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Runner stories

How a running transformation can inspire positive change that lasts a lifetime

A runner smiles and high-fives someone behind the camera after a run.

For many runners, the sport is about losing weight, finding fitness, or crossing a finish line. And there's nothing wrong with that. But running can be so much more; it can become a journey that delivers daily joy, a time to bond with friends, and both physical and mental health benefits. The impact is more than a fleeting moment — it's a running transformation for the better, and it can last a lifetime.

Like anyone who lives with a chronic health condition, Maggie Perkoff has dealt with doubts about what she can and can't accomplish over the years. But through her running transformation, the 27-year-old Ph.D. candidate from Boulder, Colorado, has gained newfound confidence in her ability to persevere and overcome the curveballs that Crohn's disease throws at her.

It was the first time I realized my body could carry me that long. It made me feel like a healthy, strong human."

Diagnosed as a college freshman in 2011, Perkoff often struggled with the symptoms of her digestive disease, sometimes to the point of passing out following physical activity. Developing a fear of what could happen with too much activity, Perkoff stuck to no more than a four-mile limit with her running, until a friend convinced her to try a 10K.

That was 2016, and Perkoff hasn't skipped a beat since. "I knew I wanted to push farther," Perkoff says. "I signed up for my first half-marathon and by 2017, I knew I wanted to try a marathon."

In spite of her improved confidence in what her body could do, Perkoff's journey to the marathon wasn't without some stumbling blocks. "My stomach wasn't pleased with this development," Perkoff notes. "But in the fall of 2017, I finished the Seattle Marathon."

Maggie on top of a snowy mountain

Photo: Maggie Perkoff

By then, Perkoff was also trying her hand at running local trails, which were quickly becoming her happy place. "With the confidence of knowing I could finish a marathon and the desire to spend more time in the woods, I registered for a 50K. I was afraid of how I would handle potty breaks, however, with no port-a-potties along the way."

Turns out that the soda at aid stations goes a long way toward settling a stomach during an ultra. In addition, her friend and training partner, Charles, happily ran alongside her the entire course, eliminating her concern about "passing out in the woods." Not only that, but Perkoff's mother flew in from the East Coast to run the final three miles with her.

While Perkoff marks her 50K as her favorite race, it was her first half-marathon that transformed her. "It was the first time I realized my body could carry me that long," she says. "It made me feel like a healthy, strong human."

The transformative power of running

Experiences like Perkoff's are not outliers. Runners from all walks of life, age groups and backgrounds have discovered the transformative nature of the sport in their lives. They've found that committing to the run can inspire positive change in their own lives and the world around them.

For 28-year-old Matthew Crooker, a running shoe sales associate from Reynoldsburg, Ohio, running served as a catalyst to believe in himself.

The moment I crossed the finish line in Central Park, I felt like a whole new person because I accomplished something I never thought I would be able to do."

Growing up, Crooker fell into the obese category, a moniker that followed him into adulthood. Finally, weighing in at over 300 pounds and experiencing multiple kidney stones, Crooker decided to make a healthy lifestyle change in 2016. "To become a healthier and better version of myself, I started by changing my diet and walking eight to 10 miles a day," says Crooker.

"During my weight loss transformation in July 2017, my dad passed away from a heart attack. That event lit a flame for me to never give up on anything I do."

Matthew running over a bridge

Photo: Matthew Crooker

It wasn't long before Crooker advanced from walking to running. "I made it my mission to run races and honor my father by keeping his memory alive," he says. "I entered a contest for first-time marathoners and won a spot, which led to being featured in a documentary as I trained for the New York City Marathon."The training for the race was grueling for Crooker's new-to-running body. But he kept at it through aches and pains, doubts and fears. "I questioned myself every day," Crooker admits. "Despite that, I was able to run the race of my life. The moment I crossed the finish line in Central Park, I felt like a whole new person because I accomplished something I never thought I would be able to do. The best part was having the feeling of my dad running alongside me in spirit."

For Anthony Clary, a 37-year-old counselor and music producer from Richmond, Virginia, meanwhile, the run has never really been about crossing finish lines. Instead, he sets goals with his humanity in mind. "I just run to have fun, and I believe you can reach goals in a healthy manner this way."

Running has transformed Clary by delivering him a method to help others. "Teaching them to run out of unhealthy lifestyles and into places they never dreamed of" is what brings him joy, he says.

Along the way to discovering his passion for the sport and sharing it with others, Clary also came to a powerful realization about himself: "You already have all you need. Set the goal, and go."

Your running transformation won't happen overnight

Inspired by these runners? It's no wonder. Each of them has discovered the day-in, day-out joy of running, and it adds meaning to their lives. None of it was an overnight process, however, and Perkoff, Crooker, and Clary all found that reaching this powerful place with the sport occurred in bits and pieces.

It's important to set your own goals that will make you happy and feel accomplished. Aim for consistency, but give yourself some grace. It's about the long-term process."

"The best advice I ever received is to do everything in stages," says Crooker. "My dad shared helpful words of advice before I was running, from bowling, actually. He told me to 'Make spares and the strikes will come.' When I started to run longer distances, the miles were spares and the race goals were strikes. This made everything easier."

Perkoff found that avoiding the comparison trap helped her find joy in her running. "It's important to set your own goals that will make you happy and feel accomplished," she advises. "Aim for consistency, but give yourself some grace. If your body needs a day off or some extra sleep, move your run to another day or skip it altogether. It's about the long-term process."

As he strives to become his best version of himself, both in fitness and as a human, Clary looks outward for motivation. "The passion and excitement of the run" help him to keep going and working toward goals. "Cheering other runners on helps me think less about myself, and great things happen" as a result.

Matthew running over a bridge

Photo: Anthony Clary

For Perkoff, it all comes down to this: "I set goals that push my body while allowing me to enjoy the process of running," she says. "The goals help me get out of bed in the morning and remind me that the work I'm putting in is leading up to something good."

As these stories show, running can do more than carry you from point A to point B or be used as a way to compete and earn medals. The freedom and clarity you can get with a run, and a running lifestyle, can catapult you to a healthier mindset and life.

Looking for more stories of inspiration? Check out these runner profiles and start to set your own goals in motion.

Our writer's advice is intended for informational or general educational purposes only. We always encourage you to speak with your physician or healthcare provider before making any adjustments to your running, nutrition, or fitness routines.