After Weight Loss, Riverbank Run is Next Challenge to Conquer

For endurance runners, race day is the final chapter to a long story of training runs and hard work.

This Saturday, 24-year-old Ashley Fredricks will join thousands of other participants to run her first Riverbank Run 25K. Her race story began more than two years ago. At that time, running wasn’t even a plot point, nor was it something Fredricks even imagined as a possibility.

Overweight and tired of it, she had joined Weight Watchers and started eating more mindfully. Afraid to go to the gym for fear of ridicule, she worked out at home using exercise DVDs.

As the weight started to come off, Fredricks eventually started going on long walks with friends, even jogging a bit at times.

Still, even when she’d lost the majority of her 147-pound total weight loss, excess skin made it uncomfortable for her to run. Skin removal surgery last June opened up a new world of possibility, but she wasn’t quite ready to dial up the speed on her own.

Ashley Fredricks before her dramatic weight loss.
Ashley Fredricks before her dramatic weight loss.

When Fredricks’ co-workers suggested she submit an application to be a Road Warrior for this year’s Riverbank Run, at first she laughed at the idea. She also couldn’t stop thinking about it.

“I thought, I’ve done all this already and I didn’t think I could do it, so maybe I should just try,” she said.

Being accepted into the program meant she was committing to train through the winter in order to be ready for the 15.5-mile race, the largest 25K road race in the country. She pushed her fears aside, made the team, and put in the work. Giving it her all is the ultimate goal she has for herself this Saturday.

“That time could read five hours for all I care,” Fredricks said. “I want to finish and I want to know that I finished putting my whole heart into it.”

She recently finished the Gazelle Girl half marathon, proud to have run the entire 13.1-mile distance.

“It was rough, but it was so great,” she said. “It felt awesome.”

Being on the Road Warrior team has been a blessing for Fredricks. Road Warriors serve as ambassadors for the race and also raise money for charity partners. She and her teammates have their own coaches to keep them motivated and committed while following a training regimen designed to ensure they’re ready for race day.

Fredricks remembers laughing at the idea of running the first timed mile of the training plan.

“This is my first mile in general,” she remembers thinking. At the end, she was exhausted and out of breath.

“What the heck did I get myself into,” she recalls wondering.

Fast forward many months later and Fredricks said she’s made lifelong friends through the program. Having teammates to rely on has made her runs something she looks forward to, even now that they’re much longer than just one mile.

“If I hadn’t gotten into the Road Warrior program, I probably never would have started running,” Fredricks said. “It’s such a huge group of awesome and I can’t believe I’m actually a part of it.”

Ultimately, the same determination that helped her lose weight has come in handy as she puts in the work to get ready for the big day. At her heaviest, Fredricks said she was ready to settle and just accept that she would be overweight for the rest of her life. Once she mastered being consistent with her habits and saw results, she realized there was no need to settle in any area of life.

“It’s a mind over matter thing,” she explained. “If you have positivity going into it, you can do whatever you want to do. Don’t believe the negative self talk.”

The Fifth Third River Bank Run celebrates 38 years on Saturday. Consistently ranked as one of the premier road racing events in the United States, more than 21,000 people are expected to participate on race day in downtown Grand Rapids.

Want to see how Fredricks’ and all those other runners’ stories end this Saturday? Head to Grand Rapids and cheer on the hard work and dedication that all these athletes have put in over many months. The 5K run kicks off at 7 a.m., followed by the 10K at 7:40 and the 25K at 8:30. Handcycle and wheelchair race divisions for the 25K begin at 8:15 and 8:16, respectively. A 5K community walk starts at 9.   

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