Maya Henry’s weight-loss story is not of the epic proportions you’d see on The Biggest Loser. The 38-year-old mom of two did not drop hundreds of pounds in mere months. She didn’t cut her pants size in half, exercise for hours on end, or adopt a crazy-restrictive diet. But what she did accomplish—trimming 40 pounds off her 6’1” frame over the course of two years and developing an unexpected passion for running—is a testament to the power of perseverance.
When Maya first started running five years ago, she couldn’t imagine lasting for more than 90 seconds.
“So much of that was mental,” explains Maya. “I told myself I wasn’t a runner.”
At the time, Maya weighed 270 pounds. And while she had been fairly active throughout her life—dabbling in softball and biking, mostly—running was something she perpetually avoided.
“I was always the kid that was trying to get out of the mile at school,” she chuckles. “I hated running...running was not my jam.”
Fast forward to today. Maya runs about twice a week—in sun, rain, or snow—on the trails surrounding her Pittsburgh neighborhood. She’s completed three 5Ks, a 10K, a half-marathon, and two adventure races. She effortlessly jogs alongside her older son as he bikes, and she loves the energy and focus that running provides her. It’s even transformed her career—she now runs her own business as a meal planner and certified health coach. What Maya loves most about the sport is that “anyone can be a runner. I really, truly believe that if I can do it, anyone can do it. You just start.”
Think Of Yourself As A Runner
Maya reluctantly began running in early 2012 as a way to get her health back on track after the birth of her first son. She downloaded the Couch to 5K app, and when she ran the race she felt a sense of accomplishment. However, she was so tired afterwards that she didn't officially consider herself a runner.
“I wanted the ease of it,” she recalls, describing her initial definition of the term. But as she kept running through the pain, fatigue, and changing seasons she realized her definition warranted an adjustment. After sticking with her outdoor, twice-a-week running routine through the winter she finally gave herself the title. “When I saw myself pushing through those challenges—just layering up, getting out there and not letting it stop me—that’s when I became a runner.”
That new mindset helped her stay on track with her goals. “I’d tell myself ‘Oh, well a runner still runs outside when it’s cold’ and ‘You’re a runner now, so just get up and do it,’” she says. “Flipping my way of thinking helped immensely.”
Find An Accountability Partner
Shortly after committing to the Couch to 5K plan, Maya discovered that a friend had recently started the program as well, so the two teamed once-a-week as training buddies. “That was really where the accountability part came in,” says Maya. “I wouldn’t say I’m a very competitive person, but it became a thing where I wouldn’t want to be the one who said ‘Oh it’s too cold out,’ or ‘It’s too early.'”
On days when Maya would have rather stayed at home, she showed up anyways. “We’d often look at each other, take a deep breath, and say, 'Ok, I guess we’re doing this.' And once we started running, we’d realize, ‘Ok, this really isn’t so bad!’”
Just Get Out There
To get herself out of bed and on a run in the morning—particularly on dark, frosty mornings—Maya would make herself at least go outside by promising herself: “If it’s too cold, then you can just go home.” But once she was out there, it didn’t seem worth going back in without a run. “Of course the first step out the door isn’t fun,” she says, “But once you get out there and start doing it, you realize that it’s not that bad.”
Don’t Let Gear Get In Your Way
“A big excuse for a while was I had to have the right gear,” reflects Maya. “I’d think, ‘I can’t run in the cold because I don’t have the right gear,’ or ‘I can’t run because I don’t have new shoes or the right socks.’” While she notes that there’s definitely a place for that, she too often used this mentality as a crutch during her early stages of running. And even when she bought techincal attire, she’d still find an excuse not to run.
But the more she moved, the more she got over this mindset, telling herself: You’re not an elite. Your goal is to just run 90 seconds, so start there. So she began dressing for her cold weather runs by throwing on whatever sweatshirt or pair of pants she had.
By the time she’d been running for two years, she’d dropped 40 pounds and wouldn’t let anything get in the way of her fitness. When packing her gear bag the night before a 2014 adventure race comprised of biking, kayaking, and running, she couldn’t find her kayaking gloves. The closest substitute she had on hand were gardening gloves—so she tossed them in her bag. “I was just like, ‘All right, I guess I’m doing this two mile kayak in gardening gloves,’ she laughs, reminiscing. “And you know what? It worked out perfectly fine.”
Practice Mindful Eating
Pre-weight loss, Maya describes herself as a healthy eater who didn’t pay a lot of attention to portion control.
She’d make dinner for her husband—whom she describes as a huge eater with a fast metabolism—and out of habit, serve herself the same portions. She started by cutting back her meals to three-quarters the size of his, and then eventually, just half. She also began logging her meals through MyFitnessPal and working with a health coach to learn more about nutrition.
“A few times I’d make a smoothie and then after adding up all of the ingredients, realize that it had more than 600 calories,” she recalls. “Healthy foods still have calories in them, and while it’s great to eat food that’s good for you, you can’t consume 3,000 calories a day and expect to lose weight.”
Focus On Time, Not Distance
More recently, when getting back into running after having her second baby a year ago, Maya motivated herself by focusing on the time spent running, not the distance. “In my postpartum body, I didn’t know what my pace would be, so I’d tell myself to just run for 20 minutes without paying attention to the distance,” she recalls. “And that was how I got a little further every time.”
Create Your Own Definition Of Success
“You can’t measure yourself against a 22-year-old college student or someone who is 50 and has run since they were in high school,” says Maya. “I’m a 38-year-old mom of two, and that definition of a runner right now for me is different than someone else’s.”
Throughout her journey, she’s set realistic goals, like running for 90 seconds nonstop to tackling a half marathon, that continue to evolve. “Allow that definition of success to change,” she advises, “while also making sure you are honest with where you are and what you can accomplish.” Telling herself that she only had to run once or twice a week helped her get into “success mode.”
“If I’d made my goal to run five times a week, I wouldn’t be able to stick with it."
Maya’s definition of success changed most recently after she gave birth to her second child. She says she's still figuring out what being a runner and a mom looks like, but what is certain: she’ll continue running through the seasons—and will complete that same local Pittsburgh adventure race this fall.