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Couch-to-The End of the Earth
How One Couch-to-5K Alumna Lost 150 Pounds, Qualified For Boston and Conquered the Antarctica Marathon

  
Couch-to-The End of the Earth
Start of the marathon.


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The Couch to 5K Running Plan
 

By Patrice Malloy
Posted Sunday, 25 March, 2007

Melissa Hill reached her breaking point at an age when she had nothing but the world ahead of her.

By the time she was 24, Hill’s weight had crept up to an all-time high of 283 pounds. The Minneapolis resident had put on so many pounds that everyday tasks such as walking up a flight of stairs had her gasping for breath.

“I got to the point where I couldn’t find clothes that fit,” recalls Hill. “I was just tired of having that much extra weight on me. I told myself, enough is enough.”

 

“My shopping cart used to be filled with food like fatty chips, dip, frozen pizzas, candy and cinnamon rolls. It was about 90% unhealthy foods and 10% healthy.”

 

With the determination of an Olympic athlete going for the gold, Hill set a goal to regain control of her body, mind and spirit. The journey would take her through a physical and spiritual metamorphosis that would not only change her world – but present it to her in all of its glory.

Humble Beginnings
Hill’s first weight-loss task was to find a safe and effective diet plan, one that she would stick with and offer her the support she needed to change her junk food ways.

“My shopping cart used to be filled with food like fatty chips, dip, frozen pizzas, candy and cinnamon rolls. It was about 90% unhealthy foods and 10% healthy.”

After some research she opted for Weight-Watchers’ online program, which had a solid reputation and offered the freedom that came with an online program. “I didn’t want to drive to weekly meetings.”

“Somebody on the Weight Watcher’s message board recommended Cool Running’s Couch-to-5K program as a way to get started”

 
 

Hill charted her progress, logged everything she ate and visited Weight Watcher’s message board on a daily basis. “I liked having access to their program and online support groups 24/7,” said Hill. “If I wanted to eat cookies at 2:00 am I posted the craving on the message board and others would convince me not to.”

Hill’s diet did nothing short of an about-face. Double cheeseburger dinners made way to veggie burgers. Curly fries lost out to fruits and whole grains. Ice cream still found its way to the shopping cart but not as frequently since portion sizes were reduced.

Pounds started to fall from Hill’s 5-foot-9 frame. “My diet used to be about 90% junk food and 10% healthy food. Now it’s 10% junk and 90% healthy.”

When Hill’s weight got to a point where she could safely exercise, she worked out using beginner-level exercise DVDs and later graduated to indoor cycling, elliptical training sessions and weight machines. It was when her weight dipped below 200 that she started to think about running.

“Somebody on the Weight Watcher’s message board recommended Cool Running’s Couch-to-5K program as a way to get started,” she said. “I liked how the program’s running schedule progressed gradually. I did not have to run a mile right away and I could repeat a weekly schedule if I did not feel if I was ready to progress to the next level.”

Hill started with the program’s recommended series of 60-second jogs, gradually increasing the jogging sessions to five minutes and more until she was able to run 30 minutes non-stop during her tenth week.

After completing the program she entered her first 5K. “I choose a 5K Run/Walk because, if I needed to walk at any time during the race, I would not be the only one.” She finished the 5K in under 30 minutes. “I was especially proud that I was able to run the entire race,” she said.


5K to the Antarctica Marathon
With Forrest Gump-like perseverance, Hill kept on running. And the weight kept coming off.

Her original plan was just to get down to her high school weight of 175 pounds, but, as she continued to run, she continued to lose. The steadfast strider ended up losing an additional 40 pounds, eventually settling in at around 135. Remarkably she had lost half her total body size in just three years.

“I discovered that I really enjoyed running,” she said.

Hill’s training progressed and she entered more races: 5Ks, 10Ks, half-marathons and eventually marathons. In 2005 she finished her first marathon – the Twin Cities Marathon in Minneapolis, Minn., finishing in four hours, nine minutes and 51 seconds.

