A runner’s survival: ‘Not today, mother f-----'
Kelly Herron had zero hobbies and no passion.
“I just went out with my friends on the weekend,” she recalls. “I didn't really do anything. I hadn't grown up. I just kept doing what I'd been doing my whole life. I just never really became an adult.”
Acknowledging she wasn’t meeting her full potential, she recognized that she was self-sabotaging herself.
“I just felt like there was a person inside of me waiting to get out, who was capable of more,” recalls Herron. “I always wanted to be more. I just reflected on my life and realized that it wasn't anyone or anything getting in my way except for me. It was a really sobering, no pun intended, realization that I needed to make a major change.”
‘Best decision I ever made’
Herron quit drinking in June 2015. “I made the decision to get serious and explore what I was capable of, and then my life got better,” she says. “I wasn't apologizing for things as much and I felt better typically. I could think better, more clearly. Then I just realized, because it's going well, no sense chancing it and going back, so I've just stayed sober. It's been the best decision I ever made.”
After 90 days, she felt better yet she was bored and waking up earlier. With her new energy, she set out to do a 10K Turkey Trot at Thanksgiving with her family. “Every year they did the turkey trot and I always hated it, as a non-runner,” she says. “It's always cold and early, and I hated running. But I ran 5.86 miles, which was the furthest I'd ever run.”
Herron’s mom encouraged her to run a marathon and gave her a 16-week couch to marathon training plan. “I started following it and — not very surprisingly — I got injured after 10 weeks because couch to marathon is not really recommended in 16 weeks.”
Still, Herron enjoyed running. She updated her goals for that year (2016) to run a race each month. “In that year I did four half marathons and a Ragnar. Ragnar is really the first time I felt like a runner, 36 hours on a team, sleep deprived.”
She basically ran a marathon at Ragnar, but still wanted to do a “real” marathon.
“Running was an awesome experience,” Herron says. “Putting those medals up on the wall was just really fulfilling. Especially since this was a journey into my sobriety, too. I just loved being able to accomplish something that I thought was impossible. I could feel myself really changing and becoming a person who I never really thought I would be.
“It made me really hopeful and gave me confidence that I could achieve more with my life.
In December, she completed her race-per-month goal. Once again, she focused on training for a marathon. Around Christmas, she saw a too-good-to-pass-up-deal on Instagram and signed up for the Seattle Rock N’ Roll Marathon.
The very next day, she put on some new running clothes she received for Christmas and once again started marathon training.
Ten weeks later — at the same spot she got injured the previous year — she had an encounter that would change her life.
An assault changes everything
Herron slowly but purposefully recites the date: March 5, 2017.
It a bitterly cold day in Seattle, 10 weeks into marathon training. Herron waited until the temperature finally reached 38 degrees.
“I tried a different route, because at that point, my route was getting a little stale,” she says. “I went down to the beach, and there were not a lot of people there. The wind was whipping. It was raining, it's cold.”
Nearly halfway into her planned 10-mile run, she stopped at the park bathroom.
“I had my headphones, ear warmers and my baseball hat on, and was just in my own little world,” she recalls. “It's not really a situation where you're on alert. There was a transient level three sex offender hiding in a stall. I came out and washed my hands, and when I used the hand dryer he came out of the stall. I got the creeps. The hair on the back of my neck stood up, and a chill ran down my spine.”
Herron turned to see the perpetrator, face covered and wearing a hoodie.
“He attacked me and it took me a minute to realize what was even happening,” she says. “The element of surprise, I was like, ‘Is this real?’ I don't like people touching me inappropriately at all, as most people don't. I've always been pretty quick to fire back on that kind of thing, so I immediately just started screaming out at him. It later became the hashtag of my assault, which is ‘Not today, mother f-----,’ which is what I was yelling at him.”
Fortunately for Herron, she had applied what she learned in a self-defense class just three weeks earlier. She fought back, striking him repeatedly and acting fearless.
