Prevailing Through a Pandemic: How Kristen Troy Made 2020 Her Best Year Yet

by Sasha Reddy, originally published in January 2021

During what many people would call the worst year in modern history, one fit-minded HAC employee accomplished not just one but two major health and wellness goals. In addition to losing 30lbs and regaining control of her weight, Kristen Troy ran her first marathon.

Kristen is no stranger to exercise. She spent most of her young adult years as a competitive swimmer, even competing in the Club Swim Nationals as a sophomore at the University of Delaware. While studying applied nutrition and interactive media at the University of Delaware, the Little Bob Gym was her fitness hub, and she traveled almost everywhere by bike or on foot. But throughout her three and a half years at UD, Kristen slowly became more lax with her health. As a student, Kristen worked as a resident assistant, restaurant hostess, leasing consultant, intern, and more. The immense stress of maintaining as many as three jobs at a time in addition to school meant that Kristen’s health and fitness often became an afterthought, and easy access to less-than-healthy food choices around campus didn’t help the situation. “I think I gained 25 to 30 pounds from freshman year to junior year,” she reports.

Kristen and her now-husband Jerome at a college swim meet in 2016

During college and after her graduation, Kristen made many attempts to reclaim control of her weight. When she moved out of the dorms and into an apartment, she could do more grocery shopping and plan meals ahead of time. However, it became easy to save time by eating out or snacking at home with such a busy schedule. “Making smoothies in the morning quickly turned into making milkshakes at night,” Kristen giggles. She participated in a weight loss competition in January 2018, but in the midst of planning her wedding and seeking a full-time job after graduation, her weight-loss mission was again left by the wayside.

Shortly after accepting a full-time position in the Marketing Department at HAC, Kristen decided to sign up for the 2019 Lifestyle Challenge. Though she only lost a little over one percent of body fat during the 12-week challenge, she came out of it feeling stronger. Working with a personal trainer and bringing fitness back into her regular routine got Kristen feeling inspired, especially having resolved to run a 5k every month that year with her husband, Jerome. Though she had spent plenty of time in the pool and at the gym, running was a relatively new fitness genre for her. “All of the 5ks I had done before that, I never trained for them,” she says. “I just kind of showed up the day of.” The personal training sessions she attended during the Lifestyle Challenge motivated Kristen to try and run a further distance, so she decided to register for the quarter marathon event at the Lederhosen Running Festival in September 2019. This would be her first time making a deliberate effort to train for a running event; she started training in July and loved the experience all the way through to race day. “I always imagined after my quarter marathon that one day, I would run a marathon,” Kristen says. “I thought it would be in my late twenties or early thirties because I wanted to give my body time to adjust to running and ease in.” Little did she know that her dream 26.2-mile run would come sooner than anticipated.

Kristen and Lisa Maguire at the Lederhosen Running Event in September 2019

By the start of 2020, all the weight that Kristen had lost early in 2019 had come back. “I was two pounds heavier than I had been the previous year on January 1st,” she says. In her newest attempt to make significant lifestyle changes, she decided to try a new diet program. The program encouraged lots of fruits, vegetables, and lean meats and reduced or completely excluded processed foods, sodium, and sugar. After a full month of sticking to the diet, Kristen weighed in on February 1st at 176 lbs – a healthy 7-pound difference from her January 1st weigh-in. Despite the positive initial results, the diet ultimately proved to be too prohibitive to be sustainable for her in the long-term. “I love baking, and I love cooking, and I just felt like it was restricting my lifestyle.” She began consulting friends on their weight-loss strategies, and one common trend became clear: calorie-tracking. At the end of February, Kristen started to track all of her food and set a sustainable goal to lose one pound per week.

In conjunction with calorie-tracking, Kristen continued running in the new year. Even after stay-at-home orders took effect in mid-March, she kept up a regular running regimen. She even participated in various virtual races, including the AllState Hot Chocolate 15k on May 2nd. On May 17th, Kristen’s friend Dana, who had run the 15k with her, reached out with a wild proposal: run the 2020 Philadelphia Marathon together that upcoming November.

