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by Kelly Teeselink, Girls on the Run of Eastern Iowa board member and coach at Horn Elementary in Iowa City for 7 seasons
Last week, I ran my first 100-mile race. I still really haven’t wrapped my head around this and maybe I never will. But there are a few things I know for sure – you don’t finish a race like this without being confident and believing in yourself – a pillar of Girls on the Run. This wasn’t always the case though. Let’s backtrack a few years.
Growing up, I thought I was fat. I remember being as young as 9 and thinking I needed to lose weight. I didn’t like the way I looked and was ashamed of myself. Sometimes I was so ashamed I would do some pretty messed up things to lose weight. This was essentially the case all the way until I was 23 or so.
A year after I graduated college, I was probably at my unhealthiest. Not only was I out of shape, I also drank quite a bit and smoked cigarettes. I vowed to go on a diet and start exercising to lose weight, to be skinny. Whenever I started these diets (there were a lot of them), my goal was always to be skinny, never to be healthy.
I started Couch to 5k. Walk a few minutes, run a minute which turned into run a few minutes, walk a minute. Nine weeks later – I ran for 3.1 miles straight without stopping. I did my first 5k in June of 2010, without walking. I was proud of myself. I was proud of what my body accomplished. Honestly, it was a new experience to be proud of my body.
After my first 5k
I kept exercising and lost some more weight but found myself wanting another running goal. I decided to train for a half marathon. I found a plan and started training. I liked the structure of the training plans. The concept was so simple – do these things for 10-18 weeks (training runs) and then attempt your goal (race). I ran my first half marathon in October of 2010. And I was again so proud of myself and what I trained my body to accomplish. I was gaining self-confidence through accomplishment.
I didn’t know it at the time, but my brain was starting to think differently about running - less about the calories I was burning and more about what my body was capable of. I started fantasizing about running a marathon. Could I do it? It was double the distance I had ever run but I was intrigued and I was up for the challenge.
In October of 2012, I ran my first marathon in 4:23. I was elated and on top of the world. In a few short years, I had completely changed how I viewed my body. Look at what my body can DO! With the proper training, it can run these distances in times I never thought possible. Don’t get me wrong – I still had (and still do) have days where I’m unhappy with how my body looks, but I work through it with positive self-talk and focusing on what amazing things my body has accomplished.
All smiles after my first marathon
Side note: This sounds silly, but one of my most liberating moments was during a run on a hot summer day when I took off my shirt for the first time. What an exhilarating moment when I realized I did not care what anyone thought of my body as I ran down the sidewalk in my sports bra.
After I ran marathons for a few years, I started running trails with a few friends and fell in love with running dirt paths and challenging hills through the trees. It was a new experience completely different from road running. Many ultramarathons (anything over 26.2 miles) are run on trails and signing up for a 50k was a natural next step. My first 50-mile race in the Kettle Morraine forest soon followed. It was safe to say running hours in the woods with awesome people became my passion.
Running a beautiful (and challenging!) 50-miler in Tennessee
Throughout this time, my lifestyle adapted to my running habit. My diet changed. Food became fuel, not “good” or “bad.” I met new people and have met some of my best friends through running. Sleep became very important.
I also found Girls on the Run. After I ran my first marathon, I knew running was part of my life for the long haul and I wanted to inhale everything running-related – books, movies, races, etc. I saw a few girls wearing GOTR shirts at a local 5k. A running club for young girls? Yes, please!
When I got home, I Googled Girls on the Run. And I was blown away. It was much more than a running club. This organization explained exactly how running changed my life the past few years. I wanted to be a coach because I wanted to help young girls value what their bodies can do, rather than what their bodies looked like and what others thought of them. Essentially, I don’t want girls to go through what I did. And what so many other women go through. I want females to activate their limitless potential and set their sights high for themselves because they can and they are capable. This doesn’t mean you have to run 100 miles. It’s about finding your passion and not being held back by yourself or others. Find your own finish line.
One of my GOTR girls crossing the finish line at our practice 5k
My 100-miler endeavor is not much unlike my first 5k. I set a goal for myself, I made a plan to achieve the goal, I believed in myself, and rose to the challenge. In every single race, whether it’s a 5k or a 100-miler, I make sure to thank my body for giving me the opportunity to do what I love. I kid you not, during my 100-miler, I said out loud (and actually do on many occasions during tough training runs), “Thanks, legs!” I ask a lot out of them and they deliver. They are definitely not your stereotypical attractive legs, in fact, I used to hate my legs – but now they are my favorite body part. They are strong, muscular, and can run 100 miles. I am proud of them.
It’s been a week since I’ve run my 100-miler. When I think about that day, I am most proud of never thinking about quitting. It became exceptionally hard after mile 75, but I knew 100% that I could and would finish. One foot in front of the other. I thought of the girls I coach, the women in my life that inspire me to do my best (many of them fellow GOTR coaches), the support team that came out to Ohio to crew and pace me. I thought of the journey from couch to 5k to 100 miles and how I am so glad Girls on the Run is in my life.
High fives post 5k with one of my many GOTR girls who inspire me
Every day, I think of the GOTR mission: to inspire girls to be joyful, healthy, and confident. Running helps me try and achieve this mission and pushes my boundaries. It is a wonderful mission to live by and my hope is that every girl and woman can find something (running or otherwise) that inspires them to be joyful, healthy, and confident.
Burning River 100--embracing the next hill at mile 70
From Girls on the Run:
We believe that every girl can embrace who she is,
can define who she wants to be,
can rise to any challenge,
can change the world.