but they didn’t fully understand the journey that I was on.

I hope that I can be that glimmer of hope for even one person. I’m not perfect. I have decided to meet my curves halfway. I am not skinny, but I still feel healthy inside my soul where it counts. I still don’t like seeing photos of myself with the extra weight, but it’s all about where you’re willing to compromise. I can still run a marathon, it’s just going to take longer. And that’s okay, because it makes the finish line that much sweeter. And the beer at the end taste that much better too.

Mean Girls vs Healthy Girls

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. We must go through bitter waters before we reach the sweet. Cliché after cliché after cliché. And you know what? They are all true.

I probably shouldn’t be talking about this, and I won’t name names. There are people in my life, both past and present, who know exactly what this post is about, though only those close to me know what went down. I’m trying to move on, and I’m working on it. Every. Damn. Day. But I’m sharing this with you, my dear readers (is anyone out there?) because I have learned something from my experiences, and maybe I can help others who have been here before.

I’ve mostly always been the type of person that gets along with other people, even the difficult personalities that others can’t play nice with I’ve had a knack for being that empathetic friend that people would call crying in the middle of the night after a few beers. I’ve even had complete strangers break down and tell me their sad stories because they just needed someone to talk to. But despite this, I’ve had problems on occasion with mostly women who feel somehow threatened by me. This is not because I’m pretty or skinny or talented. This is not me tooting my own horn, not by a long shot. This isn’t about how great I am, it’s about how broken they are. Because there always have and always will be those people that feel the need to push your face in the dirt so they can stand in the sun.

It starts early in school if you are a girl. Mean girls. You’ve seen the movie, right? Those girls are real. The boys get into fights, but it’s always more up front and less emotionally taxing. I remember the very first mean girl who hurt my heart so bad that I couldn’t breathe. Her name was Hillary and it was first grade. She told me that she hated me and she ripped up the birthday invitation her mother had made for me to her party. Every kid in the class had been invited, but she said there was NO WAY she was letting ME come to her party. I still remember that and it was 1st f-cking grade.

There were lots of stories like that in my life. All through school, I was mercilessly teased because I developed earlier than the other girls, and I had my share of jobs with horrible co-workers and managers who held their knowledge over my head and made me cry. All of those experiences were because people were so insecure that they had to pounce on me and they knew I was weak. I was the nice girl, not the mean girl. But I guess the last straw came about a year ago, out of which Healthy Girl Fitness LLC was born from the ashes.

I’ve struggled most of my life for confidence in everything. I grew up with a stepmother who told me I was “bad” every day and who was both mentally and physically abusive. As a result, I second-guessed every choice I made and was terrified to be a bother to anyone at all. I never felt I was good at anything or deserved accolades for accomplishments, though I definitely enjoyed a good brag sometimes to help prove to everyone, including myself, that I could do things. And after losing 80 lbs and running a few marathons, I felt like maybe I had something to offer other ladies out there, those who had struggled themselves and didn’t relate to the trainers who had never had “fat jeans” or been embarrassed to run into people in public because they’d gained so much weight. I thought maybe I could give them something that the had lost.. Hope. This is the reason I decided to get certified to be a personal trainer. This is the reason that I got certified with the RRCA to be a running coach too.

I wanted to be the opposite of a mean girl. I was the nice girl, the one people could come to for support and positive feedback. And I found I had a lot to give. I finally felt like I could be among supportive women. Many of us were going through similar phases in life and it felt comforting to not be alone in it. And then after a couple of years, the tribe door slammed in my face.

There was one person there who felt threatened by me somehow, who always saw everything as a competition. Unfortunately, she had a lot of power over the group, and she wasn’t going to let me win, despite the fact that I wasn’t trying to compete for anything at all. It was 1st grade all over again, with the party invitation scattered at my feet. Some people never change, but their methods of challenging people change as they get older.

Because unnecessary drama had reached a point where I couldn’t do my job anymore, I had two choices staring me in the face. I could retreat and let the mean girls win. Sure, I could get another job in a different field. I’d done it before many times. It would certainly be the easier path. That's what the nice girl would do, right? But after years of letting people make me feel bad for things that weren’t my fault, after decades of egos and insecurities getting in the way of my happiness, I knew I had to take the bumpy road. I didn't have to be the mean girl OR the nice girl. It was then that I created Healthy Girl Fitness.

