A blog by runners. For runners.

Runner of the week: from "Gorda" to elite marathoner

runner of the week Erika Huerta

This week’s runner of the week, Erika Huerta, lost 80 pounds and is now training for the Olympic Trials. Here is her incredible transformation story:

I never considered myself much of an athlete. As a matter of fact, early on in life I wasn’t proficient in any kind of physical activity except eating.

As a young girl living in a Cuban household, my diet staples consisted of rice, black beans, fried steak, and fried plantains. I spent most of my summers watching television, eating potato chips, and drinking McArthur chocolate milk. My eating habits and lack of physical activity inevitably led my family and closest friends to nickname me “Gorda” aka Chubster, a Cuban term of endearment.

Erika Huerta as a child
My eating behaviors and inactivity continued through junior high school, and by the time I started high school, there was not one athletic bone in my body. It was during this time I began to gain a lot of weight. I was taking advanced placement classes so all my focus was directed at building my academic résumé for college.

In college, I instantly became a poster child for the dreaded “Freshman 15″ — except instead of 15, I gained 40 pounds my first year in college. Like most students, I was adjusting to college life, which meant partying all night, drinking adult beverages, and eating pizza before going to bed. Later that year, I took a trip to Georgia with a group of friends. Shortly after the trip, I found a photograph that really stood out from the rest. My clothes fit me tight and my watch was choking my wrist. I looked very unhealthy and clearly overweight — I was not happy with myself.

It was at that very moment I decided to lose weight and regain control of my life.
As I carefully thought about my diet and exercise strategy, a friend suggested I try Weight Watchers.

Since, like most college students, I could not afford to go to the Weight Watchers’ meetings, I photocopied my friend’s Weight Watchers book and I followed the point system to a T. I carefully measured everything I ate, but more importantly, I learned how to eat.

The next challenge was choosing an exercise plan that would work for me. I didn’t have any knowledge about sports or fitness, so I figured that running would be the easiest thing to do.

Erika Huerta before

I bought myself a pair of sneakers and off I went.

I still remember the first time I went for a run at the age of 22. I felt eager and motivated to run through the campus and enjoy the scenery my university offered.

Unfortunately, my experience was anything but exciting. My body felt heavy and my legs felt like anchors on the bottom of the ocean. The weather was hot and humid and I felt awkward. I remember feeling like a cartoon character running in place because my pace was so slow. As I continued running my body begged for me to walk. I just couldn’t run anymore so I stopped running that day. I was upset at myself for giving up, but that sense of failure motivated me to run the next day and the day after that.

It’s been eight years since my first run and I have never looked back. After losing about 80 pounds, I am now running competitively and living a healthy lifestyle. I ran my first full marathon in 2008, which was then followed by the Chicago Marathon in 2010. It was at the Chicago Marathon I qualified for the Boston Marathon, so the next challenge I posed for myself was running a sub-3 hour marathon. I accomplished this goal at the New York City Marathon in 2011 when I finished in 2:59:08. The following year I was able to beat my record by finishing the Georgia Snickers Marathon in 2:58:43.

My current goal is to qualify for the U.S. Olympic Trials in 2016 by running at least a 2:46:00.

These days, I am so passionate about running that nothing will stop me from doing it. But I always try to listen to my body, so when I’m extremely tired, I take a day off. There are some weeks that I work 60+ hours, so time management is essential. I basically come up with a running plan every week so that I can properly manage work, family life, and running.

If there’s one suggestion I could make to anyone who is starting to diet and/or exercise it is consistency. If you’re consistent with a diet plan or a training regiment, you will see results. You need to be patient and the results will follow. Just enjoy the journey while you’re getting there and believe that it will happen. I truly believe that with sacrifice and dedication, anything is possible.

Follow Erika Huerta’s journey on her blog, Erika Huerta Runs. Erika will be running Boston this coming Monday.