Sarah Helbig remembers when “running” meant eyeing the next mailbox down the street and telling herself she could walk when she got there.
But this weekend she will join 9,000 other runners racing various distances at the Mercy Health Glass City Marathon. It will be her second half-marathon after completing the Churchill's Half Marathon in November, just a year and a half after she began a weight loss program that helped her lose 125 pounds.
Mrs. Helbig of Toledo said accountability to healthy habits, support from family and friends, and the enjoyment of challenging herself keeps her going.
“I felt so trapped before,” she said. “That would make me not want to focus on [myself]. There were things I couldn’t do, I didn’t look the way I wanted.”
After years of focusing on her family and career and putting her health last, Mrs. Helbig saw a concerning future ahead: unhealthy habits and a family history working against her, including her paternal grandmother who died of a heart attack when her father was young.
“I was always very successful in all areas, but I could never get my health under control because I was so focused on everything around me,” said Mrs. Helbig, who works in sales and marketing consulting. “It gets to be a very slippery slope. I started to think about my trajectory and where I was heading [and] that was very scary.”
Wanting to set a good example for her boys — now 7 and 8 — and have more healthy years with her husband, Mrs. Helbig decided this time would be different after years of dieting and intermittent attempts to get healthy.
Among the loudest in her cheering squad is Brian Silver, a health educator at the Mercy Weight Management Center who has worked with her, as he says, “from day one.” Mrs. Helbig participated in one of the center’s meal replacement programs that combines meal replacement shakes, specialized entrees, fruits, and vegetables for a prescribed food plan.
Once the weight begins to come off, the program shifts focus to maintaining that progress, Mr. Silver said.
“The biggest struggle everybody has is ‘How do I keep it off? I’ve lost weight, I can get it off, and I think I’ve got it,’ but you never have it,” he said, “It takes a lot of time, a lot of structure and accountability to change these lifestyle behavior changes.”
That includes a commitment to eating well and staying active. Already a frequent swimmer, Mrs. Helbig was introduced to running when a friend suggested she sign up for a sprint triathlon: a half-mile swim, 12.4-mile bike ride, and a 5K run.
Sarah Helbig will be running a half marathon at the Glass City Marathon on Sunday. She has lost 125 pounds so far in her journey for a healthier life, and discovered along the way that she loves to run.
“... [T]he first time I ever even ran a 5K was part of that [triathlon] and I just loved it,” she said.
She caught the running bug and signed up for every race she could find until she set her sights on the Churchill’s half-marathon last fall.
“Which was huge for me,” she said. “I would never have said I was a runner, but it was another way to keep pushing myself.”
Setting continuous goals for improvement, and online and in-person support from other Toledo-area runners is crucial, she said.
“You meet people that way, just for camaraderie and knowing there are people out there running every day, it helps you with your mindset.”
Mr. Silver agreed: “The running community is such a compassionate, supportive group of people,” he said.
Mrs. Helbig’s commitment to her health has sparked a change within her family, she said, including her husband who joined the same weight management program and has lost 50 pounds so far.
“Seeing my kids get excited, that warms my heart and helps me know that I am changing the trajectory of the kind of lifestyle my whole family will have,” she said.
And she’s got another challenge ahead of her: a half Ironman — that’s a 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike ride, and a half marathon — in May. Despite the fun and challenge of her newfound accomplishments, Mrs. Helbig recalls those early races, “breathing like a locomotive,” and just trying to finish.
“The human body is an amazing thing, a lot of us focus on so much else that kind of forget what we’ve been given,” she said. “I’m going to keep running because I can and I couldn’t before.”
The Glass City 5K begins at 9 a.m. Saturday. The Owens Corning Half Marathon and Mercy Health Glass City Marathon racers begin just after 7 a.m. Sunday. More information is at glasscitymarathon.org.
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