In 2002, Robin Arzon was enjoying a night out, catching up with friends after a long day at her job as a legal assistant in New York City. As she and her friends enjoyed their drinks, a heavily armed gunman burst through the entrance of the bar, shooting someone at the front of the crowd. He grabbed Arzon by her hair and dragged her into the restaurant’s kitchen, where she was soon joined by 19 other hostages. He doused the then 21-year-old with gasoline and held a gun to her head. Arzon was used as a negotiator between her assaulter and the police. After about three hours, a fellow hostage tackled the gunman and Arzon was able to get free.

The night was traumatizing, but Arzon found that lacing up a pair of running shoes was an important step in helping her deal with her emotions. “I was compelled to run out the trauma that happened to me,” she recalls. “There’s something very raw and empowering about just pushing your body to an uncomfortable place.” A few years later, Arzon found that training for her first marathon also helped her get through a breakup. “Running is cathartic. There’s a lot we can experience in life that can be purchased, but this is one that has to be earned.”

In 2012, Arzon left her job as a corporate litigator to dedicate more of her time to health and fitness. She got certified as a running coach and became a Peloton group cycling instructor. “Fitness has been a tool to write my own story,” she says. “I’ve discovered much more about myself than I could have ever imagined.”

Arzon has now completed 22 marathons and currently teaches eight to 10 cycling classes a week; last year, she published her first book, Shut Up and Run, to make running less intimidating for newcomers. “Whether you’re just starting your running journey or have done dozens of races, you can miss how simple running really is,” she says. She advises those going through struggles of their own to try to recognize a situation for what it is and use it as a way to get stronger. “Challenges sometimes force us to reassess where we’re going versus where we really want to go,” Arzon says. “I found fitness helped me dig into my intuition and take a closer look into what I wanted out of life.”