It’s Your Body….Move it, Love it….Live.
Why Am I Writing This Book?
One evening, after seeing ten personal training clients, I went to the grocery store. I was so tired I was mentally weary, total physical and mental exhaustion. As I was shopping, I had the feeling I was being followed around the grocery store. In the produce section, I saw a woman on my right side, a little too close and staring. In the fish section, she was standing right behind me. In the bread section, again she was there. I thought I was being paranoid when I saw her again to my left going down an aisle.
Before I could think too much about her and why she was following me, I ran into a friend and we had a chat about my marathon training and overall running for the year plus other life happenings. We laughed together about the glory of going through the pain of running and finding happiness. The mystery woman stayed right across from us and listened to our entire conversation. After I hugged my friend goodbye, I couldn’t stand it anymore, “I am sorry do we know each other?” I asked her.
“No, I am sorry,” she said. “You just look so incredibly happy and fit I just was, well gosh I wouldn’t even know what to do with most of the stuff in your shopping cart, I heard you are a runner, you look very inspirational.” She put her head down so as to not look me in the eye.
I looked in her cart, filled with boxes of processed foods, frozen entrees, and sugary desserts. She even had Twinkies. I had always wondered if there was even any real food product in a Twinkie. I looked at my cart, with vegetables and fruit, all fresh, fresh bread and a piece of salmon.
“I am a personal trainer, I have my own studio in San Jose,” I responded smiling and standing just a little taller, overly proud.
“I bet you are expensive,” was her response.
And this time, it was me who averted my eyes. Because she was right, I am expensive. I charge clients by the hour and most clients see me either two or three hours every week. My schedule has been full for many years and the majority of my clients have been with me for more than two years. The cost of having me as a personal trainer in a private studio cost thousands of dollars a year for each client. I could never have afforded a personal trainer like me when I was unathletic and overweight as a child. I had to learn everything out of books from the library or from people I met who gave me free advice. The books pushed me in the right direction, but I never saw someone like me in those books. I never saw overweight out of shape people who had no clue how to move their bodies in any book I picked in the 1970s and 1980s. The pictures of the people working out in these books and magazines looked so perfect and the runners in these books were all Olympians.
I thanked the woman for the complements and wished her well as I left the grocery store and wondered how I could reach more people with my personal training methods and strategies. I encouraged her just to walk ten minutes a day, that would be a good start. I smiled at her, it felt like a very forced smile even to myself.
‘So why didn’t I write the book with the honest truth about how people start getting fit?’ was my thought on the way home.
That book that would have helped me all those years ago. This book, It’s Your Body… Move it, Love it….Live, is going to be completely different from any fitness book you have read. This book is about real people and how I have watched them get fit and healthy sharing the steps we took together.
I will discuss the reality of what I see every day in my fitness studio; the good, the bad, and the amazing changes people make not just physically but mentally. I hope this book will inspire you to want a healthier body that you can enjoy without pain. I want you to do the things with your body you have always dreamed of; that could be running your first 5k, playing with your grandchildren, or looking hot in that dress at the company dinner, or just getting out of pain and feeling better. We are all different and have different motivations.
Join me on this journey to feeling better through everyday exercise and dealing with food issues and pain management. Let’s move forward to a body you love and are happy to live in.
Admit to Yourself, You want to get Healthy
Admit it. You are reading this book because you want the motivation to get healthy and feel better. You just don’t know how to get healthy and feel better physically, no matter how many times you have dedicated yourself to changing your exercise and eating patterns. Change is very difficult.
In this book I will address the reality of our human bodies; the physical and mental pains of obesity, the difficulty and embarrassment of people whom have never worked out, the injuries and illnesses normal people mask every day in their daily lives through pills and just not doing any physical activity on a regular basis.
Human beings shouldn’t be embarrassed as they try to make their bodies the best they can, but almost all my clients are embarrassed when they start working out with me. A common theme is they think they should be better, move better, look better, feel better. Most clients are embarrassed they have become this overweight, this out of shape, and don’t understand why they are in constant pain. It doesn’t matter to me, what matters is the willingness to start moving to a better body.
