New runner completes year of transformation with 1st marathon finish

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — This year has been one of transformation for Liz Fanco. A West Michigan mother of eight, she has struggled with her weight for most of her adult life. But this year, thanks to her commitment to her own well-being, and help from a trainer and dietician, she has lost more than 100 pounds and crossed some major milestones.

This summer, she finished her first triathlon and ran in the Grand Rapids Half Marathon. Now, she’s completed her first full marathon; doing it in style in New York City.

“The actual experience of a full marathon in New York was a bit of sensory overload,” Fanco told News 8. “Compared to training in Grand Rapids, running in Grand Rapids. I do a lot of training in rural areas, so running with 6 million spectators calling your name, kind of crowding in, music, dancing and everything was definitely a bit of sensory overload for me.

“The next day, everybody who ran the marathon walks with their medal around their neck. You ride the subway for free. People say congratulations to you wherever you go. Kids come up to you in the street, they want to see your medal. It was just an amazing experience.”

In January, Fanco teamed up with Todd Buckingham, the lead exercise physiologist at Mary Free Bed. They started with a specialized treadmill called an “Alter G.” It uses a pressurized bubble for the lower half of your body, taking weight off your feet and joints, allowing people to exercise at a “lighter weight.” That helped Fanco build her endurance and her confidence.

She said the entire race was extremely emotional, admitting there was a lot of “ugly crying.” Fanco finished the race but didn’t hit all the goals she set for herself.

“To complete the marathon itself, to cross that finish line after 11 months of building up to that moment was incredibly monumental,” she said. “One of my main goals was I wanted to finish in the daylight. And as I entered Central Park, the sun went down, and I had to finish the last two miles in the dark. … That was really difficult. To know that I hadn’t hit that goal, it was very emotional for me.”

But she hit some of them, including her time.

“(I told Todd) I want to be able to cross that finish line and say that I did a full marathon. And I did accomplish that goal,” Fanco said. “And I said I wanted to do it in under six hours. I crossed the finish line as the clock turned over to six hours. I crossed it — I think it was 6 hours and 45 one-hundredths of a second. So, I hit that six-hour mark.”

As she crossed the finish line, Fanco said her mind was on three of the most important men in her life: Todd, her husband, Jeff, and her father.

“When I had first signed up for New York, the first person I told was my Dad. He was always my biggest cheerleader throughout my life. And he told me, ‘I can’t wait to see you cross the finish line,’” Fanco said.

Unfortunately, her father passed away in May.

“The night before the race I had printed out temporary tattoos of my dad, and my husband, Jeff, and Todd,” Fanco said. “They were like 2-inches square. And I put them on the inside of my arm and I carried those three men with me those 26 miles. And as I crossed the finish line, I looked down at each of them and carried them across the finish line with me. And that was really an emotional moment for me, too. Cause none of them could be with me in New York, but I felt like all three of them were.”

Fanco initially planned to do just the one marathon, but after running New York, she decided to sign up for the Chicago Marathon this fall and several other races this summer to support Team World Vision: a non-profit close to her heart that provides access to clean water for communities across the world.

“The statistic that I come back to every single time is that kids without access to clean water only have a 50% chance of living to their fifth birthday. And that just wrecks me,” Fanco said. “If my kids had been born in a water insecure area. I have eight kids. Which four of them wouldn’t have lived to see 5 years old? And that’s my motivation to keep moving my feet.”

You can join Fanco’s team to support Team World Vision by running in the Chicago Marathon or by donating to the cause online.

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