“Survival instinct is so much stronger ... I mean it's something we don't fully grasp until we experience it,” she says. “I just fought back with all my might and used the few tips I learned in self-defense, like striking with an open hand, and hard blows to soft places.
“Being a runner really came into play, because having that awareness of your body and how to maneuver.”
Herron escaped the grasp of the predator, scurried under the stall door and sprinted to the door and safety.
“I thought I was gonna pass out when I finally did get to my feet,” she says. “I could see the finish line, and it's that same voice that you hear in your head during the last .2 mile of a race. When you're just like, ‘Oh my God, I'm so tired,’ But you can see crowd, and it's like, ‘Just go, just go hard. Don't give up now, you're almost there.’”
Herron was badly injured but she dished out punishment on her attacker, who she locked in the bathroom until police arrived.
Looking back, she admits that she “was really mentally not in a good place.” Herron returned to running a few days after the assault.
“I was so dead set on not letting him take anything from me that I was out running just a few days later,” she says. “I still had stitches in my head when I was running. I was just determined not to fall off track with my training. I definitely should have done more self-care at that time, but I was just so focused on just not letting him take that from me.”
Slaying her demons
Herron recovered physically and returned to Ragnar four months later while her attacker languished in prison, awaiting trial.
During one of her runs during the relay, she had a flashback.
“I had terrible PTSD, and I was running at 3:30 in the morning on a nine-mile uphill,” she says, noting it was along a highway with adjacent woods. “It was really scary, and I hadn't slept for over 24 hours, so my mind was playing tricks on me. I kept thinking someone was gonna jump out of the woods and attack me. A runner ran up next to me and I looked over and his face turned into the face of my attacker. It was horrifying, just like you would see in a movie.”
Herron had a major breakdown in the dark. Thankfully, a friendly runner provided the support she needed.
“He asked if I was OK,” she says. “I said, ‘I'm having a panic attack.’ He ended up running with me until the sun came up. He was so nice, and I'm so grateful to him.”
As she put hill after hill in her rear-view mirror, her confidence grew and her nerves eased. When her turn was done, she noticed she had nine roadkills (runners passed). Number 10 was her attacker. “I feel like I slayed him out there, and I put that demon to rest.”
Little did Herron know that her assailant died in jail on Friday, the day before she ran that route.
“It was just awesome, because I overcame that on my own without knowing that he was already dead,” she says. “It was really moving. I was so grateful. I was gonna have to go back every three years to testify that he stayed in jail for the rest of his life. So who's in jail, really? I felt like I was in prison. So to be released from that, it's ... I don't even know the words to express how much peace that gives me.”
‘It was really, really rough’
With her demons literally and figuratively wiped away, Herron refocused on her goal: finish a marathon. While she had wanted to do Rock N’ Roll Seattle, the timing wasn’t right so she picked out the Chicago Marathon.
Herron, who used to live in Chicago, raised charity money for Girls on the Run. Her mom offered to run the race with her.
“It was rough — it was really, really, really rough,” Herron says. “I was not as trained as I should have been. I was exhausted. There's a reason you don't train for a marathon for 10 months, it's too long. I was just ready for it to be over.”
Things started falling apart around Mile 15. And again at Mile 18, and then Mile 22. “I hit the wall for the first time in my life,” she says. “I thought I had hit the wall before, but I had no idea what the wall really was. I was just depleted.”
Volunteers tried to pull her off the course three times. But her mom wouldn’t let them.
“My mom told them, ‘She's fine,’ It was so important to me that I finish. With 300 meters to go, my mom was telling me how proud she was of me. I was like, ‘Mom, save it. Let's just finish.’ I didn't have the cathartic release that I thought I would at the end. I was just so ... oh God, it was the hardest thing I'd ever done.”
Herron did finish the Chicago Marathon in October 2017. “It's changed my life completely.”
The time on the clock isn’t important. The time she has spent reinventing herself is.
