From Fat Girl, To Mother, To Marathon Runner: My Running Story

By Tanya

I have lived most of my life in the imbalance of feeling intelligent and confident about who I am on the inside, but feeling uncomfortable and self-conscious about what is seen on the outside. 

As a child growing up in the 1980’s my diet followed much of the mainstream culture and mainly consisted of fast food, microwave dinners and soda pop. I was a typically active child, but my affinity for sugary treats started to take its toll. I was in third grade when I first remember feeling self-conscious because of my weight. In fourth grade I embraced the “funny fat friend” role and learned to use food as entertainment and comfort. Then in sixth grade unbeknownst to me, a boy in my class taped a “wide load” sign to my rear. I wore the sign throughout the school for half the day before a friend let me off the hook. That day my “fat girl” identity was sealed in my mind.

Fortunately in seventh grade I found a way to get a handle on my weight by moving my body and my soul through dance. For the next six years my body was in constant motion. I spent half of my day dancing at Jefferson High School for the Performing Arts and the other half plus weekends dancing with the Franklin High School dance team. My diet hadn’t changed, but dancing for 4 hours per day made my body toned and muscular. But I wanted to be thin. I constantly compared myself to others. When I looked in the mirror I saw a fat girl looking back. I was terribly self-conscious of my body and uncomfortable in almost anything I wore.

I graduated from high school, real adult life set in, and I stopped dancing all together. This was a huge shock to my body and in one year I gained thirty pounds. My insecurities and depression increased with each pound. I allowed myself to get stuck in a downward spiral of self-obsession, self-pity, and self-indulgence on food to comfort me from the lack of control and shame I felt. This crazy cycle only fueled my belief that I was destined to be a fat girl. I continued down the same self-destructive path for five years and gained an additional thirty pounds. I knew what I needed to do to change but I could not find it within myself to fully commit.

Sometimes the best motivation for change is found outside of ourselves and for someone else. My motivation for change came with my marriage proposal. I knew I was marrying the right guy when he asked for my hand in marriage when I was at the lowest emotional point and highest weight of my life. For me that was a whopping 205 pounds! I wanted to be a beautiful and confident bride on the inside and out, for Dan on our wedding day. We set a plan to get married one year later. That gave me twelve months to turn my health around. I committed to change my diet and eating habits as well as to get active. I got off the couch, got a gym membership, and started to move.  My first attempt at running was on the treadmill. I could barely jog and only do what would be called a “run” for one minute. But I kept it up and soon the minutes increased. I got to feeling so good that I started jogging outside every opportunity I had - during a lunch break at work or between classes at college.  The next surprise came when I started jogging trails by my house and even to and from my workouts at the gym. Even better, I actually enjoyed it!

It took time but eventually the results started showing up. As the pounds came off my energy level went up and I started craving exercise. My eating also changed. My body started to repel unhealthy foods and instead craved food that lead to healthy energy sources. By my wedding day, I had lost fifty pounds. That is the equivalent of carrying around four bowling balls! On our wedding day when I looked in the mirror at my new healthy body, I did see a beautiful bride. But my mind was still sick. The voice of self-criticism, that I was able to quiet at least for my wedding day, started to get louder and louder again. 

For the next four years I maintained a relatively healthy lifestyle. When I got pregnant with my first son Will, things began to change. I saw my pregnancy as a free pass to indulge in my cravings and let my healthy eating and activity level slide. By the end of my pregnancy the scale reminded me of a place I never dreamed of revisiting, when it reflected a bold and all-too-familiar 205 pounds! After Will’s birth I fought to get back down to a healthy weight. There were so many -“reasonable”- excuses I could use this time. “It’s baby weight,” “Pregnancy changed my body,” and “Who has time and energy to exercise? I’m exhausted!” were thoughts I frequently had. I struggled to have the self-control necessary to say no to unhealthy foods. I went on exercise binges and then got discouraged when I wouldn’t see the results I wanted. I found myself in the old downward spiral of lack of energy, loss of motivation, self-doubt and criticism.

