I wanted to be on a U.S. National running team. The only problem was I was an almost-40 year old stay-at-home mom who ate lunch and played tennis. I hadn’t even run in college, other than a casual 10k where a running coach told me I “was better than [he] thought,” (is that even a compliment?). Truthfully, I had no business even watching elite runners on television, much less think I could ever be one.
But you come up with crazy ideas when you are desperate.
Ten years earlier, I had quit my job as a prosecutor when I gave birth to my twins. After they were born, I went back to work, but the stress of trying to practice law effectively, with two small children at home, proved unmanageable. I wasn’t being a good lawyer OR a good mother.
I tried my hand at Junior League, tennis, PTA, community class teaching, and a number of other volunteer and/or social commitments to give me some level of outside stimulation, but none of it was the right fit for me. I had casually started running a few mornings a week with some girlfriends with the vague idea that I would someday like to run a marathon. For a couple of years, I messed around, loving being a stay-at-home Mom, but dreading the hours when my kids were in pre-school. I didn’t feel like I had a purpose when I wasn’t ‘mothering’. I’d been working since I was fourteen years old. I wasn’t good with downtime.
Slowly, I started running more and more. After several months of building up my mileage, I finally finished my first marathon. I went on to run three more, qualifying for the Boston Marathon in December of 2005.
Then I read a book that changed the course of my running career, and my life, forever. It was “Ultramarathon Man,” by Dean Karnazes. Karnazes was part of a small community of runners who ran races of distances greater than the marathon; usually 50, 60, or 100 miles. I was fascinated by this. I read as much as I could about ultrarunning, discovering that most races took place on trails out in the middle of nowhere and that many had you running for more than twenty-four hours. It was running and adventure all rolled into one! Where could I sign up?
I decided I wanted to run 50 miles. But, I didn’t want anyone to know about it. I wanted this to be my own private goal – something that I was doing just for myself, win or lose. I chose 50 miles because it was long enough to get excited about, but I thought (prayed) it wasn’t long enough to kill me, and I would attempt it at the 24 Hours of Boulder race.
So, having picked my race, I began the daunting task of training for it. The question was “how?”. I didn’t want to ask anyone in my running group for help because, one, no one had ever run an ultra and, two, I knew they would think I was nuts. I knew I had to keep my dream a secret. I started running a lot. I’d run with my regular group in the morning, take my kids to school, and then head out for a second run. I needed to get my mileage up, but I didn’t want anyone to know. I soon found out though that it’s pretty hard to train for a 50 mile race without anyone finding out about it. Especially when your husband is the one telling everyone what you are doing.
“Stop it!” I cried to him when I found out he was the source of the leak. “People are going to think I’m crazy!”
“They already do,” he laughed. “Do you honestly think you can run 75 miles a week without anyone noticing.”
I was tempted to take my training indoors, to hide out if you will, running secretly on the treadmill, but that was even a little kooky for me, not to mention boring. I continued with my training, refining it from running “a lot” to a specific plan when I signed up with a coach. I dismissed comments from people about my obsessiveness when they found out how many miles per week I was running. I ignored the looks of pity I got when I assured them I was having fun.
I tried to come up with the perfect (read, sane) answer to explain why I wanted to do this. There was no monetary reward for running 50 miles (heck, there wasn’t even a medal), and it went way beyond a rational approach to physical fitness. But I was simply drawn to ultrarunning. It felt right: Adventure and physicality rolled into one. I could train for it relatively cheaply, it wasn’t (particularly) dangerous, and it didn’t require a team or a lot of equipment. It just required time and dedication, both of which I had in abundance. And thick skin to ignore all the snide comments, which I was working on.
But there was another reason I wanted to run 50 miles. Because I had lost my nerve. After my twins were born prematurely, life took on a much scarier hue. Things that I had done before without a second thought seemed inordinately risky. Having children, and especially preemies, makes you all too aware that life is dangerous business. I became frantic that something bad would befall my children. When they thrived and seemed less vulnerable, I widened my scope of fear to encompass my whole family. My father suffered three heart attacks and my mother started to go blind. I felt helpless to the whims of life and chance. I wanted to feel brave again.
Running helped me get there. Running a marathon made me feel capable. Running 50 miles made me feel brave.
After I completed my 50 miler, I set my sights on bigger goals. Within 7 months, I ran my first 100 miler during another 24 Hour event. Six months later, I won my first 24 hour event at FANS in Minnesota. I was hooked. I wanted more. I wanted to make the US National 24 Hour team.
(to be continued…)
Why did you start running?