Photo contributed Jo McDermott during her half-marathon run.

From couch to half-marathon

Salmon Arm woman goes step-by-step to change her lifestyle

By Leah Blain, Observer contributor

Red, yellow, and green hairbands. That’s how Jo McDermott decided to organize her closet.

“I grouped them by size. I put red hairbands on the hangers of my biggest pants – size 11/12, yellow around my medium ones, 9/10, and green around my skinny jeans, 7/8.”

That was November 2016 when the yellow and green sizes had long ceased to fit and her red ones were tight. Jo had an extra 40 lbs on her 5’9” frame, she knew she needed to make some changes.

“My husband runs. He said, ‘Maybe you should give it a try.’ I laughed and said, ‘I can’t run.’

He told me about an app, Couch to 5K. I thought, ‘Why not give it a try? The worst thing is that I try and it doesn’t work and that’s the end of it.’”

But it proved to be a beginning.

“The app gives you every single workout and it vocally coaches you through the workout. You can have music on, it voices over the music. You start with a five minute warm up and it says, ‘Start running,’ and you run maybe four or five segments of a one-minute run.”

It was challenging but she did it.

“It progresses to slightly more running and slightly less walking. You don’t even really notice the increase until you realize you’re running 10 minutes straight.”

Even though she had never been a runner, she followed the program faithfully.

“By the eighth week you run for 35 minutes straight. Mentally you have to be – ‘Okay. Give it a try. No harm in trying.’”

She remembers the day at the end of January very well.

“It was cold, snowing, and miserable, and I knew this was the day I was going to do my 5K. It was freezing cold, but I thought, ‘I don’t care. I went out on Foothills toward Shuswap. I stepped on some ice wrong and I hurt my foot and I didn’t care. I thought, ‘I’m going to finish this stupid run.’ When I finished my 5K run I was crying.”

Partly it was because her foot hurt, and partly because she had accomplished a goal she hadn’t thought possible two months before.

Meanwhile she also started paying more attention to her eating habits.

“It wasn’t just about losing weight,” she says reflecting on her decision to start running. “It was about getting active, but if I’m trying to reinvent my life, I might as well try to eat better.”

She didn’t deprive herself of food she loved, she just started being more conscious of what she ate.

“I just made better choices. If I was unhealthy one day, the next day I’d run harder and make better choices. Everything in moderation. I wasn’t giving anything up, just being smarter.”

Jo decided to take on the next app (also put out by Fitness 22) called the 5K Pacer that is designed to make you run faster.

In her closet, she had moved from the clothes on the red hairband designated clothes to the yellow.

She challenged herself to the next two apps, including the half-marathon app. Then she and her husband, David, did a half marathon in November in Delta.

“It was in Boundary Bay, a beautiful provincial park. We ran on the shore. It was one of the stupidest things I’ve ever done – two and a half hours straight,” she says laughing.

“I thought, ‘What the hell am I doing?’ But when you get out there and into the zone you don’t even realize you’re running. You just put one foot in front of the other. The sun was shining. It was gorgeous. When I got near the end my mom, dad, daughter and husband were there. My daughter had made a sign saying ‘Go Momma, Go Dad. You’re a star.’ Seeing that made me run even faster. The last kilometre was my fastest one. I crossed the finish line and I wanted to cry. I did it. I ran 21 kilometres and look where I had started a year ago.”

Jo is now well into her size 7 pants; it’s green hairbands now, no more yellow or red.

“It feels so good when you reach that goal. If they could bottle that feeling it would sell – they would make a gazillion dollars.”

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