Her performance at the 2006 Grandma’s Marathon proved to be a confidence builder for Hill when she clocked 3:45:38 on a hot, humid day. Her time was just five minutes short of the Boston Marathon qualifying time of 3:40 for her gender and age group.

“That is when I started to get the idea that qualifying for Boston may be possible. I knew that I would have a hard time focusing on other goals until I accomplished that one.”

Hill’s aptitude for long distance running was solidly affirmed after her third marathon, the 2006 Twin Cities Marathon. There she did what many marathon runners only dream of – she qualified for the prestigious Boston Marathon. Hill finished Twin Cities in 3:39:45, just under the 3:40:00 qualifying cut-off time.

“I literally ran as fast as I could in the final 400 yards to make it. After catching my breath, I remember thinking that I'm glad I wouldn't have to ever run a marathon that fast again. I felt that pressure was off my shoulders.”

With her health solidly on the right track, Melissa returned to the Internet, this time to search for a tool to stimulate her mind and propel her career. There she learned about the benefits of online universities and in June of 2006, she enrolled in Capella University with the goal of earning a Master of Science degree in psychology.

Several months after starting her curriculum she learned that Capella was the presenting sponsor of the 2007 Antarctica Marathon and Half Marathon and was holding a contest amongst their student body to travel to Antarctica and run in the marathon – expense paid. Three students were to be chosen to be on “Team Capella” and expected to continue their studies via a satellite Internet connection, blog about their experience and run the marathon.

“I was intrigued at the idea of running an unusual marathon,” she said. “I have a hard time passing up unusual opportunities and thought it was worth a shot.” She entered the contest.

Thom Gilligan, race director of the Antarctica Marathon and one of the Team Capella judges, recalls why he cast a vote for Hill. “Melissa has proven in a short amount of time that she has plenty of talent. She needed a stage to showcase it. There was no doubt that she would perform well in Antarctica.”

Hill, along with Michelle Johnston of Lake City, Minn. and Wesam Mahmoud of Jacksonville, NC won the contest and Team Capella was formed.

“I was very surprised when I found out I won - it seemed like I was still in shock until I actually got on board the ship,” Hill said.

Hill’s journey started on Feb.18 with a flight to Miami where she joined the group traveling with Marathon Tours and Travel, the Boston-based company that organizes the Antarctica Marathon and the 10-day tour. In Miami they caught an overnight flight to Buenos Aires, Argentina and later flew to Ushuaia, the world's southernmost city. There they boarded two converted Russian research ships for the two-day crossing of the Drake Passage, known as the most turbulent waterway in the world.

Race day, Feb 26, started with Hill joining other anxious, bundled-up runners for a Zodiac boat ride from ship to shore. There they faced a bone-chilling summertime snow storm with temperatures that ranged from 25 to 30 degrees and wind gusts up to 30 miles per hour.

Featuring a frosty smorgasbord of terrain and scenery, the marathon’s two-loop course took runners up and down a steep glacier, through rocky streams and past Russian, Chilean, Uruguayan and Chinese research bases.

“First we ran over rocks, then snow, ice and mud. The terrain kept changing. I had to watch my feet a lot,” said Hill. “The wind was the worst though.”

Struggling with fatigue and the elements, she returned to her training roots and walked/jogged the final six miles, finishing in 5:51:06. “It was the toughest marathon ever. I did the best I could.”

Penguins and seal sightings as well as jaw-dropping scenery helped make up for the shortage of spectators. “I was amazed how eerily beautiful it was. I couldn’t believe I was racing in Antarctica.”

Regarding her journey to the end of the Earth, she says “Antarctica is so beautiful and untouched, it’s surreal. It’s hard to believe that a place like it really exists.”

As for her healthier lifestyle, Hill reflects on the path she has taken. “Running has made me a lot more confident and adventurous. Now I wake up in the morning and actually go to a race. I used to sleep in till noon.”

For more information on the Antarctica Marathon and Half Marathon, please visit www.marathontours.com or call (800) 444-4097.

# # #

Patrice Malloy is a freelance writer based in Cardiff by the Sea, Calif. She placed first woman in the 2002 Antarctica Half Marathon.

 

 

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