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ESPN sportscaster Dana Jacobson is on a mission to prove, in her own words, that "former fat girls can get healthy." Jacobson, the first lady of ESPN's "First Take," trained for and finished her first half-marathon in September. With one down, Jacobson is already eyeing her second "half" in Hartford, Conn., on Oct. 15. She gives espnW the skinny on her running triumph.
espnW: What made you decide to do the Philadelphia Rock 'n' Roll 1/2 Marathon?
Dana Jacobson: This half-marathon has been a long time coming for me. Though I was always playing sports as a kid, I was also a chubby kid, then an obese teenager. I lost 100 pounds in high school on a diet that wasn't really the best idea health-wise: 900 calories a day plus workouts. Not surprisingly, I gained it all back. I battled my weight constantly, dropping some in chunks when I made fitness a priority and tried to manage my eating. About 10 years ago, I'd lost about half of what I'd gained back and decided with some friends to train for a marathon. I got a stress fracture [in my foot] while training, and had to be booted for six weeks so it could heal.
When I finally did start running I had a lot of pain, so I just sort of gave up on the idea. I'd toy with it every so often, but I still had foot pain and it just didn't seem realistic. Last year I finally lost the rest of the weight -- 43 pounds. It changed my body and I started running more. I was feeling better and better and upping my long run once a week. When I hit six miles I started thinking I could do a half-marathon. I got hooked up with Runner's World and their chief trainer, Bart Yasso. He is incredible. He gave me weekly running plans and made me realize that with successful runs each week I could do it.
espnW: How did you stay motivated during training?
DJ: I stayed motivated thanks to Bart and a training schedule that gave me a chance to have little challenges and successes along the way. I also kept envisioning the goal: finishing the race and doing something that at one point I never thought possible. The endorphins from runs are also pretty powerful. Once you get past four or five miles it is physically addicting, really!
espnW: Did anything surprise you during the race?
DJ: Nothing really surprised me in the race -- I've run 5K and 10K races before and covered a variety of different types of races as a sports reporter. I did like how much fun the Rock 'n' Roll 1/2 was. They have bands every mile or so and cheerleaders along the way from local schools -- all kinds of little boosts for you along the way. I guess the number of people who came out to cheer was surprising. That was special to see.
espnW: While you were running, what did you think about?
DJ: When I was running I had music all the time, thanks to my Nano. I had trained with music and it really made a difference because I would just escape into songs and let my mind wander. So I got into my music sometimes. I was looking at some of the scenery. I also was thinking about how good it would be to finish. Then I would remember the advice I got from the folks at Runner's World, telling me to run that mile [to focus on one mile at a time]. I got back into my music and thinking about how hard I'd worked to get to that point.
espnW: How did you feel when you finished?
DJ: I lost a little steam around 10 miles. For the last mile, I knew that I was reaching my goal. There were a lot of runners around me and I was just looking around taking the scene in, quite proud that I'd accomplished my goal. I did think, I can't believe people running a marathon would only be at the halfway point now. I felt like I proved something to myself that I was strong enough to do something I once thought wasn't possible. I felt like it was one more step for me in truly shaking off the "fat girl" feeling I'd had for so long. About 10 minutes after, I was even thinking, "What's my next half going to be?"
espnW: So, what did you decide to do next?
DJ: I'm 99 percent certain my next half will be in Hartford in mid-October. After that one I'll decide if I'm going to try a full. I think if I did, I would have to do New York. I love the city so much and have heard nothing but amazing things about [the race]. The other option would be to train for a marathon with my brother. He just got back from working for the Department of Defense over in Afghanistan. He was there with me for the Philadelphia Rock 'n' Roll 1/2 Marathon and has run the Marine Corps Marathon. I think it would be amazing to train for a marathon and run one that he's in also. Maybe it's a little sister/big brother thing or maybe the sibling rivalry that would spurn me on, I'm not sure. Either way, I know that I'll keep running because I've been enjoying it so much it's funny because I used to hate it.