photo by David Stegenga

How I became a sponsored athlete

At the end of last year, while planning my running goals for the year ahead, I was researching marathon options and realized there were so many interesting events throughout the year. It was hard to choose just one or two. I also needed a goal that was exciting and ambitious enough to keep me motivated. I had been in a slump (read more about that here) and was off my routine. A bigger challenge could help get me back on track. 

And so I came up with running 12 marathons in 2015, giving me the chance to experience many of the events that have long been on my list. It was both exciting and challenging. 

At the time, I had been traveling back to the states a lot more than usual because of a family illness.  Adding more travel expenses for marathons to my already tight budget seemed like a stretch, but taking on this challenge felt like something I needed to do to keep moving. I needed to get back to the runner in me. 

I thought: If elite athletes can get their dreams and athletic endeavors sponsored, why can’t I?

TomTom was already keen on partnering with my organization, House of Running, to help improve our group’s training experience. So I asked them if they’d also like to support me as an individual.  To my surprise, they said yes!  Within a few days they asked to include me in their Everyday Athlete campaign in exchange for their sponsorship.  They’d follow me along on my journey and share my story with their audience.

Fortunately this was right on target with one of my main my reasons for taking on this challenge: to inspire others. 

As part of the campaign they asked me to fill out a runner profile.  I’ve shared the content below.  Read on to find out more about me, as an everyday athlete.

photo by jonkman photo

TomTom’s Everyday Athlete campaign

Journey: From non-runner to run-loving marathoner & running coach

Goal: Run 12 marathons in 12 months

Describe yourself in three words.

Enterprising, inspirational, & adventurous (I had to ask friends for help with this!)

What are your plans for 2015?

My plan is to complete 12 marathons before the end of 2015, and along the way learn more about myself and what the body can do when put to the challenge.  I also hope to inspire others to take on new and bigger challenges that might otherwise seem daunting.

What triggered you to decide to do that?

Running 12 marathons in a year is a life changing journey and I wanted a goal that would keep my focus and make me work for it.  It’s a bit surreal to hear myself say this, as at one point in my life running a 5K seriously intimidated me, but I know I can cover 42.195 kilometers.  I needed something bigger this time.  My father has a terminal illness and it’s been a huge struggle for me emotionally.  Running has been my therapy (I’m incredibly thankful for it!), but I know that it can easily slip away when times get tough—when I need it the most.  Grabbing on to an enormous goal like 12 marathons in 12 months will keep me going.  It’s also a special way for me to pay tribute to my father, as he’s always proud of my crazy adventures.

Who’s your biggest personal inspiration?

My biggest inspiration has come from friends and family.  They inspire me to learn, to travel, to be more creative, more balanced, more open and to generally just be a better me.  One of these inspirations has been my friend Valerie.  She fought cancer as a young child and she has since lead a fearless, passionate life—intent on living and loving it to the fullest, working hard, staying connected with loved ones, and making every day count.  That’s inspiring! 

Who are your sporting or fitness heroes?

The runners that I work and train with are my heroes.  I’m continuously impressed by their courage to show up and their dedication and commitment to keep going.  It’s also amazing to see the transformative power of running and how, with time, these runners go from modest and unsure to confident and courageous athletes.  There is no end to what they can achieve.  But it’s not what they do or what they’ve done, it’s who they are.  Just being runners makes them my heroes and they continue to inspire me week after week.

Do you have a training partner, or do you like to train solo? Why?

I like to train solo, but I much prefer training with others.  To me, running is a social sport and much more enjoyable when shared.  Knocking out long distances in training can be hard work, but with others the time passes quickly and it’s fun. 

Not only that, I’m a much better athlete when I train with others.  They inspire me to be my best.  I need, and love, group training so much that when I couldn’t find what I was looking for, I started it myself, now known as the House of Running.  I couldn’t do all that I do and enjoy it nearly as much without the camaraderie of my House of Running buddies.

What are your top ‘race day’ tips?

1. Be prepared.  It reduces race-day stress.  Pack your bag the night before and use a checklist like this one to not forget essential items.  Don’t wait for good weather to get your runs in.  Train in terrible running conditions so that if it happens on race day, you’re ready.     

2. Set 3 goals—good, great, and excellent—to keep spirits high throughout the race.  Disappointment of unreachable goals, or the stress of ambitious ones, can crush your performance in a race.  Start with a “good” goal that’s achievable, a “great” goal that you know you can do if it’s the right day, and an “excellent” one that you’re ultimately shooting for.