After four years of excuses, I realized that this time I could not overcome the victim mentality I had adopted on my own. I surrendered my struggles to the Lord and shortly after, I became pregnant with my second son Sam. I knew I did not want to go back to where I was during my first pregnancy. I prayed for help and Lord answered my prayer in the form of new friendships with two wonderful women, Carissa and Bridget. 

Carissa was newly pregnant too and we began to meet regularly for bible study, prayer, and to go for walks. Carissa and I shared the belief that our bodies and our minds are strong and we encouraged each other to seek God for our upcoming births. This time I was able to maintain a healthy weight and active lifestyle throughout my pregnancy. Then through God’s faithfulness, I had an amazing (and yes, planned) natural home birth with Sam. Sam’s birth further strengthened my belief in how strong my mind and body can be when connected to God.

After Sam’s birth, I committed to maintain a healthy lifestyle for myself and my family. Through the help and inspiration of my friend and amazing cook, Bridget, I began researching and implementing healthy eating choices and I started jogging again pushing Sam in the stroller.  Even in the midst of newborn craziness, I felt good. I had much more energy than I had had in years.

Carissa is a runner. As we walked, she talked about her past running experiences and her desire to run again. In the past the idea of running a race sounded painful and miserable to me. But now that I was feeling so good from my healthy lifestyle, it seemed possible. Carissa’s dream inspired me and I suggested running a race together. 

As we started to train we found creative ways to fit running into our ever-changing schedules as mothers with young children. To get more structure and to test out my new running legs, I signed up for a year-long, 10k race running series with the Oregon Road Runners Club (ORCC). We had our first of eight, 10K races on January 2nd 2011. The race was cold and tough, but it felt great to feel my body and soul moving again! The ORRC offers free training runs on Tuesday nights, so I joined them rain or shine just for the joy of being outside running. I then added some longer runs on the weekends with Carissa. By the time I ran the next 10k race, I was surprised at how easy it was and how fast I had become. I was also delighted to find the extra weight that I had struggled with for so long seemed to be sliding right off even though I wasn’t consciously trying. 

Around this time my church created “Not Your Own”, a women’s ministry group focused on improving our health through exercise. The end goal was for the women in the group to run the Helvetia half marathon. It offered the perfect opportunity for Carissa and me to train for and run a half marathon together.

It was during the half marathon that some of the strongholds in my mind began to break down. The first occurred after the race when I put on my medium race shirt and found that it was way too big! I joked that I thought the shirts would be sized smaller to fit “skinny running girls”. A friend of mine, who didn’t know my past remarked, “Tanya, you are a skinny running girl!” I realized that I was held captive by the image of myself as a fat girl. My body was transformed, but my mind was not. It was like a light went off, -a weight was lifted- and for the first time I began to feel comfortable in my own skin. My desire was no longer to be thin, but instead to be the best healthy me I can be.

I love running because it moves my soul and connects me to God in ways I struggle with in my everyday life. When I am running I feel God in the world around me. My mind becomes calm enough to for me to meet with Jesus. When I am racing and pushing myself harder, faster, or further, running brings me to a raw vulnerable place where I am able to let go and lean on the Lord’s strength. 

Aside from my homebirth experience, nothing proved this more than my experience running the Portland Marathon. Two months before the race, I injured myself and was no longer able to train like I needed to.  My longest training run before the race was only seventeen miles. When I lined up at the start of the marathon, I had no idea if my body would let me finish. When I crossed the finish line four hours and one minute later, I knew it was the Lord that carried me there. 

As I ran that unbelievable distance of 26.2 miles, I finally embraced a new identity.

I am no longer a fat girl.

I am a healthy wife. I am a strong mother. I am a marathon runner.


  1. You are an amazing beautiful woman...I feel proud to be your friend! Thank you for sharing that moving story!!!

  2. Sara, you already know I feel the same about you. Thank you. Love ya!

  3. Beautiful and inspiring story, Tanya!!! Thanks for sharing!!! I hope I can be as fast as you...someday! :)

    1. Thanks Kim! It certainly is a challenge to keep up with my two very speedy best running buddies. They definitely keep me on the run! I wish you the best. Keep it up!!