Petite powerhouse Liz Ferro found solace from a difficult childhood by way of fitness; running in particular. Not content to keep her newfound sense of empowerment to herself, Liz founded the non-profit Girls with Sole to help other girls from painful, abusive and discouraging backgrounds. Come learn more about this dynamic “Woman to Watch” in today’s insightful interview!
Note: Many thanks to Liz Ferro and Girls with Sole for providing me with complimentary copies of Liz’s books so that I could learn more about both Liz and the Girls with Sole organization.
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About Liz Ferro & Girls with Sole
Liz Ferro is a dynamic force from Cleveland, Ohio! She has not only completed 77 marathons, two 50K ultras, five Ironman triathlons, and countless road races but is the author of three books. Liz has been featured on the Today Show and in several national magazines, including SELF, Runner’s World, and Family Circle. When not taking the world by storm, Liz relaxes at home with her husband, two children, two rescue cats, and three rescue dogs.
Girls with Sole
The Girls with Sole program was founded in Cleveland, Ohio by Liz Ferro as a way to help at-risk girls discover the empowerment, self-esteem, and inner strength that comes from participating in athletics. Girls with Sole works with social service agencies, hospitals, juvenile detention centers, and residential treatment facilities to provide an outlet for expending negative physical energy. Furthermore, the program coaches young women to set and accomplish goals, which further develops self-esteem and guides them toward a brighter, more positive future.
As a part of the program, each girl receives a free pair of running shoes, sports bra, fitness journal, water bottle, and free entry to road races that they participate in. Since its inception in 2009, well over 500 at-risk girls have been served through this program. Today, they continue to expand throughout the country with the goal of becoming a nationwide organization. To donate to this amazing program, please click HERE. And be sure to follow Girls with Sole on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!
Liz will be at the Learned Owl bookshop in Hudson, Ohio on Saturday, September 25th, 2021 at 1 PM. Register HERE!
A Conversation with Liz Ferro
I recently finished Girls with Sole and loved its messaging. It really serves as a step-by-step workbook for planning to change your life. Much of your process requires introspection, but introspection doesn’t come naturally to many. Given that you work with so many girls and must encounter this with some regularity, how do you help cultivate introspection among those to whom it doesn’t come naturally?
Introspection most definitely doesn’t come naturally to many people, and I know this because I was one of them. That’s exactly why it was so needed for me to cultivate self-awareness and determine what was needed for me to move forward in life and interpersonal relationships. Like anything else, you just need to start, and if it doesn’t challenge you – it probably won’t change you.
I think the questions I ask in the book require introspection, but they serve as a jumping-off point for self-discovery. This will serve to help those who don’t know how to begin – or who may feel overwhelmed. In fitness and in life, you need to start at the beginning and lay a strong foundation to continuously build upon – or rely on – for structural integrity and endurance.
For instance, the first set of questions explore the reader’s core beliefs about broad topics such as Love, Change, Success, Family, etc. Because they are the personal beliefs of each reader, the answers can’t be wrong, however, the book also asks the reader to reflect on their answers, to ensure the beliefs are truly their own and not influenced by others. Before they know it, these two relatively simple steps have begun an introspective journey.
The key is being honest with yourself along the way, and remembering that life isn’t a spectator sport, so you need to fully participate in choosing your own reality. It’s little changes in your beliefs and perceptions that can change your entire life. Marathons are long and challenging too…but if you take it one step at a time, and work on building your endurance, the steps turn into miles and the finish line feeling becomes attainable.
Natty Gal is all about building a life of personal satisfaction. In your books you share a bit about times when you’ve struggled and wanted to quit various endeavors. When you encounter one of those slumps, what specifically do you do to change that and find the motivation to keep going?
I believe drive and resilience can both be cultivated with effort and by digging deep within ourselves to uncover our true motivations, thoughts, and emotions. The book focuses on building resilience because it’s the key to overcoming failures, cultivating optimism. A resilient mindset is how you cultivate drive.
Additional important steps would include focusing on short-term goals or small changes to keep from getting overwhelmed and quitting what you started. This is something endurance sports have taught me well. During a 140.6-mile triathlon, there are many times you want to quit because it’s uncomfortable or overwhelming. When this happens, I play games with myself regarding small benchmarks I need to hit or discovering what I could do to make the next five minutes better in some way. Breaking down what seems to be overwhelmingly daunting into small, 5-minute increments is surprisingly impactful. Improving our situation, even for a short amount of time, can make everything seem easier to handle and resilience even more possible- and in turn- increases our drive to keep moving forward.
My last step to cultivating drive is a mantra that I refer to in my book, Finish Line Feeling. One day at Girls With Sole, a young lady asked me exactly what I did. She wanted to know how I keep from quitting when I’m out on a racecourse and feel like I can’t go on. (Or in life.)
I told her that I keep telling myself. “This ain’t shit!” I tell myself this because compared to many things I have been through in my life, or that the girls I serve have endured in theirs, the current situation I’m facing ain’t shit. That line has helped many people, which is kind of funny…but I suppose sometimes the most simple and raw techniques can be the most impactful.
During COVID, I was asked to be an online speaker for a Women’s Winter Experience. It was an awesome series to keep women motivated, inspired, and driven with an overall sense of empowerment and support. I told them about the mantra, “This ain’t shit” which went over so well, it has been extended to a monthly Zoom group called “It Ain’t Shit” with Liz and Rachel, where women voice any goals, projects, issues, or things they want to do but have been putting off or don’t feel the drive to start, work on, or complete. We work it out together and help them find the drive within themselves to make things happen.
