Heather Waters, photographer, entrepreneur, mom, wife, and Boston Marathon Qualifier after completing one of her long distance races.
Running the Boston Marathon is ‘the holy grail of races,’ said Heather Waters. This year’s 125th race scheduled for October 11, 2021, is highly anticipated. The B.A.A. (Boston Athletic Association) said that by focusing on a fall date, they can adjust the in-person experience for runners and spectators. Last year's solution to the pandemic was a virtual race. As more and more events welcome 'live' participants and avid sports fans, runners will take their mark with bated breath to hear ready, set, go.
Since 1897, the Boston Marathon has held its race annually on the third Monday in April; otherwise known as Patriot’s Day. The race, established after the success of the first marathon in the 1896 Summer Olympics, is hosted by several cities around the Boston area in Eastern Massachusetts.
Waters made the qualifying time for her age group a couple of weeks ago and hopes to compete this fall or in 2022. She said, “The pressure is off and now it’s time to wait for events to unfold. I’ll train with friends, do everything to stay injury-free, and enjoy the process.”
Always looking for ways to stay fit and lose unwanted pounds, Waters said she’s always worked out and exercised. Through the years, her typical fitness routine consisted of dance, aerobic classes, the elliptical trainer, and weight-lifting. “Running seemed awful and it hurt, so I stayed away thinking I had old dance injuries that wouldn’t allow it.” Then, she got interested and realized there were advantages to running. Running is accessible because you can run anywhere. Running is practical because her kids could ride in the stroller while she jogged from behind. Running is fat-burning and cancels out calories.
It wasn’t until after her second child was born that running piqued her interest. “The nanny invited me to run a 5K,” said Waters. There was no training, just show up and run. At that time, she was running 30 minutes non-stop on the treadmill so she agreed. That first race, “I loved the way it felt,” said Waters. The race was at the 2011 New Year’s at Noon 5K in Athens, Georgia. A fire ignited. The wheels started turning and she instantly started thinking of ways to do it better.
A goal-setter in most situations, Waters started a photography business a year after her first 5K. At first, she took pictures of everything; weddings, babies, families, anything to make a buck. Then, she found her niche; children’s portraits. Waters started with her daughter Gracie’s preschool class and eventually fine-tuned the process to compete with national ‘big-box’ companies. Through quality products and exceptional customer service, Watermark Photography has 16 local schools that use her services today.
Growing up, pictures were all over the walls. Waters' mom, Margie Davis Fields made their home cozy with lots of family photos on the walls, bookshelves, everywhere throughout the house and Waters followed suit. “I was the one with the camera, on the yearbook staff, taking pictures,” said Waters. “I loved capturing people in happy moments.”
Through a passion for pictures, Waters landed an internship at Disney World. After the internship, she studied commercial photography in New York City. Originally, Waters thought she would work at a newspaper. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Georgia studying journalism with an emphasis on photojournalism. However, In 2003, Waters put down her camera and started a career in pharmaceutical sales.
While peddling pharmaceuticals in Chattanooga, TN, Waters met her husband, Kevin, also in the industry. Fifteen years ago this August, the two wed and have two children Gracie (12) and Davis (10).
As a wife, mother, and businesswoman, Waters was achieving great success. However, in private, she was struggling with body image. “When I started running, it was to burn calories. I’ve always had a disordered relationship with food and exercise, the longer the run, the more calories burned, but nothing seemed enough.” she said.
It wasn’t until she started running with a group of women that Waters turned a corner. Running changed from a way to stay thin to a way of living life. “Two years ago, I started running with these amazing ladies at Transfit in Athens, Georgia, owned by one of my University of Georgia sorority sisters,” said Waters. “The focus was on mind, body, and spirit, not results. They’ve changed running for me and love me as I am. They are my tribe. Now, I eat and fuel properly, and love doing life with them.”
This running family pushes each other to do big goals. At least once a week, they pound the pavement for a long 10-mile run. Cumulatively, they run around 40 miles every week. The group stays mostly ‘half-marathon ready’ and trains more extensively for full marathons.
Waters only runs long-distance races since she’s needed at home on most weekends. She enters several half-marathons each year and plans to run one full marathon annually. Her family is proud of her accomplishments. “Sometimes my kids get tired of hearing me talk about it and they roll their eyes. I tell them it keeps mom healthy and strong.”
The most satisfying race for Waters was the Savannah Marathon 2019. It was her first Boston Marathon qualifier and full marathon. She said, “To accomplish something like that with the body I have abused for years, I was proud of what it could do when I treated it with kindness.”
Running a Boston Marathon Qualifier requires an official net time (chip time). Each age and gender group has a time they have to meet. “The times have gotten faster and they take the fastest runners first; and a qualification doesn’t ensure you get to go,” said Waters.
There was never a big dream of competing in the holy grail of races. “It’s for real runners,” said Waters. Then, she started surrounding herself with people who ran it. She started getting faster times on her half-marathons but after 13.1 miles...she was done. But, something in the back of her mind kept nagging her to give it a try. “I didn’t talk about it out loud,” she said.
“I kept my base up, eating for fuel, treating my body right, and wanted to see if I could really finish a full. My ‘unicorn’ secret goal was 3:40 and was so crazy. I wouldn’t talk about it.” Then, in Savannah, she ran the full marathon at 3:38:30. Recently, Waters finished another full marathon and shaved off another 1:30 for a personal best of 3 hours and 37 minutes. She’s hoping to make it to ‘the big show’ either this fall or 2022. The qualifying window for the 2021 Boston Marathon opened on September 15, 2018.
Waters said, “The Boston Marathon is the “holy grail” for amateur runners, and something to savor and be proud of. I want to enjoy every moment of the process, and remind myself of how far I’ve come in so many ways. I've explained to my family for a long time that a very low percentage of people on this planet ever finish a marathon. They're called the 1%ers. Less than 10% of those 1%ers qualify for Boston.”
The family is looking forward to a trip to 'The Cradle of Liberty' to see mom race. “Who doesn’t want to be on the sidelines of the BOSTON MARATHON,” said Waters. It’s true. The race attracts over 500,000 spectators each year making it New England’s number one sporting event. Most people who run a 26.2 marathon finish in four to five hours. To finish a marathon in under four hours is an accomplishment. Waters has already achieved that goal with room to spare.
As the family cheers her on, so do the ‘amazing' ladies at Transfit. The question is, does Waters cheer herself on? Through the years, her struggle with imperfection and body image has taken a toll. This time, running is different. “I think of exercise, food, and life differently because of running. The Boston Marathon is a victory lap. It’s not about the time...it’s about the journey.”