Growing up, Ayumi Nagano, who attended both American and Japanese school, was frequently bullied because of her race, but she decided to tune out the haters and join the cross country team in seventh grade to boost her confidence.
As a result, she became captain of her high school winter track team, but she was bullied again when her coach commented on her weight, resulting in her struggling with depression, leading to an unfortunate eating disorder and drug addiction.
Luckily, Nagano has now been sober for 10 years, and eventually ended up falling back in love with the sport when she became a teacher at a Brooklyn high school. It was a full circle moment when she started coaching the cross country team.
Now, Nagano is preparing to run the New York City marathon to show others it's important to follow their dreams — no matter how tough they may be.
"I felt like the world kept telling me that I was never enough in every aspect of my life. I carried that with me everywhere I went as if it was weighing me down from ever truly reaching success. Growing up as a Japanese American in NYC, I wasn't able to play sports until I was 12 because my Saturdays were consumed by attending Japanese school," the athlete exclusively tells Morning Honey. "One day, a friend of mine asked me if I wanted to try out for the Cross Country team and I said, 'YES,' having no idea what Cross Country was. I was quite simply ecstatic to try and play a sport, as it was something I had been wanting to do my entire childhood. After the first day of tryouts, I recall being so sore I had trouble going up and down the stairs of my middle school, but I also loved it so much that I kept going back. I fell in love with running. It was this concrete way of proving to myself that I was capable. Capable of enduring the pain with the result of coming out stronger. This became a deeply rooted philosophy in my life."
Running a marathon is anything but easy — something Nagano knows all too well.
"This has been the hardest training cycle of my life. Not only because it's the marathon, but also because I'm a mom with a 3.5 and 1.5 year old and a full-time teacher. I have to get up early to beat the southern heat, so speed workouts and long runs could start anywhere between 4 and 5 a.m. I have to arrive work by 6:45 a.m., am up on my feet teaching by 7:15 a.m., and then don't really get to sit until my babies are in bed," she explains. "This has made recovery harder than expected. Admittedly, I LOVE speed workouts, so they have been a lot of fun for me. Speed workouts take two hours, long runs can take two to four hours, which is tough to fit in with an already tight schedule. In spite of its challenges, it has been incredible to push my limits and see what I can do."
Despite her busy schedule, Nagano is realistic about what she can fit into her day.
"If each week can consist of one easy run, one speed workout and one long run then I feel content with my training. I decided early on that I would only work out Monday-Friday. Weekends are dedicated to my family so no working out at all. The remaining two weekdays I do yoga and strength training. If I have time then maybe I'll tack on two to four easy miles. I'm happy I'm marathon training now than a few years ago because I'm much more confident and mature with my training," she notes. "I don't beat myself up if I have to miss a workout, if I get sick then I wait until I am fully recovered to return to training, if I feel pain while I'm running then I'll stop and address it right away. The old me would never miss a workout, run while sick, and run with pain — the lessons learned were that I became burnt out, overtrained, really sick and injured for months. I'm much happier now with my training knowing that I do what I can while being kind to myself."
"I absolutely love running, and I love to work towards goals so those are huge motivators for me. And I know that if I want to reach my goals then it's up to me to just get up and do it. No excuses," she continues. "I schedule in every single workout because if I plan for it then I will do it. If it's an early morning run then I have my outfit laid out the night before with multiple alarms set. I'm a planner and I like check lists, so for me, training is a part of my checklist and I love to have everything checked off."
Nagano is "nervous and excited" about participating in the big event, which will occur on Sunday, November 6, and she thinks once she crosses the finish line, she will most likely be smiling.
"Whenever I finish a really hard workout, I kind of laugh out loud to myself with astonishment and relief that I got it done. Other than that, I plan to go eat with my family and a few friends to celebrate. I have no idea what I'm going to eat, but just plan to see what I'm craving once I'm done. I can't really think that far ahead right now," she says.
Ultimately, Nagano wants to be a role model for others.
"I hope that when people see me and know my story that they will see that they, too, can overcome and do hard things. That Asian females can see themselves as runners and athletes. That mothers can realize that pregnancy didn't weaken them, but rather, made them stronger. That individuals who are struggling with an eating disorder or drugs can overcome their addictions and find a joyous life free of their torturous vices," she shares. "I just hope that someone can see themselves in my story, and find the strength within to realize that they are also capable of doing anything they want with the right amount of hard work, dedication and consistency. Things don’t just happen because you want them to. You have to work for it. Really hard."