13.1 Miles to Go: Local Fitness Blogger and Family Train for the Philadelphia Half Marathon

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Local fitness blogger, Allie Harcharek, couldn’t run a mile straight through this time last year. But on Sunday, she will participate in one of the Philadelphia Marathon events, achieving a personal milestone: running her first Half Marathon.

Allie won’t be doing it alone– and not because she will be joined by 28,500+ runners in the combined marathon and half marathon events, but because she will cross the finish line in the company of her family. Not from the sidelines– but because her mother, father and cousin will also be running same the 13.1 mile course.

They are not a family under one roof, therefore not one that does sprinting drills before dinner; they are separated by a bridge and state line, as Allie lives in Philadelphia with her fiancé, and her parents, both happily remarried, are spread out across southern and central New Jersey. So what brings them all to the START line? Their participation can be partially attributed to a ripple effect that began in December of last year.

And that ripple effect started with Allie.

Allie, 24, spends her days as the food/dining editor for South Jersey Magazine, but also spends her nights writing for another more personal project. Previously known in online circles for her now-retired meal blog, A Food Coma– which was featured in the NY Times in 2010– she has since focused her energy into her health and fitness blog created last December: Navel Gazing.

The Navel Gazing blog carefully documents Allie’s journey in well-being through her healthy (“clean”) meals and work outs (distance running and yoga) around Philadelphia, along with frank discussions amongst her blog community about activity, motivation (or lack of), the occasional progress photo and, importantly, body image.

“Last year I had gained a lot of weight, and I was really unhealthy… I was just not a very happy person at all… was not in a healthy state of mind, so I started taking yoga.” She pauses, “I really loved it– I started going to all these classes…” Which eventually led to more: one day, when Allie arrived at the gym too late for a yoga class, she decided to try something new. “I heard about the Couch to 5k program and thought ‘I can do that.”’ She downloaded the app and began on the treadmill that day. “Most people don’t need to use an app to run, I guess,” she laughs, “but it’s neat. It gives you prompts… and slowly builds you to run for thirty consecutive minutes– which was a huge deal at that time.”

On the beginnings of the Navel Gazing blog: “A couple days after starting the Couch to 5k app, I made the blog on Tumblr [for myself]. I wasn’t going to tell anyone about it– was just my way to track what I was doing, since I was very motivated at that time… I wanted to get healthier.” But it caught on, and by the end of December, Allie had picked 2012 New Year’s resolutions, most related to fitness. ”I wanted to run my first 5k, run Broad Street… and do a handstand in yoga.” She achieved all of her goals, which are documented on her blog.

She plans to continue work with the Navel Gazing blog, “It’s fun… I like it because I mostly talk about the different milestones I hit because everything’s new.” Allie pauses, “It’s awesome to look back at the posts I put up a year ago [and see the progress]… and it’s a way to keep myself motivated”.

Despite growing up with two active parents, Allie rarely participated in running or group sports. An unusual fact, when considering that both of her parents have trained for full marathons in the last decade. Her father, Jon Harcharek, even qualified for (and completed) the Boston Marathon, the country’s oldest and most-competitive race.

Allie signed up for the Philadelphia Half Marathon during the ‘high’ of training for the Broad Street Run. She cites her fiancé, Michaelangelo, as support in registering. “Little did I know it’s not just three more miles,” she laughs.

She is also supportive of her mother, Mary Van Osten, who recently announced her decision to get back into training for a distance race. “She was always very supportive of my efforts and my running… she just approached me one day and said ‘I think I’m going to do this [half marathon]‘… I’m really proud of her… She wants to do a full marathon for her 50th birthday.” Allie pauses, “And my cousin Casey, who is like a sister to me, signed up, as well. She’s never done a half marathon, before! It’s been nice because we encourage each other, send each other text messages…”

Allie’s father, Jon, signed up for the race in the summertime. “I’m really proud of my dad because I didn’t think he would want to do this… it’s been pretty difficult for him, lately, but every Saturday morning he’ll send me a text saying ‘I did 8 under 8:00′ or ’9 under 9:00′ because he likes to do little running challenges. We’re going to try to run it together.” She continues, “It’s nice to have something that I can do that I can relate to with my parents.”

Aside from the inspiration her own family brings her, Allie receives small boosts of motivation through another community: through individuals in different social media networks, including Runkeeper. “I do like racing here [Philadelphia], it’s just harder because of the demand… it’s more competitive… and sometimes I would feel like running [as a sport] is this big clique I’m not a part of,” she laughs. But it would seem that’s no longer the case. Allie continues, “But one of the things I really love is that when I started running last December, I’d post my times through this app I was using as a way for me to keep track… and there were people there [on Runkeeper] who would encourage me. I got to make a lot of friends through that [the running app], last year.”

Allie even went so far as to later start a separate Twitter account just to discuss physical activities, “I talk to people on there every day about running and exercise.” Allie details a newer exercise buddy she’s met through Twitter as a source of motivation, “We’ve only gone running together one time (in person), but I feel like we’re a lot more connected.”

Allie checks Runkeeper

The Navel Gazing Blog embodies the ‘millennial’ attitude toward personal fitness: Allie has integrated technology into her activities for positive results, by fully utilizing social media platforms to help forge both on- and offline connections that make once-solitary, activities (running and yoga) more social: to share progress, converse, inspire and be inspired.

And between her parents, fiancé, cousin, on- and offline friends, it seems like everyone in her life is running, these days. “I don’t want to say it was my influence on them… I don’t want to take credit for what they are doing, but it’s nice to see that people are being healthy. And if in some tiny way I can help make people more active, that feels really great.”

On the race on Sunday, “I’m starting to get nervous… and I’m excited, I looked at the course map…” She joked how none of her family will be waving on the sidelines, but she’s glad it’s because they will all be running, too. “It sounds really cheesy, but running really changed who I am as a person.”

Cheer for Allie, her family, and the thousands of other runners embarking on their own fitness journeys this weekend at the Philadelphia Marathon.


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