My name is Paige Poehler, and I am a vegan athlete. I love all things outdoors — hence the name Surviving on Sunshine — and I try to get outside in the sun to do something physically active every day, even if it just means taking our two pups for a walk. I am a triathlete and an avid runner, and I eat a high fruit, high raw, high potato (a.k.a high carb) diet to fuel my endurance activities. I run marathons, and in 2019 I will be running the Boston Marathon for the first time — something I’ve been anticipating for a long time! I created this blog as a space to share my fitness journey and, hopefully, to encourage others to get outside in that beautiful sunshine and get more active. I want to show people that being fit doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all image and that setting goals based on what you can achieve, instead of what you look like, can be an extremely rewarding experience.
I was born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky. My childhood consisted mostly of swimming. A lot of swimming. I started swimming for my neighborhood team at age 4 and then moved into competitive swimming a few years later. I swam year-round and traveled to swim meets all over Kentucky and neighboring states until I was 13 years old. I started to feel burnt out but continued to swim competitively in high school. By my sophomore year, I had become captain of the swim team. I made it to state-level competition twice in my high school career and probably could have done better if I had taken the sport more seriously. I never really appreciated swimming while I was competing, and it took me a long time to enjoy the water as much as I do now. Hindsight is 20/20, and I know now that I was learning valuable lessons about competition, self-confidence, and connecting with others through physical activity.
I never considered myself a runner. I was a swimmer. In my mind, running was only something I had to do during conditioning for swimming. Sure, I ran few miles here and there, mostly because I thought I needed to lose weight (more on body dysmorphia in another blog post).
After a rough start to college, I found myself taking some time off from school and living at home with my parents in their new home in Pennsylvania. I still ran a few miles here and there, but mostly I wanted a quick fix to make me look the way I thought I should look. I tried different diets, I tried extreme workouts promising fast results (but continued to injure myself each time I tried), and I continued to struggle with disordered eating patterns and self-induced vomiting. I did all of this because I wanted to look a certain way, not because I wanted to feel good. I didn’t set appropriate goals for myself, and each time I would get discouraged and ultimately fail.
I transferred to a new university (Penn State, Berks Campus) my sophomore year, and this is where my journey with fitness and exercise truly began. I needed a physical education credit, so I found myself enrolled in a Physical Conditioning class where I had to — you guessed it — run. One day, in one of my other classes, my professor overheard me talking about my run that morning and told me that she was the assistant coach for the Penn State Berks cross country team. She encouraged me to try out for the team during the fall semester. Because she was my favorite professor, I actually considered it.
The more I thought about it, the more it made sense. This was a way for me to meet new people in a place where I felt isolated, and a way for me to continue to improve my fitness and to compete — something that had been part of my entire childhood. I decided to go for it.
I spent the warm summer months increasing my mileage, and the first week of my junior year fall semester, I showed up to my first cross country practice. I had improper running shoes, I was nowhere near as in shape as the rest of the team, and I had to stop during our first run because my stomach was cramping. But I did it! I kept showing up and I kept working hard. I trained in a way I never had before, and I saw myself improving. Mile repeats. Hill repeats. Long runs. Speed work. And then … races!
Racing took things to a whole new level for me. I always knew I was competitive, but I never realized how much I could push myself to achieve a goal. I saw myself improving with each race, and I was hooked. Unfortunately, during one of the races mid-season, I felt a sharp pain in my Achilles tendon. I hobbled through the rest of the race and managed to finish, but I made the mistake of continuing to painfully train for two additional weeks. When I finally saw a doctor, I left with a boot on my foot and a heavy feeling in my heart. I was going to be out for the rest of the season. I had to watch as my team continued on without me to our conference championships and to regionals, as I did physical therapy to try to get back to running as quickly as possible. They say you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone. Well, this time away from running made it clear how much I loved it.
I guess you can say that I was bitten by the bug. I had happily fallen victim to the runner’s high. I followed my doctor’s orders and cautiously started running again once I was cleared. It was a long, tough journey back to running, but I started cross country season my senior year in better running shape than I had ever been in, and I had the season of my life. I once again found myself the captain of a team, but this time, no burnout. Running was cemented as a passion of mine for the rest of my life.
After college, I continued to compete in races ranging from 5ks to 10ks. After a minor (okay, a little bit major) setback that led to hip surgery, I started racing again in 2015 and haven’t stopped. I ran my second marathon in December 2017, in which I qualified for the Boston Marathon.
Running is still a favorite activity of mine, but in the last few years, I started itching for more. I moved to Hawaii in 2015 and started competing in some biathlons (run/swims or swim/runs). After having some success with those races and discovering my love for the ocean, swimming wormed its way back into my heart. Recently, I decided to pick up a bike and try triathlons after the encouragement of family and friends. I completed my first triathlon this year and I finished 3rd overall. My competitive nature, still running strong, has led me to become more invested in competing in triathlons.
Running will always be the first sport I truly loved, but I have a feeling this is just the beginning of a new and incredible journey. Exercise has become a way for me to develop new friendships, set new goals, and find the person I needed to become. By sharing my journey with you, I hope that you too will find a form of physical activity that you love. I hope you find something that makes you want to set healthy and realistic goals, achieve them, and then aim higher. I hope you learn to love your body and appreciate it for everything it does for you and for everything it is capable of. Thank you for joining me as we embark on this journey together!