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I Started Running to Keep Myself Alive

I was broken and suicidal, and focusing on this weekend's NYC marathon kept me going.

ByDarya Karelinaas told toMichelle Malia

It was an ordinary autumn afternoon. Ordinary, except for the fact that I was in my Manhattan apartment looking up suicide hotlines. I didn't want to do anything. I didn't want to see anyone. I didn't want to leave my bed. Most of all, I didn't want to live.

I was born in Russia, but I grew up a very happy child in the Ukrainian countryside. I drank milk straight from the cows. All of our food was organic. I was always climbing trees, lying in the grass, and riding my bike on our land—that's probably why I still love cycling today. When I was 16, I left the countryside to attend university. After graduating with two degrees, I started my own marketing business and met my ex-husband, but we divorced after a few years of marriage. I tried to rebuild my life: I started a popular fitness and nutrition website, became a virtual personal trainer, and made many TV appearances, but I always felt that I wanted to do more and that the United States was the place to do it.

I left the Ukraine and moved to the upper east side about three years ago with no friends, no family, and no grasp of the English language. I watched Sex and the City to learn basic, everyday vocabulary. When I talked to people, I tried to memorize words and sentences so I could use them later on. I became a personal trainer at a gym in Manhattan, but I didn't see it as a longterm career. I decided to take the Test of English as a Foreign Language, which foreign students need to pass to apply to university. After passing the test, I enrolled at the City University of New York's School of Professional Studies. This December, I'll earn my bachelor's degree in psychology.

I'm in a good place now, but I went through a lot of pain and suffering to get here. In 2016, I was in a horrible relationship unlike any I'd ever been in. Because of how it was affecting me, I lost my job at the gym. I started secluding myself—I stopped exercising and seeing friends, I stayed in my apartment, and I cried often. I was absolutely broken. Even worse than feeling terribly, I came to feel nothing at all. I never thought I would reach the point where I wanted life to end, and yet, I had.

In that moment, sitting in front of my computer screen, I didn't recognize myself. I had always considered myself a strong person. I lived on my own at 16, I dealt with a traumatizing divorce, and I moved halfway across the world to start a new life for myself. Something in my mind clicked: I didn't want life to go on as it had been. If I couldn't change the bad things that had happened to me, I had to do something to get myself out of that emotional state.


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The first step was getting up, out of bed and out the door. The biggest change came on November 6, 2016: I went to watch the New York City marathon because a client was running and I knew he had no friends or family there to support him. I have always been more into weightlifting and I shied away from running, besides some short races just for fun, because I thought I would get injured or lose muscle mass. But on the marathon course, I saw all these people running: men and women from all different countries, of all ages, with all kinds of body types. They all looked so tired, but so happy. There are some things I can't control, but I can control where I focus my energy. I thought, if I make it a goal to run the New York City marathon in 2017, that will at least keep me grounded and motivated to get up and out every day.

I went back to my apartment and logged in to my New York Road Runners account. As a New York City resident, you can earn entry to the marathon through the 9+1 program: Run nine NYRR races and volunteer at one in a single calendar year, and you're in. By that time, I had already run seven races, so I still needed to volunteer at one race and run two. I just barely made the cut-off, running my ninth race on New Year's Eve in Central Park.

Already, after just two months, I felt so much better from taking these steps—and that was only the beginning. Since January, I've run eight half marathons. When I started running, I expected to train for the marathon and then return to my regular workout routine. Now I know that I could never give up running.

This sport has given me my life back. It's made me stronger both physically and, even more importantly, mentally. I've always loved biking, so when I started running, people kept telling me I should do an Ironman. That seemed impossible: I almost drowned as a child, and I hadn't been in the water since. But every day, running shows me what I am capable of. I started taking private swimming lessons this year and I will compete in my first half Ironman in April.

My clients often think that exercise is something you do for a good body. To that I say: No. Exercise is something you do for your physical and mental health, and a good body is just an extra bonus that you get on top of that.

One year ago, I never thought that I would be here today. I'm happy. I'm my own boss. I have clients and friends that I love. I have found a new part of myself, a part of me that faces her fears and loves life. I think that everybody has this deep inside of them, the strength in themselves to accomplish anything.

Now, I know that nature does not define you. Depression and alcoholism run in my family, so I'm predisposed to those illnesses, and because I have an obsessive personality it would be easy to channel that in a negative way. Instead, I mostly stay away from alcohol and I spend my time doing things that keep me happy and healthy, like running. There's something special about it: It's therapeutic and the perfect time to meditate. It's a time when I can think about everything, and I can think about nothing. I'm reading What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, and in it, Haruki Murakami writes, "What exactly do I think about when I'm running? I don't have a clue."

When I head out for a run, my body feels stiff for the first few minutes. After a mile or so, I loosen up and get into a rhythm. And by the end of every run, I feel better.

Running Wild is a partnership with Reebok that celebrates marathon season, the culture of running, and what motivates beginners and seasoned athletes alike to keep moving. Follow along here.

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