The mother of five completed her first marathon in 3:27, just four months after she started running.
I never ran until three and a half years ago. I was always athletic and active growing up, but after I moved to Isreal from New Jersey, I got married and had four kids over the course of six years. Being a mom, on top of a full-time job as a communication officer, became my whole life. Exercise was the last thing on my mind.
That changed during my family vacation in the summer of 2015. As family tradition goes, we held an annual race on the beach with my five siblings. Until that year, I’d always come in first place. But this time, I came in dead last and realized that I was more out of shape than I thought. I remember in the middle of catching my breath, I turned to my husband and told him that I was going to run a marathon—and I haven’t really looked back since.
My First Marathon
I started training for the Tel Aviv marathon in October of 2015. I gave myself four months to train for the big day. Building up my mileage took time, but I made it a habit to wake up at 5 AM each morning to run for an hour or so before my children woke up at 6:30. (Related: I Didn't Finish My First Marathon—and I'm Super Happy About It)
My husband believed I could finish my first marathon under four and a half hours—but I didn’t believe it. I was new to this running thing and didn't really have that much confidence in myself. My goal was to just make it past the finish line. That’s it.
Family is Forever #latergram from our trip on Sunday. Grateful for every moment we get to spend together as a family, the pretty ones, messy ones and everything in between .. We are also so incredibly #grateful and #blessed to live in the land of Israel with so much natural beauty. One of my favorite parts of living in Israel it's that we don't take anything for granted... Especially rain . This past weekend we were up in the Golan with my husband's Yeshiva and got to see firsthand how the much of a difference the rain made!! We were surrounded by lush green fields, the mountains were covered in greens and the riverbeds were all full of rushing water. It's easy to get annoyed when it rains but living in Israel has given me an opportunity to truly appreciate this blessing .. The secret to happiness in life is #choosinggratitude and appreciating the details. Thank you Israel for giving me a chance to practice this everyday, and cultivate a life of gratitude and joy Join me in sharing what you love about Israel and our incredible country #1948reasons and check out the awesome campaign started by @therealhadassa and @thisisraelife. #Israel #myisrael #proudisraeli
But as I started logging more miles, having a finish time in mind became more enticing. I’m a very goal-oriented person, so having a specific objective is a major motivator for me. So, a couple of months into my training, I decided to run a half marathon distance on my own, clock my time, and predict what a reasonable goal for the marathon could be. To my surprise, I finished at 1:41, which was way faster than I’d imagined. (Here are 26 Mistakes Not to Make Before Running Your First Marathon)
Based on that, my husband reevaluated his goal for me and predicted I'd be able to finish my first marathon in 3:30. Again, I thought he was crazy, but I also felt motivated to push myself out of my comfort zone. I allowed myself to think: "Maybe I could.” (See: The Importance of *Mentally* Training for a Marathon)
When I toed the line at the Tel Aviv marathon, my emotions were high. I started out slow but went progressively faster as each mile went by, making sure not to burn out too early. My kids and my whole family came and cheered me on from the 5-mile mark to the finish line, and I completed my first marathon in 3:27. Just four months before that, I’d never run longer than a couple of miles at a time.
It goes without saying that I was hooked.
Running While Pregnant
While nothing compares to crossing that finish line for the first time, running quickly became a way for me to take care of myself as a mom. It was my outlet and something I began to prioritize. So as soon I could, I signed up for the Tel Aviv marathon for the following year, with a goal of beating my previous time.
But just as I started training again, I learned that I was pregnant with my fifth child.
Just keep on pushing forward! #preggorunner #nevergiveup #shabbatshalom #firstselfieever #runner #run #runhappy #fitmom #fitnessmotivation #fitness #exercise #fitstagram #fitspo #pregnancy #pregnant #preggo #babybump #nike #justdoit #instafit #instagood #amazing #pregnancyworkout #instarunner #instacool #momlife
The thought of stopping my training didn’t even occur to me. Running made me feel so good both physically and mentally, and being pregnant wasn’t a reason to stop that. In fact, if anything, it was even more reason to make it a priority. (Plus my dad is an ob-gyn and assured me there was nothing wrong with keeping up with my training as long as I listened to my body.)
Still, I needed a goal. When you’re pregnant, it’s easy to get unmotivated and want to sit on the couch all day. So I promised myself to be consistent, running five to six days a week, health permitting.
In February 2017, I crossed the finish line of my second 26.2-miler in 4:08 at seven months pregnant. I was so glad I stuck to my goal and continued to run through my pregnancy. As luck would have it, it helped me have my easiest labor and delivery. (Related: How Running During Pregnancy Prepared Me for Giving Birth)
The Race That Changed Everything
After having my fifth child, I took a short break and then set a goal to become the fastest Israeli woman to finish the Jerusalem marathon. I had looked at times for Israeli women from previous years and knew that I was in the range. But at this point, I had zero experience being a competitive runner, I didn’t have a coach and just wasn’t educated on the logistics of racing an event like this. My hopes weren’t exactly high. (Related: Why I'm Running a Marathon 6 Months After Having a Baby)
Then, a month before the marathon, I learned that I had celiac disease and was very anemic. Still, I stayed optimistic. I cut out gluten, added a lot more iron into my diet, and continued my training. I got back on track much faster than imagined and ultimately did it I became the fastest Isreali woman to complete the Jerusalem marathon.