As I approached writing a book about what I do with the people that walk through my fitness studio door, I needed to think about the ways I help my personal training clients. Everyone comes to me wanting to ‘get fit and feel better physically in their own bodies’, but what does that mean? For some it means losing weight, for some cutting sugar out of their diets so their brains feel better and their bodies become smaller, for some moving around through exercises so their joints feel better and for some better lung capacity and heart health. No two people whom I have worked with have ever come to me for the same reasons. And many times, as we get more comfortable with one another, those reasons evolve.
A common question from a new client is, “What kind of exercises are we going to do?” I usually just smile and start some kind of warmup exercise because honestly, I don’t know. I need to see what shape their bodies are in to start with, how crooked their bodies might be, where they might have injuries, how much pain they are in, and the big one, how scared are they of working out and moving their bodies. Because of remembered pain, many people are scared to move their bodies or even try. Our brains trick us every day.
Mostly, in the beginning I need to listen to the client when I first start working with them. I need to listen to the person they are, what their daily activity looks like, who the person they want to be is, and I need to figure out how to get them to the place they want to be, even if that place seems so out of reach to them. Then, I make a plan. It’s a plan and thoughts I might write down immediately, but not necessarily share with the client all at once. Honestly it takes about two months working with a client until I figure out how to work them out and the direction we will go together.
This book is very different than what you currently see in the fitness marketplace. Now there is millions of health and fitness books with ridiculous crash and fad diets; shake diets, grapefruit diets, diets based on your blood type, and of course vegan and keto. And even more books with exercise programs; work out just 10 minutes a day! Kill yourself for 45 mins a day and get beautiful abs, and who can forget the shake weight, thigh master, etc. Tons of at home equipment from expensive exercise bikes to straps you put on a doorknob. I guess these diets and gadgets work for some people to lose weight and get fit, but for how many people?
I mean have you ever met a real human being who got fit and stayed healthy from a cabbage diet and a shake weight?
There is always that overly fit person at work that will swear they lost 10 lb. in a week on a juice cleanse and you should too. “Here, I have a coupon for you!” Did they tell you by you getting you signed up for the crazy diet they get their crazy disgusting tasting green juice for free? Kind of the new marketing scheme; share a sale and ambassorships are what these sales techniques are called in the marketing world. Or maybe it was your friends new AMAZING probiotics they are pushing on you with no medical data that will clean out your colon because obviously you aren’t fat because you eat too much food and the wrong kinds of food, you are just backed up with partially decomposed food making your stomach and intestines stick out. Yuck.
But what about the average person who wants to get fit and has a few pounds to lose or joints that hurt? Like you. Like I was as an obese child. Like the post office worker who walks all day and carries a bag on onside so is very crooked, or the tech guy at his desk all day? How about the person who has a job that takes up 40-60 desk hours plus 10 hours of commute time a week with a family that can’t take more than 15 minutes to make dinner and eats dinner while standing up over the kitchen sink or in front of the computer while talking and texting. The fact that you are prescribed two to three or even six or more drugs a day for all kinds of aliments, can’t sleep because you are over 45 years old and exhausted all the time. How do you get fit and healthy? How does anyone? And the most important question, how do you stay fit and healthy once you get there?
Our brains can be our own worst enemy. We can be sabotaged by our thoughts.
“What is wrong with me? Why does everyone else lose 20 lb. a month on this new fad diet/exercise program and not me? In fact, why did I actually gain weight after I joined the gym or started a running program?”
“It must be just the way I am supposed to be, my body is comfortable at this weight.” We accept that we are fat and hurt and taking lots of pills, “because well everyone else I hang out with is overweight and in pain and the doctor said I need to take these pills so I take them.”
And the best rationalization I have ever heard, “I am not as fat or out of shape as that guy!” This guy could be anyone, a stranger or someone at work, a family member. We compare ourselves to others to prop up our own egos.