“Running saved my life, twice,” she says. “First running saved my life in helping me achieve sobriety. Then running saved my life to help me escape that attack. Then it was like escaping that attack helped me survive the marathon because I knew what I was capable of. I knew how strong the mind was. I knew that I had grit that was bigger than I knew. That's what I love about that marathon, is you learn how to dig deep. You discover that you can do more than you had any idea. It's mostly in your mind.”
Being safe on the run
Runner’s World published a report almost exactly a year ago about the frequency of women who are harassed or assaulted during their runs. The numbers were shocking and alarming, but not surprising to many women like Herron.
She freely offers advice to women so they can protect themselves while out running, biking, walking or whatever. Among her suggestions:
Don't feel like you have to push yourself into something before you're ready. But I also believe that you shouldn't hold people back from doing the things that they love. So there are other options, whether that is running or cycling with a group
Take a self-defense class, even though you'll probably never need it. It just gives you the tools that you need if you're ever in a life threatening situation. It allows you to walk through the world with a little bit more confidence. A lot of people don't like to think about the worst-case scenario because it's scary to think about.
“There's too much to be gained from running and being outside, it's a shame to waste it on fear.”
At the same time, runners — men and women — often wave or smile at other runners as they pass by. It’s what makes the runners community special. But for guys, who took the Runner’s World report to heart, it weighs on our minds. What’s the right balance between being friendly to a female runner without creating fear or unwanted attention?
Herron loves the question and easily dispatches thoughtful advice.
“One thing that you can do is to just to be aware of what else is going on,” she suggests. “If you see someone who's following that woman, or looking at her ... If there's a creep basically, to either physically put yourself between the two of them. Or make eye contact with that guy so he knows you're onto him.”
Being mindful of another runner’s possible concerns is also appropriate, she says.
“If you're somewhere remote or on a trail, and there’s only two on that road, the most comfortable thing is when the guy just goes to the other side of the road,” Herron says. “Because then you're not passing at all. Some trail runners I've talked to have said they don't want you to look at them. Just keep going. Just keep doing whatever you were doing.”
The BibRave Pro community
After her podcast appearance, Herron met some BibRave staff members and ambassadors at the Seattle Rock N’ Roll Marathon. “It was like talking to old friends, and they were so like-minded.”
Herron cheered on the BibRave Pro and others.
“It was just like being with old friends,” she says. “I cheered the race with my running team, The Oiselle Volee, and I just loved watching the BibRave runners go by and cheering for them too. I started to understand more of what it was all about. I love reviewing products. I love running races and telling people what I think of them.”
Herron has only been a member of BibRave for a couple of months but it already feels right.
“I accidentally became a public figure in the running world, but I didn't know what really more to say other than my story,” she admits. “BibRave basically gives me content and community, so I really, really love it. I feel like I finally have found my place. I'm really excited about traveling to go to new races, and to meet other BibRave Pros, and just expand my running friends all over.”
A journey of gratitude
Whether it’s her fellow BibRave Pro ambassadors, other running friends, her coaching clients or others who she inspires, Herron is thankful for her journey as painful as it has been at times.
“I've always practiced gratitude, but it's made me just so grateful for everything in my life,” she says. “I value every single day, and I'm really honest with people. Because I just always want people to know where they stand with me. Whether that is in a positive way, or if it's that them being in my life isn't serving me anymore.
“I don't live every day like it's my last, because that's not actually practical. But I do in the sense that nothing is left unsaid. No one will question what I thought of them.”
Number of years running: 2.5
How many miles a week do you typically run: 25-30
Point of pride: That I kept running even after I was assaulted on the run and went on to complete my first marathon.
Favorite race distance: Half marathon
Favorite pre-race or training food/drink: Jelly Belly Sports Beans
Favorite piece of gear: Aftershokz headphones
Favorite or inspirational mantra/phrase: "Today is the day"
Where can other runners connect or follow you: • Web: www.nottodaymf.com • IG: run_kiwi_run • Twitter: run_kiwi_run • Facebook: @NotTodayNTMF