"At the best times, through some of the hardest times...running has a way of showing us all that we are much stronger than we think we are." We couldn't agree more with Kristen Garzone, 10x marathoner, 50-mile, ultrarunner, mother runner, and a (maternal) mental health warrior and advocate. She discusses important topics in regards to a balance of mind and body, especially when it comes to Postpartum Depression, Anxiety, and Bipolar Disorder. We had the immense pleasure to speak with her, from her wins to her struggles, family, and running, of course! Read on to know more about Kristen's relentless journey, get inspired, and discover what Zensah items she wears to make her feel limitless!!
ZS: What is one thing you want people to know about you?
KG: For as long as I can remember, I have always been a fan of the underdog. There’s nothing I love more than rooting for an athlete or team that has all the odds against them but refuses to ever give up; relentless to succeed and stop at nothing in their way. The underdog is built upon hustle and heart and the belief that anyone can overcome any type of adversity. And honestly, that’s how I’ve always viewed myself too – an underdog.
ZS: How did you get into running? Why do you run?
KG: I grew up a 4-sport athlete, but soccer was my first love. I was lucky enough to play collegiate soccer (and lax) at Hartwick College in Oneonta, NY. After college, I started running not only to fill the void of no longer having a sport to train for but to compete again in some way and for my mental health. I’ve been running for about 16 years, and I don’t know what I would do without it. I also never imagined I would be the runner I would be today.
Running has been a form of therapy for me; at the best times and through some of the hardest times. It has helped me through anxiety-stricken days and has taught me to never give up; reminding me to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Sometimes it is hard to get out the door, especially when you feel broken down or the anxiety piles up so badly that you feel like you can’t move, but once you do, it’s as if a weight is lifted off my shoulders. Those anxiety-driven thoughts seem to diminish and reality sets in; it provides clarity and has a way of showing us all that we are much stronger than we think we are.
ZS: You’re passionate about Mental Health and call yourself a Maternal Mental Health Warrior. What does this cause mean to you?
KG: If I can leave you this world one thing it’s that I never, ever helped myself by trying to hide my fight with mental illness. And although it may take A LONG TIME to get comfortable with being uncomfortable, embracing the need for professional help, and opening up, I have found so much purpose in being able to share my crazy, far-from-perfect, messy, depression and anxiety filled life for anyone to read. Most importantly, I’ve learned to embrace and own who I am despite all my insecurities and ugly traits.
Sharing my story has also been extremely therapeutic. I found that as I started to openly share my struggles of everyday life and my past, the more people chose to share their own stories with me. Although, it’s important to mention that all the sharing and openness didn’t happen overnight. It has been years of darkness in the making. At the beginning, I was consumed with fear that I would be judged or laughed out. But with darkness comes light. With all the support and love on my candid posts, it constantly reminds me that I’m not alone in this fight nor the only one to feel this way. There are still times I fear others (especially new acquittances) will judge or look at me differently when they see the real glimpse into my life. But I’ve come to the realization that I have absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. Social media can often be a constant “highlight reel” so it's even more refreshing to be able to share my truth.
ZS: May is mental health awareness month. What advice do you have for those struggling with mental health or trying to find balance?
KG:It’s so easy to get caught up in the frustration mental illness can bring. Want to know the thing I take away most from my story? Tough times don’t last but tough people do. Sometimes you must claw yourself out of the hole you’re living in. Other times, you’re strong enough to have a better perspective. No matter how ugly it is or how hard it may get, you find a way to make it past it all and get through each day, regardless of what you must endure. It’s amazing because as much as I hate being mentally ill, it can be a gift in a way to bring yourself to develop an even stronger mentality to do some things you would've never done before to continue to persevere and to do whatever it takes. Never give up on your dreams and most importantly, never give up on yourself. It could always, always be worse right? Always believe in yourself and always believe in the underdog because in the end, when your back is up against the wall, you must remind yourself that you have nothing to lose and EVERYTHING to gain.
ZS: You are a 10x marathoner and ultramarathoner! How do you train for your races? How does mental health play into your training?
KG:My personal goals! Marathons are TOUGH but with every training cycle and finish, you find out a little bit more about yourself and prove to yourself how much stronger you are for it. My goal right now is to break a sub 4 marathon. I refuse to give up until I break that goal, but I know that with that, will come another goal to chase in the future!