Kristen was hesitant at first. Though running a marathon was a goal of hers, this was sooner than she envisioned by a longshot. She spent a lot of time contemplating. What was the monetary risk of signing up and the chances that she would not be able to complete it? Would she be able to finish the race within the allotted time? Would she be able to train enough to be prepared in time for race day? After a week of research and back-and-forth with Dana, she made the commitment on May 25th, 2020.

Kristen’s marathon commitment announcement

With registration complete, it was time to plan her training regimen. Kristen started using the Nike Running Club app’s marathon training feature to schedule out her workouts in the months leading up to her race. She ran on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, with Saturdays being her “long-run days.” Kristen says the app made it extremely easy to record data from every run and benchmark her progress as the weeks went by. “As a runner, you need your stats. You want to be able to look back and say, ‘Okay, I ran this distance at this pace at this time on this day.'”

To build on her marathon training, Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays became cross-training days. Kristen and Jerome live in a relatively small apartment, and the fitness facility on-site was closed due to COVID-19, so to keep up a regular strength training routine, Kristen had to focus primarily on body weight and band exercises. She occasionally used backpacks stuffed with books or detergent containers filled with water to add extra weight into her workouts – proof that if you have the desire to make meaningful lifestyle changes, you’ll find the means to make it.

Completing a rainy day run in June 2020

The more Kristen trained, the more liberties she was able to take with her workouts. After running so many miles through Newark, she grew comfortable changing her run routes on the fly. She listened to her body and took time to walk, stretch, and perform simple yoga flows as needed. Towards the end of her training, Kristen even began swapping long-run days for weekend-long backpacking trips. “I definitely was taking more ownership and feeling more comfortable in my ability to modify what I was doing,” she says. Though difficult at times, Kristen also learned to adapt her diet in ways that would both further her weight-loss journey and adequately fuel her body for training. “I [already] knew you had to have proper nutrition to be a good athlete…I think it was just harder to put it into a plan for myself.” Kristen had been pretty successful in losing one pound per week since she began tracking her calories and measuring all of her portions. By October, she was down to just over 150 pounds, looking leaner and feeling accomplished.

Kristen before and after losing 25 pounds

Finally, marathon day arrived. While the 2020 Philadelphia Marathon was ultimately canceled and Kristen’s registration was deferred to 2021, she was determined to keep her 2020 run date. She decided to plan her own marathon route – a gorgeous trek along the C&D Canal. “We started in Delaware City, and we were basically going to the Maryland border and back.” The morning of race day, November 22nd, Kristen was feeling remarkably relaxed. Her running bag was packed with snacks, water, and other necessities, her route was mapped, and her head was clear. At 10:36 am, the race was on.

Initially, some of Kristen’s family members had planned to park themselves at intervals along her route to cheer her on throughout her race, but due to COVID travel restrictions, they could not be there in-person. Still, Jerome planned to bike alongside Kristen throughout her entire run – just as he had done during most of her 28 weeks of training – and the rest of her family made sure to share their support from afar. “My mom and my sister and my brother were planning out time intervals in which they would text Jerome to relay messages to me,” Kristen says. Their encouragement was not just appreciated but a necessary ingredient for her race-day success.

Marathon Day

The first half of the marathon flew by. At mile ten, Kristen was joined by Dana, her friend that had convinced her to run the Philly Marathon with her in the first place. Due to a hamstring injury, Dana was only able to tag along for a portion of the run. Still, her company was welcome, especially as Kristen’s legs began to tire. Unfortunately, their run together was interrupted when one of Jerome’s bike tires popped around mile 16. Unable to repair it while on the trail, he was forced to hitch a ride with Dana back to a parking lot toward the end of the route, leaving Kristen to continue the run by herself. “For the first time in the day, I was completely alone.”

