I am Patti Catalano Dillon, a Native American and a former World and American record holder for long distance road racing, and a pioneer for women's athletics. AMA.
My name is Patti Dillon, formerly known as Patti Catalano. I started running March 28th, 1976 to lose weight. A few days prior to that, I was working M3 at the Quincy City Hospital, and I saw a girl I went to school with. She had cut her hair, was wearing a navy blue suit, heels, and I was struck at her poise, her confidence. Whatever quality she had, I didn't have. I didn't know who I was. And I recognized that instantly, and I wanted whatever she had. She was just beautiful, and I thought "I was on a holding place." I wasn't going anywhere. I was letting other people and events rule me, and I just went with the flow, but not in a good way.
So I took stock, and I said to myself, "I just want to be happy." That was as simple as I could put it.
I went home to my apartment and I made a clock, on paper. I filled in the times I was working, and saw what I was doing with the rest of my time, and I wasn't happy about it. So I developed something I called "The Be Nice to Patti Campaign", meaning that I wanted to be nice to myself, and try to be happy. I thought back to when I was happiest, and it was when I was a kid, when I had free time from working, or taking care of the kids (I was the oldest of nine). When I had time to myself as a kid, I would just get on my bike and ride, or jump in the ocean and swim. I was a good swimmer, I could swim for an hour or more without stopping, and I loved it, I missed it.
So that's what I did. I tried to go back to my childhood. I bought a bike, and on one of my first few rides, a STUPID, stupid guy drove up beside me and whacked me hard on the butt, and I flew over the handlebars. I wasn't going to have people dictate to me what I could or couldn't do, and so I tried something else. I went to the YMCA, and tried swimming again--the fourth or fifth time I went there, the Y was locked. No lifeguard.
That was that! I didn't want to rely on anyone. I wanted to get this for myself, to make this myself, to not have to depend on other people or things.
On one of my walks, eating a Baskin Robbins baseball nut ice cream cone (part of trying to be nice to myself), I walked past a bookstore and saw a book called Aerobics, by Dr. Ken Cooper. I actually went in and bought the book. (Who buys a book about running?) I read it. Not all of it. Just the parts I liked. I found out that you could burn 700 calories in an hour by jogging, and there were 3500 calories in a pound. I thought by the end of the week, I'd have lost 20 pounds!
(Didn't work that way.)
My very first run, I got all dressed up. Cooper said to wear your most comfortable pair of shoes, so I wore knee socks and my Earth shoes, by Thom McCann (they were knockoffs, really). I wore cutoff jeans with fringe ('cause I wanted to be fashionable), and my father's neoprene belt, so I would sweat. And three sweatshirts. Heavy sweatshirts, they didn't breathe at all. Over a 152 pound body. I'm 5'4". I looked like the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man from Ghostbusters. (LOL!)
I went for my first run around the Quincy cemetery, on the outer loop. Turns out one lap is a mile, I didn't know it at the time.
I ran seven laps. I only stopped because a police officer pulled up beside me, slowly, and stared at me.
"What are you doing?" the officer asked.
"Jogging," I gasped. Nobody ran in these days, especially a woman, unless they were being chased.
He just looked at me, and I got wicked scared. I stopped, looked back at him, and after awhile he went, "Okay," and drove away.
I went back to the Y to take a shower, weighed myself, and discovered I had lost three pounds! Hallelujah! I was going to be skinny by the end of the week.
I saw myself in the mirror and I looked horrible. I was white, with blotchy red patches, and black maroon circles under my eyes.
I looked awful.
I felt great.
I had never felt like that before. I was euphoric. I cried in the shower of the Y, because whatever it was, nobody had given it to me, and nobody could take it away. That was my thinking—I had it, I gave it to me, and I loved it. I wanted it.
And if what it took was running around a cemetery, and looking like this, then I was fine with it.
I did it again as soon as I could walk, which was two weeks later.
This started my career in running. I went on to set a world record in the 5 mile (25:48). I set the American record for the 10k, I think four times, ending with a 32:08. I was the first American woman to go under 33 minutes in the 10k, and the first American woman to break 50 minutes in the 15k (49:42). I set a world record in the 20k, 30k, and half marathon. I won the Newport marathon 5 times, setting a course record each time. I won the Honolulu marathon 4 times, also setting a course record each time. I placed 2nd in the Boston marathon three times, and also placed 2nd in the NYC marathon.
I was one of the first American women to sign a pro-contract with Nike. In 52 weeks, I ran 48 races, winning 44 of them. I would regularly train 120+ miles a week.
I was one of the few athletes at the time who didn’t have a background in pro-running. I didn’t run in college (didn’t go to college, they told me I wasn’t smart enough, boo Sister Madelon), I didn’t run in highschool.
I won these races and set these records, not to win races and set records, but to be nice to myself, and be the best I could be. I ran sick, or injured, or tired, with no excuses, because I wanted to be the best, and feel the way I had in that locker room in the Quincy YMCA.
I am now married to Dan Dillon, 6-time world XC team member. We have two children (Aaron and Raven), and we live in Connecticut. Today, I run with my faithful companion, Wilson, a golden retriever, and am finally restarting my career. I’m a motivational speaker.
Ask me anything.
(p.s. Proof! http://imgur.com/a/ecidT)
Thank you for all the questions! I'm going to take a break to run some errands...eat some dinner. Maybe run. This has been so wonderful! Thank you all so much, I hope to spend more time on Reddit, maybe in some fitness subs!!