The morning of February 14, 16-year-old Katie Longo laced up her running shoes and grabbed hold of her confidence. In just a few hours, she’d be joining the other 25,000 participants running from stadium to sea in the 26.2-mile 2016 Sketchers Performance L.A. Marathon.
Katie, running in the youngest division, had trained for 15 weeks prior to the big day. Never mind that experts agree starting in smaller races, like 5Ks and 10ks, is a good way to go or that training for a marathon – especially your first one – could take up to a year. Katie knew what she wanted to do and nothing was going to break her focus.
“All my life I looked around and saw kids my age doing amazing things,” she said. “I wanted to have something special that I could be proud of, too.” So when she had to complete a report for school titled, “How Will You Enhance Your World?,” Katie set her mind on running. “Running is a way I could work on my own mental and physical self, but also make a difference in the world by running to raise money for charity.”
So with just 15 weeks until start time, a body that needed conditioning and a mental state that could use some strengthening, Katie set out on the biggest race of her life.
Dedication and discipline
Katie’s dad, a 15-time marathon runner, helped her train for the big day. “My dad helped me build my slow twitch fibers, taught me what it meant to carb-load and gave me endurance tricks and marathon strategies the weeks leading up the big day,” said Katie. She also used the MyFitnessPal app to track her carbs, sugar intake, calories, physical progress and exercise goals. In addition, Katie wore a Fitbit to track her running times, and uploaded the information to the Fitbit app.
Of course, training didn’t always go perfectly. Katie battled the flu for a week and was forced to contend with Tibialis Anterior Tendonitis, pain from the top of the foot to the bottom of the shinbone. But she never got off track with her goals. “I just had to figure that by the end of the race everything was going to hurt so badly, nothing would really matter!”
Running for her life
As the race got underway, Katie gained mental endurance from the people around her. “I distracted myself with the participants who were much older than me, in way worse physical shape, who kept going despite any pain or discouragement they were feeling,” she said. Around mile 11, however, Katie’s moment of truth hit as she literally stepped in a rough spot. “I called my mom and wanted her to pick me up! I had stepped in a pothole and was in a lot of pain.”
As her mind and body fought to persevere, Katie’s heart stepped in. “I was at mile 13 and, I’m not sure if it was the energy bars or ibuprofen, but I got a second wind to make it to mile 18 where I saw all my relatives cheering for me. That’s where the adrenaline kicked in and I knew all that mattered was that I completed the race.”
And finish she did. Katie crossed the line at 7 hours, 39 minutes and 28 seconds. With the training behind her and the race at a close, she finally knew what it felt like to attain her goal.
From pain to purpose
In honor of Every Kid Healthy Week, Health Net hopes more kids can follow in Katie’s footsteps – to tune out the devices and tune in to the physical activities that help the body and mind stay strong and healthy.
When Katie crossed the finish line that day, she embarked on a new chapter – a chapter that had her turning the pages on old thoughts about her mental and physical well-being.
“I really want kids to know that, with determination, they can get ahead,” said Katie. “I have struggled with depression and anxiety throughout my life, which has made it difficult to stay motivated at times. I’ve been slowed down because of the fear I had about not being able to do certain things. But seeing other kids accomplish their goals made me believe I could also do something big.”
She wants kids to know that healthy foods can be delicious. “Take time to research what those excess calories and foods do to your body. Educate yourself on healthy foods and start tracking what you’re eating,” Katie advised. “It will make you want to feed your body better foods.”
Katie learned that blisters are temporary, but the glory that comes with reaching a goal is a permanent fixture that now has her motivated to do more. At 16 years old, she knows the power of her mind when she commits to something outside her comfort zone. All it takes is a plan and determination to make dreams a reality.
“Running this marathon was the most unique and challenging experience of my life,” said Katie. I will continue to use this newfound passion of mine to not only strengthen my mental and physical self, but to help the less fortunate by running for charity in the future. In learning the true meaning of discipline, I can help myself and others at the same time.”
Katie emerged healthy and victorious on many levels. And you can, too. Check out the Every Kids Healthy website and get inspired today.