I think some people thought that I would give up and disappear, but I still had the same mission I always had, which was to help people. It certainly is harder to start a business when other people are sabotaging you, especially when they are fighting a battle you aren’t even trying to participate in, but I had people approaching me all the time asking for help.

I believe in yet another cliché and that is that there are different strokes for different folks. I was willing to offer them something different than what had been offered before. It wasn’t better or worse, it was simply a new choice. We should all have choices. And we should ALL support each other in this world, especially when we are trying to bring good things into it.

To be fair, there are mean boys too. I could write a whole different post on them. But this is primarily addressing the women of the world because we already have so much stacked against us in business and in life without us turning on each other. When our army is small but mighty, it makes no sense to turn and fight each other when we should be standing back to back.  

I was told once that instead of getting angry, sad, or depressed, we should feel only pity when we come across people who want to see us fail. Because how sad are their lives that they need to crush us to make themselves feel superior? This is probably the best approach we can have towards a mean girl.

I can’t change the mean girls of the world, but I sure can try to rise above it and build something beautiful from the lessons I have learned in that toxic environment. It makes me a better a trainer, a better coach, a better wife and mother, and a better friend to all.

No more mean girls in this ugly world. Long live the healthy girls.

Live in the Skin You're In: Where the Healthy Girl Name Came From

If you know me or have read any of my other blog posts, you may know my relationship with my body is something I struggle with on a daily basis. I decided to post this pic of myself to show the “real” me, but even it isn’t totally real. I’m a chicken. I’m in a dark room and I tried to make it look pretty despite the “squishy” parts of my body that I can’t hide. I don’t look at my body in this very mirror every day and feel like I’ve succeeded. Often I’m disappointed in every flaw that stares back at me. But since I’ve started my own company and decided to call it Healthy Girl Fitness, I thought it was time to explain in more detail what the name is all about.

Growing up, I hated my thighs and butt. I went through puberty very young and by the time I was nine years old, I had all the curves in the places I didn’t want them yet. I had angry red stretch marks on my inner thighs, my hips, and my breasts because my body had grown so rapidly. I just wanted to disappear and look like all the other girls, but boys were already pinching me and snapping my bra straps. It was attention I didn’t welcome, and the girls were mean, saying I was a slut. I wore large flannel shirts and loose pants to try to hide who I was underneath.

When the teenage years came, I would go through periods of time where I’d practically starve myself on rice cakes and water. I’d jump on my parent’s stationary exercise bike and go around and around for hours. Then I’d end up binging on french fries and feeling like a failure. I was not fat but I couldn’t help but compare myself to all the other girls. I didn’t look like them, with their long, slender legs and their perfect perky boobs. That was never going to be me. I didn’t have boyfriends and didn’t even kiss a boy until my senior year in high school.

After high school, I gained a lot of weight once I found myself in a comfortable relationship. It’s the same story a lot of people have. I was in my 20’s and went to bars a lot, drank a lot, ate a lot. Didn’t exercise at all, came home and parked in front of the TV. The weight came on slowly but it felt like overnight that I couldn’t fit in “regular” clothes. I’d gotten to the end of the clothing rack in department stores. I needed to shop in the “fat ladies” section. I rationalized it to myself, saying I was happy and that I could still wear cute clothes even though they were bigger than they had been before.

But that was a lie. A lie to the world and a lie to myself. Some people are happy with those extra pounds, and I would never shame them for living their best life at a plus-size. But that wasn’t me. I felt sluggish and tired all the time and I wouldn’t look in a mirror. I hated getting my photo taken. I was embarrassed to see people. I just didn’t feel like me. So I joined the gym and I worked HARD. And I did it. I got back to the other side of the clothing rack again. And I felt good.

Having babies changed a lot. For some, it’s not until they get pregnant that they really understand that it’s about so much more than them. As soon as you have that baby inside you, you are immediately consumed with the fact that you have to do things that are best for him or her. Suddenly, you can’t eat certain things, or drink, or even over-exert yourself. And once they are born, you have more freedom, but if you are breast feeding, you’re still watching a lot of that. And caring for them means there’s very little time (or sleep!) for you. It’s easy to lose yourself in the shuffle. To put yourself last. To forget you’re something other than a mom.