So now we go to the ‘body acceptance’ kick we see now on social media and in publications. No reason to get fit and healthy because it is perfectly ok to be overweight and out of shape, it is normal. People are just bigger now and move less in modern society. Clothing companies have moved to sizing clothes larger to fit the American bodies. This up in sizing is referred to as ‘vanity’ sizing. Women feel better about themselves because even though the scale and the mirror tell them they have gained weight, they bought a smaller size so feel good about themselves and buy more clothes. Instagram tells me it is ok to be fat and I can still be sexy and being fat is easier anyway, isn’t it? More self-rationalization.
But deep down you know you are overweight and not taking care of your body and you don’t feel good about it. Your body hurts all the time; even when you roll over in bed onto that shoulder and hip that seems to be in constant pain. You want to look and feel better emotionally too not just physically.
Being overweight and out of shape isn’t easy at all. Being overweight and not exercising and moving these bodies we live in is physically painful and emotionally depressing. Your knees hurt, your back hurts and trying to fit into an airplane seat is just darn embarrassing. Let’s not even talk about that chair you broke or that the toilet that needs to be replaced in your home because you broke that also from weighing too much for it to handle.
I know and I understand. I was obese as a child. When I looked down, I couldn’t see my feet because my stomach was so large and stuck out. I didn’t even know I was fat until a 10-year-old classmate told me I was fat. It was just the way it was for my life and in my family. We were all fat in my family. I did all those crazy diets and fad exercise programs as a child. I bought the pills at the drug store that guaranteed I would lose 10 lb. a week, watched the videos with overly fit movie stars like Jane Fonda jumping around in her leg warmers, watched Jack LaLayne on TV exercising with a chair, joined a gym, tried to not eat solid foods, (that lasted 6 hours) whatever, and failed miserably from these so called “diets” and exercise kicks that would last less than a week. I stayed fat as a child for four more years trying these things.
I have heard my clients and many acquaintances talk about their failures with long term weight loss and exercise programs and we have all watched famous celebrities go up and down with their weight and wellness.
If the rich and famous who have more than enough money, people to help them; chefs, personal trainers, nutritionists, hypnotherapists, and time, and they can’t stick to a diet and exercise program, how is the average person like you going to do it? Is it even possible?
Here is the first big revelation.
You need to convince yourself you want a better body.
You want to get feeling better and healthy and this will take serious change and a commitment.
Admit to yourself that getting healthy doesn’t start with just a diet, an exercise class once a week, drinking more water, shaking around that shake weight and blaming your parents for your fat genes and their lack of exercise….
No, it starts with you admitting you have a problem, a serious problem. Admit that you want to get fit and feel better, then emotionally committing to this new lifestyle choice. Because that is what ‘this’ really is, this is a new lifestyle choice. A healthier new you choice.
Now, I am not saying losing 100 lb., not eating cheeseburgers, passing on the office donuts, getting those biceps noticed by the cute office girl and running your first 5k is going to be easy with arthritis in those joints. You make a mental decision and poof all these great things happen. It is not easy.
No, these kind of lifestyle changes will be difficult physically and emotionally and you will cry and scream and get mad and disappointed and want to give up numerous times. Sometimes you will give up many times in a single day, a single hour. But when you finally realize you have control over your body, with your mind and your decisions, you will be happier than you ever dreamed of and will be content and able to move forward with your new fitter lifestyle that will bring you happiness. Not just physical happiness but emotional happiness.
I understand the difficulty, I was there.
My name is Vanessa Bogenholm and I am the most un-athletic person you have ever met. I grew up embarrassingly poor. Most of my childhood years were spent in a single wide mobile home with a dad who was fat; that big belly hanging over his belt so he couldn’t see his shoes kind of hard visceral fat, smoked Lark Longs which stained not just his teeth but the kitchen ceiling yellow, drank heavily every day cheap Lucky Store brand vodka or Lucky Lager beer, and couldn’t keep a job over two months because he always thought he was smarter than the boss.
