By Rachel Hughes, Foothills Weight Loss staff member & bariatric surgery patient

Rachel Hughes Marathon runner & bariatric patient

Rachel Hughes
Marathon runner & bariatric patient

I’m not really sure at what point I thought it would be fun to train for a half marathon (I’m still not sure). However, I do know the day I announced it to my friends and family. On January 1, 2015, I put the declaration out on Facebook that I wanted to do a half marathon. Now, keep in mind that if I tell my friends or family anything and if I make it public then it has to happen to avoid eating crow.

Then, I started sharing my walks and runs. I was serious and I geared up. In my book, that means I looked the part. I put on my sweats, wrapped my bandanna around my head and pulled my hoodie on over it… I was going to listen to old school rap and be tough out on the streets (but with a smile of course). The first couple of mornings were exhilarating. I remember on New Years morning running across Alcoa Highway, excited that there were no cars out on the street. Now, now I look forward to the cars and treat them like a good old fashioned game of Frogger.

By the second week, the alarm clock at 4am was not as welcome. I needed to find ways to motivate myself.

I made a count down in my office… it was like an Advent calendar only it wasn’t counting down to Christmas it was counting down to a day of self discovery.

You see, I have never been a runner. I always wanted to but I did not feel that I was built for that or that I was athletic enough. Never mind that I danced for 14 years and that in and of it self took endurance to an extent. But my life changed. As we grow up, our lifestyles change. I became idle. Years later I came to the realization that I was now 386 pounds and definitely not a runner.

Rachel & running buddy Dana Bradley of Fort Sanders Center for Bariatric Surgery

Rachel & running buddy Dana Bradley of Fort Sanders Center for Bariatric Surgery

So, we come to this past weekend and the Covenant Health Half Marathon. Five years ago on March 28, 2010 I completed my first 5k. I was 7 months post-op Gastric Bypass and 100 pounds lighter than my highest weight. I went to Dana Bradley (our bariatric coordinator) and asked her if we could put together a group of patients from support groups to do a 5k. She immediately jumped on board and helped me get them together and set up training.

The morning of our 5k, Dana turned to me and said “Are we going to run this?” to which I replied “Well, I’ve put together this team and it would not be fair to them to leave them.” (Plus, I didn’t know how to run.) Dana looked at me for a minute and said, “You know, you’ve spent the last 35 plus years taking care of others, it’s time you do something for yourself”. A RUNNER WAS BORN!!!

I’m not saying that it was easy or that it still is but it was beautiful in my heart and soul. I felt like a kid on the playground, wild and free, wind in my hair and my feet flopping on the pavement. It was fantastic!!!

Now fast forward 5 years later… there have been ups and downs along this journey but when I told Dana that I wanted to do this she simply said she thought she would too. We did not train together and we did not talk to each other about it much (I think we were both terrified of what we had bit off), but a few weeks before the race we decided we would do this together. She was there for my first time running, my first 5k, my first roller coaster ride after losing the weight, so it seemed only fitting she be there for my first half marathon too. It was decided.

The morning of the race, I got there very early to warm up. I ran into a woman in the rest room and she told me her story. I decided to share mine.

I explained to her about the 5k, being 100 pounds lighter then and now 5 years later being 200 pounds lighter for the half marathon. She responded with “Wow, so when you get to your goal weight, are you going to do the full marathon?” I told her my goal with this surgery was to become healthy. I think I’ve met my goal.

I went to find Dana and my friend Chris. When I put the post out on Facebook, Chris did not hesitate to jump up as a friend, training partner, and encourager. But I think he questioned his sanity as well the closer we got to race day. If anyone knows me, they know I am not a quiet person but you could have heard a pin drop that morning. I was so nervous and words were not readily available at that point. I think the only thing I said to Dana was “I’m gonna be sick!” to which she replied “Me too!”. That was all I needed to hear, I was not alone in my fear. I was so inside my head that morning… I was terrified! Terrified of the pain that was about to come, terrified of letting myself or others down, and terrified that I would not finish.

We started out with a game plan of walking during the first few feet until the crowd disperse and then running a little, walking a lot and running a little again. Now, keep in mind I had been preparing for distance, but speed was not something I wanted to think about. I’m slow, no other way around it, BUT I’M STRONG. By mile 3, as much as I appreciated the support, I knew I was slowing my friends down. I told them, “go on, I am fine and we need to do this for ourselves”. Luckily they listened and went on. I put my headphones in and let the music lead my steps.

By the middle of the race I made friends with a few ladies that had the best attitudes of any runners around which was good because Noelton Hill was fast approaching. For anyone that is not familiar with Noelton Hill, there are shirts dedicated to this hill. The most experienced runners mention that if you can get up Noelton, you’re golden. Now, I had driven up Noelton (in fact I went and had a good chat with it the day before the race) but I had never “run” up Noelton. I did this weekend! Victory!!! Well, not quite. Everyone said Noelton was the worst part. I disagree. I hit my wall around mile 9. My legs felt like concrete. I could feel them dragging and I seriously wanted to cry.

By the time I got to mile 11 a friend called. She asked where I was in the route to which I replied “I just crossed 17th Street, I hurt so bad, I need to stop, I can’t do this”. See this is where you find out just how strong your brain really is. She gave me a pep talk and told me she was at the finish line and to keep going. I was trying.

Rachel (right) crossing the finish line!

Rachel (right) crossing the finish line!

Every officer I saw stopped to block traffic looked so inviting to give me a ride to the stadium but I knew I couldn’t do that. With 1.5 miles left I did the unthinkable, I asked for help. I text my best friend and told him “I need you NOW” to which he immediately called. I got a “Do not give up, don’t quit, you are going to do this!” talk from him. He knew I needed strength and that was what he provided. While he was talking I saw a familiar face running toward me. The same friend that had called a half mile back had left the finish line and ran to find me and encourage me.

My voice broke and I screamed out to her. My best friend quickly let me go with a laugh and knew that I was good. Those friends saved my race. All the pain, all the doubt was gone. She gave me a hug and a pep talk and she left and went back to watch me cross the finish line.

I got to the stadium and there was my daughter, her friend and one of my other best friends all with signs they’d made for me. It was beautiful. There is no doubt the love my friends and my child have for me.

I crossed that finish line, my time was nothing to brag on but my accomplishment sure was. No one there knew that I used to be almost 400 pounds; they just knew that I finished a Half Marathon and to them that was enough.

I went the opposite direction of my group and just sat and cried. Not so much because of the pain (that came later) but because this was something that no one will ever take from me, something I worked for every day. We had terrible weather this year that would have made it easy to make an excuse not to run, but I still used a treadmill or found a way to move. All these things came together in that one moment and my heart exploded into waterworks.

With daughter Becca after the Covenant Health Marathon.

With daughter Becca after the Covenant Health Marathon.

I am sharing this story with you not as a means to be boastful or brag, but rather to hopefully inspire you. I want you to know if I can go from someone that weighed almost 400 pounds and had no intentions of ever being an athlete to someone that is now looking forward to her next challenge and the training it entails, then you can do it too. Maybe you weren’t meant to do a race, maybe it’s something else on your bucket list. What ever it is, go do it! Don’t sit back and wait for it to come to you. Get out there and make the most of this second chance we’ve been given with bariatric surgery. Change your life, not just the number on the scale.

Rachel Hughes is the Bariatric Insurance Coordinator at Foothills Weight Loss Specialists in Knoxville. She is also a bariatric surgery patient.