My body has changed many times over in the 41 years it’s been on earth. I’ve been a size 2 and a size 20 and everything in between. Last year, I was probably at my skinniest and healthiest but it wasn’t easy to maintain. I worked out at least 3 times a week and ran at least 3-4 days a week training for long distances. I watched everything I put into my mouth. My body was strong and I had real muscles, and I truly felt healthy for the first time. But just as I’d felt in my heart at my heaviest, I wasn’t happy this way either.

I’ve decided to let some of that go. Really truly living is important to me. So I want to eat what’s healthy most of the time but to enjoy ice cream with my kids. I want those strong arms I had a year ago, but I also want to go for a walk with my family instead of go to the gym. My kids love my “squishy belly” and all the soft spots. My husband tells me I’m beautiful every day even after having seen everything while birthing our two sons. And my body has done amazing things, and it’s not really fair of me to feel anything but gratitude for that.

I’m not working out as much now. If I made it more of a priority, maybe I would be burning my way through that kickboxing membership I bought, but I’m just not. I’m still running. A lot. More than ever, maybe. But that always has and always will be my thing that’s for me. That’s not about being a mom. We all need that.

When I decided to start my own company, it was a big deal. The girl that hid behind all those clothes was not confident enough to stand in front of people and show her body, for better or worse. I had gone from being very unhealthy to “too healthy,” if that makes sense, and neither were a good fit for who I wanted to be. Because it’s all about balance. Finding that in-between and stretching into it and getting comfortable.

There are many names that circled their way around in my brain when I was deciding what to call my company. I knew I didn’t want it to have anything to do with being skinny. There’s a difference between being skinny and healthy, and I never wanted my clients to make any mistake in that. Healthy Girl was one name that came to me and stuck right away. It was simple but it explained who I aspired to be. Healthy is who I want to define myself as, in body and in mind. I don’t care about those size 2 jeans. That was not a healthy size for my body. I don’t want to be a size 20 either, because that didn’t make me happy either. I just want to feel good, and that doesn’t come with a size tag at all. It changes day to day, week to week, and year to year. Some days I feel like that girl that I was in my 20’s again. And other days I feel much stronger.

I don’t hate my thighs any more. They have taken me on the most marvelous adventures. They know how to go the distance and there are many people who can’t say that. My belly is soft but it held two beautiful babies. My body is not perfect, but right now, in this moment, it’s perfect for me.

Why do you run?

If you’re a runner, you know. Some people just don’t get it. They never will either. In 2006, I ran my first marathon and I printed out the course map and gave my parents all these directions and suggestions for places they could come cheer for me on the course. It was a big deal to me, and I finally wanted them to see what I’d been training so hard for. I’d gone through the breakup of a decade long relationship while training, had run my first 18 miler on the day I had to move, and had literally changed my life from the beginning to the end of this training. I had finally reached the end. So much LIFE got in the way that year, but I had kept running. I just wanted them to see why, even if it was just a glimpse.

That day, I kept looking for them on the course, but I never found them. I finished the race, sure I’d just missed them somehow. It was a big race, after all. I was standing around for close to 15 minutes after I’d finished when my mom found me. She said it was too much of a hassle, so they just decided to meet me afterwards, when I was done. She explained that they “knew I’d run it and everything” and that should be enough. I was crushed. That’s when I got it.

Over the years, I’ve watched eyes glaze over when I talk about races. I’ve bitten my tongue when people ask how long “that marathon” is and I try not to let it bother me when they don’t really care when I explain that every marathon is the same 26.2 miles. I’ve seen my husband get frustrated over my early morning starts on the trails and his lack of sympathy over my aches and pains after a hilly or long day. I’ve shrugged off the concerns for my knees and I try not to correct people who refer to my running as “jogging.”

Whether you are a runner like I am or you’re one of the non-runners I’m talking about, I feel like it’s time to answer the question I get asked the most. And that question is: “Why do you run?”