3. If you’re worried about going out too fast, start further back with slower runners.  Most runners make the mistake of going out too fast and fading at the end, but if you start with runners slower than you, they’ll likely help keep your pace in check.

4. Wear your name on your shirt in the front and back in large legible letters.  You’ll get cheers all along the course and it will power you through at those tough moments. 

When the going gets tough, or your training schedule slips, what helps you get back on track?

First, I forgive myself quickly and wholeheartedly, reminding myself that setbacks happen to everybody and feeling bad about it will only set me back even more.  I then reassess, and even rework, my training schedule so that I set realistic expectations of myself.  Coming up with new goals or challenges is a surefire way to get me motivated to get back on track.  I also recruit the help and support of training buddies if needed.

Have you ever had a really low moment, where you thought you might not carry on?

Yes.  This happened to me in the Berlin marathon.  Halfway through the race, I hit the lowest low I’ve ever experienced.  I wanted to quit.  I ran up to my boyfriend shortly after the 21st kilometer and told him I wanted to step out.  My body ached and it required massive strength just to put one foot in front of the other.  Fortunately, he suggested I go a bit further and in doing so, I got through that low moment and carried on to the finish.

If you could say one thing to someone who needs a bit of extra motivation, what would it be?

What you gain from getting to your goal is absolutely worth every bit of struggle, every minute of hard work, and every second of uncertainty.  It’s in those tough moments that you grow the most as an athlete and as a person. While it might be easier at times to stay on the couch or only give what’s comfortable, if you don’t step outside your comfort zone you’ll never know the person you can become.       

What has been your proudest or most rewarding moment of your journey so far?

I’ve achieved so much as an athlete, but the achievement I’m most proud of is my running organization, House of Running.  It’s also been my most rewarding experience.  As a coach, I’ve been able to share my knowledge and love for running to help others achieve their goals and exceed their expectations.  I love being able to see the potential in people and then watch them shatter their barriers and stretch their limits to realize the extraordinary feats that they once deemed unimaginable.

What are your long term goals in both life and your sport? 

Running is an integral part of my long term goals. Professionally, I aspire to be more involved in the growth and development of my sport, recreational running.  I want to make running more inclusive and accessible around the world and to create more opportunities for people—of any shape, age, size, or background—to benefit from the rewards of running.  My goal is to be a bigger part of this change. 

Another goal of mine is to expand my House of Running community to connect runners worldwide, to provide more outlets for inspiration and motivation.  In addition, I plan to expand my reach as a coach by offering online coaching to people around the globe.

Personally, I hope to still be running and inspiring others to run when I’m in my seventies or eighties.  I’d also like to be a mom one day. 


14 August 2015 – I’ve completed 5 of my 12 marathons: Tokyo; Paris; Leiden, NL; Midnight Sun in Tromso, Norway, and Swissalpine Marathon in Davos, Switzerland. The Swissalpine marathon was my first trail run and the course went up and down a mountain.  It has been my favorite thus far. I missed my Barcelona marathon in March to spend my father’s last birthday with him but I plan to make it up in December if all goes well.  Next week I’ll be running the Reykjavik marathon in Iceland. 

To follow me on my journey, check out recent posts here, sign up to the House of Running mailing list, or follow me here on Instagram.

Sponsor/support me

While TomTom’s support has been surreal and I’m incredibly grateful for where it’s gotten me, unfortunately it doesn’t completely finance the entire challenge. I’m determined to recruit another sponsor or two to help make this challenge doable without adding more stress to my budget.  

If you enjoyed this post and would like to help me carry on with this challenge, as a sponsor or supporter, please get in touch or donate directly to my #12marathons2015 challenge by clicking the button below.  Please include your mailing address as supporters will receive a special gift from me.  Happy day!

Stay tuned for more posts and updates on my training, travel and experiences throughout my crazy marathon adventure. 

I also welcome cheers, comments, and questions in the comments below.  Scroll down to add yours.

Laurie Villarreal

Laurie’s an accomplished endurance athlete and has been running since 1998. She’s the founder of House of Running and a professional Running Coach, a certified Personal Trainer, Fitness Nutrition Specialist, and Health & Wellness Coach. Laurie’s trained and worked with nearly 1000 runners since 2010. She’s a master in her field with over 10,000 hours of run coaching experience. Laurie helps ambitious professionals make running part of their healthy lifestyle through on-on-one online coaching and fun group training programs. She has a unique holistic approach to running, helping her runners think beyond running to realize their running dreams. Click here to find out how to work with Laurie in one-on-one online coaching.

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