By Julie Mazziotta
Updated December 14, 2016 10:29 AM
Keysha Lleras - 3
Credit: John Segesta/Women’s Running

Four years ago, Keysha Lleras was living in a tiny apartment with her 5-year-old daughter, dealing with crushing depression after leaving a husband who regularly verbally, physically and emotionally abused her.

“I was in a really dark place,” says Lleras, the winner of Women’s Running magazine’s cover runner contest. “I was still going to work, because I knew I had to support my daughter, but I was crying a lot, and people were noticing that something was wrong.”

One day Lleras, 35, noticed a trail outside her office building. She started walking every day during her lunch hour and eventually built up to running.

Keysha Lleras - 4
Keysha Lleras
| Credit: John Segesta/Women’s Running

“I couldn’t run a quarter of a mile, and it was more walking than anything, but it allowed me to think and put things in perspective,” she says.

At the suggestion of a friend, Lleras ran her first 5K race, and a love of running grew from there. She has now finished three marathons, an Ironman, and various races of shorter distances.

“I saw how much it helped my stress, how I was able to be a better mom to Hailey, how I was able to be more productive at work and how good I felt,” she says.

Keysha Lleras - 2
Keysha Lleras
| Credit: John Segesta/Women’s Running

Running also helped Lleras drop 80 lbs. of excess weight she had gained during her pregnancy and period of depression.

She hopes that sharing her story now will inspire someone else in a difficult situation to take action.

RELATED VIDEO: Hilaria Baldwin Returns to Running One-Week Post Baby – and Shows Off Her Changing Body

“For a very long time I had no will, and I told myself ‘no’ without even trying,” Lleras says. “But willpower, determination and the courage to keep moving forward found its way to me through running.”

Keysha Lleras - 1
Credit: John Segesta/Women’s Running

“Little by little, running has made me stronger and given me the courage to continue — one stride at a time.”

Llears’ cover, the Jan/Feb issue of Women’s Running, hits newsstands Dec. 20.