  1. Running is just for me. Running has always been the thing I do for myself to make me feel sane, and it’s become even more so since having kids. I feel like I give to other people all day long. To my family, to my friends, to my clients, and even to strangers sometimes. I need something in my life that’s purely self-centered. On occasion, I’ll take the dog with me or I’ll run a few laps with my kids, but those are what I’d consider “bonus runs.” The runs I do for myself aren’t necessarily alone. In fact, I prefer running with other people. But I don’t do it for anyone but myself. No matter what’s going on in my life, a run always makes me feel better and I’ll never regret the choice to lace up and get out there. Maybe it is selfish, but it does make me a much nicer human being, which others will benefit from as well. So it’s a win-win.
  2. Running means I never get sick. Before I became a runner, I was guaranteed to get sick at least once a year, generally in the winter. Now it’s very rare that I get sick at all, and often when I feel like I’m going to be a little under the weather, I’ll get a bit of a “mini-cold” before my immune system jumps in and takes it away. Many years back, I got into a horrible bike accident that cut me up pretty bad, but within a week, many of my wounds had almost completely healed up. I credit running with strengthening my immune system so that I can fight stuff off so much easier. When someone takes my blood pressure or checks my pulse, it sometimes has to be done twice because people are surprised it’s so low. When I was having my first son, every single nurse who came into my hospital room to check my heartrate remarked on it. I told them all I was a runner and they all said that “explained it.”
  3. Running means I see things I wouldn’t see otherwise. People have marveled how I can get up at 5:00AM to run, or even 4:00AM. Yes, I’m that crazy runner. But I’ve seen the sun rise on many runs, and it’s well worth those mental snapshots that I’ll never forget. I’ve watched the leaves change colors day to day and I’ve even experienced the seasons shift while running. This sounds like an exaggeration, but I’ve felt the temperatures drop and watched everything ice over while on a long run and it’s completely surreal. I’ve run through rainstorms, hail, and snow. Maybe this doesn’t sound fun to you, but it’s been exhilarating. I’ve literally climbed mountains, from Mt Bachelor, OR to Copper Mountain, CO. I’ve run through several states, on beaches, through forests, and on some of the most beautiful country roads ever, and I don’t think I could truly experience this beauty any other way. It’s not the same in a car. It’s not the same in pictures. I’m getting out there and feeling the wind in my hair and feeling the strength of being alive and it’s unlike anything else.
  4. Running gave me a life. Before I was a runner, I was overweight and desperate for some sort of direction or fulfillment in life. I had no friends or ambition. I met so many wonderful people by joining a running community and I felt accepted from the beginning. There are so many types of runners out there now, and we are literally going through the same things at the same time. Fast or slow, we are all putting in those same miles, running over those same hills, and tackling the same hurdles. I met people who have become some of my best friends through running, including the maid of honor at my wedding. Putting in long miles every week with people when you’re feeling tired and vulnerable bonds you like nothing else in life. Add this to the fact that you’re running side by side rather than face to face, with no distractions from phones and outside factors, and you have yourself something akin to a confessional. You also often have a standing running date, and maybe even someone to have coffee with afterwards.
  5. Running saved my life. I couldn’t go up a flight of stairs without feeling winded before I started running. I was at risk for diabetes and I was very depressed. When I pushed my body to do amazing things, I found out that I could actually DO amazing things. I went from being shy and lacking confidence to proving to everyone, including myself, that I was a force to be reckoned with. I found myself taking risks I never would have before I had the confidence to go the distance. The girl who was scared to talk in front of the class in high school was suddenly leading a group exercise class. The self-proclaimed “fat girl” was no longer following the running coach, she was leading the group and coaching them to do their best. I found myself. I never knew my body and mind as well as I did once I started running. The farther I’ve gone and the more miles I’ve worn on my feet, the more secure I am in what I’ve learned and who I am. When you think you’ve reached the bottom of what you can take, you dig deeper and find that there’s more inside.
  6. Running taught me to be grateful. Running is the most humbling thing. Even if you’ve put in the work, you’re going to have bad days. You’re going to have good days too, and sometimes there will be as little rhyme and reason for those days as there is for the bad ones. You just never know. That’s the frustrating thing but it’s also what makes you cherish the stuff you’ve worked so hard for. It’s just like it is in life, really. You wouldn’t appreciate the journey if it was always easy. The rough paths to the top make you appreciate the view so much more than you ever could if it were easy to get there. Do what others can’t. Every time a race gets hard, I think about all of the things in life that could be harder. It helps. Keep going.

