From Insanity and Injury to Victory and Health

It’s Friday, everyone! And that means another Primal Blueprint Real Life Story from a Mark’s Daily Apple reader. If you have your own success story and would like to share it with me and the Mark’s Daily Apple community please contact me here. I’ll continue to publish these each Friday as long as they keep coming in. Thank you for reading!

real_life_stories_stories-1-2I always wanted to be an athlete when I was younger. I was an overweight teenager who admired the athletes. I had been a victim of yo-yo dieting and over-exercising (usually running) my whole life. One day—sick of the run/diet/lose weight, stop running/gain weight routine—I decided to pick up running again. But this time I immediately enrolled in a marathon thinking that it would keep me motivated. It did! After my first marathon I was hooked. I became the skinny athlete that I had so longed to be and qualified for the Boston Marathon way too quickly (it was only 10 months after my first marathon and only my 3rd marathon ever). I say “too quickly” because I spent four years of my life proving to myself that the first time was not a fluke.

They say insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result. I spent a long five years in the insane asylum. I used to have to take three iron pills a day to battle my anemia from my lack of consumption of red meat in favor of carbohydrates. I had such bad chronic pain in my psoas that I had to go to physical therapy once a week to get a psoas release to keep it at bay. At this time, before I found a decent physical therapist, I was plagued by doctors who had no idea what was wrong. An “expert” at a renowned orthopedic hospital in New York City told me I needed expensive PRP therapy. All of this for what? To earn a Boston jacket that I could flaunt at the grocery store or the next running Expo?

To add to the insanity, I even started dabbling in duathlon (I discovered biking as a way to cross-train while I was dealing with my psoas issues) and had thoughts of completing an Ironman. I spent over 15 hours a week at swimming lessons, biking, running, and strength training and countless hours preparing for it all. Again, I became too good, too quickly. I qualified for Team USA to compete at the World Championships. All of this fed my ego and created an even more self-absorbed person than I already was. Training was always so mentally and physically draining for me. Something was always hurting (c’mon, the rest of you who have yet to go Primal won’t admit it, but something always hurts). I was constantly searching for the next race, creating the next training schedule, researching my competition, and researching the best way to eat and carbohydrate load. It was in the over carbohydrate loading process that I made my first healthy decision in a long time.

You see, I was running the Philadelphia Marathon and I had to stop and DNF (did not finish) half way through. Something was terribly wrong. My legs were throbbing and I couldn’t run one more step. I didn’t go out too quickly and I was running at the pace that I was more than accustomed to running. Looking at my stats later (through Garmin Connect) I noticed my heart rate was pushing 180 (even during my warm-up) when that wasn’t even my 5k heart rate! After a lot of research I came to the conclusion that I had some sort of metabolic breakdown from the extreme carbohydrate loading at over 350 grams in my 107 pound body.

That is when I found Dr. Axe and learned how to eat like my health depended on it. I switched to a Primal [Blueprint] diet (I didn’t realize it at the time) and within three months I blasted my former marathon PR (personal record) and qualified for Boston by 14 minutes. I didn’t get that much better in such a short period of time—it was as simple as changing my diet. I finally realized my dream of qualifying for Boston for the second time in March of 2013 after 18 marathons in five grueling years.

While training for duathlon, I realized that some of my struggle with swimming was my lack of core and back strength. Sorry, runners, you may think running builds your core and overall strength, but it doesn’t. I was weak as hell. So, I joined CrossFit and focused less on running. That had its toll on me as well. It is very hard to go to a CrossFit gym and not over-train. It is designed (although not required) to be competitive, like posting your times on the board and discussing how much you were able to lift. Please understand, I am grateful for the year that I spent there and what it taught me. CrossFit is by nature pretty Primal, but our caveman Grok didn’t post how long it took him to move those rocks or walk to his neighbor’s cave.

My physical therapist believes in the CrossFit philosophies, but warned me of the high risk of acute injury. I poo-poohed him until… I got hurt. I was coming off the rope too quickly so my “team” could post the best time. I jumped off and landed on the rope on the floor and twisted my ankle badly. I was training for the Chicago Marathon at the time (I time-qualified) and refused to listen to the pain. I gave my ankle a “whole three days’ rest” and went out for a run because, by golly, I should be better by now! So, I wrapped my ankle and off I went. Limping, but already two miles into the run, I pulled a Forrest Gump. I just stopped, paused for a millisecond at the thought of what I was about to do and walked back, deciding that the insanity had to stop.

