Meet the Mailbox Runner: This Running Strategy Saved Her Life

When New Jersey resident Suzanne Swanson hit rock bottom, she wasn’t thinking about marathons or a running strategy to set PRs.

👉Mostly, she was thinking about alcohol and food, and how it was ruining her life.

But she wasn’t sure how to break the cycle of drinking, eating, gaining weight…

And then it happened.

Born out of desperation, she stumbled upon a running strategy that changed everything...

👟 ‘Put me on. We’re going to get through this…’

Suzanne had been here before. Drinking, eating, gaining weight, and repeating the cycle.

She even lost close to 100 pounds once.

Kept it off for awhile, then spiraled back into old habits.

But this time it was different...

"My draw-the-line came after a two-day bender of drinking," says Suzanne. 

"I vomited for like 17 hours. I was laying in my bed thinking, 'What are you doing? You're letting this ruin your life, and for what?'"

She looked around the room, her head still spinning from another hangover, and something caught her eye.

👟 A pair of running shoes was lying in a heap of mess in the bedroom.

And that's when it happened.

"Something inside of me snapped," says Suzanne. 

"It was like the shoes were speaking to me...

  • 'Just put me on, and get outside. We're going to get through this." 
When Suzanne Swanson decided to give up alcohol, she laced up her running shoes and ran mailbox to mailbox. And that was just the beginning...

The mailbox running strategy

She slipped on the running shoes, and headed out the door with one goal in mind...

  • Make it to the neighbor's mailbox

"I decided I was going to train myself to run mailbox to mailbox," says Suzanne.

It wasn't easy. On that first run, she couldn't even go a half-mile without stopping.

But she made it to the mailbox, turned around, and made it back home.

That's how it started...

"There was something so freeing about it," says Suzanne. 

"For the first time in my life, I felt like the pressure of the world was lifted off of my shoulders. I felt free. And I knew I wasn't going to give up this time."

Suzanne Swanson ran the 50th annual Long Beach Island 18-Mile Run in New Jersey with Brent and Kayla Fluck.

Skip Couch to 5K and run 18 miles

When Suzanne's sister-in-law heard she was using running to help make some massive lifestyle change, she laid down a challenge:

"There's an 18-mile race around Long Beach Island," she said. "Maybe you should do it."

For Suzanne, that sounded like an impossible task.

But instead of taking the slow and steady approach to running longer distances, Suzanne signed up to run the Long Beach Island 18-Mile run hosted by the St. Francis Community Center based in Long Beach, N.J.

"I don't do anything the normal way," says Suzanne.

She bought a cheap pair of running shoes, and used the mailbox running strategy to get ready...

  • Down to the first mailbox...
  • And then another...
  • And another...
  • Until she stepped up to the starting line...

"After I finished that race, I was hooked," says Suzanne. "I knew running was going to be something I could call my own." 

"It's helped me in so many ways. It's helped me find out who I really am, and still does to this day. It's a never-ending journey."

Fun fact: Suzanne first ran the LBI 18-Mile Run more than a decade ago. Last month, she finished the race again in 3:05:20.

Running helped Suzanne lose weight, quit drinking, run 16+ marathons, and she's still going.

The running transformation (inside and out)

Suzanne didn't stop there...

  • She ran more miles, and passed more mailboxes
  • She reached out for help to get clean and stay sober
  • She started making healthier food choices
  • She lost weight...and kept it off this time

"I really stopped looking for the next lose-weight-fast fad diet," says Suzanne. 

"And I started thinking about wholistic nutrition and fueling my body to become a better runner."

Marathon runner and Ironman finisher BethAnn Telford helped Suzanne run her first marathon more than a decade ago, and they've been friends ever since.

And you know what happened?

That first out-of-breath jaunt to the mailbox helped her run 26.2 miles at the Marine Corps Marathon with the help of marathon runner and Ironman competitor BethAnn Telford.

"She's a superhero of mine," says Suzanne. 

"She survived a serious brain tumor, even after doctors told her she would never run again. I met her through my cousin, and she kind of took me under her wing."

"From the beginning, she's been telling me running kept her alive and gave her a purpose. And that's something I really needed to hear." 

Suzanne is a mission to motivate and inspire other people to use running to level up and make positive lifestyle changes.

Motivation to run, motivation to change...

Today, Suzanne is on mission to inspire other people to find their way through running.

"I'm living proof you can do it," says Suzanne. "It really starts with a mindset shift."

"If you  constantly wake up every day and tell yourself:

  • I can't...
  • I won't...
  • I'm not good enough...
  • I'll never be able to...
  • You're not going to change." 

"But if you start every day with intention, set small goals, write them down, and get to work, you can make progress. You don't have to do everything tomorrow."

The secret to getting started...

"Show up for yourself one day at a time," says Suzanne. 

"Fight your battle, whatever it is, one day at a time. This starts in the mind, like trying to make it just one mailbox and then the next."

"When you're consistent and determined you'll be able to go further than you ever thought possible."

Fun facts about runner Suzanne Swanson.

Fun facts about Suzanne Swanson

Longest run

  • I've ran 16 marathons (26.2 miles). The idea of running an ultra keeps creeping into my head.

Favorite race

  • Run for the Red Pocono Marathon. I just love the course. It's a unique experience with lots of ups and downs, beautiful scenery, trees and waterfalls.

Favorite running shoe

  • Brooks Adrenaline. I love this shoe. I'm a pattern junkie. So when Brooks releases a new version and pattern, it's coming to mamma.

Hydration

Headbands

  • OK. It's kind of an addiction. In some ways, I went from one thing to another. I have 70+ pairs of running shoes and just as many headbands. My outfits are always a little crazy, and I live to have a headband to go with it. My favorite: Junk Brand Headbands.

Favorite watch

Favorite running route

  • Backroads. Even though I live in New Jersey, I live in the country. I have a 6 mile loop that I love, and it's all farm fields. And even after all this time, I still love running down to that first mailbox where the farmer Mr. Garrison lives. He's almost always out there to give a nod or a wave.

The mailbox running strategy

  • "Just never give up. If you're trying to make changes, just take it one day at a time from mailbox to mailbox. It's a simple strategy that can help you maneuver through life. Wherever you're coming from, try to go a little further every time."
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Evan Jensen
Ambassador
SANDY, Oregon

I help RUNNERS reduce injuries, fix running form, run longer & faster by strength training without running ragged. I'm a NASM-certified personal trainer, and hold the record for the most finishes at the Mountain Lakes 100-Mile Ultra in Oregon.

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