Running transformed her life and her body

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Tory Klementsen went from a 240-pound junk food addict who hated even the thought of running to a 120-pound marathon-running machine

Rich Myhre
Herald Writer

EVERETT -- Six years and some 120 pounds ago, it would have been absurd to think of Tory Klementsen running a full lap around a high school track, let alone an entire 26.2-mile marathon.

Absurd to anybody else, but most of all to her.

She was, after all, someone who grew up thinking that running "was some sort of torture PE teachers came up with."

Klementsen, who preferred music and drama as a schoolgirl, wanted no part of physical fitness. After graduating from Marysville-Pilchuck High School in 1983, she found other interests. She married the boy she had known since fifth grade. She also started a successful career in teaching.

And she began eating, often to excess.

In their early years of marriage, Klementsen and her husband Roy "both put on a great deal of weight," she said. "I like to joke that we both grew up and grew out together. We were terrible. We just ate more than the average person. Junk food, fast food. Just sloppy eating."

The 5-foot-3 Klementsen, who weighed about 135 in high school -- "I always thought I had a weight problem, even when I didn't," she said -- eventually reached 240 pounds in the summer of 2001. And at that point, having developed pain in her back and feet, not to mention flagging self-esteem, she made a commitment to get thin and get healthy.

She joined Weight Watchers to attack the unwanted pounds. And she eventually started running, though in the early days it was more jog, walk, jog, walk.

In the summer of 2002 Klementsen entered a 1-mile fun run and, she said, "I was dead last. I think they stopped the clock before I came in. But I didn't care. I absolutely had a marvelous time and I was hooked right then."

Klementsen, sometimes accompanied by her husband, soon undertook a determined program of training and competing. She progressed to 5Ks (3.1 miles), 10Ks (6.2), and half-marathons (13.1), and in the spring of 2005 she entered and finished the Vancouver (B.C.) Marathon, crossing the line in 4 hours, 45 minutes.

On Sunday, the 42-year-old Klementsen -- she now weighs 120 pounds -- competed in the New York City Marathon, along with some 38,000 other runners, making it one of the world's largest road races. Her time of 5:17:23 placed her 1,776th in her age group.

She is, by her own admission, not a particularly fast runner. In fact, she usually walks part of her longer races and training runs, which is an injury-prevention concept known as the Galloway Method, devised by former U.S. Olympian Jeff Galloway.

"My knees are 42 years old," she said, "and I would like to continue to run until I'm 92."

Yes, running into her golden years is a long-range ambition. Another has to do with geography. Sunday's marathon was her eighth in the past 2½ years, and those races were in Washington, Oregon, California, Utah, Florida and now New York. Klementsen's goal is to run a marathon in every state, and she is already planning for upcoming marathons in Minnesota and Texas.

"I might be 92 when I finish the last one," she said with a laugh. "It's going to be awhile, but I'm very serious about it. And once we retire, I figure I can do a few more (each year)."

Klementsen, who teaches computer servers and networking at the Sno-Isle Skills Center in Everett, does a training run almost every day, though she is trying to take at least one rest day a week. She totals about 30 miles per week, though she may boost that to 50 miles or more in the weeks before a marathon.

And a little rain, or even a lot of rain, is not enough to keep her inside.

"The only time I won't run is if it's thunder and lightning," she said. "Or of the hail is too strong. But if I just feel lazy, that's not acceptable. Because 10 minutes into the run, you feel great."

She races almost every weekend during the warm-weather months, usually 5Ks and 10Ks, though she's even tried a few triathlons. She may cut back a bit during the winter months, but not much.

Her weight loss and running are enough to make Klementsen's story an inspiring one, but there's more. First, she interrupted her running regimen in 2003 to undergo three surgeries after a tumor was found on her pancreas. She lost her gall bladder, part of her pancreas and a few other innards, but was soon back in training.

Also, her weight loss and accomplishments in running have given her the confidence to take on other formidable challenges. For her 40th birthday, she and a friend went skydiving, in part because Klementsen decided it was time to conquer her phobia of heights.

"If I was going to all this effort (to lose weight and run)," she said, "I decided I'd completely re-define myself and do the things I'd never done out of fear and embarrassment. … The person I am now is completely different in a lot of ways. I'm a lot more gregarious. And life is a lot more colorful because I love trying new things."

For as far as she's come, Klementsen figures she'll always be shadowed by the memories of her younger, heavier self.

"I wish I could've talked to me when I started putting on all the weight," she said. "I'd say, 'You know, you have so much potential, so just don't do it.' Because even though who you are is not defined by how much you weigh or by your dress size, you still have to treat yourself with respect. And you're not treating yourself with respect by eating like a teenager with a tapeworm."

That said, she went on, "I never dreamed I'd get as small as I am. My goal was not to be a 120-pound marathon runner, by any means. I just wanted to be average. I just didn't want my weight to introduce me before I opened my mouth."

And, somehow, this journey to a slimmer, more self-accepting self also led Klementsen to an appreciation of a sport she once abhorred.

"Every time I cross the finish line of a marathon," she said, "I remember that perceived fat girl in high school who hated to run, and who would have done anything to get out of it. To this day, it still amazes me that I actually do this on purpose."