Those were my first Primal steps. What a scary moment that was! After 5 long years, 2,096 activities covering a distance of 14,357.38 miles with a total time of 2,084:27:42 hours, burning up 923,460 calories and 382,710 feet of elevation (Garmin was great for number hungry people like most runners), I was going to end it right there. Stopping a mere 76,540 calories short of a million, I wasn’t even going to run Boston, what this was all about in the first place. I knew that I needed to be active, but I just didn’t know how without tearing myself down. In comes Mark Sisson and The Primal Blueprint. I never looked back.

I am not mentally completely Primal, yet. I have good and bad days. Yes, I am happy with the self-esteem that CrossFit and running gave me, but I sometimes long for the competition and posting my new “age group” medal on the wall. However, I do realize that I am so much healthier inside and out now. My biggest obstacle is the adjustment of looking at a body that is not skinny, but muscular and healthy. I never left for a run without toilet paper in pocket because more often than not I had to ditch into the woods for a potty stop. I now go to the bathroom where I am supposed to! (Poor Grok would not have had this luxury.) For the first time, I feel like nutrition is actually being absorbed in my body and not left in the woods!

I now have a makeshift CrossFit gym in my garage where I exercise, to quote Jay from Mark’s Daily Apple on December 26th, like “I’m slowly letting go of the need to push hard every single time to experience my workouts as joyful expressions of movement, rather than as rungs on a ladder to the next personal record.” I now jog when I feel like it without my Garmin attached to my wrist. (Do you know how long it took me to go out for a jog without going to push a button on my wrist?) I sprint, climb rope, jump on boxes, do pushups, pull ups and walk. How wonderful walking is! Whoda thunkit? Now my biggest worry is carotenosis and explaining to everyone why my hands are orange. I now have energy to clean and do yard work whereas I used to have people that I paid to do that. I had little time or mental ability to concentrate on the things that really matter, like my family or my teaching.

Thank you, Grok. Thank you, Mark Sisson. Eat, sleep and live like a caveman!


My Primal journey wound up differently that most–with a 20 pound weight gain. My first photo is me, during a half iron duathlon, at 107 pounds. My last race, a zombie run with my son, was 20 pounds later, with more primal fat and muscle than before.


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130 thoughts on “From Insanity and Injury to Victory and Health”

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  1. Congrats on a new outlook! Amazing how sensitive we are to small changes. Most people would have considered your former self as jealously healthy… how much more we know and understand now! Listening to our bodies, what a concept!!

    1. Thanks so much. I still miss my former preprimal skinny self when I try to fit (unsuccessfully) into my old clothes, but I feel so much better now. Those changes, however, we far from small. Training was my life. Now working out is such a small part of it and eating right is my number one priority. Usually before anything else, even my family. Without the health and energy, what good am I to them?

      1. Time to ditch the old clothes and go shopping! 🙂 🙂 🙂
        Well done to you.

        1. Most of it is done already. Still some too tight workout clothes. XS shorts and shirts? No longer, not with these muscles.

      2. Working out, eating well and you are felling really good, nice! Just curious, are you doing anything to work in? Like meditation or such?

  2. Really enjoyed this story and as a paleo runner I can relate to much of it. I also qualified for Boston “too soon” and know exactly what you mean. After changing to a paleo diet due to IBS and running injuries I feel like a new person. And although my running is less intense than it used to be, I feel like I’m in overall better shape now, a healthier weight and I haven’t been injured at all. While I haven’t completely wrapped my head around the entire lifestyle, the changes I’ve made already have had a huge impact.

    1. and it will continue to have in impact. I know I am not completely healed yet, I did a lot of damage that needs to be undone.

  3. Sounds like you’re making the transition from “driven” to “inspired”! Congratulations on your Primal progress! 🙂

  4. I find this very interesting. Too often I look at others who seem really healthy/active and I wonder why it is they can go on eating “whatever they want,” whether it be a vegetarian diet, carbohydrate heavy diet or high sugar diet. I always attribute it to exercise and overall concern for health. I guess one part of this is that I am not following them to the bathroom or looking at their lab work or hearing them grumble about their body aches and pains.

    Sometimes I see people at the gym in a class I attend regularly that exercise consistently 4-5 times a week and have weight that won’t budge, even though they are very strong. These are the flip side of the coin who likely cannot exercise off their eating habits. It is a curiousity how different our bodies are. However, after a good sugar binge over the holidays, I woke up in the morning with body aches–just from sleeping! No thank you! I know that I do better without grains/sugars and it’s reassuring to hear from those that can exercise the weight off, may not always be able to exercise the other stuff away (digestive problems, body aches/pains, etc…)–because sometimes I do get in that mentality where I think, “If only I exercise more, I won’t have to restrict my diet from reality so much.” But the two complement each other. We can’t really eat crap, exercise a lot and hope for the best. Nor can we eat really well, never exercise, never sleep and hope for the best. Nope, this health thing seems to be an all-inclusive package deal. (Why am I only figuring this out at 40–better late than never, I suppose!)