My mother went to her federal employee job Monday through Friday 9am- 5pm figuring out how much overtime she could accumulate when the government needed real work to be done, like when the United States was going to war. She ordered helicopter parts for the National Guard so wars were good for her vacation pay. At home, my mother looked out the kitchen window ignoring what was happening in her own home with her family. My brother was off to prison starting at 14 years old for selling drugs, robbery, pimping and/or violence and sometimes all of these crimes rolled together and eventually did long prison stints for armed robbery and murder. My sister got out of the house right at 16 years old to go to college and turned it all off and moved away from the chaos that was our home. I don’t blame her, she had to get out to save herself. I was left alone as a child to figure out life from library books and my ever loving and great life companions, my dogs.
Children are cruel, but their meanness moved me in the right direction and for that I am grateful. When I was 10 years old, I was going to a small Catholic grade school in Santa Maria, CA. I was the new kid at this school with 28 students in the class. My parents had moved us to Santa Maria from the Los Angeles area after my father had used a shot gun to blow up our front porch in Lakewood, CA when two guys came looking for my brother. My brother had recently been arrested and was in jail. The guys wanted money my brother owed them from a drug deal. After the men looking for the money left after my father shot the shotgun at them, I showed my dad the drawer full of torn up cigarettes in my brother’s room. It was marijuana, I had no idea this was an illegal drug and not just tobacco. My dad felt me and my mom needed a fresh start in a small town and literally chose Santa Maria off a Triple AAA, the automotive club, map laid out on the kitchen table the next evening after dinner. We moved from Lakewood to Santa Maria within two months, one of those months spent living in a dive motel where I played in the dumpster on the crushed cardboard boxes.
One Thursday, I can still remember even what day of the week it was, at lunchtime, at my new school, St. Mary’s, after I had been at this school for a couple of months, I unpacked the lunch my mother had made for me. My mother always packed a frozen cola in my lunch wrapped in aluminum foil to keep it cold. The popular girl with boobs already (remember we were in the 5th grade and all of us were 10 or 11 years old) with pretty, shiny hair said to me, “you know drinking a coke every day is bad for you, that is why you are fat.” I didn’t speak back to her, I didn’t know I was fat honestly, no one had told me that I was fat. I just thought I was the big girl, big boned, grew faster or whatever. Big for my age, and that is why girl’s clothes didn’t fit me, why I had to shop in the boy’s section for size 18 boy’s Husky Jeans from Montgomery Ward’s and Sears.
Then another girl said to me, “You can eat your lunch with us, but you can’t play with us.” That statement will forever be burned into my brain. I got up from the school bench next to the chain link fence and threw away my lunch. I went and sat on the cement walkway by the bathrooms which were off down a hallway away from the other kids having their lunches. No one followed me, no fellow students and not the adult playground monitor who was usually a child’s parent. No one cared about the fat new girl going off to be alone.
I tried to play sports in grade school and middle school, but I was overweight, I couldn’t shoot a basketball, and was always the last to be picked on the softball team because I always struck out. I needed glasses for a horrible astigmatism but my parents couldn’t afford the glasses. But boy did those grade schoolboys throw the ball hard at me during Dodge ball since I couldn’t move out of the way being the fat girl. I can still hear their laughter and remember every boy’s face who was cruel and mean to me. I was a big target and couldn’t fight back against those boys. Dodge ball made me hate any sport with a ball.
And still I didn’t get it. I was told I was fat, was the slowest on the playground and still I didn’t get that I was fat and should do something about it. That 10-year-old brain wasn’t clicking. Yet.
I spent most of my time outside of school reading and eating large amounts of candy. A treat for me from my parents as a child was to go to Sears and spend $10 at the candy counter. Sears Department Store back then had these candy counters with big glass boxes and scoops. This candy was my friend. It made my brain feel good. Sugar. Sugar. Sugar.
