Lillian’s Story of “How Running Saved my Life” – NPSF Show & Tell July 6th

A few weeks back, we held the first NPSF Show & Tell event, along with our hosts The North Face and Sufferfest Beer Company. One of our most inspiring and touching talks was from Mama Lil’. She kindly sent us the transcript, so we could share it to the wider November Project community. Thank you for your bravery and honesty, Lillian, in sharing your story.

(P.S. Here’s the recorded live stream. The recording image quality gets better a couple of minutes in, so bare with it a bit.)




On July 6, our NPSF Tribe hosted a Show & Tell Event at The North Face store, and they asked tribe members to submit ideas for 5-minute presentations. The requirement was to share the story of “why you run” or a special talent. After much reflection, I decided that I wanted to share the story behind why I joined November Project (NP) and how running has changed my life.

Three years ago in July, I showed up to Kezar Stadium in San Francisco for my first ever November Project (NP) workout, led by Laura McCloskey.  I was very out of shape and intimidated by this very fit group, and I was not used to getting up early. But I heard about November Project through Facebook from Goldie, who is November Project co-founder Brogan Graham’s wife, because I went to her yoga classes when I lived in Boston a few years ago. I knew that I wanted to try it out – I could tell that it would be a positive impact on my life (I just didn’t realize how much yet). I started showing up consistently every Wednesday at 6:30am at Kezar, and then we moved to Alamo Square. I was addicted to the positive vibes, new friends and motivation. I recruited everyone I could find. I never missed a workout if I could help it, and I never broke a verbal.

A few months of regular verbals with NP, I was the recipient of the Positivity Award. This award is given to the member of the tribe that best embodies the values of NP and its community, brings a smile and positive attitude. It is always a huge honor to bestow on someone but for me, it was a momentous turning point. This is because only one year prior to that award, I was journeying through the darkest year of my life and was feeling anything but positive.  


Flashback five years ago:  I finished my first ever full marathon — The SF Marathon.  I ran it in 3:42 and have never felt more accomplished. Seeing months of training pay off, feeling grateful for my body’s strength, greeting my family at the finish line….it was the best feeling in the world!  After the race, I decided to take some time off running to recover. I had never really known life without running since starting at a young age. I ran in middle school, ran through highschool and college and after college in my adult life.  But soon days turned into weeks turned into months of not running. I had all the excuses in the book to skip a run, i.e. I was working 60+ hours at the office, I was getting to know my new city, and partying hard on the weekends. I honestly didn’t think I needed running in my life and frankly, didn’t think I had time for it anymore.

The months turned into a year of not running, and while on the outside I was happy with my newfound adventures and love life, I started to feel the shift on the inside. My self-esteem suffered, stress from work hit me harder, I found myself in tears on the daily. I blamed it on my stressful, boiler-room job. I got a new job* but I felt bullied at work. Coworkers excluded me for lunch, talked about me behind my back and criticized me openly when I made a mistake. I was in a toxic environment and my mind/body consumed all things toxic, from unhealthy food to negative thinking. So I changed jobs* again but the feeling didn’t disappear despite the new environment. Given my unstable mental state, it became harder and harder to wake up in the morning and succeed at work…and soon I was given a warning that I could be fired. This of course only increased my anxiety levels. Failure absolutely terrified me.

That’s when the panic attacks got worse. There were many sleepless nights. The voice in my head repeatedly told me that I was a failure. My mind was weak, but my body was weaker. I felt heavy, inflamed from toxic foods, and exhausted everyday. I sank into a depressed state. Debilitating anxiety made me struggle to smile, struggle to breathe. How could I be feeling this down? How did I get here? It was so foreign to me. I was an outsider looking in. I just wanted the physical and mental anguish to disappear. I had everything I could want – so why did it feel like something was missing? When I ran out of answers, there were days when I thought suicide was my only way out.

