Every other Tuesday, Svveat Stories brings you Svveatspiration: an inspiring series of first-person narratives from our fitness community’s unsung heroes. This week, Kathleen Grace gushes over her goal-crushing partner, Jeff Willows, and explains how his athletic ambitions convinced her to pursue her own.

A personal fitness journey is ever-evolving, and when your life is intertwined with someone else’s, their athletic pursuits can often impact your own. Jeff and I have been together for 12 years, and we have watched each other grow in all areas, including fitness.

5 Peaks Trail Run
Kathleen and Jeff

Fitness plays a huge role in our daily lives, and in our relationship; it’s part of our daily routine. Jeff has always been athletic—an avid runner, triathlete, skier and just an overall active person. But, beyond this, what has really led to his athletic triumphs has been his dedication and motivation. Despite working 12-hour days, Jeff always prioritizes working out, as he knows how much it impacts his mental and physical health. When the alarm goes off in our house at 4:45 a.m., the snooze button is rarely hit. Instead, Jeff is up right away to get his 10-kilometre run in before work. On Saturday mornings, you can usually find him doing his long run with the Adidas Runners Toronto group.

The irony is Jeff only really started focusing on running to become a better triathlete. He felt his running needed more work than his swimming and cycling, so he started signing up for races. Running quickly became more than that, and it has since played a major role in our lives. Jeff has run five marathons in the past four years, along with countless races of other distances.

Jeff at ART
Photo by Jess Baumung, courtesy Adidas Runners Toronto

Races have been such a fun way for us both to set running goals and see them through. For Jeff, the goals have evolved: first, run a marathon; second, qualify for Boston. Jeff sets a goal in his mind, and works hard until he achieves it, but he doesn’t get defeated when things don’t go his way. When he missed his Boston qualifying time by 50 seconds, he brushed off the disappointment and used it as an opportunity to improve. I’m happy to report that, in 2016, Jeff accomplished his Boston qualifying time goal, running the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon in 3:01:33. And now it’s onto the next goal: an ultra marathon, which he will be running in a few weeks’ time.

While running remains a top interest for Jeff, he has also continued to do triathlons over the years—he considers the Toronto Triathlon Festival a must-do annually, and he completed the Muskoka Ironman 70.3 a few years back. He is currently in training mode for his first full Ironman this summer.

Kathleen at NRC
Photo courtesy Nike Toronto

Jeff’s personal fitness journey is what really inspired me to start my own. My first attempt at a run back in 2012 was literally around the block, and I felt winded. But with encouragement and support from my partner, I slowly worked on it and even joined a Running Room clinic to help get me started. Now, five years later, I have completed numerous half-marathons, 10Ks, 5Ks—and even a 30K! And Jeff is always at the finish line cheering and waiting to run me in.

To anyone who is just starting their own fitness journey or looking to shake up their workout routine, my biggest piece of advice would be to set a goal and work hard to achieve it. Whether it’s signing up for your first 5K race or trying a new class at the gym, start with a goal. Push yourself to try new things, whether it’s joining a free run group or taking a spin class. In a city like Toronto, the fitness opportunities are endless, with so many amazing resources for everyone at any stage.

Add some fitspo to your Instagram feed by following Kathleen and Jeff at @fitness.tales and @jeff_willows.

To find new fitness activities to pursue with your partner, search Svveat for free workouts in your community.

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