Rebecca Blatt Thonet is a 31-year-old audiologist in New York. She’s a very seasoned endurance athlete— she’s run multiple marathons and has even branched out to triathalons. Resiliency and mental fortitude are qualities that are built and strengthened through these types of sports, and Rebecca has assuredly reaped these benefits. In her story, she shares how these physical capabilities have translated to inner tools that have helped her grapple with whatever adversities she encounters.
WB: What are the main activities that you integrate into your life to stay fit and healthy?
RT: I started doing yoga regularly in 2011 at Powerflow Yoga in Madison, NJ, and lost about 45 lbs. The lifestyle itself is so healthy that it encouraged me to eat better and cleaner, and I felt so much better. I ended up getting really fit and healthy that way. It wasn’t until I moved to New York in January of 2013 that I started running, and I was actually pretty advanced at the yoga by the time I started running. One of my girlfriends told me just before I moved into Manhattan that we should do a 5k together called Cupid’s Chase; a fun run the weekend before or after Valentine’s Day every year that raises money for individuals with disabilities. I thought she was nuts to think I was capable of running a 5k, but it was for a good cause and it sounded like a lot of fun, so I started training through the winter. The race was unfortunately cancelled due to bad weather, but in training for that race, I found something I enjoyed and kept adding on mileage on my own. I started making new girlfriends, and I realized that running seemed to be something that many of my friends did recreationally. Rather than ask to meet for drinks at the end of the work day, they’d say, “Hey, you want to meet up and go for a run in Central Park? We can catch up and get a good workout in!” I thought to myself, “Seriously?” A friend from ZogSports football and his girlfriend then recommended Team in Training to me, who raises money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society through endurance training; they said it was a good way to make friends with mutual interests while raising money for a good cause. That was how I caught the marathon bug, and I made some of my closest friends today by joining that group.
The running is something that’s taken over the yoga, but they’re actually very complimentary and I really need to get myself back on the mat; I miss the yoga, and I was in the middle of my Yoga Teacher Training while I was training for my first marathon. Runners can suffer from over-training injuries like IT band syndrome, “Runner’s Knee”, tendinitis of the achilles and peroneal tendons, plantar fasciitis, etc, and a lot of those can result from muscle imbalances, a weak core, hips or glutes (as well as building up mileage too quickly), and unfortunately I’ve been struggling with injuries for the past year — I cried throughout the entire 2014 TCS NYC Marathon because of my IT band on my left side. The yoga really helps to even things out on both sides by stretching and strengthening. Cross training is really important.
Triathalons have become my newest thing. I was never a particularly good cyclist; I have always been the person who can’t take her hands off of the handlebars at any time; a real problem in the middle of a long race when you have to refuel. My brother in law is an avid cyclist and one of the pace leaders of the New York Cycling Club, and he said, “So Beck, now that you’ve been doing this marathoning, you should get into cycling. I’d love to have a cycling buddy.” My sister was very pregnant at the time, so although this was something they normally did together, she was temporarily “benched”. He said, “We should put our names in for the lottery for the NYC Triathlon; You help me with the swim, and I’ll help you with the bike. Deal?”So I put my name in for the lottery, got in, and as it turned out, he hadn’t put his name in! So then I said to myself, “Dammit, I guess I’m doing the NYC Tri!” I took my sister’s road bike, joined the Asphalt Green Triathlon club, and started training. I was already a runner so I figured I had that part down, and I was a lifeguard and swim teacher in high school, so I knew my swim couldn’t possibly be that bad. Now I train with my amazing coach, Kevin Hanover, and our team HBodyLab.
WB: How does your current lifestyle compare with what you were like at other points in your life?
RT: I remember that once a year, every year through middle school, we had to do a mile run test around the duck pond nearby. I believe it was roughly three and a quarter times around. I was a heavy kid, and as I was gasping for air, I remember my classmates starting to lap me. One year, I was so far behind everyone else that my teacher thought we were all on our last laps, but I had done maybe 2 ½ of the 3 ½ laps, and he thought I was finished. At the end of it, I got a certificate from the White House saying “Congratulations on your 8 minute mile time!” I was so ashamed because I knew I hadn’t actually finished the full mile. With that history, I honestly never thought that running was something I’d ever do regularly. I hated cardio, so running has been a huge change in lifestyle.
WB: How does running connect to who you are, on a personal level?
