Welcome to our “Lift You Up” series, where we feature individuals who are lifting up the communities around them through their health and wellness talents and efforts. In this series, we hope to inspire, motivate and encourage you in your health and fitness goals, as you read the stories of everyday athletes making a difference in their own lives — and the lives of others.
Before she had more than 60,000 followers on Instagram, before she created the wildly popular hashtag of #IRunThisBody and before she even wrote a single post on her insight-packed blog Mile Posts, Dorothy Beal was in need of some inspiration herself.
Her journey from a sedentary, self-conscious college student into a powerhouse of motivation and empowerment wasn’t an easy path — but she believes that just proves the power of consistency and persistence.
“I like sharing my story because I was able to turn my health around, and if I can help even one person do that, too, it’s worth all the effort,” she says.
Growing up as a bookworm instead of an athlete, Beal didn’t pay much attention to activity until she got to college and gained the ‘freshman 15’ in only two months and kept on gaining. She went from average weight to “pudgy,” she says, and didn’t have the knowledge or tools to counter the effect of parties and fast food.
By her sophomore year, she’d gained about 35 pounds — which can make a big difference on someone who’s only 5-foot-5. Concerned, her parents offered to help. Because her mother had recently taken up running, she offered to buy anything related to the sport like shoes or gear, and take Beal to the running track whenever she wanted.
“I hated it,” Beal says, laughing. “What college girl likes to go on a run with her parents? Then they signed me up for my first 10K. The only training I did was to cut down on smoking.”
She struggled through it, but kept running alongside her mom. Then she noticed a funny thing happening after a while: The weight was going down, and her confidence level was surging upward.
Reading through old diaries, Beal began to see patterns in how she obsessed over food and decided to change how she was eating. But it wasn’t until she got a job at a running store that she feels she truly went from running to actually being a runner.
“The people who came in weren’t punishing themselves with fitness,” she recalls. “They were celebrating their opportunities to move. They were so excited about running, and I finally wondered if I was missing out on something. I started to see the fun in it, and that helped to turn me into someone who runs marathons.”
With a laugh, she admits she never would have seen this turn of events for herself. But now, at age 35, she’s already run 34 marathons and doesn’t see any end in sight.
“I was changed from the minute I crossed that first marathon finish line, I actually get goosebumps thinking about it,” she says. “From that point, I thought: What if I applied that same not-give-up attitude to everything else in my life? What else could I achieve?”
Using that new positive attitude, Beal started her blog thinking it might appeal to a few people, but her fresh outlook and relatable personality drew tons of readers — and not all of them runners.
“Since I have three kids and a busy life, I write about how to support yourself in better ways and how to be your own biggest fan,” she says. “That resonates with a lot of people, and I’m thrilled when they feel inspired by that.”
In the past couple years, Beal has focused more strongly on body positivity, since she went through a phase where she became underweight in order to “look like a runner.” She realized that many people had the same misconception, so she started a campaign with the hashtags #IHaveARunnersBody and #anyBODYcanrun to spread the message about running being about passion, not about looking a certain way.
“You can be exactly who you are and love yourself,” she says. “I do have goals, like getting stronger, but I’ll never tie my weight to my self-confidence again.”
The tagline for Beal’s blog says it all: “Dream big. Run long.” After motivating herself to dream of a better, healthier path, she knows she’s in it for the long haul, and she’s loving the adventure. Plus, she’s more than happy to bring along whoever wants to join her.