    Thanks for your success story!

    1. Wow. Jennifer. Well said. I remember once when I was travelling with my husband (to a race, of course and never a vacation) we met a woman at the airport. She was sitting next to us and started commenting on my weight (or lack thereof) and what I was eating. We ended up being quite chummy for a few hours and she ended up admitting that she was originally thinking ,,and I quote her..”Look at that skinny b—-h” and totally judged me without knowing me. The amount of training and obsessing over macronutrients that I had to do to stay that way was so unhealthy. And let’s not forget about having to wake up at 4 am to get to all those damn races. Grok would NEVER have done that! Keep going girl.

  5. Valerie’s article describes a profound transformation. I hope it helps other readers seeking that elusive balance in their own lives.

    1. Balance! Perfectly said. You cannot compete at that level and have balance.

  6. Great success story. Valerie, unless I just missed it in the article, did you stop marathons completely? I saw you did a zombie run but I’m not real familiar with that.

    1. Hi Dave, I have not run a marathon since. I haven’t run more than one mile at a clip since. I was supposed to be running Boston this April, but I didn’t even register. My first jacket will just have to be lonely in the closet by itself. It seems to me that the human body probably wasn’t designed to run more than 3 miles at a time. A hard (and sad) fact for runners to admit.

      1. and a Zombie run is for fun. You get 3 health flags and zombies (other runners dressed in makeup) try to catch all your flags before you reach the end. Along the way are obstacles (ropes to climb…I was the only one in my group to do it!!, mud to crawl through, walls to get over etc) to overcome.

      2. Thanks for explaining. I got into running 2 years ago and got up to 12 miles. I loved the runners high but then dealt with depression and haven’t returned.

        I just got turned on to Primal last month.

        It’s actually good to hear that I don’t have to do those long runs anymore.

        1. Hi Dave, they had hoses afterwards to wash yourself off, but I think I still have some behind my ears! You know, out of all those miles I logged, there were so few where my thought wasn’t “oh man, this hurts” or “how many miles left??”. I can remember once feeling like a gazelle..not sure what I ate that day. It must have been a gluten-free day!!

      3. Amen to that!

        “It seems to me that the human body probably wasn’t designed to run more than 3 miles at a time. A hard (and sad) fact for runners to admit.”

        But I find it extremely difficult to convince my injury-plagued running friends

        1. Seriously. Ever look at a starting line? Or listen to runners? All we talk about it what hurts today. There are more braces and contraptions on runners than anyone, sometimes you would think you are in a Geriatric center.

  7. We admire you! So happy for you In and out of the classroom-congratulations!

    1. wow! I am at an unusual loss of words. Everyone, my relationship with my students was one of my biggest gains. I am trying to become the teacher I once was in my 20s..eager to try new things, full of energy. We have been off for break for almost 2 weeks. I cannot wait to go back.

  8. It’s so great to be on the right “track”. Love your story and I am sure Mark’s story resonated with you, big time.

  9. Valerie, I really connected to your story. I had psoas problems (very painful) and low weight before Primal and am now a healthy machine with 20 more lbs. of muscle. You Grok! Am so happy for you.

    1. Is it still hard for you to see yourself not as that skinny former self? Some days are still hard for me.

      1. Hopefully Nocona will reply too – but I will say as a woman whose return to health has meant some added pounds and definitely added inches around seat and thighs – I actually think it looks good – esp ratio to newly flat tummy. Maybe one way to embrace it would be to find some new clothes that accentuate your new figure in whatever way you like best?

        1. I agree, Sarah. I seriously spent a ton of money before school started this year because I went from a 0P to a size 6. (ahhh I am using numbers!!) It has made it a lot easier to accept my new size, except when I put on some old workout clothes, I sometimes feel like a busted crescent roll can with the dough seeping out!! (Nice visual, eh?)

      2. Actually it’s very easy. I feel and look like I’m at a normal, healthy level now. I was definitely skinny-fat with all the bad blood marker numbers to prove it. A jock that could eat anything (500 grams of carbs a day), but felt worse and worse as I aged. I’m now 5’9″ 160 lbs. After 4 years of Primal and pushing 60, I have never felt/looked better in my life.

        It may make a difference that I’m a guy. I’m guessing most guys do not like being called ‘skinny’, although I could be wrong.

