At the beginning of 2017, Kristin Matteo was bored, a little burned out and stuck in a rut. Her part-time job wasn’t challenging her the way she wanted, and she had no long-term goals.
“I feel like I wasn’t accomplishing anything,” says the 47-year-old travel blogger. “I was working for my husband’s company and I didn’t feel like I had anything of my own.”
She was (as she describes it) in “OK” shape, attending Zumba classes two or three times a week in her hometown of Ocean Grove, New Jersey, and running a few miles “sporadically, to mix up the workout.” When a friend challenged her to sign up for the New Jersey Half Marathon, Matteo immediately dismissed the idea, never having run more than 3.5 miles at once.
“I’m not a runner. I hate running. I’ve always hated running,” says Matteo. “I told [my friend] I would drop her off at the start line on race day. I never thought I would be there, too.”
But after a few weeks of prodding and encouragement from her friend, Matteo found herself on the race registration website hours before a discount pricing deadline. She was hesitant, but in her mind, the price increase made signing up a “now-or-never” situation.
“I had texted all my runner friends that day, asking them if they thought I could do it,” she recalls. “They all said I could and I should.”
She had been researching half marathon training plans and found one that perfectly fit the timing she needed to train. The only thing left to do was commit. Though the doubt was still heavy in her mind, she decided to sign up.
“I registered — with all confidence that I could back out at any time,” Matteo admits. “My main obstacle became convincing my brain that I could actually do this.”
She eventually realized low self-confidence wouldn’t be the only hurdle she’d encounter along the way.
A PAIN IN THE … FOOT
As Matteo’s training progressed, she grew a more confident with each longer run.
“I had a few good runs in the beginning that really motivated me, like going from 3.5 [miles] to 4.5 and then to 6,” she says. “When I finally made it to 7 miles in Week 5, I was psyched. But after that, I really hit a wall.”
At first, the wall was a mental one, as Matteo struggled to push past the 7-mile mark. Then, she started feeling pain in her foot that she’d never experienced before. After a diagnosis of the common running injury plantar fasciitis, her training and mental strength took a heavy hit. Coupled with a few naysayers who put more doubt in her mind (and whom Matteo declines to name), her “wall” became even taller and thicker.
“I backed off from my training plan and missed a few long runs,” she says. “I turned 47 during Week 7 of my training and lost a bit of focus during my various birthday celebrations, basically just putting the race out of my mind. Plus, my foot pain almost had me ready to quit.”
Luckily, she was able to make a hard turn off her path of withdrawal, deciding to take measures to combat and ease her plantar fasciitis, including a regular routine of icing her foot, wearing special inserts and getting a painful (but effective) treatment called Graston Technique. She also decided to join a training group completing a 10-mile run three weeks out from the race — which would call for her to add 3 miles to her all-time longest 7-miler.
“[The run] covered part of the actual race course and landed on a perfectly crisp, sunny Sunday morning,” she says. “I had a walk a couple times near the end, but my foot held up and my confidence was boosted. Everyone told me, ‘If you can run 10, you can run 13.’ And I believed it.”
She believed it so much that she posted the run on Facebook as her first public commitment to the race.
The next couple weeks called for a taper on her training plan, so she stuck with shorter (3–6 mile) runs to not stress her still-healing foot. As the race neared, Matteo realized there was no turning back.
“I told myself ‘I’m just going to give it my best shot,’” she says.
READY OR NOT
Heading into the race, Matteo felt OK with her longest run being 10 miles, but she admits to “not having a clue how the race would go.” In fact, she even gave herself a possible out on the eve of the race.
“The night before, I said to myself, ‘I could still bail, if my foot hurts in the morning,’” she says. “But I woke up feeling great!’
Matteo arrived at the race with her friend (the same one who encouraged her to sign up) and, despite having missed her pace group at the starting line, took off with confidence.
“I didn’t want to go out too fast. I was listening to the MapMyRun app to stay on pace,” she says. “I was feeling tired, but OK. I walked a few times and stopped at a lot of water stops, but when I reached mile 10, I was in a zone.”
And finding that zone proved to be her ticket to success. While she recalls miles 10–12 being particularly tough, she says getting to the last turn onto the boardwalk leading to the finish line gave her a miraculous surge of energy.
“I’m not an overly self-confident person, nor am I very competitive,” she admits. “But I didn’t care if I had to crawl across the finish line. I was going to finish and prove to myself — and my naysayers — that I could.”
FINDING HER “THING”
As for Matteo’s perspective now, she says completing the race has literally changed her life by encouraging her to take on new things.
“The race was a turning point to prove that I can do anything.”
“I’ve never been a big goal-setter,” says Matteo. “But then running became my thing. It gave me the chance to set a goal and work toward it. Running forced me out of my comfort zone — it was just what I needed.”
She now owns her own Etsy store, is putting more focus on her photography and has joined a health and wellness company as an independent consultant. She’s even considering another half marathon in Philadelphia in September.
“It took me a while to figure it out, but the race was a turning point to prove that I can do anything.”
Not only could Matteo run a half marathon, she did run a half marathon. And so can you, she says. You just have to believe.