RT: With my IT band injury following the 2014 NYC Half, my running and racing hasn’t been going as well for the last year as it could have been, and it’s been a real let-down. My coach said to me recently, “Rebecca, I think you need to reprioritize. There are all these races you want to do and sign up for, and you want to reach certain goals, but you aren’t training the way you need to in order to achieve those goals, and you have too many things on your plate. You want so badly to PR, but you have to realize that you can’t PR for every race that you do, and you need to enjoy each race for what it is. I think you need to reevaluate why you do this. Why do you race?” I was curious to see what other people would say and a lot of people said the same thing, “I do it to stay in shape; I do it to give myself a goal.” Ultimately, though, for a lot of people, it makes them feel good. A lot of people have insecurities about the way they look, or their jobs, and it’s a real self-confidence booster to be able to complete something like an endurance race and say, “I did that.”
When I moved to New York in 2013, I decided to do something totally new and I wanted to challenge myself. I signed up for a bunch of social sports, I made a lot of friends, I signed up for New York Road Runners membership and I ran my first mile, my first three miles, my first 10k full Central Park loop, my first Spartan Race, my first half marathon, and eventually my first marathon. These were things I had never done before. These things can help you grow as a person and give you a boost in self-confidence.
WB: What are some of the benefits you’ve derived from running?
RT: The wonderful friendships I’ve made; That camaraderie of having other people with you, and after a race, having all of our arms around each other. If you train with a group for a marathon, you’re running with 20 other people over 3 hours on a Saturday morning, and you have lots of time to talk and get to know each other. You make friends quickly. All of a sudden, you realize that you’ve been talking to someone you only met earlier that day for the last several hours but it seems like you’ve been bosom buddies forever, and you’re making plans to hang out again. Also, running makes you happy. You get all those endorphins. I started running and I got the first six-pack I ever had. You get a sense of accomplishment that you got something done, and you say “Wow, I just ran 18 miles and it’s not even lunch time yet on a Saturday!”
WB: How do you define the words “healthy” and “fit”?
RT: In Runner’s World, they have many articles about the “runner’s body”, but what does that mean? My previous answer would have been to think about lean, small people. But some of the faster people in our pace groups may not look like the definition of what you would think a runner should be, because it’s not about how you look. Your heart can be fit, even if the rest of your body doesn’t fit the traditional definition. Looking fit and being fit are two different things. You don’t even necessarily have to exercise to be “healthy”. You can eat healthy, live a healthy lifestyle, skip smoking and drinking a lot of beer, but eat the right things, and not necessarily exercise. I think they’re mutually exclusive. I think eating healthy doesn’t necessarily make you ‘fit’. I think there’s a separation. I think you can eat healthy and live a healthy lifestyle. You can also eat crap, but then run a lot and be fit.
WB: What are some mantras you’ve adopted that help you stay motivated? What would you pass on to someone else?
RT: Any time, if I do a run, I always think,“Run happy.” #runhappy has become my favorite hashtag ever since I saw it for the first time on Brooks Running website. It’s about being happy with what you’re doing. I know that if I’ve had a hard day, it’s really hard for me to put on my sneakers and do a run, so I choose to run happy. When you’re sitting on the couch and you keep delaying, you have to tell yourself, “you’ll feel so great after you pound it out on the pavement for a while. And hey, maybe one of your girlfriends will run with you.”
WB: What advice would you pass on to people who are trying to cultivate a more active lifestyle?
RT: It’s your body, and it’s your workout. It should never be about what the person next to you is doing; That’s a good way to tear yourself down — to constantly compare yourself to other people. I think there are plenty of people who wish that they were different; stronger, faster, thinner, etc. I think that it’s easy to fall into a pattern of looking at other people and saying, “Oh, she’s running faster than I am!” It’s better to think about it on a more personal level. “This is about me. This is my workout.” In my case, it’s great to be able to do something for a cause. I run for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society with Team in Training, and I also run with the American Cancer Society — I had two friends pass away, one at the age of 29, and the other was 18 years old and was on her way to college, so I run for Cancer research. Having a sense of purpose helps me. I run to save lives. Every time I do this, I’m raising money for a good cause, and I know that I’m helping to create a world where there are more birthdays. There’s a great app called Charity Miles, where every mile you run they donate to a charity of your choice. Knowing that you’re doing something good for someone else helps.