Heather Q. has come a long way in her fitness journey--and she can't wait to see what's next.
Heather Q. has come a long way in her fitness journey–and she can’t wait to see what’s next.

Welcome to a new MRG feature: “The Quest for 2:59:59…. and whatever else my soles discover” from Heather Quinlan, a runner from Sterling Heights, Mich. who will share her journey of training for four half-marathons (three in Michigan, one in Chicago) this year. Look for her twice-monthly posts—and please join the conversation in the comment sections below and over at the Michigan Runner Girl Facebook page. We’d love to hear from you! ~ MRG

I’ve always been an athletic chick, even if my aesthetics (weight) didn’t share the same story. I grew up watching sports and I grew up playing them. However, there was one sport I just did not understand. No, not curling……


You mean, you run…. in a circle? So let me get this straight. You start at one point and you basically drag your body until you reach the final point? I don’t get it.

What’s the point? Who does that?

Let’s go on a little journey, shall we? Some of you might call this place “home,” but for me it was a place I’d never been…witnessing an event I’d never experienced before. It was May 2010 and I was in Traverse City with my mom, sister-in-law, and niece. My sister-in-law, Kendra, was going to run her first half-marathon, the Bayshore Marathon or as it known by many, “Bayshore.” We were there to cheer her on. Yay! Of course, I say that with excitement because I was excited for her. And of course I was thrilled to travel to one of the most beautiful parts of Michigan that I’d never seen before (it took her nearly 30 years? Don’t judge!). And finally, of course it was wonderful to get away over Memorial Day weekend, also known as the unofficial “kick off to summer” in our fine Mitten State. But other than that, I had no idea what else I should be excited about. Who runs 13.1 miles and likes it?

I remember that morning very well. I remember thinking, “We have to get up THIS early?” I remember parking our car along Wilson Road. As my mom, niece, and I walked to the spectator area (maybe 60 yards away where the runners would pass us by), I kept thinking that I had a long walk. I remember standing there and thinking, “We’re supposed to stand here and just wait?” As fortune would have it, I owe a lot to that waiting period. It was during that wait to see my sister-in-law run past, one of many runners on their own journey, that I got my first glimpse into what running truly is.

I witnessed fast runners and slow ones, old ones and new ones (is this sounding like I stole a page from Dr. Seuss yet?). I noticed runners as I had imagined they would look and others that looked, well, more like me. I saw runners running for a cause, and some running just because. I saw smiles and I saw pain. I observed fear and witnessed the light of hope. I heard people cheering for their loved ones even more people cheering for complete strangers. Then it dawned on me: I couldn’t remember how far I’d thought the walk had been from the car to the corner of Wilson and M-37, or that I had to get up so early on a perfectly good Saturday. What I remembered and what I felt deep within me was this sudden sense of “awe.” Wow, so this is what running really is. I left Traverse City that weekend with much more than a “tan” that would make even the most crimson lobster jealous. I left with a new purpose. I want to do this some year. I will do this some year. 

Bold ideas always seem so awesome in the moment, don’t they?! I left Traverse City with a mission in my heart, yet once I returned home, I looked in the mirror and was quickly reminded (by my worst enemy–me), “You aren’t a runner, girl.”

Who was I kidding? That year, my weight pretty much fluctuated anywhere between 360-390 lbs. Yikes!  I know. My lofty running goal, inspired by the runners of Bayshore, took a minute to come alive and bear fruit.

That fall, I finally took a leap and signed up for my first 5K. It was the Big House, Big Heart in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I was roughly 380-390 pounds at the time. Looking back, I had no clue what was in store, what 3.1 miles were going to feel like, and what it would awaken within me upon crossing the finish line. I might have started the race in a sprint (a testament to how much I didn’t know about running at the time) that would make Richard Simmons envious and walked quite a bit of the rest. But I did it. And so my soles would never be the same …

In January of 2011, I finally found the courage to truly begin my journey not only with running, but with losing weight. I often remind myself that the strongest and most brave are those who have the courage to start. Later that year, I not only found myself back at Bayshore (10K) as I had promised myself the year before, but I also found myself dropping quite a bit of weight and feeling pretty darn good. At the peak of my journey (October 2013), I was down around 100 to 110 pounds and truly feeling the best I’ve ever felt. Sure, after being on my “better health” journey for nearly three years, I could have lost more weight, but I guess that’s the beauty and agony of the journey. If everything was smooth sailing, we’d never know what it was like to have to persevere through the tough stuff life throws at us.

Furthermore, is it really all about the scale? What I have accomplished in the last three years are things a scale could never depict: the numerous training miles, the finished 5, 8, and 10Ks, and the successful completion of four half-marathons. You could say that I fell in love with running and, I think, it loves me too. (We’re registered at Hansons Running and Bed, Bath, and Beyond…. if you’re feeling generous!) But now it’s time for me to take things to another level.

You see, I don’t just want to be that girl that people look at and think, “Aww, she did a half-marathon … and at her weight! Isn’t she darling.” I want people to look at me, see me run and say “she’s in it for the long haul.” That is why 2014 is going to be the year that my journey begins a brand new chapter. And part of that will be turning the page and training for and completing four half-marathons this year. This girl is going from four half-marathons in three years to four in one year! I’ll be running in the Traverse City Bayshore Half Marathon in May, Chicago Rock ‘n Roll Half Marathon in July, the Detroit Women’s Half Marathon on Belle Isle in September, and then (my pride and joy) The Detroit Free Press International Half Marathon in October.

My goals? I’m glad you asked. Oh, I have plenty, and I look forward to sharing them with you over the course of this year. But one major goal is to finish a half-marathon under three hours. I came so close last fall but was a little under 10 minutes shy of that mark. As any runner knows, consistently shaving time off of your running is no easy feat. But I’m ready to go the distance. Please join me!

I will be sharing my training regime, race accomplishments, journey experiences and personal reflections with you over the next nine months as I pursue my “Quest for 2:59:59” here at Michigan Runner Girl. Nine months? I guess you could call this quest “my baby,” and that’s truly how it feels. I don’t have kids of my own (unless you count the 20 in my first-grade classroom), but I do know what a labor of love running can be. You feed it so it can grow stronger, you lose sleep over it, cry tears of sadness and joy because of it, embrace every milestone, renew faith and hope daily, and take extreme pride in it. Yep, running is my kid. How ironic. Because it was the old Heather who asked, “Who does that?” But now, it is the always improving and consistently seeking change Heather who replies “I do.” Let’s run together.

Follow Heather here on Michigan Runner Girl and also on her Facebook page – Finding her Happy Pace  »


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2 Responses to “Happy Pace Diaries: Introducing MRG contributor Heather Quinlan”

  1. Heather! I’m sorry I’m finding you this late in the season, because I love your story! I share similarities to bits of your story, and appreciate you “get” what it’s like coming from the “why would anyone do that?” position to the love you’ve finally found with running. I’ll be running the Detroit Women’s Half alongside with you, (I’m also in Macomb County! small world!) as I have a goal of under 3:00 as well! Good luck, and maybe we’ll “run” into each other! HAHA!

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