Exercise, Healthy Habits Sparked Weight Loss Journey for Huntsville Couple

A man poses for a photo

Carol and Marty Eaton are members of the Fleet Feet Huntsville fitness and running community. They have made impressive strides in their journeys toward health and fitness—each having lost well over 100 pounds. Since altering their lifestyles, Carol lost 140 pounds and Marty is down 120.

After establishing healthy habits, the couple continued to increase their race distances along with their community involvement. Both became coaches and mentors with Fleet Feet training groups and completed ultra marathons and half ironman races. In addition, they volunteered at races and even directed their own races and events.

We caught up with Carol and Marty to learn about how they tackle their goals and what keeps them motivated.

Marty Eaton, of Huntsville, Alabama, lost more than 100 pounds through exercise and healthy eating

Tell us a little bit about your journeys to health and fitness

Marty: To give you some background, we are 60 and 61 years old. We were active when younger and were both in the Army. Later we focused on raising kids and had too much fast food and time sitting while the kids played soccer. In 2003, at age 45 and at 375 pounds, I decided to make a change and started walking and eating right. A year or so later, Carol decided to do the same. It was months before I lost enough weight to even begin running. Over the years we coached, mentored or participated in every training program from 5K to the marathon. We had friends who kept encouraging and challenging us in our running efforts. We ran the Army 10-miler in Washington, D.C., for 10 straight years.

We each completed our local Grand Slam (completing three specific 50K races and one marathon between November and January) in years where very few runners attempted that feat. We did 180-200 mile relays as part of ultra teams. Carol did two 50-milers, and I attempted a 100-miler, completing only 75 miles. We crewed and paced others on their 100s.

We also became Race Directors. Carol built the Cookie Dash 5K into a huge event, and together we have directed our own half marathon for the past nine years. A few years ago we decided to try a triathlon. I’ve done five half Ironmans and Carol has done three. For two years, we race directed the Rocketman Tri, a local Olympic distance race. And our races donate thousands of dollars to local veterans organizations.

What prompted you to make the commitment to prioritize your health?

Carol: Our reasons were different, but they paralleled with the ultimate goal. Marty was trying to get reactivated into the Army, and he had to lose weight to do that. He was successful and went back to active duty. You have to have a reason. Whatever it may be. Your reason will be totally different but it’s about finding that reason to want to do it.

I had my own moment that I call my “aha moment.” Marty went to West Point in New York. He graduated from the military academy, and we go up there every few years. We were there, walking up to the football stadium and going up a steep incline. A quarter of the way up my heart started pounding. I had to stop because I was losing my breath. I thought, if I’m that out of shape that I can't go up the stairs, I need to make a change.

How did you approach this change?

Carol: Initially, I did three things: I cut out fast food, I cut out soda and started to exercise. We had a stationary bike in our bedroom that had become a clothes hanger. I committed to riding that bike three times a week. After three months or so, I had lost almost 40 pounds.

When Marty was home we started going to the gym together. We started doing spinning classes. Marty was doing some running and he convinced me to run the Cotton Row 5K. I made it my personal goal to run more. For the 5K my goal was: don't be last, don't get hurt, just finish. I finished in 37 minutes. It was a personal goal, and it was awesome.

What was the race like?

Carol: It was a good experience. I hadn’t done anything like that in years. When it came to finishing, the time didn’t matter until a few days after! Then you look back and that competitiveness comes in and I think, “I need to knock it down more.” But it was uplifting to accomplish that goal. The race environment was very positive. It was enjoyable to have people cheering me on—just people on the side of the road who came to watch the race, people in Huntsville. We have a cool police department. They are there to block the intersections from traffic, but even they cheer us on. It’s a very cool community that supports everybody.

After the 5K, Marty said he’d really like to run the Army 10-Miler. I said, “Why the hell would I want to run 10 miles?” But eventually, we did it for 10 consecutive years.

Carol Eaton, of Huntsville, Alabama, lost more than 100 pounds through exercise and healthy eating

What was it like to start coaching and mentoring training groups?

Carol: Initially I was a little nervous and afraid that I wouldn't be able to help them, or that I might give them the wrong information. Then I realized it was all about being honest and sharing. I wasn’t what I would consider a runner. But I decided to do my own investigating if someone had a question that I didn’t know how to answer, and my background is in nursing, so I could pull in that knowledge. The store owners, Dink and Suzanne, and staff at Fleet Feet are huge resources for people.

For the first 5K training group, called No Boundaries at the time, there was an overwhelming response. More than 200 people signed up! They had to divide them into smaller groups with specific races to train for.

How did you transition from completing a 5K to completing ultra marathons and triathlons?

Carol: I signed up to do these with friends and did it for the social aspect. I did two marathons, in Huntsville and Nashville. I did six or eight 50K races. Two of them were the Mountain Mist 50K. That’s my biggest accomplishment. I did two 50-milers, in Key West and Kansas. Those are mind over matter. You have to decide that you want to do it and set your mind on it. You have to decide, “OK, I've trained for this.” When I did Mountain Mist the first time I thought I missed the final cut off. My friend was waiting for me. I started walking because I thought I missed it. He came down and started yelling at me that I had five minutes to get to the aid station. I thought, “Holy crap I can still do it!” You have to decide you've trained for this. This is what I've been working for. Don’t give up.

You mentioned that you have taken a step back from the ultra marathons but that you want to stay fit and stay involved. Why is it important for you to stay connected to the running and racing community?

Carol: In the past few years, we had grandchildren, Marty had his hip replacement. It’s been more challenging. I like half marathons. As long as you keep your fitness you can go out and finish one. Marty and I transitioned to triathlons, and that took away from doing the long ultras. With the three sports, it takes up more time. We’ve done three of the 70.3 Ironmans and the half Ironmans.

I just retired in January, and retirement will get me back out there. My goal is to get back out to running half marathons. I do run-walk intervals. Go out just to keep the fitness level going.

I like being either out there with my own goal, or finding satisfaction in seeing someone achieve their goal if I may have impacted them. I watch people on Facebook who I've mentored. We stay in touch years after the actual program. One program I attended was the half marathon program from back in 2011. We still stay connected. We go out periodically and get together for a beer. But we remain connected years later because of that program.

What would you say to someone who wants to start getting in shape but doesn’t know how?

Carol: I would say to set realistic goals that you will stick with. When you really want to lose weight or achieve something, you go out so open throttle that you can't keep up with the goal, or you get injured, or something happens along the way. I go back to when I decided to ride the bicycle three times a week: I couldn’t justify not doing it. But if I had decided on seven days, I would have found an out.

Also, reach out and tap into resources available in your region. Find some people who have similar goals. They’re out there. You can find them. Whether it be a training program through Fleet Feet—there are different groups, different paces, speeds, ages—find that group with goals that are similar. If you can find the group, you’ve got that bit of a cheering squad that backs you up, keeps you going, keeps you accountable.

By Kate Schwartz. Schwartz has been running competitively for 20 years, and she currently runs with the Asheville Running Collective. She lives in Asheville, NC, with her husband, Alex, and their cat, Clementine.

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