In her isolation, Kristen’s physical and emotional stress began to get the best of her. The pain from the blisters that had formed on her feet became hard to ignore, the temperature became increasingly chilly and uncomfortable, and tears began to well in her eyes. “Around mile 18, I started to cry.” Kristen had become used to Jerome’s company during her training, so the solitude was mentally excruciating. There were many points at which Kristen considered calling it quits and scheduling an Uber ride to mile 26. On an unfamiliar route, those miles spent alone proved to be the most challenging part of not just that day but her entire marathon journey. “I have never felt the way that I felt there,” she says.

Meanwhile, Jerome had backtracked from the parking lot where Dana dropped him off and managed to rendezvous with Kristen around mile 21. “When I saw him, I burst into tears,” she explains. The sight of her husband re-ignited her desire to power through and finish the race despite her overwhelming physical and mental exhaustion. Though she had to slow down and walk at times, Kristen continued stepping, steadily covering the final miles of her run. “When I got to 26, and I only had point two [miles] left, I was watching the numbers go.” At 5:03 pm, that long-awaited “26.2” flashed onto her screen, and Kristen collapsed into a puddle on the ground crying tears of joy. “I couldn’t breathe because I was so happy to have finished.” Her first marathon was officially in the books.

Kristen shedding tears of joy after finishing her first marathon

The year 2020 was full of intense challenges that even Kristen wasn’t able to escape. Despite having been furloughed during the first coronavirus surge, she managed to make the most of a lousy situation amidst much mental and financial stress. In fact, Kristen feels that quarantine has been a game-changer for her health and wellness journey. She’d already successfully lost 11 pounds before stay-at-home orders were put in place, but she’s confident that the amount of progress she made afterward would not have been possible had she not had the time to focus on herself. Time was just what Kristen needed to put a healthy and sustainable diet into practice and jumpstart her running career. She’s got big plans to look forward to this year, too: planning more backpacking trips, furthering her yoga practice, and running the Philadelphia Marathon in person (maybe even under five hours), to name a few.

There’s a lesson to be learned both from Kristen’s running journey and perseverance in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic: life’s a race, and though you may have to walk at times or stop to tie your shoe, you just have to keep moving.

Update: February 21, 2021

by Kristen Troy

Three months have passed since completing my first marathon, and I am finally getting back into the swing of a routine. I took a month-long break post-marathon for my muscles to recover and fully appreciate what I had accomplished. During my three months post-marathon, I took time to relax and explore hobbies other than running, which was refreshing after 28 weeks of training. My exploration led me to incorporate Indoor Rock Climbing as a fun workout once or twice a week. It is a great way to build up my upper body strength for someone who tends to skip upper body day!

Rock climbing at the Delaware Rock Gym

My running has picked up since January, and as of February 21st, I have three races in the next three months. The first of the races is the Philadelphia Virtual Hot Chocolate 15k, which I plan to run on April 3rd. It’ll be my third year in a row taking part in the Philadelphia Hot Chocolate Running event, and I’m hoping to drop a couple of minutes off my time from last year. A week after the 15k, I will be running my first in-person race since December 2019, the Fusion Racing Five & Wine, on April 11th. It will also be my third year in a row running the Five & Wine race, and I am working towards a personal best to top last year’s virtual race time, which was 13 minutes faster than my first Five & Wine time. The hardest of the three races will be a half marathon combining road running with beach running on May 15th for the Race4Warriors event at Cape Henlopen State Park. This (remove “half marathon”) will be my first half marathon race, though I’ve completed the distance a handful of times during my marathon training over the past year. Since the race includes soft sand running, I hope to match my personal best, and beating it would be a bonus! The excitement of having races, even virtual ones, has re-ignited my motivation to train, work towards personal bests in the three distances, and optimize my nutrition to achieve my goals.

First run of 2021

I have four days of running planned each week leading up to the half marathon and will include cross-training at least twice a week. I’ve picked back up on calorie tracking, which I took a hiatus from post-marathon, to have peace of mind that I’m fueling my body sufficiently for my training. I’m paying more attention to my macros to make sure I have a good distribution of fat, protein, and carbohydrates in my diet.

2020 was a year of perseverance to lay a healthy foundation for my weight loss and fitness journey. 2021 is a year to expand on those foundations, grow even more confident, and achieve my new running and fitness goals!

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