  10. Orange hands, huh? I used to have orange fingertips when I was in college; a result of my suffering from Doritosis. Going primal helped me with that 😉

      1. from Wikipedia: Carotenemia or carotenaemia (xanthaemia) is the presence in blood of the orange pigment carotene from excessive intake of carrots or other vegetables containing the pigment resulting in increased serum carotenoids

      2. Didn’t know there was a name for this. My son had a check-up as a toddler and the doctor was concerned about the orangish cast to his skin, until we figured it was due to his extreme love of carrots and sweet potatoes!

    1. Laff. I used to have terrible cases of both Fritosis and Twixosis, both so hard to diagnose and treat b/c they cause no telltale discoloration symptoms…

  11. Magic. I loved reading it and while you look great in both pics, what a fab energy you have in the zombie run! Health really is more than about being skinny. A good reminder for me.

  12. I love stats too, and about drooled over your Garmin numbers. Congratulations on all of your Primal accomplishments!

    Everyone is a “work in progress”, and that’s ok. There comes a point where you learn to enjoy the journey so much that you don’t often think about the destination 🙂

    1. Agreed! (Except for loving those Garmin numbers)…Seriously? 2,100 hours in 5 years? Think of all the family time I lost. I am not even anywhere close to an elite athlete! Have you ever read “The Little Prince”? There is a part in there about how adults are obsessed with numbers. It’s pretty powerful. ….
      …. Grown-ups like numbers. When you tell them about a new friend, they never ask questions about what really matters. They never ask: “What does his voice sound like?” “What games does he like best?” “Does he collect butterflies?”. They ask: “How old is he?” “How many brothers does he have?” “How much does he weigh?” “How much money does his father make?” Only then do they think they know him.
      If you tell grown-ups, “I saw a beautiful red brick house, with geraniums at the windows and doves on the roof…,” they won’t be able to imagine such a house. You have to tell them, “I saw a house worth a hundred thousand francs.” Then they exclaim, “What a pretty house!”

      1. I never took the time to observe anything when I ran. It was all about my mile splits, and doing my damnedest to keep my splits negative. Let me tell you, now..when I walk…I literally stop and admire houses..gardens and actually say “hello” to everyone.

      2. Thanks for the reply!

        More specifically, I think these numbers blew my mind: 14,357 miles and 923k calories and 382k feet of elevation. That’s a stunning accomplishment. But honestly, I overlooked the cost. 2100 hours is huge… When I imagine running (impossibly) 16hours/day for 131 days, that puts it in perspective.

        We have a 10mo daughter, and it can be a struggle, but we’re learning to balance walking, running, lifting, and eating properly with winter weather and a baby. But, it is possible for all this to bring the family together, and spend More time together, not less. And while I still love to stare at my mileage numbers on my phone app, they’re more to make sure we’re staying on the right track than dictating our lives.

        Still, I admit I’m competitive. And sometimes it is hard to let go of chasing big stats and not over work myself. Last month I ran 202 miles. Today I slowed down and took a 3 mile casual walk for the first time in 6 weeks and it was awesome. Work in progress 🙂

        1. WOW Rob J. You send this just as I am about to embark on my somewhat daily walk. I did a 15 minute session this morning of push ups, deadlifts and situps. Now, I am off to walk for an hour, probably covering a bit less than 4 miles. In that same hour I used to run a hard 7ish miles. Better for my health? I think not. All those hours your saw on the Garmin don’t even include all the planning, prepping, going out to leave water on the side of the road on hot days, logging, pouring over stats..And I was always exhausted. Damn. It was a sickness. Forget the winter, bundle up and walk. Grok on, y’all!

      3. Whoa. You just blew my mind with this, in this context. I never read the comments, although today I did. Thank you.

  13. I loved reading your story. Thank you! I was encouraged and inspired. I am a mother of 4 young kids (with another due to arrive this April) and I can’t even tell you the hours I spent training for full and half marathons after babies number 1,2, and 3. All while sleep deprived and aching ALL over. After baby number 4 the insanity stopped. Truly it stopped because my husband couldn’t take it. I couldn’t take it. And the kids couldn’t either. I used to “need” to train to have an sense of accomplishment in my day and feel like “more” than a mom. Now I walk alone or pushing a stroller filled with half the kids while the others ride bikes at my side. And I lift or do a pull/push routine in half hour chunks when I can. I do my best to fuel my (usually pregnant) body with proteins, veggies, fruits, sweet potatoes, squash and healthy fats (I’ve discovered I LOVE good fats so much more than I knew when I was consumed with carb loading). I’m far from all the way there on the food front – but the time and energy I have because I’m not depleted from logging so many miles is a refreshing change for me and my family. I’m so happy to hear that you have gotten so much precious time back! What a wonderful new lease on life!

