Lorri Elliott is a flight nurse for Carolinas HealthCare System. Been one for 15 years. Loves it. Always has, and wants to continue doing the job for as long as she can.
This, in fact, is why the Matthews woman started running a year and a half ago, just before her 51st birthday. She'd ballooned to 225 pounds after going through a painful divorce, and was worried that her weight and physical condition were in danger of -- literally -- grounding her.
Since then, Lorri (now 52) is happier and healthier than ever. She knows she'll never have blazing speed, but since October 2008 she's taken almost 10 minutes off of her 5K times; she's fallen in love with triathlons; and a week from Sunday, she'll tackle her first 26.2-mile race: the inaugural Tobacco Road Marathon in Cary.
Q. How did you get involved in running?
A few years ago, I was accepted into CHS's LiveWELL Warriors, a weight-loss program that focuses on lifestyle changes with food and exercise. I did well, but still had a lot of weight I wanted to lose. I continued to work with Kelly Roberts, a LiveWELL specialist, but really struggled to lose more weight. So Kelly suggested that I “kick it up” and increase my exercise. In September of 2008, just before my 51st birthday, I enrolled in a running class sponsored by LiveWELL and managed by a professional coach, Jen Frank of Athleticore Coaching. We started running one minute and walking four, for four cycles. The next week, we went to running two minutes and walking three minutes. By the end of six weeks, I ran the entire HopeBuilders 5K race. It took me 43:40, but I didn’t care. Just finishing the race having run the entire time was an outrageous feeling of accomplishment. Having always been the “fat kid,” I never thought I could run, let alone do a race. I was on top of the world.
Q. So what happened next?
After completing the Hopebuilders 5K, I realized how much I had accomplished for a woman of my age and weight. I wanted to see if I could improve and see where the fitness improvement would take me. Before I started the class, I never thought I could participate in a sporting event like a 5k race, so now that I had and been successful, I wanted to do more. Luckily, LiveWELL continued the running program and I decided to continue as well. I continued to sign up for classes with a woman I met in the first class named Joie Tavener. They each lasted about six weeks, and at the end we’d complete the 5K race associated with the class -- always improving our time. Having a running buddy really helps because you are more accountable.
Q. How much weight have you lost?
I got down to 208 on my own, before I started running, just by doing some random walking and working out. Since I started running, I have lost 14 more pounds.
Q. Are you happy just to be out there being active and being healthy, or are you determined to get faster?
Improving is important to me. I will never be competitive, but I still want to continue to improve and get stronger.
Q. You've shown some pretty good improvement so far, haven't you?
I have! Like I said, at the Hopebuilders 5K in October 2008, my first race, I ran 43:40. At the Cupid’s Cup 5K in February 2009, I improved to 37:34. At this past Cupid’s Cup, last month, I finished in 33:48. Improving so much is unusual for the average 20-year-old, but for an over-50, overweight female, it makes sense when you're learning to run and having fun doing so.
Q. Tell me how you got involved in triathlons.
Last spring, one of my co-workers also started training with (my Athleticore coach) Jen Frank, and he completed a triathlon. He then came to me and challenged me to try to do the Lake Norman Triathlon held Aug. 23, 2009. I actually told him he was on crack, but decided I could do it when Jen stated “I’ll coach you!” I talked Joie into the training, and together we trained six days a week for 10 weeks. Sometimes that was only a half an hour; sometimes it was several hours a day. Our goal was to complete the race, which we did. By the end of training, I’d lost five pounds and one percent of my body fat, my body mass index dropped one point, and I lost three inches from my hips. I went on to also do the Take Flight Triathlon in October.
Q. What do you enjoy more, running road races, or triathlons?
I really enjoy it all, but I lean toward the triathlons. It’s fun to break up the activities -- if you’re poor in one sport, you can overcome in another. And the people who participate in triathlons are special. They come in all sizes and abilities and are extremely supportive. They actually have categories such as the “Clydesdales,” for men over 200 pounds, and the “Athenas,” for women over 150 pounds. I, naturally, am in the “Novice” class.
Q. What's your goal for Tobacco Road?
My goal, as with anytime I try a new type of race, is to finish on my feet with a smile. Joie and I will be running together. Although she now is much faster than me, for the marathon we have talked about the fact that we are going at our practiced marathon pace in order to have the stamina to finish.
Q. What do you think is next for you after Tobacco Road?
Good question. I would like to improve my triathlon, try the trail version of triathlons -- mountain bike, trail run, open water swim -- and maybe do the Virginia Beach Rock’n’Roll Half Marathon (in September). Not sure I want to tackle a marathon again, but it’s too soon to tell.
Q. Do you regret that you didn't start running earlier in your life?
I hate to regret anything, although there are things that I do regret. Yes, I regret not taking the opportunities to be in good physical shape earlier in life. But things do happen for a reason -- I am sure that my running is one of those things. Fortunately, unlike other runners at my age, I still have well-working knees!
Q. And I hear that you're now “giving back”?
Yes. I am now a mentor for a women’s running class. While participating in the running classes, I noticed that women would come to the class and because there were few other beginning runners, they would run just with one of the coaches. They rarely returned. They felt uncomfortable because of their weight, age or lack of ability to run. So with my idea, Jen started the “Ladies in Motion” class through LiveWELL. This class supports women who want to learn to run or even just walk with other women looking to be more active. We learn about clothing -- we big ladies need assistance with our supportive clothing -- hydration, shoes, and nutrition. Mentoring doesn’t pay me a thing, but I feel good knowing I have encouraged other women to become more active and improve their lives.