For a bit more on this topic, read my blog post on Run Oregon.   

The Journey

You never know what someone else’s journey is, or where it’s taking them. You’ve heard that you should “never judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes.” Maybe it has no meaning to you because you’ve heard it so many times, but it’s so true.

After I had my first son, running was difficult. Not only was I not getting any sleep and feeling sluggish all the time (to put it mildly!) my body didn’t seem to know what to do anymore. I felt all put together wrong. I was breast-feeding and to even consider running meant a lot of planning and timing everything just right. Sometimes it didn’t seem worth it for a short run, especially when I had to walk so much. Sometimes, I’d take my son out with me in a stroller and that was harder than I could have imagined. I couldn’t understand how some people out there with strollers made it look so easy, just gliding along like it was nothing. I was not a glider. I was a hot mess who looked like I needed a medic.

But at least when I had the stroller, I felt like people passing by could look at me and give me that knowing nod. They understood, on at least some level, why it was hard. But when it was just me alone, I felt I had no excuse. Forget the fact that I was only 5 weeks postpartum. Or even 20 weeks postpartum. What I wanted, more than anything, was a sign on the back of my shirt explaining why I was so slow. It would explain “please excuse me, I just had a baby,” (even when he wasn’t a baby anymore.)

The same thing happened when I had my second son, but it was even harder because I was still trying to catch up from having my first son 2 years earlier. I went for a walk on the beach pushing a stroller and I was sore for days, and that was my turning point. I worked hard, harder than I think I ever have, to get myself back in shape. I worked so I wouldn’t need that sign for my back anymore.

But here’s the thing, and it’s going to sound harsh. No one cares. No one but you. This is YOUR journey, and you have to do what makes YOU happy. No one else is even paying attention. I mean, sure people care about you. They want you to be healthy. But they don’t really need to know why you’re slower this year than you were last year, or why you’re not signing up for as many races. They probably don’t even notice, to be honest. They just want to know you’re okay. They’ve got their own challenges to deal with without concerning themselves with yours.

I’m currently gearing up for my 4th ultramarathon, and getting in back to back runs is an important element to my training so I can experience running on tired legs. So I ran a 6 miler recently the day after a 19 miler and my legs felt like lead. It was great training, but I felt like that postpartum runner again. And I felt it even more so when a super fit runner came blowing past me from the opposite direction without acknowledging me in the slightest. My first thought was that he was an asshole. But then I realized that was only because I felt like the kid who never got picked to be on anyone’s team in gym class. Which, by the way, I WAS THAT KID. And then I thought “I bet HE didn’t run 19 miles yesterday!!” And then, “well, maybe he did. How do I know? And how would he? And WHY does that matter anyway?” Because it really doesn’t. He’s got his mission and I’ve got mine.

I have friends who are overweight and run marathons. I also know some people that look fit enough to fly like the wind and it takes them twice as long to run a race than it would for me. I have friends with asthma and shin spints and injuries who still run. I have friends who have babies who get right out and run without skipping a beat and others who have never had babies and are still considered slow on their best days. I have fast days and slow days and mostly days in-between. All of it is great. All of it is getting it DONE. It doesn’t matter where the finish line is. It’s that you got there, whether you ran, walked, or crawled.

I have clients with lofty aspirations. Some want to run their first marathons. Some want to run a race a month. Some want to beat a certain PR. Goals are good. They help drive us and motivate us to push harder. But we always have to be careful because they can destroy us too, if we don’t get there right away or even at all. I never want to forget it’s about the journey to get somewhere that matters more than the destination itself. There’s another cliché saying for you.

I remind my clients that you can’t compare yourself to anyone else. What makes us great is that we are all different. I could easily compare myself to my friend who runs fast in an effortless fashion, but her legs are twice as long as mine. And there are so many other factors involved too. You don’t know what that girl on the track ate for breakfast or what she did yesterday that could affect her today. You don’t know if that guy had a good day today or a bad one last week. Because we all have “those days.” You don’t know if he has more fast twitch muscles or if she has more slow twitch muscles. You don’t know their struggles, their victories, or what’s going on in their lives either. And even if you do, those things aren’t yours. You do YOU. Make your goals, but make them for YOU. Don’t hold a yardstick up to anyone else. And if you don’t quite get to where you had wanted, give yourself some grace. It’s okay to fall. It makes victory so much sweeter when you get back up.

