In January 2020, after a three year exercise hiatus, Ruth Ann Payne, a mother of four in Illinois, stepped on a treadmill. Then, she started walking. Slowly.
“My goal for 2020 was to be able to run a 5K,” Payne, 35, told TODAY Health. Last year at this time, she weighed 235 pounds.
On her first day at Planet Fitness, Payne walked a 16-minute mile, with sweat pouring down her face. Crushing a 5K race felt nearly impossible at the time.
“I looked like a hot mess. I thought I was gonna die,” the pharmacy technician recalled. But Payne got right back on the machine the following evening.
“I was determined to keep going," Payne revealed. "I spent eight years of my life either pregnant or breastfeeding and I needed 2020 to be the year of me. I needed to focus on my body and my overall mental health."
During the first few weeks, Payne would jog the first mile and then alternate between running and walking the rest. Often, she was joined by her mom friends.
“I’d invite them to come with me. It was a fun way to keep myself accountable,” Payne said. “After our kids were in bed, we’d all meet up at the gym. And that was our thing.”
But in March, Payne hit a roadblock when Planet Fitness closed as part of the effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Payne admits she had a moment of panic. She had been working out consistently five days a week, without the distractions of her kids, who range in age from 3 to 15.
“I knew I was going to need to be more focused then ever,” Payne said. Committed to staying on track, Payne organized an early morning running group with her gym buddies.
“We’d go early, early, before our children got up and our husbands went to work,” she said. Payne also purchased a simple stationary bike for the days when it was too snowy to train outside.
Payne's dedication paid off: In August, she crushed her first virtual 5K on the treadmill, but looks forward to someday completing a race outside with people.
“I can’t wait to run a 5K with other people after the pandemic,” she said. "I'm really excited about doing it in-person with all the energy."
Since starting her health journey, Payne is down 40 pounds. She hopes to drop another 20 in 2021, by combining running with a ketogenic diet. She now has energy to rollerblade and take bike rides with her family.
“I’m really proud of myself. I never thought I’d last this long,” she gushed. “I feel like a different person.”