Be bold as a leopard, light as an eagle, swift as a deer and strong as a lion to do the will of your Father in Heaven.” Ethics of Our Fathers 5:23. .. I may not have felt fast or swift today...in fact my 6K tempo felt a lot tougher than I wanted and I ran the exact same average pace of my 21K race in Tel Aviv...but when I was pushing I thought of these words, and when my muscles were burning I visualized myself light and swift, flying through the air, even though my legs felt heavy and stiff. I finished up my workout with 5*1K reps and really felt myself get stronger .. Visual cues can be incredibly powerful in helping us improve speed. You can choose your own words and images that work for you and remind you to maintain good form even when you are feeling tired. When I view myself as strong, swift and light and picture myself like a lion or cheetah storming down the track I know that I feel faster as well. Try it and let me know how you feel! What visual cues do you use in your workouts? #tracktuesday #runstrong #runfree #runnergirl .. @marc.israel.sellem Hair by@wunderwig and skirt by @wukogals .. @garminisrael @nike @miriforst
Setting that record was a game changer for me. There are only a handful of ultra-orthodox Jewish marathoners in the world, and no one had ever even heard of who I was before then. Following the race, I was approached by coaches and elite runners alike who convinced me to join a competitive running club to work on my speed, form, and overall technique. (Related: The Benefits of Joining a Running Group Even If You Aren't Trying to Set a PR)
Together, in August of 2018, my group and I began training for the Tevarian marathon, which is Israel’s championship marathon. Before, when training for marathons, I didn’t really have a plan. I was just running as much as I could given how much time I had. But with the group, I worked my way up to running 62 miles a week, mixing in intervals, tempos, and long runs with my daily miles. I was more prepared than I’d ever been.
Winning the Tervarian Marathon
I felt the strongest I had before any race going into the Tevarian marathon in January of this year. I kept a steady pace with my running group and at the halfway mark, I thought I was in the lead and victory was in the bag. Then, all of a sudden I saw another woman far ahead of me.
It took me a bit, but I eventually recognized her as Israeli marathon record holder Elena Dolinin, a 2:35 marathoner who wasn’t one to slow down. My coach had warned me against speeding up until the 18.5-mile mark, but a voice inside of me kept saying I had to catch up with her. I said to myself, "If God is with me every step of the way, then anything is possible."
The Anatomy of a PR -- I'm going to mimic the incredible @kiefferallie and share some of my reflections from the Teveria marathon, where I set a 27 minute PR and finished in 2:42. Before I ran this race, my coach warned me not to start increasing my speed until the 30 km mark. In fact, "Oy Vey" she admonished me... if I even dare push the pace too early. The plan was to stay at 4 min/km and finish in 2:48 but secretly I was hoping to break 2:45. When I realized I was not the first woman, and I had just hit the halfway point, I made the decision to take a risk and start going a little faster. Even though I hadn't yet reached 30 km, I felt I had nothing to lose since the 3rd place woman had already fallen behind. Yet in that moment when I plunged forward, and began to run harder to catch up to the next person in the distance, I was also filled with fear. What if I didn't have as much energy as I thought? What if I burned out early? How was I going to keep this up for another 20 kilometers. My coach's warning kept ringing in my ears....what if my crazy plan failed me??? Before I could let the doubt overcome me, I realized that I needed to believe. And I remembered the words I have often repeated to myself -- "FEAR HOLDS US BACK, BELIEF PROPELS US FORWARD" I let go of the fear, I shook off the self-doubt and I charged forward, believing that with Hashem's help, I could make it. I think that if you look at people who have achieved success in life, you'll see this common thread in their stories -- they weren't afraid to take risks, they jumped into something even if the water was above their head...they believed in their dream and vision and ran with it. I'm glad I rose above my fear, conquered the voices in my head, and chose to take that leap. Also personal disclaimer -- life is so so much more than winning races, or becoming 'famous' Your self-worth will never be defined by how fast you run, how many followers you have, or how many medals you've won. The only thing that truly defines us is the choices we make to expand our self. At the end of my life, that's the only thing I am going to take with me and I'm here to develop my soul to it's fullest.
With the intention to not burn out, I started to peel away from my group and made the race my own. I picked up my pace and started picking off men ahead of me. A few miles later, I still felt like I had more to give so I chipped off a couple more seconds from my mile splits. Finally, I caught up with Dolinin, passed her, and held the lead all the way to finish line, crossing at 2:42.
Not only did I win the race, but I PR'd by 27 minutes, which if you’re familiar with long distance running, is pretty unheard of.
Before I even had the chance to think about my next goal, Isreal ambassadors reached out to me and said that my time qualified me to train for the Olympics. And that’s what I have my eyes set on next.
Representing Israel in the 2020 Olympics would be a dream come true. But while my time at the Tevarian Marathon beat the 2016 Olympic criteria of 2:45, the guidelines have since changed. Now, qualifying times are 2:29, so who knows whether or not I’ll make it, but to me, that’s not what my journey with running is about.
Over the past three and a half years, my running accomplishments have helped work toward breaking down barriers between Israel’s religious communities to show that we’re all the same and can do anything we put our minds to. When people see me in my running attire—a long-sleeved top, headscarf, and skirt that hits below the knee—and watch me cross finish lines and set records, it creates unity. To me, that’s what’s most important. Making it to the Olympics would be an added bonus. (Related: Exciting New Sports You'll See at the 2020 Summer Olympics)
For those reading my story and following my journey, I hope to prove that at the end of the day, we have no idea how capable we are or what we have to give until we step out of our comfort zone. So many of us can go our whole lives without experiencing our full potential because we are too scared to push ourselves. So take risks, step outside of the box and fight for your dreams.
You only get one life to do it.