Five to eight cans of Diet Coke a day. Wine, chicken wings and pizza when dining out. A phase that meant a bowl of ice cream every night before bed. More alcohol, sometimes a little too much, sometimes a little too often.
Some of it was just a habit, some of it was to cope with a divorce and some of it was probably a little bit of self-medicating for anxiety and panic attacks.
None of it added up to obesity or a drastic wake-up call in the doctor’s office or something you’d see on a reality TV show.
But all of it together meant that Shannon Darton never really felt all that great, either.
So, she made the promise so many of us have made: I’ll start fresh on Monday.
“Then Monday would pass and I wouldn’t do anything about it,” Darton said. “I would follow the same path almost weekly, disappointing myself every time.”
It’s so hard to make lifestyle changes for our health.
It’s so hard to go it alone.
But Darton made one Monday different. On Dec. 1, 2014, the mother of two from Hartland made a promise to herself and by Wednesday she was confident enough to even post this to her 700 friends on Facebook:
“Feeling really really motivated! Starting the annual health kick again that includes working out daily, eating healthy and no alcohol to jump start this. I believe this time I will stick to it especially when the kids are working out with me. We can motivate each other. (Hashtag)teameffort – feeling determined.”
And this simple, non-New Year’s Day resolution led to a 50-pound weight loss and her first-ever Lakefront Marathon two weeks ago. The recipe for success: taking one step at a time, a lot of work, an investment in a running coach and throughout it all, support.
At first, it was very hard to get motivated to run.
“It took everything I had to make it happen. I literally felt like I was shuffling down the street,” Darton said. “I could barely run a mile.”
Soon after her declaration and that first month of running, Darton spontaneously adopted a dog from the Wisconsin Humane Society, and the black lab, Inca, who was estimated to be between 3 and 4 years old, became her training partner. In the morning, Inca would pop her head up expectantly for a run. When Darton got out of bed for any reason, Inca headed for her leash on the desk.
“She would keep me going when I didn’t really feel like it. She would look at me like, ‘C’mon, we’ve got to go for a run,’ ” said Darton.
Dead of winter, 4 a.m. it didn’t matter – Inca and Shannon went.
“I bought her little winter boots, for her paws, which she does not love,” Darton said.
Darton ran her first 5K races in the Chilly Willy winter running series by Silver Circle Sports. By August of 2015 she did a half marathon with the Badgerland Striders and started to think about a full.
Darton hired a running coach, Lisa Turner from InStep Running Center in Delafield, for about $65 a month, and she devised a progressive six-day-a-week, 10-month running plan for Darton. She would check in weekly on the progress with pages of suggestions and plans.
“I was so excited to get that email,” said Darton. “It was like, what are we going to do this month? It was so motivating.”
The coach thought she was running a lot of “junk miles” – meaning Darton was just putting in the time and the miles, and not working on getting faster or stronger.
On the coach’s plan, Darton whittled her times down from an 11-minute mile to a 9-minute mile. And then she completed her first marathon, the Lakefront Marathon, in 5 hours and 29 minutes.
While she trained, she really focused on her nutrition. She reduced or eliminated fried foods, sweets and white flour foods. For a year and eight months she abstained from alcohol completely and now only drinks it for a special occasion. She stopped drinking soda altogether. She never eats fast food anymore. Now when she goes out to eat – it’s her favorite thing to do, so she didn’t give it up – she gets the healthiest choice like a salad and asks for a healthier dressing.
She’s lost 50 pounds. She no longer needs the prescription anxiety medication she took, which had terrible side effects for her.
All the while, Darton, who turns 43 on Wednesday, posted her goals as well as her achievements on Facebook.
She talked about everything from the support she got from her now-adult kids, to a heightened sense of spirituality, to getting a new home and a new job, to practicing gratitude.
“Posting on Facebook – putting it out there to all your friends – I feel like it helped me be accountable,” Darton said. “It’s only been about 10 days after Lakefront and I’m already starting to think about what I want to do next.”