A little progress each day adds up to big results.
When I first picked up running in 2018, I was extremely intimidated, anxious and questioned myself nonstop.
I failed gym class my senior year of high school and despised anything related to sports.
I remember the burning side stitches after running just one mile. I would break down with asthma attacks and had no idea of pacing strategies. My first pair of athletic shoes were from Payless. Those did not last long.
But we all start somewhere. When you try something for the first time, you don’t succeed. You must fail your way to success.
The main reason why I got into running was because my health was getting out of control. I was drinking too much alcohol, and I had poor weight management. I also was determined to prove to myself that asthma would not hinder me from living a healthy and active lifestyle.
I started running, with very slow progress, and ran about 10 miles per week, then gradually increased the mileage. It was not easy by any means. I just kept showing up every day and got more comfortable.
I ran my first half marathon in 2018 in a time of 2:09 and was hooked.
When I committed to running my first full marathon in 2019, I had no idea how much it would transform my life. I wanted to finish it and prove to myself that I could conquer a lifetime of crippling asthma and shed the image of being the last person picked in gym class. I was addicted to the huge sense of accomplishment after completing it in 3:45.
Then, I really got serious about wanting to quality for the Boston Marathon, with a time of 3:30. It’s the most prestigious of road-running competitions.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit during the spring of 2020, I ran on my treadmill at 4:30 a.m. every day to ease my mind from the stress of the state of the world. Running was a great escape at that time. When my marathon was canceled in April, I decided to do it virtually in my neighborhood and wore my race bib. I landed a time of 3:34:45.
I celebrated with a Coors Light.
Races continued to get canceled, but I kept training. I moved to Florida in 2021 and found an in-person race in early 2022. I ended up winning the marathon and qualified for the Boston Marathon by more than 15 minutes.
My confidence was soaring.
I won another marathon two months later, clocking in at 3:07.
My ultimate dream was to sub-three-hour in my next marathon. Only 4% of marathon runners join the sub-three-hour group.
I poured my heart and soul into attaining a 2:58:21 on a hilly course in Birmingham, Ala., in October. When I crossed the finish line, I threw my hands up in the air and I screamed, “Sub three! Sub three!”
One of my most memorable races last year was running in the New York City Marathon, the largest major race. This was a celebration of all my relentless hard work in my past four years of running. I was so proud with a time of 3:00:21 — 58th place out of 21,160 women.
I’m now chasing a 2:37 time for the 2024 Olympic Marathon Time Trials. Writing that right now makes me sick to stomach, but if you don’t dream big, you’ll have a small life. Even if the dream doesn’t come true, at least you tried.
To anyone who is wanting to have a positive change in their lives, running will transform you. You can follow in my footsteps and start out by just getting outside and running. Start slow, ease into the pace and see how far you can get. Show up the next day and do a little more, then do a little more.
Running is all about showing up. Consistency will pay off in dividends. We can accomplish anything with hard work, sweat and perseverance.
Rachel Kennedy is a Dubuque native and elite runner.