Had you asked Danni Allen a year ago if she could ever picture herself running a marathon, she would have looked at you aghast and asked you if you were crazy. But now as the Illinois native wraps up her final week of training for the 2013 Bank of America Chicago Marathon, it’s likely that the response would be completely different.
THE STARTING LINE
Ms. Allen’s fitness story began on September 27, 2012, when she was one of the 15 contestants selected to join season 14 of The Biggest Loser. Despite a grueling weight loss program, the 26 year old was determined to shed the pounds. Finally, during the live season finale, Ms. Allen stunned audiences across America with her transformation after a final weight loss of 121lbs.
With a story that started just a little over a year ago, her achievements are nothing short of amazing. Looking back on her early days at The Biggest Loser ranch, Ms. Allen remembers struggling just to finish one mile during a basic fitness test. But, according to her, the hardest part of the challenge was the mental barriers that she encountered along the way.
“[I said], ‘I’m never going to be a runner,’” she recalls. “I used every excuse in the book not to run: my knees hurt, my back hurts, I have sports induced asthma, etc. I eventually had to push through those mental barriers and ended up running one mile in about 15 minutes.”
Things could only go up from there.
With the help of an amazing fitness coach she had met on the ranch, Ms. Allen has worked her way up to a consistent 9:30 pace-per-mile going into this year’s race. “I don’t think anyone can say running 26.2 miles is easy,” remarks Ms. Allen, adding that she has hit a few psychological and physical roadblocks throughout her training. “The hardest part of the process for me was dedicating the time to run one long run a week,” she says. “When I reached 16 miles, that was when I felt I hit my first wall and mental toughness really came into play.”
RUNNING FOR A CAUSE
Alongside her fitness goals, this year’s race has taken on a deeply personal meaning for Ms. Allen: she’s committed to raise funds for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital as part of their “St. Jude Heroes” campaign. She says that her relationship with the organization goes back three generations.
“My grandmother immigrated to the U.S. from Croatia and didn’t have a lot of money, but St. Jude’s was the one organization she always donated to whenever she could – it was very close to her heart,” she says. “Even after she has passed away we still receive letters from them thanking her for her contributions.”
During her travels since winning The Biggest Loser, Ms. Allen had the opportunity to visit St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis. She describes the experience as “truly amazing.”
“St. Jude’s isn’t just a hospital, it’s a community,” she says. “A community of people going through similar struggles. I went down there thinking I was going to need so many tissues because it would be so sad, I did need the tissues, but because it was [a happy place]. I saw so many children who are just beaming with life and positivity despite their illnesses.”
As race day gets closer, Ms. Allen says that her experience has finally come full circle, “St. Jude’s holds such a special place in my heart,” she says. “This run has become my shot to do something more for this wonderful organization: honoring my grandmother’s memory, as well as helping millions of kids out there that truly need it.”
THE FINISH LINE
If running a marathon has always been on your bucket list, Ms. Allen has some advice to get you started. “Make sure to keep perspective with regards to where you’re starting,” she explains. “Running a marathon is a huge goal and an intense commitment, so it helps to break it down by weeks and build slowly.”
She adds that having a running partner has helped to keep her motivated and accountable. “If you have to meet that person at a certain time to train and they’re waiting for you, you’re going to be there,” she says. Ms. Allen also recommends taking a break from running once or twice a week to focus on strength or cross training to target different muscle groups and build endurance.
Ms. Allen’s journey to run a marathon has truly been one of immense heart and determination. She has proven through her dedication that it doesn’t matter what your circumstances are and that it’s never too late to start. “Before The Biggest Loser I used to go to bed every night and dream about what it would be like to be thin,” she recalls. “Now, I want to pay it forward, I want everyone to know what being fit feels like.”
These days, she says she wakes up every day feeling confident, happy and strong. “Don’t forget to take the time to celebrate your accomplishments and reflect on how far you have come before moving onto the next goal,” she advises. And finishing this year’s marathon is definitely cause for celebration.
So what’s her next fitness challenge? “Nothing right now, I just want to focus on this one goal and enjoy this achievement,” she says. After a brief pause she adds, laughing, “But I might look into a triathlon [since] I’ve dabbled in that a little.” It’s clear that for Ms. Allen, slowing down is not an option.
To support Danni and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, visit her donation page to contribute today!