My mother was a horrible cook. I mean bad. I ate frozen toaster waffles for breakfast, cokes and white bread fried bologna sandwiches drenched in Mayonnaise with BBQ chips for lunch, and a hunk of meat and potatoes for dinner with sliced white bread with a smear of that bright yellow margarine that was always on the kitchen table and looked like it had been hit by a nuclear reactor. I never remember going to a doctor except to a dentist once where I had 14 cavities as a 7 or 8-year-old. I didn’t know I was unhealthy at all except for that time the mean girl at my new Catholic school had said I was fat and because I was fat, I couldn’t play with her and the other girls. I had asthma, now I think because of my father’s smoking, but I had over the counter Primeatine Mist inhalers for that just like my father used at the kitchen table every morning as he coughed his guts out while he smoked his cigarettes and drank coffee. I also had severe allergies, hay fever, that I took over the counter pills for that made me sleepy and I look stoned in class most of the time from those allergy pills.
But the summer before high school that all changed.
Santa Maria was a basketball town, and my mother was hoping I would play in high school even though I never did a full season in junior high basketball because the coach yelled at me so much. I heard enough yelling at home and didn’t need to hear that in school activities also. I quit the junior high school basketball team. When I quit the junior high basketball team, no one, not the players or the coach even asked why. The coach just took my uniform. I guess I wasn’t needed or wanted and wouldn’t be missed.
This response by the junior high basketball coach taught me quitting was ok when something wasn’t fun or I wasn’t good at it.
I went to a basketball camp at my new high school during the summer before high school started. When we ran sprints across the gym and back, I was always the slowest girl out there. I had no vertical jump, literally my shoes didn’t come off the floor, and had never been taught to shoot a basketball properly so that was out too. I mean I was 200 lb. and I shot granny goose style; you know ball underhand between your legs. Coach Hearn, at St. Joseph High School in Orcutt, CA, was an incredibly nice person. He didn’t say I was fat, or slow, or uncoordinated. He never said anything negative to me. What Coach Hearn did say was, “Vanessa, you probably want to get fit before basketball season starts.” This was the summer of 1980, 2 months before my 14th birthday. I had just started a job in a shoe store in a mall selling leather shoes and Western Boots and the owner of the store I worked in also owned the Footlocker, an athletic shoe store, in the same mall. I may have been overweight, unathletic, and didn’t have any friends, but I wasn’t lazy and wanted to get out of that single wide mobile home we lived in so was working to buy a real house for me and my mom so I could get a dog. Huge motivation for me. A dog. I hadn’t had a dog in 4 years since we had to move to Santa Maria after my brother’s arrest.
Frank Shorter had been my hero for years. I watched the Olympic Marathon in 1972 when Mr. Shorter won the gold but lost the applause due to a cheater coming into the stadium. I watched the entire marathon again in 1976 when an East German drug user cheated and stole the gold from Mr. Shorter who got Silver and then Mr. Shorter was not able to compete in 1980 because the United States boycotted the Olympics. I was amazed a man who had missed his due glory over and over still had the internal strength of character to keep running over 140 miles a week and training for decades. I wanted that character.
I never thought of being an athlete, those people were special, but I wanted that hard-working character of Mr. Shorter.
I went to the Santa Maria Public Library that same evening after the basketball camp with my father. I loved to escape in books and this was the only thing me and my father shared, a love of reading and checking out books from the Library. I checked out every book on running they had, more than my arms could carry. My father never asked why, he was too interested in his crime mysteries to notice the books I had chosen that evening. I felt something wet in my pants on the drive home. Unbeknownst to me, I started my period that evening. I just thought I had a stomachache and was sick. The next morning, I realized what the blood was and told my mother. My father made jokes.
I went to work the next day and, on my break, walked down to the Footlocker store. I knew my 20% discount worked there from the store’s owner since he was also my employer, picked out a pair of tan and brown Nikes for $19.99, bought the latest Runner’s World Magazine and went back to work at the Western Boot Store. For the rest of my work shift, I stared at those runner’s in the magazine, tiny shorts and defined leg muscles and agony on their faces. I was enthralled with their effort and drive. For the first time in my 13 years, I dreamed of being an athlete.
I stayed up all night reading about famous runners, training schedules, food, and running form. I made a plan. Frank Shorter ran 120-140 miles a week as most distance runners did according to the books, so I had to start tomorrow morning. I barely slept I was so excited to start this new me and go running!!
