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Sarah Marsden raised $2,100 for Girls on the Run
"Running helped me lose 111 pounds."
"Next year I'm going to run this race." It was the spring of 2003 and Sarah Marsden, 29, had just finished a 5K walk (her first) in support of breast cancer. At 226 pounds, Marsden, who lives in Minneapolis, understood that reaching that goal wouldn't be easy. "But the walk made me realize not everyone can move their body. If you can, you should."
She knew she had to start slowly. "Thinking about running a three-mile race was daunting, but I was determined," Marsden says. She'd walk one block, run until she couldn't anymore, then walk again. She kept alternating this pattern until she was covering six miles, running most of the way. That led to more healthy changes. "I made little tweaks in my diet, like trading white pasta for whole wheat." Cutting portions was also key. "Once I did that, the weight melted off." She lost 40 pounds in a year and proudly ran the 5K.
Encouraged, Marsden stuck with her new lifestyle and dropped another 50 pounds over two years. Then she had bunion surgery. "I needed motivation to start running again," she says. So she decided to do the 2009 New York City Marathon to support Girls on the Run, an organization that helps third- to fifth-graders build self-esteem through running. "It shows them that exercise is fun and makes you strong," says Marsden.
A year of mixing short runs with 10- to 24-mile treks helped her shed 20 more pounds. "I wore a Girls on the Run shirt during the race and so many people cheered for me it really kept me going," says Marsden, who has run 12 more marathons since then. "I always wear my shirt and little girls have come up to me and said that they're part of Girls on the Run. I'm a role model to them and that means everything to me."
Splurge a little!
"I found low-calorie replacements for foods I loved. But when the craving is really strong, I don't fight it."
Start with a salad.
"I always order one as an appetizer. It keeps me from reaching for the bread basket and fills me up so I'm satisfied with less of my main course."
Think of yourself as an athlete.
"Even if you're not the fastest person on the course, you have to give yourself credit for just being there."
Connie Rios's team raised $3,000 for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society
"I got hooked on biking and shed 65 pounds."
"I was never active until I realized that I had to get healthier for the sake of my children," says Connie Rios, 36, of Mercedes, Texas. When a friend gave her a pass to her gym so the two could go to Spin class together, Rios discovered she had a passion for biking. The friends took four classes a week together. On weekends Rios would hit the gym alone. "They had day care so I could bring my kids, who were 5 and 6 then. That made it easy."
Rios dropped a few pounds, but the weight was coming off more slowly than she'd hoped. A few months later another friend suggested they form a team for Bike MS and do a two-day, 150-mile ride. "I didn't know anything about multiple sclerosis, but I thought the training would speed up my weight loss," she says. Shortly afterward she learned that a coworker's wife had MS. "When he told me about Melissa, I knew I had to ride for her."
To train for the event Rios added weight lifting and boxing classes to her fitness routine. She also participated in some 40-mile rides with her team, which now was made up of Rios and five guys from work. "It was a struggle," she admits. "My teammates hinted it might have to do with my diet." She started a food diary and wrote down everything she ate. "I learned there were days when I was taking in 4,000 calories -- and that was before dinner!" she says. To trim calories, Rios cut back on her portions and swapped fatty meats for lean ones. She lost 40 pounds before the ride.
"On both days of the ride, the distance was double what I'd ever done, so it was tough," she says. But Rios never lost her determination. "I'd tied a bandanna Melissa had given me around my saddlebag, just under my seat," she says. "She had written on it 'I walk stronger because you ride.' I felt like she was with me, pushing me along."
Since then Rios has shed another 20 pounds and completed eight Bike MS events. Her team has grown to 32 members. "My family is part of it, too," she says. "My husband drives our support van and my son, 11, and daughter, 9, hand out water and bananas. We used to be a sedentary family, but now we do short rides together to raise money for various charities. My daughter says, 'Mom, I want to be able to stand up and ride fast like you.'"
Find a workout buddy.
"When you exercise with someone they help motivate you."
Strap on a heart-rate monitor.
"You won't lose weight unless you work at a level where you're really burning calories and this tool helps you get there."
"You didn't pack on the pounds overnight, so they aren't going to come off that fast, either."
Heather Micozzi raised $7,000 for Susan G. Komen for the Cure
"I walked off 120 pounds."
When Heather Micozzi saw the photos from her 40th birthday party, she was stunned to realize how heavy she'd gotten over the years. "When you look in the mirror, you see what you want to see, but the camera doesn't lie," says Micozzi, 42, of Barberton, Ohio. To slim down she turned to the most convenient exercise she could find: walking. "I could barely get around the block, but gradually one block became two and so on."
In the spring of 2009, a few months into her health kick, a friend asked Micozzi to join her in the Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure, a 60-mile walk to raise money for breast cancer research. "I'd always wanted to do it -- my grandmother and my great-aunt died from the disease and my mother-in-law is a two-time breast-cancer survivor -- but I was so out of shape."
Fortunately she had a year to train. "I started walking a mile in the morning and a mile at lunch and then doing a longer walk in the evening," she says. Eventually she was covering six to 10 miles a day. As the event neared she did some 15-mile treks so she'd be comfortable with longer distances.
On the first day she walked 23 miles. "My training really paid off because I felt so good afterward," she says. Next on her list? Completing the walk again this year and losing 25 more pounds. "I'm a big believer in setting new goals," Micozzi says. "Look how far it got me in the first place."
Wear a pedometer.
"I won't go to bed unless I've done at least 10,000 steps -- that's five miles."
Energize with exercise.
"It's a way to build confidence, relax, and enjoy yourself. If I don't walk I'm exhausted."
Retrain your taste buds.
"Honestly, I don't miss the way I used to eat. I had a huge sweet tooth but now if you put a candy bar in front of me it doesn't faze me."
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, February 2012.