Running Changes Everything®: The Journey to NYC

A landscape shot of New York City.

This weekend, Zackary Jellis and Reza Amirmoshiri will be running the 2022 New York City Marathon. Jellis and Amirmoshiri were selected among 500 applicants to win an entry into the race on behalf of Fleet Feet.

After struggling with poor eating habits and an unhealthy lifestyle for years, Zackary Jellis discovered running and has never felt happier or healthier.

Reza Amirmoshiri has also enjoyed the many positive benefits of running and found the consistent training to be the best remedy for his struggle with anxiety and depression.

For both Jellis, a 38-year-old bed and breakfast operator who lives in Portland, Maine, and Amirmoshiri, a 30-year-old chemical engineer and scientific researcher from Baltimore, Maryland, the immersion into running and the dedication to training for marathons has brought about life-affirming changes and continues to provide countless physical, mental and emotional benefits in their daily lives.

Zackary Jellis: Running inspired a new approach to a healthier lifestyle

Zackary Jellis runs during a half marathon race.

For most of his young adult life, Zackary Jellis admits he struggled with his eating habits and a sedentary lifestyle. As a result, he also struggled with his weight and the challenges that came with it. But then he got a fortuitous wake-up call at age 30, when he visited an urgent care facility for a routine checkup.

At the time, Jellis says he weighed about 350 pounds and struggled to walk, climb stairs and move through his daily life. The doctor encouraged him to make lifestyle changes and improve his health, warning him that he’d otherwise likely face a variety of serious health challenges in the coming years—high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, chronic inflammation, high cholesterol and heart disease.

That was the spark Jellis needed to light an inspirational fire and make changes. He went for his first run that day and, now eight years later and about 100 pounds lighter, he is excited to be in the best shape of his life as he prepares to run the New York City Marathon.

“From that moment, I knew I needed to do something,” Jellis says. “That very first day, I decided I need to improve my fitness and get in better shape. I went out and I ran this local loop called the Back Bay Boulevard Loop, and I haven't looked back since then. The first run was a struggle because I had to alternate running a quarter mile and then walking a quarter mile, but being diligent about the process of running has done nothing but make my life better in every way.”

Jellis admits getting started and staying consistent wasn’t easy, but he found the more time, effort and tenacity he dedicated to running, the better he felt. His dedication to running and sticking with it even when it has been a struggle has helped him break unhealthy eating habits and an addiction to drinking sugary soda.

He started with a walk-run approach, and now runs as many as 45 miles per week. Jellis says he feels infinitely better physically, and has also found he’s able to better balance all aspects of his life—work, relationships and being a father to his 6-year-old daughter.

Recently married, Jellis says he’s been inspired by his wife, Erin, who is also a runner, and many people he’s met in the Portland running community. He frequently joins Fleet Feet’s group runs and has been motivated by hearing other people’s life-changing stories.

As his running progress evolved, Jellis was inspired to sign up for his first marathon earlier this year. He trained consistently for the Sugarloaf Marathon in Carrabassett Valley, Maine, with a goal of finishing in the four-hour range. On race day, he gave it his best effort and came through the halfway point in about two hours, but then he struggled over the final 13.1 miles and finally reached the finish line in 4:49.

While he missed his goal, he’s more inspired than ever to continue his journey.

“I want to keep improving, but it’s not about time for me,” he says. “It’s about daily training, getting out there and completing the work. That’s the beautiful thing about running to me.”

Jellis says, in addition to the sense of community Fleet Feet creates, he’s relied on the service and expert advice the store has provided in his running journey. He says the staff has helped him find the best pairs of new shoes, new running clothes and key accessories. He has been training in New Balance Fresh Foam 1080v12 and New Balance FuelCell SC Elite v3 most of the year, but he’ll toe the starting line of the marathon in a pair of Nike Air Zoom Alphafly Next%.

