Perseverance Pays Off

Courage helps one woman accomplish what she sets her mind to do.

With the finish line in sight, Rogers resident Mary Graham couldn’t contain her excitement. Everything she had worked for during the past three months was finally within reach. She saw a sea of pink shirts cheering her on and noticed her friends in the crowd. She didn’t know they would be there, but she was ecstatic that they were. The Esprit de She 5K was the first race of Graham’s life. Before her triumph on August 4, 2016 she had never been a runner. And, at age 55, she says “It never crossed my mind that I would start running and like it—let alone run a race.”

Andrea Major, Graham’s Lifetime Fitness trainer, encouraged her to begin running in May 2016. When Graham expressed doubts because of her age, Major shared that she, too, had started running later in life. With new motivation and courage, Graham began running consistently. Major suggested running the Esprit de She 5K as a goal to work towards.
“So, I set the goal to run a 5K before I turned 56 on August 11,” she says.

In the midst of Graham’s training, her new close friend and mentor, Major, moved to Kansas. “When she left I wondered if I was still going to do this,” Graham says. Her new trainer, Cheryl Zitur, helped her persevere and supported her along the way. Graham continued to set goals about what she wanted from the Esprit de She.

“My goal was to run the entire race. No walking allowed. And I have to say, I was terrified I would fail,” she admits.

On the day of the race, Zitur and other members from Graham’s fitness class ran with her. Graham could feel the humidity in the air as she approached the starting line. She was nervous that she might not finish the race, but suddenly, looking at everyone having fun around her, the fear dissolved. “People were so friendly. I was talking with everyone and I just felt calmer,” Graham says. With music playing, Graham took off with the influential words of a friend unyielding in her head: “Run your own race.”

Approaching the last leg of the race, Graham again felt afraid that she might not finish. Suddenly, a woman ran up beside her and said Graham had been pacing her for the entire race. “I couldn’t believe that I helped someone else as I was running,” she says. The two women finished together and were immediately greeted by Graham’s friends and family. They all wore pink shirts sporting Graham’s name and the sayings, “Strong=New Skinny” and “Sweaty=New Pretty.”

Graham formed an unforgettable bond with the friends that ran beside her. She accomplished her goal of running the entire 5K and learned valuable lessons about perseverance and courage, which she has applied to other areas in her life. “The whole experience, from training through race day, was amazing,” she says. “The running community is so encouraging and I was struck with the fact that it’s an incredible blessing to be able to set a goal and achieve it.”

Graham plans to run the 5th Annual Esprit de She 5K/10K on August 3 at 6:30 p.m. You may catch a glimpse of her in the sea of women who take on this certified course, which starts on Main Street, Maple Grove, next to Town Green Park. Or, perhaps she will pass you running along the course and you can congratulate her at the finish line in Central Park.

Advice From A Personal Trainer
Anna Kwak helps women prepare for the Esprit de She

Inspiration: Take the chance. “A lot of times you’re afraid to try something that you’ve never done before, but find a training plan or talk to a trainer. You never have to feel like you’re going to fail.”

Have a Plan:
Every training plan will be different, but always keep yourself accountable. For new runners, Kwak recommends training 10 to 12 weeks in advance.

Training: Work hard and remember that most progress is actually made when your body is resting, so take a day off. Make sure to stretch, drink water and include essential nutrients in your diet.

The Week Before: “A mistake people make is eating differently than they normally do,” Kwak says. Treat the week before the race like any other week, without any intense training.

Race Day: Have fun! Everyone racing is at a different skill level, but they will always support you. Plus, the after party is a great place for everyone to meet each other.