Dating back to her days competing for the track and field program at Cheshire High School, Loryn Strange Watkinson has left her house to go on countless runs through her hometown and in the surrounding areas. While some people run to meet a time goal, stay in shape, or clear their head, Watkinson focuses on giving out positive energy.
“Every run I’ve had, I write people’s names on my arm,” said Watkinson, a health coach and trainer who runs LivingProof Wellness, LLC. “Each mile is dedicated to someone.”
On Oct. 11, her commitment to other people was rewarded in a big way. While walking out of her garage alone to start a virtual run in the 2020 Marine Corps Marathon, she was cheered on by family and friends during her 26.2-mile trek through Cheshire.
“It signifies human kindness. It means so much that people gave back positive energy to me,” explained Watkinson. “For all of the people who showed up, their names will now be written on my soul.”
The Marine Corps Marathon had been held for 44 years in a row in Washington, D.C. and Arlington, Virginia, but due to the coronavirus pandemic, this year’s event was changed to a virtual format spanning from Oct. 1 to Nov. 10.
“You had to complete the marathon in one day, but you had a couple months to choose the day,” Watkinson said.
Since her youngest daughter, Lila, was born on the birthday of the Marine Corps, she considered running on Nov. 10, but decided instead to participate on her dad Michael’s birthday in October. Michael Strange, who passed away 19 years ago, served his country as a Marine.
“Since I lost him so early in my life, he didn’t get to see what I’ve achieved. He didn’t see me develop as a mom and run a marathon,” explained Watkinson. “It means a lot to me that I hold myself to the same accountability that he did.”
In memory of her dad, Watkinson originally planned to participate in the Marine Corps Marathon in 2018, but due to an injury, she had to push back her trip to last year.
“I was (age) 46 at that time. I’d done so many races, but that was my first marathon,” reflected Watkinson. “I’m a competitive person, but I wasn’t looking for a specific time in that first race.”
Before arriving in Washington, D.C. for the 2019 race, she was grateful to receive a personal message from Marine Major Susan Foward. Along with telling her story, Foward attached a challenge coin as a token of respect for her dad’s service, as well as for Watkinson’s willingness to take on the marathon challenge.
Watkinson’s friend Susan Grigely, the associate scheduler and sponsorship ad manager at ESPN and an iron woman competitor, shared Loryn’s story with Foward.
“I was instructed to not look at the letter until I left,” said Watkinson, who was inspired by what she read sitting in the airport. “Becoming a major is an amazing honor, especially as a woman. For her to take the time to give me that (coin) and wish me luck meant so much to me. That is why I believe so much in wellness and being there for other people.”
Watkinson feels that the letter helped motivate her to compete in last year’s Marine Corps Marathon.
“It is a beautiful course that goes through Washington, D.C. and Virginia. You run by famous monuments and parks,” said Watkinson.
She enjoyed having two friends come down to support her. Watkinson also made new friends with whom she still converses over social media.
“At the end, it was more inspirational to be around other people’s energy than saying that I just ran over 26 miles,” Watkinson reflected.
In contrast to last year’s marathon, she had the opportunity to plan out her virtual one this year and train with her dog Lincoln on runs at Sleeping Giant State Park.
Starting her marathon from South Meriden Road on Oct. 11, Watkinson ran down Route 10 to Hamden, came up the Linear Trail toward Southington, and then returned to Cheshire.
“Running on the trail allowed people to drive up to join me and cheer,” said Watkinson. “It is also a flat course.”
Since people were doing their virtual runs for the Hartford Half Marathon on the same day, Watkinson enjoyed seeing other runners on the trail. Prior to her marathon, she invited fitness clients and friends to run with her or cheer along the way.
“I had amazing people meet me on the path,” reflected Watkinson. “There were people driving from other towns and states wanting to hand me a water.”
She loved seeing her best friend, Stacey Zwick, show up to give support. Carrie Leventhal also met Watkinson at all of her stops.
“I had another friend, Lee Jackson, drive by me on Academy Road to ask if I needed anything,” added Watkinson. “He had the “Rocky” theme song playing in his car.”
At mile 17, Watkinson’s son Connor joined her for the final portion of the marathon. Lori Mann hopped into their group for the last five miles.
In an emotional moment, Cheshire’s Jenifer Walsh, who lives with multiple sclerosis (MS), turned a wheel chair into a walker, so that she could finish the last mile with Watkinson.
“I show up for people and people show up for me,” explained Watkinson. “That is what life is all about.”
In a surprise, Watkinson’s daughter Emma came home from Endicott College (Massachusetts) to cheer her into the finish on Wiese Road in Cheshire.
“With family with me, there was no better finish line than at my mom’s house,” said Watkinson.
While running has been part of her life for a long time, Watkinson originally pursued education in Cheshire. She worked as an elementary teacher at Highland and Doolittle Schools, but chose to leave to take care of her son and two daughters.
“It was a necessity since I was a single mom,” recalled Watkinson. “I needed to provide for my family and be resilient.”
With her passion for wellness, she pursued another career as a health coach at gyms. She also worked with clients through the ESPN Wellness Program.
“Some wanted to train for a running event and other were seeking wellness in their lives,” reflected Watkinson.
Three years ago, she transitioned into founding her first company, LivingProof Wellness, LLC.
“I was providing free online challenges where I was talking about healthy living with people and giving them advice, but a friend of mine from Boston said that I should make this work into a business,” explained Watkinson. “I became an LLC when I realized that I had something profitable to offer."
In 2017, she became the fitness coach for the Boston Cannons, who compete in Major League Lacrosse.
“I started as a volunteer to see how it would go and then ran the program for the last two years,” recalled Watkinson. “Traditionally, I start out talking virtually with the 35 guys about wellness and then meet with them. I also travel with the team.”
Due to the pandemic this year, Watkinson has had to put her work with the Cannons and ESPN on hold, but she continues to assist 50 clients virtually.
“I think everybody got inundated with looking at the computer. For wellness, I’m not big on virtual, but it became a necessity in the pandemic,” explained Watkinson.
This fall, she also reached out to high school and college sports coaches to see how they were helping athletes persevere through the pandemic. As a parent of three athletes, she offered free instruction and workouts to help the teams.
Right now, she is trying to get into public speaking with corporations and businesses.
“It is important to connect your mind and body to be the best you can be,” said Watkinson.
She hopes that the health situation improves next year, so that she can build her client list and run in more races.
“Newport (Rhode Island) has a great race that I’d sign up for again if it is real,” stated Watkinson, who knows that area from having attended Salve Regina University. “I don’t run anymore for time. I do it to feed my soul and connect with people.”