    1. Hi Net. Time with the family, that is what really matters. I made my poor family wake up (intentionally or not) at 4 a.m. for races. How ludicrous. All that mental and physical effort. I workout now when and how I feel. It is so freeing. You are doing it right!

  14. Great twist on the personal story. Friday stories are mostly fat to fit and very inspiring as many of us are not there yet. But yours presents the concept of overtraining and repetitive cardio as unhealthy. Thank you for sharing and providing a case study for quality not quantity in respect to physical activity.

    1. You are very welcome! What a long journey of self-discovery that was!

  15. “…………workouts being joyful expressions of movement” I love this quote too. Isn’t it interesting that if you slow down and actually take notice of how you really feel, and aim to feel your best, that good health just seems to naturally follow. I remember when I started to train this way, and eat clean, I suddenly noticed I didn’t have an ache anywhere. One day I even remember wondering if that was ok! I was so used to having aches & pains I just thought it was part of my life “at my age” (56). But no, it is possible to be free of those aches & pains and be strong and healthy. Congratulations on have a “Forrest Gump” moment and working on good health, and not just those numbers, and thanks for sharing with us. You will be a great role model for kids too.

    1. Thank you! When I ran, I never thought about anything other than my pace and how hard that particular workout was. Even on my “recovery” days of slower jogs, I still hurt from the over training. So they weren’t real recovery days. It was always something..tendonitis somewhere…sore hamstring…sore quads…psoas pain….”going” in the woods….anemia…IBS…Every night I would squat down to clean the kitty litter box, I could never get down without bracing myself from the aches. Really? Man, I had issues!

    2. I am so looking forward to not having any pain… was starting to think I’d never feel comfortable again! I have only just begun to work on the issue, but I’m encouraged by your comment. I have a desk job that has ruined the whole right side of my body over the last 13 years. Just got a stand up desk, and am planning to do massage and chiropractic work and a lot of slow movement (walking) and body weight exercise (yoga & calisthenics) to get myself straightened out. I know the low inflammatory foods diet will do its work over time – I can’t wait until that day I wake up and think, hey! I don’t hurt today!!! 😉

      1. It may take months (it did for me) but you WILL heal….go 100% primal, my friend

  16. Valerie, your story is SO similar to my own.

    I ran six marathons in seven years. My last two marathons were in Boston. I was so burnt out after the last one that I have barely run a step since. My stomach actually turns at the thought of going through that grueling training again. I don’t miss one bit of it: the chronic fatigue, the time away from my family, or the constant injuries. (Not to mention the disgusting energy drinks and gels. I think I’d throw up if I ever had to suck one of those back again.)

    Today I follow an autoimmune Paleo protocol and finally have the lean body I always wanted. For exercise, I just do lots of fun, low-level cardio: hour-long walks with the dog in the woods, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and geocaching on nearby trails, snowboarding with my husband and kids, biking to get groceries, moving boulders at the cottage, and my latest summer favorite: stand-up paddle boarding.

    I am so much healthier and happier than I was when I was a marathon runner. Balance is a beautiful thing.

      1. Pascale, You just made me laugh out loud. I sucked down peppermint Gu like it was going out of style.

    1. Geocaching? I just googled it. OH MAN …I am so in! THANK YOU

      1. You are very welcome! It’s a fun activity to do with your students too if they have cell phones. I’ve done it as part of my geography lessons on latitude and longitude and the kids love it!

        1. Hoping it works well with Android. I already downloaded the App. I heard it can be twitchy.

        2. I found my first 3 today! What a great way to add another dimension to my walks or jogs. I love it. I dropped my phone because my hands were cold and the screen shattered….go with the flow! So what! This reminds me of the portkeys that were hidden in Harry Potter. Have you ever done any trackables? Next time, I am not using the clues. They make it too easy

  17. Maybe you can start running the one mile. Mark did a post on that not too long ago. Good for you giving up the chronic cardio. I did that for a while with hiking. Now I mostly just lift heavy weights and then when I do go hiking, it’s fun and I feel 10 times stronger and healthier when I do it.

    1. Hi Diane, funny that you say that….because that is exactly what I do now. I often run a mile as a warm-up and sometimes I throw one in the middle of lifting. I did that today…I ran a mile…did 25 deadlifts, 50 situps, 25 push ups, ran a mile and then did 25 more deadlifts, 50 situps and 25 push ups. One day about a week ago, I felt like running. I put on my vibrams and did a 3 miler. My hamstrings were a bit sore the next day, but not too bad.

  18. Wonderful story! I too am learning to see exercise in a different way. I was never as competitive as you were, but I was obsessed with chronic cardio as a way to control– or more accurately, mask– my anxiety & depression. Part of the problem was gluten-related, but also I finally realized I needed to do some work on some deep-seated fears that have dogged me from early childhood. It’s strange when you suddenly realize that all these years you’ve been running FROM something!

