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From Couch Potato To Endurance Athlete At Age 48

by RunnersConnect: Coaching Community, Running Experts, Inspiring Runners, No Fluff Blog
February 8th 2023
I am Hillary Topper and you are listening to run to the top podcast. Hello fellow runners, I'm your host, Finn Melanson and this is the run to the top podcast podcast dedicated to making you a better runner with each and every episode we are created and produced by the expert team of coaches at runners connect dot net where you can find the best running information on the Internet as well as training plans to fit every runner and every budget for those of you who have ever thought they were too old or too unfit to compete in endurance supports, listen to this conversation with Hillary Topper growing up and even well into adulthood, Hillary did not consider herself to be an athlete, but in her late forties she decided to get into running fast forward a decade and she's completed numerous road races and triathlons. Started virtual endurance teams and communities, maintained an inspirational blog on all these topics and written a book, going through all the details of her journey and offering advice to fellow runners and those just starting out in our sport, looking for a similar road map in this episode, you'll learn how we can make the running community more accessible and interesting to middle and back of the pack endurance athletes, how to maintain a positive attitude and growth mindset in the face of adversity, especially when you're starting a new venture or hobby like running, how to make your running journey and especially rewarding one by fostering community and teamwork and recommendations to make your running practice sustainable for months, years, even decades, let's listen in.

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Welcome to the show. Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it. Well, it's great to have you here and we'll be discussing your new book here, which is called From couch potato to endurance athlete, a portrait of a nonathletic triathlete and the first question that I want to ask you actually comes from the preface section of the book where you say, quote, there are so many running and triathlon books on the market today, but none address a huge group of individuals of which I am proud to be a part of the back of the Packers end, quote, I was really intrigued, powerful start, really intrigued by this. Can you explain a bit more about why you believe this group of runners in our sport and in triathlon tend to get neglected and perhaps even disrespected and stigmatized? Well, I think, I mean, I think that I give a really good example in the book when I went to the expo at the new york city Marathon, Um they were, I was sitting there listening to the race and what was what it was gonna be like, and what was interesting to me was that they said, when you get over the 59th Street Bridge, you're gonna hear a roar and it's gonna be incredible.

And I Went over the 59th Street Bridge, there was nobody there, there was no raw, I really didn't even know if they were still going to give out medals at the point that I finished now, they wait and they do give out medals to the finishers, but back when I did it in 2016. I wasn't really sure if I was gonna get a medal, you know, so that was, and the other thing that was interesting about that um with the new york city Marathon was that at one point they opened up the roads to traffic and they told us all to go onto the sidewalk and I was with a group of people from England and Switzerland and, you know, they were from Germany and they were screaming, we're not going on the sidewalk. No way. So I just stayed with them. Yeah, so the, so the course, you know, officially was open, it was closed and um, you know, so I still ran it.

So yeah, I mean, I think that as a back of the pack, er we do get neglected. We don't, there aren't many books out there about this group and yet there's a lot of us out there and, and we struggle, you know, we want to be out there, we're doing it for our health, we're doing it for our well being, but we know we're never gonna place. I mean, unless there's no one else in the age group From when it comes to like a fact finding mission for somebody that's a new entrant to the sport and they want to learn how to prepare for their next 5K or their marathon. Would you go as far to say that maybe they're even polling like, for example, training plans from the wrong places because everything's been catered towards, you know, more competitive or elite runners or do you think what I mean? I'm a coach for road runners Club of America, that I am certified coach. I'm also a usa triathlon coach and when you do the coaching, they specifically go into how to get somebody faster on a, you know, seven minute mile, six minute mile.

I mean people that I train with, most of them are going like 15, 16 mi. It's very different. It's a very different camp. Um but the thing that I really want to stress, you know, to people out there is that this is a good group and it's a good group to target and it's a good group because maybe they have a little bit more, you know, uh more income or they have a little bit more time or they're just getting into it, you know, as a middle aged person. So I mean, there are a lot of different factors and it's not something that we should uh try to, you know, eliminate from our vocabulary and I know that it's, when I say our sport, it's a, it's a wide band, you know, ranges from people that are running a mile on the track to, again, the five K marathons and ultra marathons, do you think that our sport has a branding problem in the sense that if somebody is on the outside looking in there easily intimidated by what they see, or are these problems that you've identified something that you can only discover once you're sort of in the quote unquote thick of it trying to find your way.

