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I Went from Finishing Last In a Marathon to Running 53 Races a Year

Dani Holmes Then and Now

I first realized I was heavier than the other kids when I reached junior high. I was waiting for the bus and a group of kids drove by and "moo"-ed at me. Even now, I'm transported back to that moment. It stuck with me, my negative self-image growing worse over time.

In high school, I weighed in the 170s. I distinctly remember thinking, "If I just lost 50 pounds I'd be so happy." But it wasn't until sophomore year of college that I first started trying to lose weight. My roommate and I actually borrowed her neighbor's Weight Watchers books, copied them, and tried to do it on our own. I lost a lot of weight and felt happy, but I didn't know how to maintain it. By the time I got to senior year, I was eating fried food late at night, drinking, and not moving as much as I should, and the weight really piled on. (Check out these 10 Rules for Weight Loss That Lasts.)

A year or so out of college, I stepped on the scale one time and saw the number 235—I jumped off and decided I'd never weigh myself again. I was so distraught and disgusted with myself.

A Downward Spiral

At that point, I started taking unhealthy avenues to lose weight. If I felt like I was eating too much, I would make myself throw up. Then I would try to eat very little. I was suffering from anorexia and bulimia at the same time. Unfortunately, though, because I was losing weight, all these people were telling me how great I looked. They'd be like, "Whatever you're doing, keep it up! You look amazing!"

I had always avoided running, but I decided to give it a try around that time in the hopes of losing weight. I started with a quarter mile the first week of January in 2005 and just kept adding another quarter mile every week. I ran my first 5K that March, and then my first half the next year.

In 2006, I signed up for a full marathon without really understanding that it would be a huge jump from what I'd run before. The night before the race, I had a pasta dinner that I made myself throw up afterwards. I knew this was bad, but I still hadn't figured out a healthy approach to eating. So I went into the marathon without any fuel at all. I felt shaky at mile 10, but I didn't have a power bar until mile 20. The race organizers were breaking down the finish line when I got there. They had kept the clock up just for me. (What's a Healthy Weight, Anyway? The Truth About Being Fat But Fit.)

It was such a terrible experience that once I crossed the finish line, I didn't want to ever do it again. So I stopped running.

My Wakeup Call

Through my eating disorders, I worked my way down into the 180s and a size 12 over the next year. I remember fainting in the shower at the gym and being like, "OK, I just won't tell anyone that happened! I'll just drink some Gatorade and I'll be fine." The warning signs were there, but I kept ignoring them. But my friends at the time knew something was wrong and confronted me—it was in that moment that I knew I had to make a change.

When I moved from Boston to San Francisco for a job in 2007, it was a fresh start. I started to maintain the weight loss in a healthier way—I was working out, eating normally without binging and purging, and I had stopped focusing on the scale so much. But because I was actually eating again, I ended up re-gaining a ton of the weight. It only got worse when I moved to Chicago the next year and started eating out a lot more and taking advantage of all the fried food. Even though I was working out really hard, I wasn't seeing results. Finally, in 2009, after seeing a picture of myself on Halloween I said, "OK, I'm done."

I decided to officially become a Weight Watchers member. When I walked into that church basement for my first meeting, I was 217.4 pounds. With Weight Watchers, I was finally able to start losing weight while still enjoying beer, wine, and tater tots. And thanks to the support of the other members in the room, I realized that you won't necessarily lose weight every week. I started working out smarter and focused on the positive things—even if the scale went up.

And I even got back into running. One of my friends wanted to do a 5K in Chicago, so we did it together. (Thinking about racing? Try our 5 Weeks to a 5K plan.)

The Injury That Changed Everything

After I'd lost 30 pounds, I herniated a disc in my back and needed surgery. Not being able to work out threw me for a loop and I was nervous I would re-gain the weight. (Surprisingly, I actually lost 10 pounds while laid up from surgery just from making healthy food choices.) I was depressed and didn't know what to do to help mentally, so my wife suggested I start a blog. I figured it could be a great outlet to get my feelings out there—instead of pushing them down with food as I used to—and I used it as a tool to keep myself accountable to my weight loss. But I also wanted to let people know they weren't alone. For so long I felt like I was the only one dealing with emotional eating, and what gave me courage was the idea that even one person could read it and relate to it.

The surgery left me with a drop foot—a nerve injury that affects the ability to lift the foot at the ankle. The doctor told me I wouldn't be able to get full strength in my leg back and probably wouldn't be able to run again. That was all the motivation (and competition!) I needed to really want to get back into running. When you have that prospect of movement being taken away, it becomes precious. I decided I would get that strength back in physical therapy, and when I did, I would run a half marathon.

In August of 2011, a mere two and a half months after I was cleared for activity (and six and half months after my surgery) I made good on that promise to myself and ran the Rock 'N Roll Chicago Half Marathon. I clocked in with a race time of 2:12—knocking off 8 minutes from my previous half marathon PR in 2006. I felt beyond accomplished when I picked up that medal. Sure, I had run a full marathon before, but after everything I had been through, this was different. I realized I was stronger than I give myself credit for.

Dani Rock N Roll Half Marathon

My Newfound Running Obsession

Somehow, I've now become someone who thoroughly enjoys multi-race weekends. I owe a lot of credit to my blog—it helped me mentally and physically and emotionally and opened up a world of opportunities. All of a sudden, running became something that I look forward to It makes me smile and it makes me think I'm crazy.

Last year, I participated in 53 races. Since I started the blog, I've done a couple hundred, including seven marathons, seven triathlons and a half Ironman. A couple of years ago, I got a foot tattoo with all of the numbers and logos that represent all of my races, and it says 'finish what you started', a mantra I used a lot during my weight loss and fitness journey.

I hit my goal weight in January of 2012 after two and a half years. I sometimes tell people I took the scenic route. There was an entire year where I only lost 10 pounds overall, but it was it was about making it a lifestyle change, not about watching the number on the scale. (Shed the scale! 10 Better Ways to Tell If You're Losing Weight.)

I even became a Weight Watchers leader in 2012 and did that for three and a half years to pay it forward. I wanted to be able to change other people's lives and show that even after you reach your weight loss goals, it's not all rainbows and unicorns. Currently I'm re-losing about 15 pounds I gained back, but I know it's going to happen, and if I want to go out and have beer and pizza, I can.

I always say, it's not about the pounds lost; it's about the life gained.

Dani Holmes-Kirk Tattoo


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