Always being an early morning person, I got up, dressed in my old grey sweats, put on my new fancy Nike running shoes. I didn’t say a word to my dad as he sat at the kitchen table drinking his watered-down coffee, smoking Lark Longs and reading a paperback western novel. I just went out the front door to attack my run. My neighborhood had those yellow streetlights and the morning mist was out. I put my head down and ran!
I counted 23 steps. My brain just automatically counts everything, to the corner of the street is all, and we were the 2nd house from the corner so it wasn’t very far. I seriously hurt!! This wasn’t the effortless Frank Shorter run; this was a fat girl with a heart about to explode and who couldn’t catch her breath from her allergies and asthma and the secondhand smoke of her home. I sat on the corner under a streetlight and gave up.
At this point I acknowledged I was the fat girl who could never be athletic and just gave up. I completely gave up. Hot tears exploded from my eyes and snot ran down my face during my hiccuped crying.
As I walked back home, I counted the 23 steps again it took to get back home. I was completely defeated and this time I cared that I was a loser. I realized why the other kids picked on me and I didn’t have any friends. I was a sad, awful, fat girl with no friends that no one wanted to be around. ‘Nobody cares about you when you don’t care about yourself Vanessa’, I said to myself.
As I went up to open the front door of my house, a real house that I had recently bought for my parents, I stopped. I had saved money for four years to buy a real home for my mother and me. If I could work that hard to buy a home, before the age of 14, why was I giving up on running and losing weight so easily?
I decided to not give up. If I could run 23 steps, what about 24 steps, could I do just one more step? I turned around and did it—this time I ran 26 steps!! Halfway around the corner. More than I even hoped for! How about if I rested, caught my breath, then ran home? So, I did. I caught my breath for a couple of minutes and then ran home as my mother was opening the front door and leaving for work. This less that 100 steps in total had taken me almost a half an hour.
“Vanessa what are you doing outside?” my mother asked incredulously. I didn’t answer, just kept my head down avoiding her look. This running was just a promise to me, not to anyone else. No one was going to get why I was doing this or change my mind. I was going to be a runner!!
It was 5:23 am according to my Timex and my life changed.
Every morning that summer, I got up at 4:30 or 4:45am and went out to run. I gave myself a visual when I got tired or my body hurt, usually a visual between 5 and 10 steps ahead; a streetlight, a car, a tree, a driveway. Some days I ran twice a day. I was alone with my Walkman, my Timex, my now bloody socks, and a sense of accomplishment I had never had in my entire 13 years of life. I wasn’t doing this for anyone else, just for me. I also started riding my moped, my drug dealing brother had bought me a moped, to the other end of town to the YMCA. The YMCA had a weight room and you could use it for 25 cents, a quarter. I lifted weights at least twice a week, the running books called it strength training. I was always the only girl in the gym at the YMCA, the men were very nice to me and showed me how to use the machines and how to lift weights properly. They congratulated me when I could lift more weight or do more chin ups. They were all very encouraging and non-judgmental. I had never met nicer more encouraging people in my life. I liked these men who just wanted to help me and never made fun of me.
My mother came home one evening from work in mid-July at 5:15pm, her normal time. I was overly excited. I had been running for a little over a month. It was a week before my 14th birthday.
“Mom, can we go for a drive?” She said, “Yes, of course,” and asked, “Where?”
“Just out, I will tell you.”
As we got into her car, I hit the button on the trip meter of her Cadillac. She didn’t notice. “Turn right, turn left, go all the way into town, turn here.” This drive was a circle all around the town of Santa Maria.
As we pulled into our driveway, I was full of excitement, “Mom! Mom! tell me what the trip meter says!!!”
“Vanessa, it says 11 miles, did you actually run that far this morning?” she asked. This was the first time I remember my mother looking right at me, in my eyes and not with pity or the drunken don’t bother me look I was used to seeing from her.
“Yes, oh Yes, Mom, we must go to Footlocker right now, right now Mom!”
