By Alisa Blackwood
How does a woman who spent her high school gym years chosen last for teams, and who described herself as “unathletic,” take up the challenge of running her first marathon at age 45 in Dublin, Ireland?
“I’ve always had a lot of determination, but at times have lacked confidence. I have found that you must face your fears to build confidence,” says Kathy Zanath, now 55.
She built that confidence, one stride at a time, by starting to run in her mid-30s.
The desire to fend off her family history of diabetes and high cholesterol, along with a nagging 10 to 15 extra pounds, urged Zanath to lace up her running shoes. Joining a neighborhood friend, Zanath pushed through the shortness of breath and side stitches common among new runners.
“I thought I was the greatest when I ran my first mile without stopping,” Zanath says. “I didn’t know how people did even a 5k (3.1 miles).”
Her new, healthy lifestyle had trickle-down effects on the rest of her life, too. Her relationships became stronger as she more confidently expressed herself to her boss, her office staff, friends and family. Zanath’s three children also grew up to be active as a result of her and her husband’s example.
While Zanath loved the effects of running, she didn’t ramp up her routine to the marathon level until age 45. Responding to her passion and enthusiasm, Zanath’s brother pointed out that with the amount of energy she had, she should run a marathon. That small amount of encouragement was exactly what she needed.
“As I got more into my training, and built confidence, I definitely also built confidence on the job,” Zanath says. So much so that when the position of medical office manager opened up where she worked as a receptionist, she applied for it and received the promotion.
Later that year, on a cool, misty morning in Dublin, Ireland, Zanath ran and ran, putting one foot in front of another until she crossed the finish line—26.2 miles of pavement trailing behind her.
“It’s a feeling like you can’t believe. It’s a euphoria that you have accomplished something you thought maybe you couldn’t do. After that first marathon I felt I could do almost anything,” says Zanath, a medical office manager in Scottsdale, Ariz.
From then on, Zanath was hooked on racing—and inspiring others to get into shape by example. She signed up for another marathon, then another, until she had zigzagged the globe in her running shoes, racing through New York City, Chicago, Vancouver, France, Italy, and along the Big Sur coastline.
Five years after her first marathon, Zanath accomplished one of her most daunting running goals: a 50-mile Ultra Race to celebrate her 50th birthday.
Next up? Zanath is pushing herself once again. She hopes to qualify for the Boston Marathon during this fall’s St. George Marathon, which she considers a “training run” for a 50-mile race in November.
“I’m not real fast. I’m not horribly slow, either. I’m not all that talented, but I have determination.”
Kathy Zanath, transforming her life:
Alisa Blackwood is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in O, The Oprah Magazine, CNN.com, TravelandLeisure.com, Cooking Light, Body+Soul, Health and more. When she’s not writing, Alisa volunteers as a birth doula, supporting women through labor & childbirth support.