Going the distance

Emily Knudson used to be the kid who got picked on in school because of her weight.

"I was the kid in high school who never ran," she said recently. Instead of running the entire track in physical education, Knudson would cut across the football field, the shortest route possible. "I never even really worked out until I had kids. ...

"I was overweight and made fun of for being chubby," she said.

But today, Knudson is physically fit. At 38, the Harrisburg mother of four and owner of Empowered Personal Training is on a mission. Never really a runner, she challenged herself last December to run 12 marathons in 12 months.

"When I first became a personal trainer, I had never run before," said Knudson.

She will run the last marathon of the challenge, the Rock and Roll Savannah Marathon, on Saturday. She has run marathons across the United States, from San Diego to Chicago and quite a few in the Carolinas. To keep to her goal of 12 marathons in 12 months, she had to run two marathons in July, because she couldn't find one to fit into her schedule in August.

The marathon challenge started rather simply. Knudson ran a 5K in 2006 with one of her clients who needed encouragement, and decided to run another one by herself. In 2007, she ran her first half-marathon.

"Then I figured I was halfway trained" and trained to run her first full marathon, the Marine Corps Marathon, the same year. "By the end of it, I couldn't even believe I finished it."

Knudson spent the next year training and ran in the Outer Banks Marathon in 2008. In 2009, she ran in the Marine marathon again and was averaging one marathon a year. Each marathon is 26.2 miles - though some are longer at 50K (31 miles). Knudson's average times are between 4 hours 20 minutes and 4 hours 45 minutes.

She did six marathons in six months from 2009-2010 - it earned her a Marathon Maniac shirt.

"That brought me up another level," said Knudson. In December, 2010, she decided she'd do 12 marathons in 12 months.

Knudson said the challenge is a way to continue to grow and challenge herself. Another reason is to be a role model to her clients and others.

"I think everyone should dream big, make big goals and then be prepared to put the day-in, day-out effort it will take to achieve (them)," she added. "Once you meet one goal, you set another."

Knudson is living proof that goal-setting works. That chubby high-schooler has grown into a savvy business owner, training clients to meet their own goals.

The Savannah race will be her 20th marathon, and Knudson admits running still doesn't come easy for her.

"I am not a natural athlete," said Knudson." I know it is doable for me now, but I never take being able to run or finish for granted, and I am thankful to God every day I can be out there."

"Everybody needs something really challenging that they're not sure they can do," she added. "That's how we grow."