Depression is an uncomfortable topic. I didn’t want to talk about it with anyone at the time, so the negative thoughts lived in my head. I already felt like a burden and didn’t want to be even more of one to my friends and family. I worried that people would wonder “Why is she so sad? Why can’t she just relax?” And I began asking myself the same questions.

I searched for answers but ultimately hit rock bottom. I found myself at the doctor’s office looking for help, and I was given a prescription for Prozac. Millions of Americans are affected by depression, and yes of course drugs can be lifesaving for many people. But it didn’t feel like the right answer for me. I wanted to understand the root cause, not just treat the symptoms. It was by no means an overnight epiphany, but after months and months of debilitating emotions, I had an idea. Maybe if I could move my body again, I could move my mind. So one night after work, despite feeling totally defeated, I went out for a little run. It was only two miles around the neighborhood in the pitch dark. I felt out of shape and disappointed that I couldn’t do more. But my mantra that night was, “You don’t have to see the entire path, just take one step.” And for me, this run was the first one towards recovery.


Flash forward to today: This experience was a blessing in disguise. It taught me compassion for others, it taught me that in every failure is a lesson. It helped me redefine the priorities in my life; now I eat clean, sleep more, exercise daily. Today I am the happiest I have ever been, and I work hard to stay that way by surrounding myself with positive affirmations, loving friendships, and a supportive community like November Project.  I have found a job and career that I love in events and conference coordination. It turns out that, yeah, I was in the wrong job and industry, and my diet and lifestyle were all wrong for me too.

NP race

So how did running save me? Running forced me to breathe again when I had held my breath for a year. Running empowered and inspired me to be my best, healthiest self. The more I ran, the healthier I ate. The healthier I ate, the better I felt. Healthy bodies are happy bodies. I discovered a gluten intolerance and so now I’m gluten-free. In my journey I also found out that there is a very strong link between exercise and diet with depression/anxiety. More importantly, running makes me feel accomplished–completing a 5 mile run feels like a win even on the most defeated of days! Running makes me stronger and fit; strong makes me confident. Running forces me to use all five of my senses; to see the beauty around me, to breathe the fresh air, to touch the earth with my own two feet, to taste the sweat, to hear the beat of the song blaring through my headphones.  And therefore, running made me feel ALIVE again.


Running helped me start moving down the path to recovery but I needed accountability on the tougher days. I found out that NP was coming to SF and I knew that I wanted to try it out. I was drawn to the values of NP – and to this day that is what I show up for. November Project took my running to the next level by instilling these values. I had always been a runner but now I had a community to share that with. When I lacked the motivation and self-discipline to take care of myself, NP kept me accountable to show up by making me “verbal.” I didn’t want to let anyone down, especially not when they are waiting outside my apartment building at 5:50 am.  NP created an environment of positivity and reminded me that negativity was not the norm; I instantly felt loved and accepted. NP was inclusive when I had previously been left out. NP showed me that I could succeed just by showing up. They showed me support with cheers of “great job”, when I had previously felt like a failure. November Project shows everyone acceptance to come as you are, when I had previously been rejected. Running may have helped me survive, but November Project helped me thrive.

I share my story today to remind you that if you’ve ever had a bad day, week or year, that you are not alone. Depression can be isolating, but know that suicide is never the answer. I don’t have all the answers, but exercise and diet helped me personally. There is a plethora of online resources with additional answers and ways to help yourself or someone in need.

This story is to remind you that the mind and body are connected and to take care of your body, because you only get ONE of them in your lifetime.  This is a reminder not only to “believe in the person you want to become,” but actually take that first step (and maybe it’s running) to get there. Nobody can do that for you.

On your worst day, remember the mantra that “out of difficulties will grow new beginnings; so trust the process.” I’m grateful for the new beginnings that have come my way.

Running is my passion, my emotional outlet and my beacon of hope. I hope my story today has inspired you to find yours.


NP hugs

*This company is not currently listed on my LinkedIn or Resume.

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