I seldom share the story of how I started trail running. I’m embarrassed by the clichés it embodies.
I started running to lose the baby weight.
I trained to run a half marathon with girlfriends.
I read “Born to Run.”
That was nine years ago. Then, the other day, I helped a Mom get to her car. She was juggling baby, coffees, pastries and the car key.
“Thank you… I recognize you from the newspaper,” she said, “You’re that badass Mom who runs ultramarathons.”
I blushed. I was wearing my running clothes, and with my graying but bubbly curly hair, I can be easy to spot.
“That article gave me hope that I’ll be fit again,” she went on.
Running was my route to long-term fitness, and I think it can be yours, too. So, I’m ready to share my story to give you hope.
I was 34 years old with a toddler and an infant. I was always active (mostly hiking and cross-country skiing) but struggled with my weight and diet since my teenage years. Now, six months post-baby, I was going to the gym in the evenings to burn some calories.
My husband has always travelled for work, so my gym time came in the evenings while a sitter stayed with the sleeping babies. One evening I threw a treadmill run into the cardio mix. I could only muster 15 minutes, but I recalled that I had lost weight well in the past by “jogging” a little. I had scarcely run more than 3 miles in my life.
I thought to myself that I should run more often and maybe training for an event would help. I came home that night and looked at my email. At that very moment, my girlfriend Melissa emailed a group of Moms, inviting us to train for a half marathon with her. It was in the fall and we would have all summer to train.
I signed up on the spot. That summer, I ran 5 miles for the first time. I will never forget that accomplishment. Still, 13.1 miles (the half marathon) seemed unsurmountable.
I was training mostly on roads, with some dirt roads thrown in for variety. My race, the Bizz Johnson Express Half, would be on a smooth dirt rails-to-trails path. (It didn’t occur to me that people could run on the steep and rocky single track trails that I enjoyed hiking.)
It was mile 11 or 12 of the half marathon when the suffering set in and I said to Melissa, “Remind me that I never want to do a full marathon.” My adoring family met us at the finish.
The following year I was training to return to the Bizz Johnson Express Half when my mother’s cousin, Claire, stayed with us to run not one, but two full road marathons at Lake Tahoe. Inspired by her accomplishment at nearly 60 years of age, I decided that if there was a marathon nearby that year, then I would register.
I discovered the California International Marathon in December and I was on the road to becoming a marathoner.
The wildly popular book, “Born to Run,” by Christopher McDougall, was published in 2009. My husband, Javier, and I both read the engaging story. The book made me really want to run on trails, but I didn’t know where or how to start.
I had occasionally bumped into a Mom by the name of Betsy Nye. She worked alot and ran alot, so she was pretty busy, but super-friendly. Chatting at a soccer game, she recommended that I try an informal trail race put on by another friend, Angela.
It was a “short” race by my new standards as a marathoner – about 10 miles – I think. But it was quite the introduction to trail running. The trail was steep and sometimes rocky.
I tried running the whole thing, but I noticed this guy who was fast-hiking the climbs. He and his dog would arrive at the top not even a minute behind me, but with alot more energy to spare.
Up at the top the route winded through granite boulders along a lake and he called to me (off course), “it’s over this way.”
Betsy cheered me as I came into the finish of my first trail run ever. And, as luck would have it, that guy hiking the climbs was none other than Jack Meyer, the single biggest trail running enthusiast I’ve ever met.
We exchanged contact info and I mined him for information on how to pick and run my first ultramarathon. Jack recommended the Tahoe Rim Trail 50k, which later come to be acknowledged as a 55k trail race and is certainly not a “starter” trail race, but I didn’t know better.
Later that month, Jack took me on my next trail run, on the favorite classic route on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT): one-way from Sugar Bowl to Squaw. It snowed. I was freezing cold. And I was hooked.
In another year or so, Betsy and I would become regular running partners. I was only brave enough to run with her because she was recovering from a broken leg. Betsy has more experience and success running mountain 100-milers than anyone I know.
I told her I wasn’t interested in running 100 miles. But she knew I would be, and taught me everything I needed to know. Jack had told me that 50k’s are the gateway drug to 100-milers. It just took me a bit longer to take the bait.
Early in 2014, I was lucky enough to be involved in the creation of the Donner Party Mountain Runners. My running family expanded. I met the two Peters. Pete Broomhall would become my fellow running geek and training partner and Peter Fain would become my coach and co-Race Director.
That July, Betsy and hubby Javier paced me to the finish of the Tahoe Rim Trail 100 mile trail race. Yeah, I sucked Javier deeper into my trail running world.
In the Fall, I took a group of runners to that same PCT one-way run on which Jack introduced me to the excitement of running mountain trails. It had snowed. They were freezing cold. And they were hooked.
Last year I helped create the inaugural Castle Peak 100k with course designer Peter Fain. I had the great joy of greeting Betsy at the finish line, and then Javier, among many others. (I wrote about this extremely fulfilling experience here.) This year as I greeted none other than Jack Meyer at the finish line of the Castle Peak 100k.
Meanwhile, Peter (Run on Dirt Coaching) has now been my running coach for 78 weeks. His weekly training plans, gentle support and constant guidance has taken my trail running and racing to a new level of enjoyment and performance.
This weekend is my turn to experience a big mountain 100-miler at the aptly name IMTUF 100. Pete Broomhall will be running as well. And plenty of our Donner Party Mountain Runners family is here to help.
It seems that I have become “that badass Mom who runs ultramarthons.” But, really, I’m just 9 years older than that woman with two babies who wanted to get fit.