“I’m blessed to have a great community of runners in this area,” he says. “It’s easy for me to go to a lot of different group runs several times a week. For the encouragement and motivation factor, that’s really what triggered it all and got me really addicted to it … the camaraderie of feeling healthier, which helps my overall mentality about life. I just got hooked on that.”

Jellis says the excitement of running the New York City Marathon has already sparked a bigger goal: running all six races in the World Marathon Majors series and eventually earning a six-star medal. That means he’ll have to complete marathons in Boston, Chicago, Tokyo, London and Berlin, too, but at 38, he knows he has plenty of time.

“The love and passion I have for running has equated to so many benefits in life,” he says. “Running has helped me grow mentally, become stronger, be more dedicated and determined in life and achieve things that I never thought my body would be capable of doing. The beauty of running is that I know I can continue this for a long time and be able to do amazing things.”

Reza Amirmoshiri: Using running to find balance in life

Growing up in Iran, Reza Amirmoshiri’s first love was soccer. But after moving to Houston, Texas, to attend graduate school as a young adult, he found he needed a new fitness outlet to offset the anxiety and depression he was experiencing while earning a Ph.D. in chemical engineering. He was inspired to start running in 2019 and eventually sign up for a half marathon the following year.

While he enjoys the physical and emotional changes running brought about, the analytical mind that has led him on a career path of being a research engineer was also inspired to learn more about the science behind training. He began reading articles and books about aerobic development, lactate threshold, fatigue resistance, the 80/20 rule of intensity distribution and how improved mental strength had led to improved physical performance.

Last summer, Amirmoshiri decided to take his running to the next level and sign up for the 2022 Houston Marathon in early January. He trained consistently and it paid off, finishing in 4:05. That experience only inspired him to go through it all again and train even harder. Four months later, he ran the Delaware Marathon and improved to 3:42.

He continued training harder and smarter throughout the summer and recently ran the Akron Half Marathon in a new personal best of 1:30:33, an average pace of 6:55 per mile.

“As I learn more about the sport, my training improves,” he says. “I don’t want to just finish a race, I want to do better every time.”

Amirmoshiri admits didn’t know much about running shoes when he started, but when he walked into a Houston-area Fleet Feet store he was greeted with a welcoming and encouraging presence. He went through the Fleet Feet’s 3D fit id®outfitting process and learned about what models of shoes might be best for his feet, further advancing his training.

After moving to Baltimore a few years ago, he missed the thoughtful service and attention to detail the store provided. But then he discovered the Fleet Feet store in Annapolis, Maryland, and soon realized the 45-minute drive to the store was well worth the effort. With the help of their shoe-fitting expertise, he now trains in the Hoka Mach 5 and Nike Vomero 16 and plans to run through New York’s five boroughs wearing a pair of ASICS MetaSpeed Sky+.

“The staff at Fleet Feet are experts and were very helpful to me,” he says. “I love the 3D foot scanning technology because it really informs me on what shoes will work best for my feet and my running gait.”

When Amirmoshiri made his initial visit to New York City in 2016, he was amazed and impressed with the energy and excitement it exuded. It lived up to the expectations he created while watching American movies as a kid growing up in Tehran. But during his first visit, he wasn’t yet a runner and never thought he’d be running across the city’s five boroughs from Staten Island to Central Park.

But his life has started to come full circle, thanks in large part to running. Now he relishes the chance to run the New York City Marathon, both because of the diversity of the city and the opportunity to run with runners from a wide range of nationalities. He sees this race as a chance to celebrate the many positive changes running has brought about in his life.

He says running has helped him feel better and stronger physically, but it’s also brought about a greater sense of calm and balance in his career and personal life.

“I love the idea that running changes everything,” he says. “When I started the journey of long-distance running, it really helped me cope with anxiety and depression and become a more resilient person. Running mirrors my life. It’s easy sometimes, and it’s hard sometimes, and it’s frustrating at times, too, but when you don’t give up, it feels amazing. The bigger the goals, the more pressure and the more stress there is in training, but I try to stay positive and know that each run provides a positive impact that I can keep building on.”

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