No, I think that I think that you're spot on. I think that what happens is it's it does stop certain people from coming into the sport. Like, for example, in the beginning of the book, I talk about how I met this woman Becky, and I was really intimidated by Becky because she was a marathon runner. And I thought, oh my God, how would, why would she want to run with me? Who am I? I'm I'm I'm just, you know, starting out, she's not gonna want to run with me. And yet she did and she was persistent and we started running together and we realized that we had a very similar gate. So, you know, it it does, it does intimidate people. I mean, even when you're in the sport and you're doing triathlon, same thing, you know, you're in a group and I mean, my first, I never really thought that I would get dropped. I never even knew what the term dropped was, and I get on the bike and my coach says, go right up the hill and you know, the next thing, I know all the triathletes who are experienced, they ride way past me, I'm alone on this hill.

I don't know where I'm going, you know, and and that all becomes intimidating and that could have stopped me. I could have at any point in my journey, I could have said, you know, what enough, I'm not doing this anymore, I'm not that good, you know, but I didn't I kept going one thing in preparing for this conversation that I noticed in your bio, but also throughout the book is that you've written extensively about digital marketing, social media, I think you even teach on the subject, which is very impressive. It makes me want to ask you here to kind of wrap up this part of the conversation, what else can we do better to market the sport to a general audience? And maybe this includes both participants and fans. I mean, I think that it's important for us to get out there and be inclusive of everyone. You know, there's there's this whole push to be inclusive of all different types of people, right?

I think we need to be inclusive of the back of the packers too, because that's that's an opportunity for us to work with these people and really, you know, develop them and you know, what if somebody from the back of the pack actually makes the middle of the pack or really does something incredible boy, what a story that would make as well. Right, Maybe one more question on this front. My understanding is that your book is sort of an extension or culmination of your blog. You have a triathlon blog, which I think is super cool. And you've done an excellent job sharing your journey and contributing to the quote unquote content library of our sport. What have been some of the lessons you've learned over the years or just the insights you've picked up, having this regular practice of journaling and uh blog blogging stuff like that. Yeah, so much. I mean I've learned so much about myself and so much about the sport through doing the blog.

Um, to me it's, I've always been a journal. I've always journal my entire life. So I constantly document things that I've experienced and I really want to try to share it with other people because I think that my experience will, you know, resonate with somebody else? So that's, that's basically, do you have any fellow content creators in the sport that you enjoy following, whether it comes to blogs or podcasts out there or authors? Well, you know, your, your podcast is I promise I wasn't setting you up there Awesome. Um, I think we should sort of get to the part of the book where you talk about this transformation at 48 years old, you decided to take up running and there's this particular section of the book where you say that you were intrigued by runners and there was something magical about watching people run.

Can you, can you talk about that impact a bit more and, and what led to the switch in your lifestyle to make it all happen. So I was working ridiculous amount of hours, um, in my business, I have a public relations business and in during that time I was just constantly working, trying to hustle to get new business for my office and to the staff. So I was taking care of my staff and I was also taking care of my kids. My kids were young at the time And you know, I had to be obviously around for them to help them with different things. So you know, so I was so between the business and my home life, I was constantly juggling those two and really like focusing, you know more on the business. Like in terms of going to cocktail parties and drinking a lot and eating a lot and I was packing on the weight and I was thinking to myself, I am going to be 50 and I need to make a change.

Um, I was really nervous that I would end up like my mom and my mother's family, my mother's family, they're all obese. Um, you know, they're eastern european. So they're like, you know, real big women and this was, you know, something that I did not want to, I didn't want to follow. And in terms of the want tour parkway when I was watching the runners. So we have this parkway on Long Island called the Wantagh Parkway and it's a place that you could, you know, it's a 17, almost 18 mile route that we usually use for the bike riding. You know, we do it a couple of times or we use it for running you for training and stuff like that. So anyway, so I would watch, I would pull over on the side of the parkway and watch the runners running by and thinking to myself, wow, there's something special and magical about this that I wanna try, I wanna try to get into this, I want to be a runner.