My mother just figured I needed socks or new running shoes, patted me on the shoulder (we weren’t a hugging family) and drove me to the mall. We walked in, I said “Hi” to the sales guys who knew me since we worked for the same man. The employees of the Footlocker were community college runners, all skinny and fit, always talking about their running and injuries and food. They asked me how my running was going and I felt happy because I had something positive to talk about with these young fit athletes. I felt part of them when they asked me how my blisters were healing. I went to the bulletin board toward the back of the store and pulled off the paper entry for the 10-mile race from Guadalupe to Santa Maria that was to be held the next week during the Santa Barbara County Fair.
“Mom, I am under 18 years old so need you to sign for me. I am entering a race.” She didn’t ask any questions, she signed, looked at the runners in the store and was in shock when they all wished me luck and high fived me. ”Go get ‘em Vanessa, can’t wait to see you finish that race,” they all said to me. I wrote out a check and paid for the race and we went to the post office and I mailed my race entry immediately.
I don’t remember my mother speaking to me on the drive home. I don’t think her or my father had paid much attention to my early morning running routine. They probably just thought it was a teenage phase. I told her I was going out for another run. I went out to run the 11-mile course again that day, this was my normal running route for years. Kids in school would call me ‘the runner’ as my nickname. Shop owners would come out and wave to me. It took me about an hour and 30-35 minutes every day and my feet almost always fell asleep around mile 8. Running shoes were horrible back then and my socks were a bloody mess all the time from constant blisters. But these runs made me happy. Happy to be in charge of my body and accomplishing something I thought was only a dream, I was running.
When I got home from this second run of the day, my mother had made pasta for dinner with fresh vegetables. She had followed a recipe out of Runner’s World. The magazine was sitting on the kitchen counter. We never discussed it, but after that day she used Runner’s World as her Cookbook. She never made meat and potatoes again for me. This cooking of healthy food and bleaching out the blood stains from my socks and tying my feet to the bed when I cramped at night were her silent constant encouragements for me to continue my running.
I must point out this was 1980 and female runners were scarce. For this 10-mile race I had entered at the Santa Barbara County Fair, there were probably 20 men for every one woman. Anyone who lives around Santa Maria knows the winds of 3pm and this race was an afternoon race right into that headwind. The men were very nice to this young girl running and very encouraging. I never remembered people smiling at me so much for just attempting something. For the first time in my life I felt part of a large welcoming group of people, not alone. When I got tired at mile 8, the men kept looking back and smiling as they passed me and saying things like, “Almost there, good job, just keep going, you look great.” Coming into the finish line at the Santa Barbara County Fairgrounds was everything to me. I had set a goal, an impossible goal for this fat girl, I mean really, I had run 10 miles in a real race, by doing just one more step and had done it. I had pushed my body past its comfort zone and proved to myself I was in control of my body and I could do anything!! As my mom drove me home, so happy for my accomplishment, I made a silent goal to myself only—A marathon in one year.
Six weeks later, when high school started, I looked like a different person. I was 4” taller, now almost 5’9”, I would finish out at 5’11”, and had dropped well over 60lbs over the summer through my running and weightlifting. I wasn’t much of a team player, I ran cross country, and some track but the coach was horrible with no running experience so I trained mostly on my own. I never played basketball on the school team. I had to work in the afternoons so going to basketball practices would have been a loss of money, and since I had bought my parents a real home , I couldn’t afford to not work full time while I went to high school and had a mortgage to pay. I was 14 years old.
But I could run anytime. Running was my escape from a violent household, from a family that couldn’t make enough money to keep the electricity on, from not knowing how to act as a teenager. Even when I got drunk with friends in high school (I fell in with the wrong crowd looking for acceptance), I would go running around the park after a few beers at night as my ‘friends’ continued to drink sitting on a park table. I felt free and in control of who and what I was when I ran. I tried to run between 100-120 miles a week as a 14-15-year-old.
Races were few and far between back then and I entered some ½ marathons in 1980 and the beginning of 1981. I entered my first marathon down in the Los Angeles area, I thought it was called the Santa Monica Marathon but haven’t been able to find it and nothing like it exists anymore. This race was a 3-hour car drive for us, and I thought it was just me and my mom going down for my first full marathon. We planned to leave at 3am. My mother surprised me with a new turquoise singlet and matching shorts to wear for the race. I had never had matching running clothes; this was a very special gift.