    I still crave movement, but in a different way than in those grimly determined days.

    1. I mentioned that in a book I started to write, but stopped. I talked about how I wondered if I was running from something. I was just asked if I would ever go back to competing again and I do not see it in the visible future. It just takes too much time, physical and mental effort.

  19. I love your new muscles; dead sexy! I was a running addict for 15 years. I also thought I’m strong but could not even Squat 100 pounds as a man. Now after two years being 80% Primal and strength training I squat 300 pounds for reps and Deadlift 350 every week. I’m in the best shape in my life and that’s with nearly 42.

  20. I thoroughly enjoyed your account–and your second photo! It is remarkable to find yourself kind of hanging up the long distance running shoes, and being way more OK with it than you could have ever pictured, isn’t it!?

    1. I have so much time now, to do the things that really matter. I pay more attention to my lesson planning and I play, I walk, lift, jog occasionally. I don’t have structured time tables or workouts that HAVE to be accomplished. It’s liberating to say the least. I used to come home from work (I am part time, I get home before lunch), get the workout in, eat, recover, get another workout in…insanity.

  21. Great job Valerie! I understand exactly where you are coming from. I too am a recovering triathlete (60 races, including 3 ironmans and 2 ultra marathons;
    I am 3 yrs endurance sober! ). Although I loved the challenge, there must have been some deep issues going on that caused me to train myself into the ground! It makes me sick to think about all the various forms of sugar I consumed all in the name of performance and recovery. I’m still making it up to my wife who put up with me through that insane “lifestyle”.

    Funny, but I’ve been on a similar program to you.. lots of strength training, run intervals with strength work mixed in, long hikes, snowshoes, etc. Have you discovered Brian Mackenzie’s work with CrossFit Endurance? His website is , and He has a couple of good books out, the most recent one called “The Unbreakable Runner”. I found although I am not doing long races anymore, I still enjoy “the process” of a well thought out plan and execution. Brian does a nice job blending strength and endurance training in a way that doesn’t blow you up! It might give you some ideas to keep workouts fresh and interesting.

    Your desire to compete in new challenges is not going to die, it’s in your DNA. I remember being very depressed for a while after the realization that things had to change, there were no races on the calendar, no big goals to spend most of my waking time thinking about, training for, or recovering from. My only advice is find something new and challenging. CrossFit can be another form of triathlon if you’re not careful; there is still a stopwatch involved. Personally, I’ve discovered paddle boarding and, I can’t believe I’m saying this.. golf! I stink at both, so there’s lots of room for process-driven improvement to satisfy that need… and no one is timing me!

    Congrats again on your transformation. Remember, there is a difference between health and fitness!!

    1. I cannot agree with you more. Don’t forget I do not go to CrossFit anymore, just for those reasons. I exercise whimsically now and have just recently fell in love with Geocaching, thanks to a reader of this post! I jog (sometimes) between caches and today, as I was carrying a zillion bags and my arms got tired, I realized I haven’t done some Farmer’s Carries in awhile. So, need to get to them today! I used to be obsessed with my training schedule and how I had to rig everything else around it. Now, my teaching and family come first…then I get moving. Every day. Your comment about endurance sober made me laugh. My last marathon (my BQ) was in March, I quit CrossFit only a month or so ago. It hasn’t been that long yet!

  22. Val, I want to add my thanks for your post. As one who still owns a still functioning, but very lonely Garmin that has been sitting in a desk drawer for four years now (when I went primal), I know how tough it is to do what you have done. I’m inspired by your toughness and your primal intelligence to know what is right and wrong for your body, and then choosing the right course. Very well done my friend, very well done. I wish you 100 more years of primal health and happiness. And, your post was also very well written.

    1. Thank you so very much. I sold my Garmin on eBay… both of them. The one I used for running and the triathlon one that you could swim with.

  23. Love it, you look so strong! And love that you listened to your body for health, didn’t fall into the “but i must keep my weight down” camp…keep enjoying life!

  24. What a great story! I was 35 lbs underweight as a long distance runner and while training for my first marathon, my body took a turn for the worse. From that experience I adopted paleo/primal and haven’t looked back. I get what you’re saying about not having the tiny figure, on paleo I’ve gone from a size 1 or 2 up to a size 6 or 8. It’s where I need to be, but an adjustment nonetheless. You look great now, so healthy and vibrant! Thanks for sharing!

