Before Atha Vermillion started running in 2008, she couldn't even last for a half-mile.
"I had my fifth child in 2005 and had 50-pounds to lose," the Santa Rosa Beach resident said. "I was a little bit lost."
Now, five years later, she's a certified running coach through Road Runner's Club of America and training for the Tallahassee Ultra Marathon. This past October she ran the Chicago marathon. Needless to say, she's way past the half-mile mark.
"From that first day, I was hooked," said the 38-year-old.
After about seven months of running, Vermillion had shed her excess weight, has more energy and even more clarity, she recalls. But the benefits of running go beyond physical changes.
"Sometimes, it's therapy," she said. "I come up with some of my best ideas while running."
It wasn't long until she started to enter races and set bigger goals for herself.
"I signed up for my first 5K in October 2009," she said. "After that I told myself, ‘If I can run a 5K, then I can run a 10K’ and so on. I'm a goal setter. Since my first day running, I wanted to get better. Now, I'm addicted."
After years of running races, Vermillion set a new goal for herself: to become a certified running coach.
"One of the reasons I wanted to become a trainer was because when I first started running I didn't know anything," she explained. "I wish there had been someone I could've looked to for advice, whether it's nutrition or properly fitted shoes. I want to help others."
This past August was a big month for Vermillion. She completed her training in New Orleans and became an official Road Runners Club of America Certified Coach and was also selected by Oiselle, a women's running apparel company, to run for their team.
While her latest venture as running coach is new, Vermillion said she is enjoying every minute of it.
"I love everything about it," she said. "My very first client — she hired me the day I was certified — never ran before and has already run two 5Ks in November. If you can put your mind to it, you can do it."
That first client would be Leisa Johnson. Before working with Vermillion, Johnson said she never ran. In fact, she hated it.
"I was terrified to run, but Atha made it less scary," she said. "She has really inspired me. I'm thinking of going for a 10K. It scares me, but it was scary when I first started running in September too.”
Vermillion's training varies with each client. Some are out of town, like one client who works offshore. Some prefer the Galloway run/walk method. No matter the situation, she has a plan for them — whether it's a one-time planning session or monthly services. Her current clients range from early 30s to mid-50s, new runners to seasoned marathoners.
"Whenever I get to see them cross that finish line, it feels like it's me," she said.
A great asset to her clients is Vermillion's understanding of balancing work, life and fitness. She talks the talk and walks the walk, or rather runs it.
"It's about support and understanding," she said. "I realize the struggle when the alarm goes off in the morning and you don't want to wake up."
Vermillion has no doubt that she will be running well into her golden years and beyond.
"There's a lady at my track club meet-up who just celebrated her 81st birthday. I will probably be that lady," Vermillion said with a smile. "Life is either a grand adventure or nothing at all. I never take one finish line for granted."
GET RUNNING: You can join Atha and fellow runners for a Monday run along 30A. The Run 30A group meets at 6 p.m. at Pizza by the Sea, every Monday and runs three-six miles. After the run, enjoy dinner with new friends as the restaurant offers discounts to everyone in the running group. For more information, or to learn more about Vermillion's training programs, visit www.runwithatha.com and www.facebook.com/runwithatha.