Often, it’s hard to get out the door, especially when you feel broken down or the anxiety piles up so badly that you feel like you can’t move, especially through this battle, but once you do, it’s as if a weight is lifted off my shoulders. Those suffocating thoughts seem to diminish and reality sets in, providing clarity, and has a way of showing us that we are much stronger than we think we are. I wish I could fully explain what running has done for me, but I don’t think that’s possible. It’s my therapy, it’s my constant, it’s the one thing I have control of; it’s there for me when my world seems to be crumbling around me and when my depression and anxiety make me feel like I’m drowning.
Also – having a coach (shout out to Toni at Relentless Runners who has coached me since June of 2017) keeps me consistent and takes the stress out of planning my running week. When I’m training, my week looks a little like this:
Monday is strength and active rest; Tuesday-Thursday, I’m either logging a 6-7 easy run, 8-9 miles of tempo/sprint work + strength; Friday is a rest day; if it’s a Saturday morning, I’m long running; and end the week with recovery miles on Sunday!
I know running will not cure me, but I do truly believe running will continue to help me cope and heal.
ZS: Can you tell us about the KNT Foundation? What is it and why did you start it?
KG: The Believe KNT Foundation was created in January 2021 -- A nonprofit whose mission is to help raise awareness and help make mental health care available for any and all mothers in the United States. This foundation was created in honor of my dear friend Kristin Nicole Thorsen, who fought hard and lost her battle to postpartum depression until June 2, 2017.
Back in 2016 when I was pregnant with my daughter Ellie, I had no idea what postpartum depression even was. Little did I know, I was suffering from PPD and badly. On June 2, 2017, when Ellie was about 7 months old, my life changed forever. Kristin, (who felt more like a sister to me) had taken her own life at 10 months postpartum. I can’t even begin to explain the uncontrollable grief that took over me (and still does on some days) but above all, and sadly enough, losing Kristin ultimately saved my life. It broke my heart but forced me to realize how serious my condition really was.
At the beginning of 2018, I begin thinking about how that first Mother’s Day weekend without Kristin, on May 12, 2017, which would have been Kristin’s 31st birthday, would feel. I knew I wanted to find a special way to honor her and share her story even more while raising awareness for postpartum depression… and do it the best way I knew how: through running. That is when the Run to Believe was born. With the help of a good friend Kelly Vigil (@moremilesmorefun), we were able to start up this virtual run now held every Saturday of Mother’s Day Weekend with proceeds being donated to Every Mother Counts and the Believe KNT Foundation (a 50/50 split) in Kristin’s honor.
ZS: What is one quote you live by? Or a personal mantra? (can apply to running or life!)
KG: “Run the mile you’re in” – both my mantra for running AND life.
ZS: You’re a mom and an athlete, so a mom #withoutlimitz. How do you balance it all?
KG: When I became a mom back in October 2016, running was the one thing I felt I had to myself, and it was my alone time amongst the madness of motherhood (and helped me cope with my PPD). No matter the type of day I’m having, there’s something about crossing off a tough workout and logging a run that makes me feel like I can take on the world. It reminds me that I am tougher than I think, and I can get through each and every mile, each and every day.
Not going to lie, it’s not easy. But the early morning alarms, sometimes as early as 4am, help me get it done before the day even starts (and my family is even awake).
KG:I have been SO lucky to run in such amazing places: New York City, Washington DC, Chicago, Denver, Coronado – but I have to say running the desert of Morocco takes it all!
ZS: What other hobbies do you love (in addition to running of course):
KG:My interests include traveling as much as possible (I love to fly along too!), spending time at Cape Cod, MA and the Jersey Shore – or any body of water really, doing just about anything with my Golden Retriever Troy, being involved in Christy Turlington Burn’s foundation Every Mother Counts, advocating for mental health in any way possible, and spending time with my friends and family, especially my 5 year old daughter Ellie.
ZS: Where can people find you? (On social media and at upcoming races!)
KG: You can find me on Instagram at @mellank. I’m usually running in Upstate New York (Capital Region) and I’m not sure what my plan is for the Fall though. I will be at Big Sur, running for Every Mother Counts as an ambassador, in April 2023 though!
ZS: Zensah’s motto is #withoutlimitz meaning we want you to feel limitless in everything you do. We have a campaign called “Limitless Looks Like This” because limitlessness can look different for every person. Limitless might look like finding balance, reaching goals, acing the race you have coming up, or manifesting your future. What does limitless look like for you?
KG:My limitless looks like refusing to give up; relentless, which I proudly have tattooed on my wrist as a reminder that I am relentless during the hard time. Whenever you find yourself doubting how far you can go, just remember how far you have come. Remember everything you have faced, all the battles you have won and all the fears you have overcome. RELENTLESS forward progression.