Leader of the Pack: Sara Roach

Let’s take a trip in the wayback machine, back to my childhood in southeastern Wisconsin, where rooting for the Green Bay Packers was as common as breathing. Settle in while I summarize my athletic accomplishments prior to 2013:

Yup.
Yup.

You might say that I was a bookish girl who couldn’t decide whether she wanted to be a hardcore band geek or a drama-club geek, so she dabbled in both. But athletics were not part of the equation. At all. Marching with the band in a parade was the extent of my physical movement in high school, unless you count working out to “Hooked on Aerobics” on PBS in the comfort of my bedroom (which I don’t).

Watching out for measure splits, not mile splits.
Watching out for measure splits, not mile splits.

In college, I majored in journalism and minored in late-night pizza runs, so there was no athletic activity there, either, although I did hit the StairMaster or the occasional aerobics class just for weight-loss purposes. It was the same story in law school, as well as in my mid-20s career-building phase; I would hit the gym for brief periods if my clothes started to get a little tight or I wanted to look good in my wedding dress. But a fitness lifestyle? Fuhgeddaboudit.

My early 30’s were a blur of pregnancy and motherhood in the Chicago suburbs, working a full-time job and trying to remain upright due to sleep deprivation. There was also a period of depression and anxiety while I was pregnant with my second child. I should have been running during this period, but I wasn’t.

I did make a pilgrimage with my Dad to Lambeau Field in 2007, in honor of Brett Favre's final season as a Packer. I look forward to my return trip for the Cellcom Green Bay Marathon!
I did make a pilgrimage with my Dad to Lambeau Field in 2007, in honor of Brett Favre’s final season as a Packer. I look forward to my return trip for the Cellcom Green Bay Marathon!

Fast-forward to May 2012. I had gained weight with my third pregnancy in 2009, as one does, but I had added on substantially to that poundage total following my son’s birth. I was now a stay-at-home mom and I was doing the supermom thing extremely well, but my physical health was taking a back seat and I did not feel comfortable with my body. After seeing pictures of myself with my children on Mother’s Day, I decided to step on a scale for the first time in years. I weighed 197 pounds on my 5’3″ frame. It was like someone flipped a switch.

One of the Mother's Day photos that sparked a running journey.
One of the Mother’s Day photos that sparked a running journey.

A few days later, after the kids went to bed, I announced that I was going to go downstairs and walk on our basement treadmill.  I hadn’t done that in a while, but my husband said “Okay” and didn’t think much of it. I went back downstairs the next night, and the next. I started going further and faster, and began to mix in little sprints while holding onto the handrails. By early 2013, I had lost about 60 pounds through exercise and cleaning up my diet, and my self-esteem had increased exponentially. I was mostly running rather than walking on the treadmill by this time, as I realized I could spend less time exercising for the same calorie burn (brilliant deduction, eh?). But when the Boston Marathon bombings occurred in April 2013, I was saddened, but it did not affect me like it did most runners; I didn’t yet consider myself a part of that world.

And then my treadmill broke. Cue the panic! I didn’t want to let my newfound fitness slip away, so I knew I had to do something. I had seen people post on Facebook using MapMyRun, so I downloaded that app onto my phone, scrounged up a pair of headphones and hit up my neighborhood trail. Down in my basement, I wasn’t sure how far I was running, since my old treadmill did not reliably keep track of those things. But on the trail that spring day, I did 5 miles and felt like I could have done more.  Lo and behold, another switch was flipped.

My Facebook status update from May 5, 2013.
My Facebook status update from May 5, 2013.

I finished my first 5K in 29:30 on May 19, 2013 — just over a year after I began walking for fitness. I remember thinking that 3.1 miles was too short. A 10K followed a few weeks later, and I quickly signed up for my first half-marathon. I trained all summer long for the Chicago Half Marathon, and finished in 2:06:46. Pre-dawn workouts and weekend long runs became part of the domestic fabric. My running was the “new normal,” and my family adjusted to this with a mixture of admiration and incredulousness.

6 sara
Finishing the 2013 Chicago Half Marathon — one of the top five proudest moments of my life.

My new favorite pastime became setting audacious (for me) running goals and meeting them: Go sub-2-hours in the half marathon (I did that a few weeks after my first half). Set another PR in the half marathon (I did that two months later). Train for and finish my first marathon (I finished the Wisconsin Marathon in May 2014 in 4:02:57). And finally, the granddaddy of them all: Qualify for the Boston Marathon (done at the 2014 Chicago Marathon in 3:38:09).

Photos from my 2014 year in running.
Photos from my 2014 year in running.

Is the next step an ultra? Maybe someday, but for now, the marathon is my jam. I still have tons to learn about the distance, and many more races on my bucket list. I am knocking one of those races — the Cellcom Green Bay Marathon — off my list in just a few short weeks. I’m still trying to chip away at my race-distance PRs, but my focus has shifted from a laser-focus on the clock to embracing the running culture. Through my social media outlets, I have been able to connect with many runners whose friendships I treasure, and I love meeting more people whenever and however I can. I sincerely hope that my experience as a “Leader of the Pack” will allow me to add many new folks to my tribe. You don’t even have to be from Wisconsin to win my friendship (although it does help…); you just have to love making forward progress. I came to this running party later in life, but I’m here to stay!

The Mom on the Run,
Sara Roach

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