Katie McHugh remembers how intimidated she felt the first time she walked into the gym she’d joined to work out. “I was 30 years old,” Katie says, “and 120 lb. heavier than I am now. I’d decided I wanted to get into shape because I was too young for simple things to be so hard. I was really intimidated by all the fit-looking people.” That day, Katie remembers, she did 30 minutes on the elliptical on its lowest setting. “I thought I might die,” she recalls, “ but I didn’t give up.”
Katie stayed focus on the long road to fitness. Soon her cousin suggested doing a 5K race together. “I had to Google the distance to see how long it was,” she says. “I signed up for it not knowing what I was getting into.” Katie started running a couple of times a week. She finished that first 5K in 36 minutes. “I was hooked.”
Finding her groove
Katie signed up for other 5Ks. She got steadily faster and started looking for the next challenge. She chose the Shamrock Shuffle. “I didn’t have winter running experience, so I trained on the treadmill. Every week I would add a quarter-mile. I got up to 5 miles, which I could run at 12:00/mile pace. During the race, which went really well, I started to think I could run a half-marathon. After the race, I signed up.”
Finding a community
Katie thought perhaps she needed other runners, as she was having a hard time ramping up the miles for her first half marathon. She found the Alpine Runners in Lake Zurich. “Before my first group run, I sat in my car feeling nervous. They all looked so fit. But I hopped in with the last pace group—and soon they had me hooked.” After her half marathon, she leveled up to a first marathon, Cincinnati’s Flying Pig.
In the years since her first trip to the gym, Katie has run a couple of marathons a year. She also started cycling and swimming and did a first triathlon in 2013. She completed her first Ironman in 2014, her second Ironman in 2016, and is on track for a third. Her marathon time has dropped from a six-hour finish in 2011 to four hours today.
“I went from exercising for health to exercising for races, and that shift changed everything for me. I love that I can push myself, see a challenge, and accomplish it. That’s what keeps me going.”