And my first step was to join a gym, basically. I, I don't know why I thought that, but I did, and I joined new york sports Club in Long Beach, which is where I lived at the time, and that's Long Beach, Long Island and I joined the gym and the personal trainer says to me, you know, go downstairs and work on the treadmill and I get on the tread and I'm like, I don't even know how to turn on a treadmill, like I had never been in a gym, this was the first time in my life. And so that was a really big thing for me to, to uh you know, to, to learn how to even walk on the treadmill, I had to actually ask somebody stop them from running, Excuse me, help me, as you've heard on this podcast many times before from some of the best runners, coaches and scientists in the world, sleep is one of the most powerful factors to upgrading your overall health and running performance, we all know by now, but sometimes no matter how well intentioned we are getting good quality sleep does not come easy.

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And there was a particular quote that I want to read here. You say, having no emotional or financial support my whole life. I always felt like I had to fight for everything I wanted, reflecting back, I wonder if no support or encouragement made me a stronger person in this running journey. Maybe question mark, can you talk about that a bit more and just how your life experiences have, uh, maybe added to the mental toughness in how you approach the sport? Yeah, I mean, you know, I grew up, my, my mom was really controlling and yet she was also very, very sickly. She was always a, you know, sick person, she had post polio syndrome and she had really bad COPD and asthma and my dad worked, you know, three jobs and he was never home and when he was home, my mother would rile him up and you know, he'd, you know, get the belt and start beating us up for for no reason. And it was um so when I wanted to go to college my parents were like no we're not, you don't need to go to college, you're a woman.

I mean it's crazy, right? Like 1979, And my parents were like no, you could just be a secretary, we're not gonna help you if you want to go to college, you need to do it yourself because we're not giving you a dime. And literally they did not give me a dime, they didn't help me financially, they didn't help me emotionally, so I had to go out and get myself a full time job, I went to um cuny Hunter College for undergraduate and CUny Baruch College for graduate school. And at the whole entire time I worked full time I went to school at night, so all my friends were old, they were much older than me because they were all working people, but you know, I did it because I knew that I could not and my parents my entire life, they struggled, you know, they they were both working class people and they always struggled for money.

Money was like the big issue in the house, like we could not, nobody, you know, we couldn't get things like the other kids got like I remember one year there, everybody was had this like varsity jacket with their name on it and I wanted it so bad and my mother said, well if you want it, go get a job and get it? You know, so I, I worked in high school, you know, in high school, middle school, high school worked as much as I could, got the money, um bought the jacket and then the jacket happened to spell my name wrong, it's spelt it. Hillary with two L's. So you know, my mother was like, oh well you're just gonna have to live with that, you know, I mean, I don't know if if I were her, I would say, you know, this is unacceptable, you know, redo the jacket, but she made me live with it and actually my daughter wears it today, but, but that was something that's a story that like, that really drives At home, you know, um that anytime I needed anything, I had to do it on my own, I had, you know, when I went to college, my parents didn't support me work full time.

Um I remember asking my parents, you know, if they would lend me like $50 and they were like no, no, sorry. You know, so I just did not get any support there, even though, you know, I think most folks would recognize that as an incredibly unfair circumstance, and you had to persevere an incredible amount. Do you reflect back on those experiences, sort of grateful in the sense that they were there because they enabled they taught you, um, you know what it means to overcome and to have like an overall positive outlook that things can get better. Is there any of that? Yeah, I mean for me my driving force had always been that I would never want to be like my parents and I would never, you know, so I worked really hard and made money on my own and you know, whatever. Um, and eventually, you know, as I got older, I ended up helping them out. Um, but yeah, I think that in a way, looking back, although it bothered me and it was like upsetting to me, I feel like it made me stronger as a person and you know, um I think there's a place in the book where I'm talking about how I did the lust oldest triathlon, it was like one of my early triathlons and my dad came to it, you know, my mother had passed at that point and my dad came out to watch and after it was finished, he said to me Hilary, I'm so proud of you and it just blew me away because he had never said that to me before.

