Sara Kendall’s best reward for completing the Outer Banks Marathon on Nov. 9 wasn’t the finisher’s medal.
It’s not even the physique she streamlined in preparation for the North Carolina race.
The biggest reward is something you can’t see.
“I feel great,” the University Place resident said. “Looking better is nice, but really it’s about how you feel. ... I don’t even feel stress anymore. I feel like my body chemistry has changed.”
Kendall turns 59 this month and less than two years ago she wouldn’t have believed life could be this good.
In January 2011 she didn’t understand the appeal of running and she never dreamed of running a marathon.
Kendall was overweight but she carried it well and few would have guessed what was really going on inside her.
“I felt like I was losing control of myself,” she said.
Kendall says she was active – logging time regularly on an elliptical machine – and didn’t have an overly unhealthy diet.
“I was doing something,” she said. “I just wasn’t doing enough.”
In her 40s, as Kendall’s metabolism slowed, she was negatively impacted by regular pizza and pasta meals, favorites of her husband and sons and their suped-up metabolisms. When she turned 50, she started experiencing what she calls “old person problems.”
A partial list: Carpal tunnel syndrome in both wrists, shingles, plantar fasciitis, sleep apnea, high cholesterol and high blood sugar approaching pre-diabetic levels.
Her mother had Lupus and type 2 diabetes and her father had Alzheimer’s disease. She was afraid her parents’ afflictions might be a glimpse into her future.
She refused to let that future become a reality.
In January 2011, Kendall tried running with her husband, Bruce. She made it a mile. Soon, Bruce convinced her to run a 5-kilometer race.
“I finished but I was miserable,” Kendall said. And she was puzzled as to why runners were “so hyper.”
“I didn’t want to be around them,” she said.
Five months later, she told her doctor she feared inheriting her parents’ conditions. He recommended eating less and exercising more.
She, of course, knew this, but she also knew from experience it was easier said than done.
Determined to improve her health, she joined Innovative Fitness, a Fircrest personal training studio, where she met trainer Will Baldyga.
Baldyga helped her develop a nutrition and training program that gave her instant results. Training two days per week, she lost 10 pounds in 10 weeks, enough for her to overcome her sleep apnea and ditch the cumbersome C-PAP machine.
By February, she’d lost 30 pounds and no longer needed cholesterol medication. She lost four dress sizes and by June she learned she dropped her blood sugar levels by 24 points.
“Every 5-10 pounds, I felt like I was stripping off another year,” she said.
Kendall calculates that her new healthy lifestyle has saved her $2,500 in medication costs.
She has decided the path to good health is best traveled at a run. She now understands those ultra happy runners, because she’s one of them.
Kendall ran a half marathon in May before setting her sites on the Outer Banks Marathon. She picked the North Carolina race because it was in an area her family vacationed when she was a kid and the area is steeped with wonderful memories. She wanted to add another.
Kendall invited her friends and family to join her and used the race to pay tribute to her marriage. Her friend, Tacoma painter Susan Russell Hall, gave her 27 postcard prints of a lotus flower opening called “Hearts Open.”
“It’s a lovely symbol of a marriage,” Kendall said.
On each card she wrote milestones from that year of her marriage with the plan to think about that moment during the corresponding mile of the marathon. She came up with a milestone for every year but No. 18.
“That seems appropriate because that’s a real bugger of a mile,” Kendall said. “And that was a year we were parenting to beat the band, just trying to get through.”
Kendall has been open with colleagues at work and friends about her journey to good health and the goals she set for herself. Not only has this kept her motivated, but it’s inspired others. She’s received notes from people saying her story has moved them to lose weight or start running.
In less than two years she’s gone from thinking running was silly, to inspiring people to lace up their sneakers.
“It’s hard to explain,” Kendall said. “There was this moment when I was running on the Foothills Trail (near Orting). It was dark and pouring rain for the entire 20-mile run. My legs were stiff and I was so hungry, but I’d never felt so good in my life.”
Lending a hand
Olympia’s Guerilla Running Club plans to send more than 80 runners to volunteer at the Thurston County Food Bank this morning in what it hopes will become a new tradition for its annual Thanksgiving run. The Oly Trot is scheduled for 9 a.m. Thanksgiving at Heritage Park and more than 800 runners are expected to participate in the four-mile race. Runners are asked to bring monetary and food donations for the food bank. For more information on the race visit olytrot.com.Craig Hill’s fitness column runs Sundays. Submit questions and comments via firstname.lastname@example.org and twitter.com/AdventureGuys. Also get more fitness coverage at blog.thenewstribune.com/adventure and thenewstribune.com/fitness.