Fat on the Inside

I remember this day clearly in my head despite the fact that it was a day B.K. (“Before Kids” which seems like forever ago in relation to most things.) I was shopping for some new clothes and I held up a pair of size 6 jeans. They looked so tiny! I thought to myself that there was no way I could fit into those, but I felt I should at least TRY to get them on to see where I was in my weight loss journey. I added them to my pile and soon headed to the dressing room. When I got to the jeans in question, I slid them on and buttoned them. They fit.

I took them off and looked at the tag on them. Both the outside tag and the inside one. Both said they were, as I thought, a size 6. But how was that possible? Was this size 6 more like a size 10 or 12 somewhere else? Were they supposed to be a baggy fit or something? No.

This. This is what happens when you lose a lot of weight. Because even when your body changes, even when the workouts get easier, even when the scale number has changed significantly, and when people tell you that you look great and to “keep it up” and everything is less of a struggle and the mirror looks different than it used to .. Even when all of those things happen .. You still don’t get it. You still don’t realize it. Your brain hasn’t caught up to your body yet. You’re still fat on the inside.

I went from a size 20 to a size 6. I didn’t even feel the numbers going down because I didn’t buy all the “in between” sizes. It was too expensive and I was too cheap. And honestly, I didn’t know if I’d be able to keep the weight off. Just as many people have “skinny jeans” they aspire to wear someday in their closets, I had “fat jeans.” A safety net. So when I finally got to a size 6, I not only didn’t think there was any possible way that I could get my big thighs or enormous butt into them, but if I did, I didn’t know how long they would last.

People treat you differently when you lose weight. You don’t even notice it so much when you’re at your heaviest, though you are painfully aware of the fact that maybe that cute guy isn’t looking at you because he’s not interested in “your type.” But in everyday life, you’re just doing just that, living. And then you lose weight and people are literally opening doors for you. And looking you in the eye when they talk to you. And sometimes those cute guys are even checking you out. Some people are nicer to you. And other people, the more insecure ones, might even be not-so-nice. You start to notice these things, but you still might not associate it with dropping some dress sizes. Because you’re still the same person, right?

Except you’re not. You’ve changed. And people’s reactions to you have changed too. But what’s even harder is what’s going on inside your head, because you’ll never be able to see what others do. It takes time for you to change what you are, but that’s what you have to do when you lose weight. Accepting it is harder than you may have realized.

I used to go home after work and eat and watch TV. I started going to the gym instead and doing some more “mindful eating” and found a different lifestyle actually made me happier than the food used to. However, it took a long time for me to accept that life was different from here on out, that this wasn’t just a “phase” I had to get through before going back to my old life. Your brain is the last thing to make peace with those changes. There are so many things associated with the comfort of food and the rituals of eating. Memories are directly connected with smells and tastes. Acceptance is part of getting healthier, and this is a life lesson, not just something you connect with in AA. Knowing that you can’t go back is both exhilarating and scary. You have to mourn that life a bit in order to move on. You have to break-up with those bad habits. In my opinion, it’s okay to come back and visit sometimes so you don’t relapse completely. Just not every night, or even most nights. But if you think you have to live on broccoli and never get ice cream again, you’re going to go a little insane eventually. Like with anything, there’s some safety in moderation. And in limits.

To be clear, I’m not telling anyone that they have to be skinny to be happy. Happiness, love, and all the beautiful things in life come in every shape and size. And I am certainly not one to talk, because I am not built like a barbie doll. I have soft curves and cellulite and stretch marks and hips and thunderous thighs. And that’s, for the record, because I love food. All the food. Food will always be my biggest weakness. I can run 20 miles tomorrow, but I can’t leave that piece of chocolate cake in the fridge uneaten. But I also know I’m not willing to stop really “living,” and food and the happiness that goes with it is a part of that. No matter your size .. a size 0 or a size 25.. it’s what we were given and it might go up and down and no matter what, we should wear it. Stretch out and prance around in it. It’s a lot to be grateful for.