    1. Sounds like we had the same transformation…including our past and current sizes!

  25. “Sometimes I see people at the gym in a class I attend regularly that exercise consistently 4-5 times a week and have weight that won’t budge, even though they are very strong”

    This was my observation, too, when I was going to a gym. For almost 12 years I saw the same people, whose weight never budged! And none of them looked as strong as they were, under the pudge.
    Happily, through one of the trainers at that gym, I was introduced to MDA. ( And now I dont go to the gym).

    1. and thank you MDA…I have another reason to go outside now, without pounding the miles….a reader has turned me onto Geocaching. I may walk to some, bike to some, run to some, but it will all be FUN.

      1. Check out You can combine Geocaching and Capture the Flag.

        1. Oh man, something else to absorb my time. Going to check it out.

  26. I thought you were a man telling this story until I scrolled down and saw the pictures. I wish you well, and hope you will be able to maintain the new healthy mindset. It is a difficult journey, but you have what it takes to succeed. Namaste!!

  27. Congratulations, you rock big time

    when I read this:
    “They say insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result. I spent a long five years in the insane asylum. ”

    I remembered my more than 5 years spent in the asylum

    Amazing, very inspiring, thanks for posting !

  28. I love your story. Thank you for writing and sharing it. I’ve never been a runner, but have always been competitive. As a 56 year old woman who’s been Primal for 3 years I feel great, I’m thinking about joining Cross Fit but don’t want to be the oldest person and I don’t want to go into a competitive environment where I might injure myself. I do wish that more women of my age would share their Primal journeys.

    1. You won’t be the oldest person in CrossFit What is great about it is that it is infinitely customizeable and NOBODY judges. It is an extremely welcoming atmosphere. Do not be intimidated. Just be forewarned, like I said in my bio, it is very easy to get hooked and go overboard.

    2. Naw, you won’t be the oldest. I’m 72, and have been CrossFitting about 3X/week for about three years, sporadically before that, running sometimes. I throw in the occasional 5K, and in a fit of madness, I’ve agreed to run a couple of half marathons this year. I’ll be slow and enjoying the ride. To my knowledge, there are at least several women in their 80s who do CrossFit (California and FL).
      No need to see CrossFit as all about the competition: for me, the real competition is with myself: to do the forms properly so I don’t hurt myself, to inkle up the weight slowly enough so I work like hell (and don’t hurt myself), and to enjoy the satisfaction of finishing the WODs … not at the end of the pack always! (I was in the middle, among some less than half my age last week: whoo hoo, good for me!). The big deal is enjoying doing it, and the endorphins after doing it. The paleo diet is hugely important in all of this.

      1. All excellent points, except if you are a competitive person, like me, it is hard to not be competitive there. I just wanted to do a WOD on my own, in the garage, how and when I wanted to. (Cheaper, too)

        1. Thanks. I do CF sessions now with a CF trained person (who is leaving soon) but not at a CF facility. I know I can do it, just don’t want to get lured into competing…did that for years in another sport. I’m going on Friday to check out the CF near me thanks to your notes. Love yer teeth, btw.

  29. My teeth are pearly white due to the toothpaste that I use that is home-made/primal. Uses coconut oil. Maybe you should try it.

      1. 1/2 c. of coconut oil, 3 tbsp of baking power, a bit of stevia, peppermint drops and some calcium carbonate powder.Give it a try! I make all of my beauty products, it is actually quite simple, inexpensive, non toxic and primal!

  30. Valerie,

    Speaking from someone who has battled weight my whole life (starting to win thanks to primal blueprint) I totally understand where you are coming from in terms of clothes sizes.

    Please believe me, you look FANTASTIC!!! Comparing those 2 photos, your skin now looks amazing and you look so healthy and fit!

    Well done to you!

    1. Thanks, Jacqui….You can’t see much of my skin in the second picture though, too much mud!

  31. You look so vibrant and happy in the second photo! Props to you, Valerie, for giving up a super-skinny body for a healthy one!

    1. Thanks, Katie. It is still an adjustment looking in the mirror as it all happened so quickly, but I FEEL amazing.

  32. @ Joey, good luck with it. Everyone is so welcoming at CrossFit. It’s a fantastic workout. I don’t go anymore, I prefer to do it at home, so I am not tempted to lift too hard.