I mean I knew he was proud of me, but he never said it to me, you know, they used to like always keep my clippings of all my newspaper articles and stuff like that, but I didn't hear it often, you know, and I sometimes needed it, but I found it from within and that's really where I started to focus, you know very cool. Well one other part of the book that I really enjoy is how at the end of every chapter you have a lesson learned box which kind of tightly compresses everything that you should take away from the chapter and I would love to go through a couple of them together. The first one, it's about midway through the book you say that if you want to make a change in running start today, can you talk more about what you mean there and why that's important? Yeah, I mean I think um and I see it even you know like I I'm in Weight Watchers right now and I go to the groups and you know people say I can't run, I can't do this, I can't do that, I can't walk.

I thought you know you hear every excuse in the book, but if you really want to do something you could do it just go out there and do it and get it done. Don't don't think that it that because you're too old or because you're too heavy or because you're anything, you know, other than the you know what you think is the norm just go out there and do it because you got this, you know, and and that's really what I was trying to say there, another one when you start out focus internally. I thought that was interesting as well talk about that a bit. Yeah, I mean, I think what happens is that you start comparing yourself to other people and you know, that's something that you really, you need to, you need to like internalize and think I got this, I'm proud of myself, I'm gonna do this.

I mean, I feel like I am coaching myself all the time, I'm constantly telling myself you got this, you can do this, you know, I mean sometimes I even say it out loud, you know, I don't know, people looking at me like I'm really strange, but but you know what you gotta do that you gotta, you gotta really talk yourself into it, it's all self talk, it's like I remember going to a cocktail party and thinking, how am I gonna do this? How am I going to go to a cocktail party? I don't know anybody in the room, how am I gonna get through this and meet all these people? And I thought, okay, I got this, I'm good at what I do, people like me, I'm gonna go in there and I'm gonna shake everybody's hand, I'm gonna collect all the business courts and I'm going to make contacts and that's exactly what I did, you know, So it's kind of the same, getting in all my daily greens has been one of the best changes I've made to my health and training this year, I know the importance of fruits and vegetables to my overall health and running performance and you know, I try my hardest to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables each day.

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Head to athletic greens dot com backslash R. T. T T. This was one that particularly resonated with me, because I participate in the ultra running community. So I'm out there for quite a bit of time. You say when you race an endurance race, you have a lot of time with yourself to think about things, dedicate every mile to people who meant something to you. I think this is an excellent strategist to talk about this a bit. Thank you. So yes, so you do have a lot of time to think and I it was during the new york city Marathon training where I just trained by myself. I mean now I have a running group and I could train with them, but at the time that I wrote this book, I did not have a running group and I was running alone nine miles, 13 miles, 20 miles, 23 miles. And when you're running alone you start to like focus internally and certain things. I started coming to terms with things that happened with my mom.

You know, I never got to resolve those issues and I was able to start resolving those issues while I was running. Um And the other thing is during the new york city Marathon to get myself to, you know, just enjoy the moment and enjoy each mile and try to like really focus on that instead of like oh my God, I'm in so much pain my I don't know how I'm gonna get through this, you know what I did was I put um, I dedicated each mile to a person or something that meant something to me, you know, in my life, you know, so obviously, you know, like mile 20 I, I dedicated it to my sister's dog, Gino because the dog is like a very vicious dog and always bit me and you know, run after me and I thought this is a good one, you know, like let me think about Gino during mile 20 because that's a hard mile or whatever it was. I forget exactly what it was, it might have been Danielle, it was 20 I'm not sure, but, and in the event it was up there.