My personal philosophy is that a life of satisfaction comes from finding balance in your life among all the areas that are important to you. With the combined demands of training, running your organization, motherhood, etc., what do you do to maintain balance in your life among all the areas that are important to you?
To feel balanced and put the proper energy and focus into all areas of my life, I must make my health a priority. Without workouts and taking time to read, write, and reflect, I find it harder to maintain a balanced, satisfying life. The happiness, passion, and energy derived from workouts overflow into the other areas of my life, making them feel less like demands.
In college, I would call my dad and freak out about all the things I had to do. Often, I’d cry as I list projects, homework, tests, swim practices, and more. was I’d worry that it would never all get done. My dad was a calmer and more methodical person than me, and his advice was: “Just take one thing at a time.”
I took his advice back then and practice it today. For example, I get my workout done first if possible, then if I’m writing a book, I focus on that until it’s time to go to Girls With Sole. After that, it’s time to come home and have dinner with the family. Later in the evening, I might work on an upcoming speaking engagement.
I take each thing one at a time – just like a triathlon….and focus on only that one thing. In triathlon, the order is always to swim, bike, then run. You can’t worry about or focus on the bike until after you complete the swim. Can’t worry about how you did in the swim or on the bike while you are running. You must do each thing as if it’s the only thing you have to do…because at that moment…it is; and you will be much more successful at it with that mindset. Same thing with life.
You compete in a wide range of events, from marathons to triathlons to ultramarathons. All of which require slightly different forms of training. How do you switch gears or do you train for all, all the time? Could you share what a typical week of training looks like for you (both workouts/fuel intake)?
I mentioned earlier how important a base is for building upon and maintaining mental and physical fitness and endurance. Barring injuries or illness, I keep a decent base level of fitness that I can always draw from.
Depending on what I’m training for, I may only need to modify a bit by getting back into the pool for more swimming, or adding some longer weekend runs into the mix. At the age of 52, and with so many years of training for and participating in endurance events, I don’t put as much weekly mileage in as I did in my twenties. If I do that, I will be injured and not able to do what I love.
So, a typical week, even when I’m training for a marathon, would be:
- strength and conditioning classes three to four times per week;
- swimming with Masters Swimming one or two times per week;
- running two times per week – with an average of 5-9 miles per run.
If a marathon is particularly hilly or extreme (like the Great Wall Marathon with over 4,000 vertical steps), I incorporate hill repeats and concentrate on lifting and doing squats. I might add one additional run per week to the schedule. This is usually enough to keep me conditioned and get me through just about any event. Muscle memory is a real thing. There is definitely a point of diminishing return when you burn yourself out by putting in too many junk miles. Like with nutrition, you’ll go further and feel better with quality nutrients instead of junk food.
If I’m doing a 50K or a 140.6 triathlon, much more needs to be added. But, my less is more theory has worked well for me in the ultra arena as well. Modifications might include one longer run on the weekend and adding some brick training into the weekly regimen. Bricks are “layered” workouts where you ride your bike and then immediately go for a run afterward. Your legs feel like bricks when you first get off the bike and begin to run. It’s a good way to train for that transition and build endurance.
My approach to nutrition is a lot like my training. I have an established plan that I stick to most of the time. If I’m hungry…I eat.
I try to eat as cleanly as possible (protein bars, chicken, olive oil, nuts, hummus), but allow myself things that I enjoy (cookies, chocolate, red wine). I’m not much of a cook, and my kids and husband tend to fend for themselves. We purchase a lot of prepared meals at Wholefoods, and I have frozen, plant-based, healthy meals delivered from Daily Harvest. This became a great way for us to keep eating healthy and give us more time to focus on things.
You are in workout gear a lot! Do you to add fashionable touches to your workout outfits or are you all business? How would you describe your style when you’re not training, “keep it simple or more is more”? In what other ways do you express your creativity?
Yes, probably 90% of the time I am in workout gear. I do my training, my Girls With Sole programs, and most everything else in workout clothes. My workout outfits need to be kickass in terms of function and performance but looking good is important too. I’ve found Athleta to be the best on both fronts! Sweaty Betty also offers cute leggings for every day or for running and training.
My style is a combination of athletic, boho, and rocker. I have tattoo sleeves on both arms, as well as on my chest, back, and legs. I like to wear sneakers, cowboy or motorcycle boots with dresses, or simple black pieces and some type of hat. Boots, tattoos, and hats express my creativity.
What are you most excited about regarding the future of Girls with Sole?
I’m excited that Facebook is featuring us in a minute video as part of their Community Voices campaign. They sent producers to my house, interviewed Girls With Sole participants, and talked to us about the Girls With Sole book. I’m hoping the light they shine on the book and the organization will help us further our outreach. We can help more people and empower more women with greater awareness of both the book and our special programs.
Seeing Girls With Sole eventually outgrow me would be exciting! I love the possibility of it being run by a young woman who used to be in the program herself. It would be her turn to show someone else how to find their finish line feeling. And that would be the most exciting thing to see for the organization!
Thanks so much for stopping by today! Be sure to share this post with any friends that might have an interest in Liz and her organization. To read about more “Women to Watch“, check out these prior posts.