“I ran a half-marathon and lost 75 pounds.”

Persistent knee pain and a scary asthma attack pushed Naomi Sanderson to lose weight’and run a half-marathon

Source: Web exclusive: August 2008

Naomi Sanderson’s exercise and eating habits suffered during the time she spent living in a remote town in western Ontario. She’d moved there with her husband, a pilot who spent long periods of time out of town. Eating on her own, with no decent gym in town, the 30-something office manager packed on nearly 60 pounds. She carried it around for another five years, and not much changed after they moved to North Bay, Ont. As a result, her life-long bouts of knee pain worsened. After walking their two dogs one day, she suffered a terrifying bout of asthma and ended up in the emergency room. The situation was dire (she weighed 246 pounds) and Sanderson needed a prod in the right direction. “I wasn’t a very happy person.”

The breaking point

The “prod” she got was more like a kick in the pants. The doctor delivered some sobering news that day in January 2006: if she lost 20 pounds, her knee pain would go away—otherwise, she was on track for knee replacement surgery by the time she hit 50. “I left the office angry," Sanderson says. "I thought, I’ll show him. I’ll lose weight. I’ll run a marathon.” Setting that goal just popped into her head, she says. “It seemed like a really big carrot at the end.” She would be turning 40 in October of that year and figured that if Oprah could do it, why couldn’t she?

The challenge

To make good on her pledge to lose weight and run a marathon before she turned 40—an end to her knee pain would be icing on the low-fat bran muffin.

The plan

On the way home from the doctor’s, she signed up at the local Weight Watchers. Soon after, she hired a personal trainer, hit the gym and joined a running group. At first, she found running hard, especially as a large-breasted woman. “I was so excited if I ran through a whole song on my iPod.” But after losing her first 30 pounds, she set a tangible goal: to run her first half-marathon (just over 21 km) in September 2006, in Toronto, one month before her 40th birthday.

The biggest obstacle

Sanderson was dogged by knee pain, and so her pre-race training was limited. She did the best she could, mixing walking with running. “I just love the feeling I have after a run.” She also picked up a “Shock Absorber” bra, which made running a lot more comfortable.

The results

Sanderson walked most of her first half-marathon but will never forget crossing the finish line triumphant. She was down a total of 55 pounds on her birthday that October, and eventually lost another 20 pounds. Her asthma and knee pain have all but disappeared. In total, she’s run four half-marathons and feels extremely proud of her medals—which she’s framed.

A combination of events bumped her off track in 2007, but now she’s back on her game, determined to lose the 25 pounds she regained. She and her husband have moved to Toronto, and she’s joined a new gym and rejoined Weight Watchers. “For me, weight loss is 95 percent mental. I’m there now.” (See Sanderson’s before and after photos.)

The tips

  • Go solo. Sanderson grew dependent on her local running group, and when they split up, she struggled for a while to exercise on her own.
  • Set manageable goals. She knows now that without a constant target, she has trouble maintaining a healthy lifestyle. But she won’t be making any more uninformed exercise pledges.
  • Live life. At her nephew’s wedding, Sanderson walked away from a chocolate fountain with only a plate of fruit. She wants to enjoy living, but has learned that she feels better when she makes small sacrifices than when she goes overboard.

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