Going the distance towards self-discovery.


At the age of 37, having run 32 marathons and training for my 33rd in November; I most frequently get asked about how I got involved in the sport in the first place. Running full marathons—that’s 26.2 miles—takes a toll on your body, and for many, a marathon is a one and done deal.  While a separate group of runners become addicted to the thrill of it and inevitably become lifelong marathoners.  They are in it for the long haul.  For myself, it runs much deeper than this, and maybe you are the same.


Running a marathon is about the training, the soul searching as you pound the pavement again and again.  It is a rediscovery of yourself. 


But let me tell you it did not start like this for me.  In fact, my first marathon started on a dare.  And as always I was up for conquering the challenge presented to me.



I’ve been a runner ever since the young age of seven; I had run all sorts of distances from 800 yards to 10 miles.  In fact, I even ran competitively in college at The University of South Carolina on a scholarship.


Running was my go-to when I needed to collect my thoughts, bond with a friend or even just release stress. 


But I usually accomplished this task in an hour and twenty minutes or less.  This was just enough time to get when I needed to get done without becoming bored.  I thought to myself, why in the world would someone run for longer than this?  This was an interesting question, one that I would discover the answer to when I was challenged at the age of 21 to run a greater distance.  This is when my friend Monica introduced me to her running friend, Charlie.  Being a non-runner, Monica figured Charlie and I would have an instant connection.  But Charlie was not a regular runner, he was a marathoner.  He would go out for a run at sunrise and return in the afternoon.  He would pack snacks and drinks as if he was camping and store the goodies along the course.  He would go out for a run for what seemed like all day.


Conversely, I was all about speed, getting the run in, pushing as hard as I could in a short time and being done for the day.  Charlie and I became friends and connected on our love of running.  It was not long until he challenged me to run a marathon.  I vividly remember this day because I stared at him confused and wondered why he would ever ask me such a question.  I am short distance runner.  Nothing more.  I couldn’t imagine going out for hours doing the same sport.  In my mind that equaled nothing but boredom—or so I thought.


So one day Charlie dared me to run a marathon.  And of course I accepted his challenge.  How hard could it be?  I had gotten through plenty of Calculus courses in college, ran on a team and even worked part time; so how hard could one single marathon be?  He had completed several at the time so why couldn’t I?  I set out training on a 20 week plan, then registered for the New Jersey Marathon.


It is kind of hard to believe at the age of 37 now, my first marathon was at the age of 21; 16 years ago. 


This literally seems like yesterday.  In crafting this plan, I did some research and found a progressive schedule where I would run 5-7 miles five days per week and one long run every weekend.  The runs started at 10 miles and built up to 22 mile runs.  Just enough to mentally and physically prepare for the marathon distance, but not too much to increase risk of injury.


A marathon is a journey where you really learn a lot about yourself.  


There is some major soul searching that goes into marathon training.  And you learn to push from within no matter how uncomfortable you may feel that day.  Some runs are easy and others are challenging from the start but you learn never give up.  You get in a rhythm and keep going, one foot in front of the other, pounding the pavement in a sort of musical pattern.  You grow as a person because of these running experiences.  And you also feel so proud after you complete each long distance run because your own two legs carried you across those countless miles.  Pride, excitement and elation are just a few of the feelings that run deep in marathon training.


So with this first marathon I continued to train and after several weeks Charlie began dating a girl seriously and he disappeared from my weekend training.


But I kept going because I found a friend in running


My body became addicted in a good way to this amazing distance.  My friends supported my accomplishments as we went out every Sunday for lunch after my long runs.  And come marathon day in May, I ran my very first marathon!  It was an incredible experience with aches and pains after mile 20, but I pushed through and when I crossed the finish line I had a huge smile on my face.

Looking ahead at today I have run 32 marathons, many of which were in different states cross the U.S. and I have enjoyed every single experience.  The training and people I have met on the journey along with my family cheering me on every step of the way is invaluable.  I will continue to run strong, inspire others and enjoy the journey.


A marathon is more than just training and a race day; it is about rediscovering yourself and pay it forward for others to do the same! 


Happy Running and I hope one day I will meet you on my miles with a smile!



Tara Zimliki is a nationally recognized weight loss expert, personal trainer, health coach, health writer and founder of Tara’s Bootcamp, the Premiere Bootcamp of New Jersey. Tara also runs her own blog, funfitmama.com