  33. I just love your face in that second photo – aren’t you LIVING life! Go girl!!

  34. Your story inspired me tremendously! Thank you for posting it. Bette

    1. Thank you so much. That makes me feel wonderful. Anything in particular?

  35. Hi Valerie,

    Gee, I didn’t expect a reply, it is a big surprise it is to hear from you. Actually I’m not even close to your athleticism, but I’ve always had a lot of what they used to call ‘heart’ (drive). Alas, I was born too soon (might not have had the physical abilities anyway to be a competitor), and I began short runs after I read Kenneth Cooper’s book about aerobic training in the 1960’s. I did everything wrong, like pushing myself way beyond anything sensible just to see which one of his three fitness categories I fit into. I missed the point that these categoy tests were supposed to be done without ‘killing’ yourself, so you would know where to begin in the running program. Ah but my ego was involved, after all, I did the tests at 5,500 ft. elevation in the mountains where I lived. (smiley face)

    Here’s an aside, just for fun. Back when I was 18, and went to a gym (there was only one in my area), the weight room was for the guys and the women had a smaller room to the side, with those anchient, stereotypical ‘women’s machines, like the one with the belt that was supposed to be put around your butt, and it jiggled it (for weight loss), and then the roller drum with a bumpy surface that women were supposed to lean their hips on as it rotated, to get the fat pounded off. That was essentially it, except for 1 pound dumbbells. Luckily there was a woman trainer there who showed me how to do some workouts, but we had to use the ‘men’s’ workout room. I remember her telling me that she drank cream before doing bench presses so it would build her bustline up better. Who knows, maybe she was on to something mysterious. Yeah, this was sure a long, long time ago, in the late 1950’s, even before I read Dr. Cooper’s book. Today I’m 76, and even with the vast difference between our ages and physical abilities, I still get a LOT of inspiration from you. After all, if an awesome elite athlete like YOU is doing Sisson type workouts, then they certainly must be good!

    I noticed that you were already instinctively moving toward a more humane treatment of your body before you came across Mark’s ideas. To me this shows that you are plenty smart and listen to your body. It is unfortunate for athletes how winning at any cost can cause serious damange in some cases, where they suffer in later years. I love the way you now compete at more health-friendly events that look like one heck of a lot of fun, with mud, even! Now that’s living! Plus you are eating Paleo, which seems to work for me as well.

    I don’t mean to bore you with an olde timer’s stories, but since you asked, I thought I’d write back to you. I think that I managed to avoid too many archaic terms like ‘whipper-snapper’ etc. (smiley face). I’ll continue to read the comments, you are so kind to help others like you do. Do you have a website? Thought that if you do, I could read it as well. Hey you go, girl! Grok on! (and thanks for ‘listening’) Bette

    1. Hi Me Bette, I am overwhelmed and humbled by your response. First, please understand, I am far from elite. I was just way too competitive. You see, I think that is why I took to running in the first place. As I said, I always wanted to be athletic and I have no coordination at all. Ball Sports? HA! My husband says (as I go to throw a rolled-up pair of socks at him) that the safest place to stand right in front of me! Running is super easy to get good at, you seriously just have to put in some mega time. (NOT recommending it!!) As for the biking in duathlon, that came back naturally from my teen years and again, from the ridiculous hours I put in. If I counted all the time I spent planning, prepping, training…blah blah blah it was way over 20 hours a week. I spend that time falling in love with French again (on Italki and Duolingo), my teaching and of course, my family.

      Yes, you are very correct about moving in the direction of a more Primal workout routine, but I was still training for the Chicago Marathon and going to CrossFit EVERY days. It really wasn’t until that one moment of insanity (running on my injured foot) that I said enough was enough. Today, in the garage, I did push ups, pull ups, air squats with sprints mixed in. It’s fun mixing it up! Really though, my number one priority over anything is eating clean. That takes a lot of time and effort to accomplish eating 99.9 percent Primal.

      Funny, you know, I never mentioned this, but how I found Mark Sisson was I was researching what the difference between Primal and Paleo was. Mark obviously changed my life. (By the way, I drink raw, organic, unpasteurized milk, yogurt and cheese, that is what makes me more Primal than Paleo).

      I, by the way, am 44 and my husband is 68. He, unfortunately, is FAR from Primal. Still working on the family! So, let this “whipper snapper” tell you that I thought your comment to me was just “the cat’s meow” and I would go as far as saying it was the “Bee’s Knees!”

      Seriously, no website, feel free to contact me anytime. [email protected]


  36. Catching up after having been away for a bit, and just read this story.
    I really liked what I read, and more so, what I saw.

    Most of the success stories I see are weight “loss” stories, which are fine and dandy, but seeing how you went from an almost anorexic physique, to what I’d call a “buff”, fit, strong and healthy look, was truly amazing.

    I’d love to see more of the before and after shots from when you were running marathons, to now where you do OCR’s and mud runs.

    Congratulations on a successful and positive transformation!


    1. Thank you so much. I don’t have a website of pictures and there is no way to upload them here. If you are really interested you can email me at the above address and I can send them to you. BTW, my students used to tell me all the time that I looked anorexic. Others did as well. I loved that compliment. Sick, eh?