I was shocked when I got up in the morning that my father was dressed and ready and had the car warmed up. He was going to drive us to the race. When we got to the race, his embarrassment at not feeling like he fit in was so apparent. This was a new world to my father. Skinny people in tiny shorts and singlets. He had never exercised a day in his life. After he parked the car, I got my number at the registration desk and said goodbye to my parents as I went to the lineup at the starting line. Signs were posted in the starting shoot for minutes per mile: 9:00 min, 8:30, 8:00, etc. I was shooting for an 8:15 minute per mile pace for the marathon so lined up quietly to the side of the timing sign.
I watched men warming up, running up and down the sidewalks, skipping, stretching, doing what looked like really weird things to me. I couldn’t even imagine why they were wasting their energy before running 26.2 miles. There were very few women. I waited patiently watching everything and then I just ran with everyone when the gun went off. I was completely overwhelmed and scared.
I don’t remember the beginning of the race at all. I just kept going. I don’t really remember reading the mile markers even though I know I must have seen some. At mile 20, I lost it mentally. Completely. Back then people on the sidelines told you where you were if you were a front racer, we didn’t have GPS watches. After a water station, I was physically and mentally struggling and a man got in my face and yelled “6th !”
I stopped dead, actually stopped, completely bewildered looking backwards toward the water station I had just passed. No way we were only at mile 6! I couldn’t do it, I started crying and wanted to give up. Then an older man in his 60s, said, “oh no, you are the 6th woman, see that woman there? She is number 5, you can catch her.” I was delirious and couldn’t comprehend what he was saying as he pointed ahead of us to a group of runners.
“Here just run with me, I will stay with you,” he said. And I did. I ran hard and hurt and stayed with him and ran just like I did almost 2 years ago that first morning. I came around a corner and saw the finish line with the flapping flags. My father was leaning against a power pole, with his back to me smoking a cigarette. I knew it was my father with his cheap western boots and his pants too short. My mother saw me and started yelling, “There she is! There she is!!!” beating her fists on my father’s arm. Spectators were screaming and clapping on the street as the runners went toward the finish line. I remember my father turning around and looking at me in complete shock with his mouth hanging open, his cigarette dangling from his hand. I ran as fast as I could for that finish line and passed out cold.
I came to in the medic tent with an IV and a blood pressure cuff, full of chafing, bleeding, hurting all over, cramping and dizzy and happier than I had ever been. I can remember smiling so much it hurt. My mother was outside the medic tent looking very worried about the state I was in. She had never seen a human being sick from too much exercise. “Mom, can you find the man that helped me finish? A man ran with me the last six miles and helped me to the finish. I need to thank him.” That was my concern, to thank the man that helped my run. Oh, and I was so happy I was delirious!! I had run and finished a full marathon!!
“Vanessa, you were running alone when you came around the corner, what man are you talking about?”
I felt lost and sad, I so wanted to thank him. I will never know if the man was real or just a hallucination, I still think he was real, what mattered was I was the 1st female in the under 18 division of a Marathon!! A full flipping 26.2-mile Marathon!
I slept for 3 days afterwards and couldn’t walk for a week and was so happy and proud of myself. This was a different kind of happy and proud, it was internal. In 1982, I ran 2 more marathons, one close to my hometown, in Nipomo May 2, 1982 called the Joker’s Wild 5 Mile and Marathon. I won that one, 1st overall female and still have the shirt after all these years which now hangs in the bathroom of my fitness studio.
I tore my Achilles tendon in my senior year of high school, those 120-mile weeks caught up with me without proper training and coaching but in the 1980s we just didn’t know better.
Your body is a gift which can bring you great joy no matter what you are doing with it, and I treat my body well avoiding injury and taking care of it in sports and generally in life now. I have found that when I can make my body perform well, then I am also mentally happier.
This is the message I want to pass on in this health and fitness book, a happier you physically and mentally.
Let’s get started.