Um, I did dedicate a mile, you know, to each of my Children, you know, to my whole family. I mean everybody got a mile. I dedicated a mile to Jeff Galloway because he really was my running coach during that time and he was amazing, my triathlon coach, Daniel Sullivan. And then I dedicated um one of the miles to, you know, it was also a later mile to everyone who says they can't, you know, because you can and then the last mile was for me, because I was proud of myself for doing this. You mentioned the importance a moment ago about being a part of running teams, groups, etcetera and there is one of these lessons in the book where you talk about, if you can find a team, be a part of it, do it. Uh, can you just reflect more on just how influential that has been in your progress as a runner? So influential and not only has, you know, so I started a running group in 2017 after the marathon, I wanted to give back to Jeff and you know, I told him that I would start a group on Long Island's.

Um, and so for me it was really, you know, once I started this group, most of them were beginners and it was starting from scratch again. And it really taught me a lot and then we started really training together for a lot of different races and it was awesome. It was just so incredible to train with people that were like minded like me and um it wasn't a competitive thing. We were laughing and having fun while we ran walked and it just was, it was just awesome. And as a result of that group, I started a triathlon team um because a lot of the members started to do triathlons and I was so excited because finally I could train with people, I'm not going to feel intimidated. I feel very comfortable with these people, you know, so it was, it was awesome. Last one for this section that I want to end on is your lesson that giving back feels good and I'm curious with this one.

You talked about the group there, so maybe that's the answer, but what have been your favorite outlets for giving back in the running community? Oh, there's so many, I mean, you know, giving back, it was, you know, first starting this group and helping beginners was like, just incredible, you know, but also trying to raise money for different organizations always feels good. It always does. You know, I love team for training, I think I'm saying it wrong. Yeah. Anyway, you know, there's a group that gives back to Children, disadvantaged Children that new york road runners um supports and uh you know, there's just been a lot of different groups that I've I've tried to raise money for through the years, team and training was one of them, um and um you know, some other groups as well. I mean, I just feel like giving back is so important and it just makes it so much more meaningful last question I have for you, and I think it ties back to the vulnerability piece, but you talk later on in the book that after, I think it was the death of your sister, Lori, you felt the need to rediscover your love for the sport.

And I'm wondering if you can you can talk generally about this phenomenon where we're forced to reevaluate why we do what we do, and I know that the longer you're in the running game, for example, your y changes over the years, over the decades. So, yeah, I mean, I think what happens even with, like an Iron Man um competitions, I find that with a lot of my friends where they do an Ironman or half Ironman and they get burnt out and they're like, they can't, it's just, they feel like they just can't do it anymore. Or, you know, for me it was, I just mentally had a meltdown after my sister passed because it was so emotional for me and I thought, you know what, I'm so focused on this, why am I focused on this? There's so many other things to be focused on and you know, uh you know, and then I realized, you know, when I didn't have an actual race to focus on, just go out there and swim bike and run, I started to really love it again, like it just became so part of me and my personality and who I am and you know, I just feel like that it's just, you know, it just really helped me both, you know, emotionally and physically, you know, to, to, to do this.

Well, Hillary, it was great to meet you. Great to talk about the book once again for viewers on Youtube from couch potato to endurance athlete. Um we'll make sure to link to it in the show notes, is there anything else that we should cover or any calls to action that you have for listeners before we go Well, um if this runs before February 15, I am going to be in Denver, actually, Littleton, um colorado at um the Tattered Cover and I'm also going to be in Boulder at Barnes and Noble. So if you live in that area and you want to come stop by and just say hi, I would love to meet you. Um I've been doing a lot of book tours around the country and you know, just enjoying meeting so many amazing people, awesome. Well, Hillary, thanks again and uh, we wish you the best of luck on the rest of this tour as well. Thank you so much, man, I really appreciate you having me.

Thanks for listening to the run to the top podcast. I'm your host, Finma Lanson. As always, our mission here is to help you become a better runner with every episode. Please consider connecting with me on instagram at Wasatch Finn and the rest of our team at runners connect. Also consider supporting our show for free with a razor on the Spotify and Apple podcast players. And lastly, if you love the show and want bonus content behind the scenes experiences with our guests and premier access to contests and giveaways and subscribe to our newsletter by going to runners connect dot net back slash podcast. Until next time. Happy training

From Couch Potato To Endurance Athlete At Age 48
From Couch Potato To Endurance Athlete At Age 48
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