Back on her junior high track team, Bonnie Hamilton took a lot of teasing. "I wasn't any good," she says. "My coach would joke that I knew the jersey numbers for everyone in the county because I was always behind." When he suggested she switch to long-distance running instead of sprints, she couldn't even muster the nerve to try. "I didn't think I had the endurance," she explains. So, like a worn-out old Eeyore, she said, "No, I'll just keep coming in last place."
Today, Bonnie is anything but worn out. With two half-marathons and a fistful of 5- and 10Ks to her credit, this mother of two and full-time Orlando social worker is training to run her first full marathon—her ultimate goal —this month.
How did a shy teenager who couldn't run more than a quarter-mile become someone who's now logging 20 miles or more a week? From Bonnie's perspective, it's all about willpower. That, and the inspiration of her two girls, Jesika, 19, and Jenifer, 15. "My daughters are my life," Bonnie says. "I wanted them to see you can do anything if you set your mind to it."
So four years ago, Bonnie started training for a 5K race. At first she walked, gradually adding speed until she could keep a steady pace. Instead of the usual fast foods and fried dishes, she started cooking up healthier meals at home. And she began drinking water—lots of it.
Right away she began to feel changes: more energy, more stamina. While she didn't shed many pounds, she did tone up—eventually dropping three dress sizes. "I felt so much better!" she says. At that first 5K, Bonnie's two girls, her husband, Daryl, and her mother were all there, cheering her across the finish line.
Since then, Bonnie hasn't looked back. She joined a running club, which she says helps her stay motivated. And while she admits there are still days when she wonders if she's crazy, Bonnie says she can't quit. "When I don't run, I'm a different person," she says firmly. "I have to run."
Always check with your doctor before starting an exercise program, advises fitness expert and Spry Support Team member Petra Kolber. Once you have the OK, go for it! Try these tips:
- Do what you like. Would you rather samba in dance class than trot on a treadmill? Bike outside than Spin indoors? Find a type of exercise you love, and you¨Ìll be more likely to stick with it.
- Join a group. Running clubs such as the ones led by Trak Shak, a running store near where Bonnie lives in Orlando, or even the online Dream It, Do It Diary community at spryliving.com, can help you stay motivated.
- Practice tough love. Stop excuses before they start: Pack your gym bag the night before, and plan errands to and from the gym to naturally incorporate exercise into your day. And ask a friend to hold you accountable.
- Reward yourself. "Sometimes we're so busy looking ahead we forget to embrace how far we've come," Petra says. Recognize your progress—and take a bow.