After her older brother Robert died in a rockslide accident while mountain climbing in 2012, Elizabeth Jansen, about to start her senior year of college at the time, turned to running, one of Robert’s favorite pastimes, to try to cope with her grief. Now a 26-year-old pre-K teacher living in Brighton, Jansen has become an avid marathoner and runs an Instagram account with over 17,000 followers (@elizabeth _healthy_life) and a blog called Running for Robert to share her running milestones and her journey toward healthier living. Scrolling through her photos, it’s hard not to feel inspired.
Q. How did you become such an active runner?
A. One day after Robert’s death, I decided to go for a run just to get my mind off things, and I realized when I got back that I felt 100 times better. I felt so much less stress, and my anger and sadness about my brother had subsided for that moment. I spent the next two years doing short runs — it was kind of my therapy and stress reliever. After my brother’s death, I had also gained some weight because I used food as a comfort; I didn’t have a healthy relationship with food. Come January 2015, I decided I wanted to get more serious about running and losing the weight. That’s why I started the Instagram account — I wanted to document my weight loss and my journey to my first marathon. By that May, I had lost the 25 pounds I’d gained, and I ran my first marathon that June.
Q. How does having your Instagram account motivate you to run?
A. I’ve just absolutely fallen in love with running and having a healthy lifestyle. I kept signing up for races and making goals for myself; I wanted to get faster and stronger. Over the course of the past two or three years, I’ve connected with so many runners — I’ve met so many people here in Boston, sharing what you go through as a runner, hearing what others go through, and getting motivated by other people. I’ve been chipping away at my goals slowly but surely; the big one I’m working on right now is qualifying for the Boston Marathon. I’m hoping to run it in 2019.
Q. Is there a message you try to send to your followers?
A. If there’s something that you really want to accomplish, you can do it. It will take time and patience, and there definitely will be bumps in the road, but if you work hard at it, you’ll get there. One of Robert’s favorite quotes was [from Goethe]: “Whatever you can do or dream you can do, begin it; Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.” That’s the quote I always think about.
Q. What have you learned about yourself through documenting your journey online?
A. I’m a lot stronger than I thought I was. When I was back in college, I could barely run on the treadmill for 30 minutes, and now I’m running marathons that are close to Boston qualifying times. I’m also a lot stronger mentally. Dealing with my brother’s passing, I kept my head down, I found a great job that I love, I found my passion, I’m inspiring other people through my account, and also being inspired by other runners. I’ve just proved to myself that I can deal with hard things and I can do hard things and come out stronger and help people.