Note: Every month, we’ll feature a different runner and share his or her story of getting started and keeping going. Send suggestions to email@example.com.
Name: Alyssa Schmidt
Lives in: Sioux Falls
Family: Husband Dan Schmidt, also hopes to own a stack of dogs one day
Favorite book: “Nowhere Near First” by Corey Reese
Quote: “I’m looking forward to running for the rest of my life.”
December is the perfect time of year to talk with Alyssa Schmidt.
It was at this time last year that she found herself coming off training for her first 5K and losing momentum as the weather turned colder. She started like many of us – by staring down her family’s genetics, in this case diabetes, and vowing ‘not me.’
Turning your life around isn’t easy, and it took more than the fear of losing her leg up to the hip, which had happened to her grandmother, for her to face the truth that her lifestyle was going to catch up with her.
“I love video games, and I’m a big reader,” Schmidt says. “I was always very sedentary. I’m just clumsy. No team sports. That wasn’t my path growing up.”
She had gone to her doctor for stomach issues and discovered that she was pre-diabetic. All the women in her family have Type 2 diabetes. She went on a low-carb diet to control her blood sugars and started to feel better.
She joined a gym. Tried some fitness classes and liked them, did a couch-to-5K program. When she started, she couldn’t run for even a full minute. She was averaging 16 minutes per mile, with walking thrown in. And the program topped out at 30 minutes of running – which wasn’t a 5K for her. Still, she signed up for a race and then rolled her ankle the day before. She took time off, picked a new race, and did the same thing.
And that was that.
She took the time off, let her diet lapse, still worked on keeping her blood sugar in check. “Thanksgiving turns into Christmas, and then it’s winter, and you don’t want to eat healthy,” Schmidt says. “That was the end of my running until June. I didn’t want to run in the cold. I tried to run on the treadmill and I hated it. It’s not even the same sport to me.”
She tried again for New Year’s, failed again. And then on Feb. 25, she decided to do it, really do it. “And I have not had a slip-up since.”
She tests her blood sugar five times a day, meets with a diabetes doctor regularly, keeps a food log. She credits the log with helping her recognize where she was struggling. “When you have to write down you had three pieces of pizza and two glasses of Coke, you start to realize it,” Schmidt says. “It’s easier to change the pattern once you can see the pattern.”
She had lost 40 pounds and had more energy – and running was where she put it. A coworker at Great Western Bank, where Schmidt is an accountant, mentioned a half-marathon she was training for and encouraged her to sign up.
Beyond that, she had no connections to the running community.
“It was just me on the bike path.”
And this is how she became a runner: With a $74 entry fee to a half marathon and a lunch break trip to 605 Running Co. She talked with Kelli Vasquez, who was working that day, about buying shoes and asked for advice on training. That led to the Sioux Falls Women Run group on Facebook, and Schmidt joined that day.
“Between the running store and that group, it completely changed my life,” Schmidt says. “It’s amazing how different my view of Sioux Falls was and how many people I didn’t know.”
This is what happened next: She got a Hal Higdon marathon plan, conveniently cut off where a half-marathon would be. It had no taper planned. She didn’t even know what that was. She bought a used Garmin off Craigslist. She began training. She mostly ran alone, and then joined 605 for a beer run one evening. On that run, her watch broke, and she wanted to make sure she was actually running 5 miles, her longest run to date.
So she asked a woman – Holly Klungseth -- she saw on the run how far they were going.
“We hit it off during that run. She was like a coach, and I wanted to give up,” Schmidt says. “She pushed me to the end of 5 miles. I felt more accomplished than I’ve ever felt.”
Since then, the two have run together regularly.
It was enough to ignite a new love of running for her. She signed up for a marathon in her hometown, then a stack of other races, including the 605 summer series. On the courses, she connected with more runners, began to see the larger community.
Still, there was a learning curve.
“I had no idea what chip timing was or how to put on a bib,” Schmidt says.
When she finally ran the Sioux Falls Half-Marathon, she was so emotional on the course that she cried. “I was so happy to be there.”
A few weeks later, she ran her first marathon.
And then it happened like it happens for many of us – she found a trail to run on and discovered that part of herself. “I’ve never been camping or hiking or fishing, so for me trail-running is an experience I’d never had before,” Schmidt says. “At least I can be slow somewhere I enjoy it.”
And that’s the thing about Schmidt – she’s trying to change her life, her health, her circle of friends and experiences. But she also knows that all of it takes hard work. She didn’t get her blood sugar under control overnight, and she won’t beat the cut-off for many ultramarathons any time soon without dedicating herself to it, which she is with hill repeats and looking for faster runners to join sometimes. But it hasn’t discouraged her.
“The most fun I’ve ever had is going out on these group runs with people and exploring. You find out things you would never know if you were just sitting on the couch at home. You have to push your boundaries, and that is a concept I just didn’t have in my life,” Schmidt says. “Most people live where it’s comfortable, and it’s fun to live where it’s uncomfortable for a little bit.”
And beyond that, she’s built a new network of likeminded women, run through parts of southeastern South Dakota she had never been to before and took the steps to a different kind of life.
She did more than answer “not me” to the diabetes in her family. She replied with footstep after footstep, trial and error, and the belief along the way that she could change her life.
And she has.
Jacqueline Palfy is a longtime runner, reader and writer, marathoner, mom and board member of the nonprofit Sioux Falls Area Running Club. Her contributions to the 605 Running Co. blog will appear each Tuesday. You can follow her on Twitter @runnerJPK or reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Story ideas are encouraged.