“I Got Into Running To Be A Better Nurse”

Seeing her patients deal with their own health issues helped this nurse realize she needed to take control of health. And she did it by running.

running for health Damara NickersonPhoto Credit: Damara Nickerson

Running isn’t just about fitness – it’s about being healthier

For Damara Nickerson, running had nothing to do with losing weight or fitting into a swimsuit for vacation. She actually wanted to be healthier. Not something you often hear someone in their early 30s say. Now, stay with me. As a nurse working at an oncology and palliative unit, she saw every day what it meant to not be healthy. And it was eye-opening. And that is her #BHmoment.

“I was sitting at my station, thinking about how I was living my life,” she admits, mere minutes before she was about to hit the start line at the Chicago Marathon in 2017 – her fourth marathon. “I’m surrounded by people who were not in their ‘best health.’ I’m taking my health for granted, and I’m banking on good genes and my age. I wasn’t taking any responsibility for my health. That’s how I actually got into running.” Here is how Nickerson made that switch in her brain into a passionate hobbie.

On being healthier @damarathoner

“I thought that I should be doing what I can to be the strongest version of myself. And through running, I not only get stronger physically, but I spend a lot of time on the road, putting in the miles, and really work on my spiritual, cognitive and mental side too. It makes me a more rounded and balanced person.”

Research suggests this activity may replace medication.

How she got into running

“At first, I was running by myself. And I joined Twitter, and shortly thereafter I joined Instagram. And then I started connecting with people who ran with different run crews in Toronto. And I started getting invited out for runs. I went out with Parkdale. I went out with Tribe. I went out with Night Terrors. And just in meeting people, that is how it spawned from casually running to racing.” One year later, she competed in her first marathon.

Advice for running events

“Hydrate. Pre-hydration is so important. I like to get up a few hours before the race to drink a lot of water and then go back to bed.”

Putting things in perspective

“Nobody starts off running a marathon on their first day. So, when I started running, I would run a block, walk a block, run a block, walk a block. I’d go out for 20 minutes and slowly progressed until I could run that whole 20 minutes without having to walk.”

From walk to run – here is your 10-week training program.

Training is key – but it’s not life

“I start preparing five months in advance, doing a gradual build. This year I had a bit of a hiccup for my training, in that I had the opportunity to go to India for a Canadian health development project. […] I got into running to be a better nurse, not the other way around. I had to put my training on the back shelf because it was a really great opportunity to use my nursing skills to help the community in India.”

After the Chicago Marathon

“I achieved my goal, which was to complete the marathon while enjoying the experience. The crowds at Chicago made that easy. All the miles were magnificent. There was so much support throughout the entire course. And the organizers and volunteers did a great job. […] The finisher’s jacket is not only a nice keepsake, and a nice reminder of an amazing accomplishment, but is practical for future training runs.”

Getting competitive with yourself

“There is no race. And even when you’re racing, it’s really important to race your pace. So, if you’re out for a casual run, a group run or a race, don’t get caught up in what everyone else is doing. Pay attention to your pace, your body and what’s in your mind. Never race what someone else is doing.”

Best Health’s picks for Chicago during marathon weekend

Stay: Thompson Chicago was close enough to the starting line, that can walk with the masses as they gear up to run.

Eat: Siena Tavern is the perfect spot to carb-load. And Brick Chicken Diavolo is perfect for post-race recovery (ahem, indulgence).

See: Of course there is The Bean, but also check out The 606, Green City Market Lincoln Park, too.

Do: The Chicago Marathon, of course!