Growing up, Rebekah Mayer didn’t feel like she fit in.
“I was kind of nerdy,” says Mayer. “I was really skinny, had big feet, and got picked on a lot.” But then she started running and discovered she was the fastest girl in her class.
Mayer’s first memory of the sport is racing her sister around their school building. In third grade, she competed in her first track meet — and set a new district record. She did it again the next year.
“Something just clicked for me,” says Mayer. “Running was fun, cool, exciting — and it allowed me to feel like there was something I was good at.”
Running was relatively easy for Mayer until college, when she began to encounter obstacles that forced her to change her approach to the sport.
During this time, she began experiencing symptoms of what would later be diagnosed as irritable bowel syndrome, which made it hard to run, particularly long distances. It took her nearly 15 years to learn how to modify her diet so she could feel comfortable while running.
She also had to have surgery to remove a cyst on her ankle. She fell and broke her jaw, which required it to be wired shut. In college, she was part of the injury-prone “fragile crew” that had to be mindful of how much and what kind of training they could do. Post-college, Mayer developed a back injury that’s plagued her on-and-off ever since.
“That’s what really changed my path as a runner,” says Mayer of her chronic back issues. “I went from being super competitive to still being able to do marathons — but not at the same level or at the same volume.”
In 2014, Mayer was training for the Boston Marathon when she was in a car accident, leaving her with pain and dysfunction from her neck down to her low back and hips. But it was the year after the deadly bombing at the marathon’s finish line, and she was committed to running with her training group, no matter what.
She fought through the season, seeking out chiropractic care, physical therapy, and massage. On race day, Mayer ran the race in 2:59 — just one minute off from her marathon PR.
Running for Herself
Her body needed rest after that, so she decided to take some time off from the sport. Two months later, her husband was diagnosed with kidney cancer; his surgery and recovery were successful, but rather than return to running, she helped him focus on his health. Shortly after his recovery, she delivered her third child and took more time off the running path.
“That was a full year of my fitness taking a back seat,” says Mayer. “I’ve been trying to rebuild things ever since.”
She’s in a good place now, crediting much of that to her run coach, MK Fleming, who works for Life Time Run in Centennial, Colo. Mayer runs six days a week and hopes her next marathon — her 11th — will notch her a new PR.
“Because I started running so early, the sport has really defined so much of my life,” explains Mayer.
It’s how she met her husband, after being invited by someone she met at a track meet to join a church group. It was in this same group that she was introduced to a Life Time personal trainer, which led her on a path to a career as the national run program manager for Life Time.
Running has benefited not just her physical health, but her emotional and mental well-being as well. “Running is when I feel most alive,” says Mayer. “It’s the only quiet time I get. It allows me to think, be creative, and tap into my inner strength.”
While her competitive drive propelled her for many years, there are now two main reasons Mayer runs: for the community and for herself.
“It’s been an opportunity to meet so many amazing people,” she says. “I want to be a leader for our groups, to impact more lives, and to help more people reach finish lines.”
And she still thinks of her potential as an athlete, even if that looks different than it used to.
“Even now, as the mom of three kids with a busy job, I have this desire to see what I can do,” says Mayer. “It may not be the same as what I could’ve done 10 or 15 years ago, but I want to push myself to do a little better and work a little harder.”
3 Tips to Get Started Running
Life Time Run’s Rebekah Mayer offers the following advice for those looking to get into the sport.
1. Know your why. Identify what’s going to keep you motivated to get in a few miles each day. This might be getting healthier for your kids, enjoying the peace and quiet of the outdoors, or taking another step on your fitness journey.
2. Invest in a good pair of shoes. Visit your local running retailer and find a great fit that provides the cushion and support you’ll need for the miles you’ll be running. Mayer’s favorite road shoe is the HOKA ONE ONE Mach 2, while she loves the HOKA ONE ONE Torrent for trails. (For guidance on finding the shoe you need, check out this guide from HOKA.)
3. Find a great program. Look for support that will help you get ready to cross that finish line step by step. Check out Life Time Run’s “Beginner’s Running Recipe” to get started.