Fit Nation: Overcoming your fitness fears

Julia Smookler shows off her number after the Peachtree Road Race on July 4.

Story highlights

  • Julia Smookler overcame doubt and fear to run a road race
  • Her fitness goals have turned into a healthy lifestyle change

Six CNN viewers have been selected to be part of the 2015 Fit Nation triathlon team. They'll race alongside Dr. Sanjay Gupta in the Nautica Malibu Triathlon in September. As they train, the six will share their stories about their Fit Nation experience.

(CNN)This Fourth of July was different from any other I had experienced. Instead of the normal barbecues with the family, I wanted to work out and train. I had finally decided that this was the year I was going to run the Peachtree Road Race.

From the beginning and throughout the entire Fit Nation journey, running has been my least favorite form of exercise and training that I had to undertake for the triathlon. I had long thought of this annual run as something larger than life, and maybe it was just too much for me to do for my first competitive running experience.
These days, as cheesy as it may sound, no matter how fearful I am or how little confidence I have, I want to challenge myself. I was excited to be a part of this Atlanta tradition that our community cherishes and values.
    On race day it was pouring rain. I woke up at 5 a.m. to make sure to eat properly and get to MARTA, Atlanta's public transit system, on time. I looked outside as the rain continued and had serious second thoughts. I thought, "Why in the world, on my day of rest, especially on a holiday, am I going to struggle to get all the way to Buckhead and run in the pouring rain?" And I'm not even that good a runner, at that.
    Then, it hit me like a ton of bricks and I thought, "That's the old Julia! I'm am doing this if it kills me." Clearly that wasn't going to happen, but that's how empowered I felt at that moment.
    My super-supportive mother dropped me off at the MARTA station and my fear of not knowing where to go was quickly abated. I was among many of my fellow Peachtree Road Race runners and soon I was chatting away, not worrying about the race.
    Seeing the thousands of people everywhere who showed up for the race in this treacherous weather was mind-blowing. Nobody was letting the rain put a cramp in their day. Feeling the energy all around me and the collective effervescence was magical. The volunteers were pumping up the crowd. People were handing out trash bags to one another to try to stay dryer and warm. The energy was so welcoming, friendly and fun. There was such a variety of ages in the race too. I was excited to see young families, and even some of my midwifery patients, who were running for the first time since their deliveries.
    At the start line, the excitement from the crowd was contagious and we were off. The music playlist I had chosen gave me the energy to get up the hills and run faster, dodging runners along the way. The cheering from onlookers on the sidelines in the pouring rain gave me the additional boost I needed.
    Each distance marker posted helped me have the drive to get to the next marker. Once I reached the finish line, I felt such a great sense of accomplishment and pride. I had conquered this crazy notion that I was not a runner. What a great race! Now I find myself feeling a sense of strength when I run. The training really does work. I have come so far from where I started.
    Fit Nation is such an amazing journey that I don't want it to end, but now I have the priceless tools to move forward. I have even incorporated my love of yoga into some of my strength training. I have found an appreciation for cycling and spin class.
    My husband, Eugene, and I started frequenting group rides with our local bike shop. These are things that I never thought I would ever dream of doing or enjoying. As a couple, we are figuring it out together so we can reach our goals.
    To anybody who thinks they can't get healthy or conquer their challenges and fears and enjoy doing it, I am living proof. Every day is not easy. There are days that I feel like I just don't want to work out or I want that really big three-scoop sundae. But I am reminded by my goal and how hard I have worked to get to where I am. I remind myself that this is my lifestyle, not a diet or short-term goal, and this is a goal to keep me and my family healthy and fit.