Beyond the Finish Line

The guidance and advice Anne L’Heureux shares with her clients isn’t rocket science. But the changes they make in people’s lives can be nothing short of miraculous. L’Heureux is a registered dietitian at the Hannaford Supermarket in Biddeford. She’s also a certified Spartan SGX coach. If you work out at Saco Health and Fitness, you’ve probably seen her around—she works there, too. L’Heureux lives and breathes fitness. If you’ve got questions, she’s got answers.

“Stop searching for that magic bullet,” L’Heureux says. “People want a quick fix for a big change. Don’t trick yourself into believing the diet that says ‘eat whatever you want and lose 10 pounds in a week’ will work. If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.”

L’Heureux’s work at Hannaford spans from healthy cooking demonstrations, to working one on one with shoppers, to community outreach at local schools and assisted living facilities. She helps shoppers learn how to deal with medical conditions, prepare healthier meals and how to read food labels.

“I love teaching people about food labels,” she says. “So many people look at a food label and don’t really know what they’re looking at. When people really understand what is in their food, they get a sense of empowerment.”

Denise Orr got a taste of empowerment when L’Heureux told her to stop counting her calories. Orr was a part of a 13-week program L’Heureux was running at Saco Sport and Fitness. “I didn’t realize when I was eating 1,200 calories a day that I was losing muscle mass and not fat,” Orr says. “I had no idea what I was doing to my body until Anne taught me all about it. She and the program have changed my life.”

L’Heureux calls this the “fear of 1,400.” “Women are so afraid to eat above 1,400 calories a day,” she says. “I eat anywhere from 1,600 to 1,900 calories a day. You can eat that much if you choose the right foods. It’s not the calories that matter, it’s where the calories come from. Anything that is truly nutritious and healthy we’ve known about for years—fresh fruits, veggies and olive oils.”

L’Heureux works out on the obstacle course at her Biddeford home.

It’s people like Orr who get L’Heureux excited. The people who are ready and willing to hear more info, gain more knowledge and reach the next level. “These people are in it for more than just losing weight,” she says. “They want to see where they can go … and so do I! I get just as excited about what they’re trying to accomplish as they do!”

L’Heureux is no stranger to setting big goals and crushing them. In 2013 she signed up for the Urban Raid in Portland. She doesn’t love running, but the thought of breaking up the run with challenging obstacles was new and exciting. “Every time I got bored of running, there was an obstacle,” she says.

She described the obstacle race to a friend, who told her about an upcoming Spartan Race at Fenway Park in Boston. She signed up and was instantly hooked. “I had never been challenged in that way before,” she says. She competed in her next Spartan Race in 2014—a 14-miler on the side of a mountain in Vermont. It took everything she had to cross the finish line in 7.5 hours. “I met my mom, husband and stepdaughter at the finish line and I broke into tears. I was emotionally drained, yet so excited. It was so grinding, but within an hour of finishing the race I couldn’t wait for the next one.”

Spartan Races are life changing—that’s their goal. For L’Heureux, they are a way to escape from daily life while challenging herself mentally, physically and spiritually. She now coaches others on the obstacle course her husband welded for her in the backyard of their Biddeford home.

After completing 13 races last year, L’Heureux decided she wanted to compete at the elite level in 2017. After becoming certified as a Spartan coach to train others, L’Heureux decided she needed someone to help her get to the next level. “Every good coach needs a coach of their own,” she says. “I needed someone I was accountable to and knew more than I did. I completely trust him. It’s made a world of difference.”

For someone who spent the better part of her childhood being self conscious, shy, overweight and socially awkward, L’Heureux, now 34, has come a long way. “These races have been what have built my confidence; I’m so grateful I found them,” she says. “The benefits go far beyond the finish line. Your whole outlook on life is changed. That’s the whole point. I completely believe this is the best way to live. These races translate to life. If I can figure out how to get over this 7-foot wall, than I can get over anything. It’s made me so positive. The person I am today is nowhere near the person I was growing up.”

Melanie Brooks loves to write about Maine. Her work has been published in magazines and blogs throughout New England.

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