“I ran my first marathon at 43!”

A daughter’s diabetes diagnosis got this mom running

Source: Web exclusive: March 2008

Lee-Ann MacLean, 44, was fairly active and nutrition conscious even before her middle daughter, Abby, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age four. But after that wake-up call seven years ago, exercise became a daily mission to help Abby manage her blood sugar levels. From tennis to tag to bike rides, it was a given: “If Abby’s numbers were high, we were all going out to do something,” says the Halifax mom. MacLean still longed to carve out a consistent fitness regimen for herself, though, and in 2006 she began toying with the idea of doing something she’d never done before: running. Specifically, MacLean wanted to tackle a marathon.

The breaking point

MacLean was fed up with the five-pound fluctuations on her bathroom scale. “My weight was always back and forth. And there was never any consistency to how or when I worked out.” (You can see MacLean’s Before photo here).

The challenge

To learn how to run, and squeeze in marathon training, while raising three kids and working part-time from home.

The plan

An initial goal of consistently running 30 minutes, five times a week. Then, last June, she joined the Running Room’s online marathon-training program.

The biggest obstacle

MacLean had never jogged for longer than 15 minutes before. “I always wanted to run, but I didn’t think I had it in me physically,” she says. After discovering she could conquer 30-minute runs with much less difficulty than expected, MacLean felt empowered to run longer.

The results

Within just a few months of running five days a week, she noticed how firm her body was and how much more energy she had. “I just felt calmer and more relaxed throughout the day,” says MacLean. Inspired, she signed up for The 2007 Dublin Marathon in Ireland, to fundraise for the Canadian Diabetes Association. MacLean ran a total of 900 kilometres in preparation for the big day (and shed those five pounds for good).

Two hours into the actual marathon, MacLean pulled a stomach muscle (she pushed herself too hard out of the gate), which slowed her down for the rest of the race. But she knew there was no way she wouldn’t finish. “In every run I did, whenever I didn’t feel like I could finish, I would think: I may be doing this for myself, but I am going to finish for Abby.” Three hours later, she came into the last stretch. It was unbelievable when she turned the bend and saw her whole family waiting in big red maple leaf shirts cheering her on, says MacLean. “You can get caught up in the process. But afterwards, when I stood there and realized what I’d done, it was incredible.”

The road ahead

MacLean’s already registered for the December 2008 marathon in Honolulu, which she’s going to run with a close friend. She can raise more money that way than going door-to-door fundraising, she says. Plus, she’s hooked on the consistent exercise—and determined to beat her last time!

The tips

  • Think big. Why did MacLean take on such an enormous health goal, when marathons can take as long as six hours to run? Her personality type demanded it, she says: “I knew I needed something that would really challenge me, to keep me in it.”
  • Find the right time. At first, this mother of three tried to squeeze in runs at soccer practices and around family events, but eventually she decided it was easier to get up before everyone early in the morning.
  • Do the research. MacLean read as much as she could on how to train, in terms of pacing and nutrition. She learned, for example, that she needs certain amounts of protein to help build muscle strength and stamina. “At 43, I also didn’t want to injure myself.” So she also added cross-training, including strength work, spinning and cardio at a gym.
  • Make it a family affair. Setting a good example for her kids and husband – by going on those three-hour runs even when she didn’t want to – gave everyone a boost. Her nutrition regimen helped Abby understand that limiting cake and treats was a healthy choice, not just an unfortunate necessity of having diabetes, for example. And MacLean’s husband, reluctant at first, started going on light jogs with her and joined the gym. “There was no way anybody could sit around with me training so hard.” (Click here for a photo of her running with her kids.)

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