From <1 to >26.2
By Stacey Hagen
I remember Track and Field Day in the eighth grade. The coaches from the high school came and watched us participating in various activities. As I remember it, the high school coaches picked students they thought would be a good fit for a particular sport. The Cross Country coach had this crazy notion I would be good at running cross country (I pretty much guessed they had figured out I had absolutely no coordination or athleticism and were just throwing something out there). When I heard this news, I laughed out loud, as I choked on a Marlboro Red. Yeah, that was me…the delinquent adolescent, who hung with the wrong crowd, smoked weed, drank whiskey, smoked cigarettes, had the mouth of a sailor (some things haven’t changed) and sure as hell wasn’t interested in running. Needless to say, I did not join the cross country team.
As a very young adult, I became a mother and, eh hem, much more responsible. I decided I needed to be a role model, quit smoking, start focusing on health, but nope, still hated running. This lack of enthusiasm would stay with me for quite a few years. To be clear: I hated running. Had no effing desire to do it…ever!! BUT, deep down, I had a secret admiration for runners. I knew it was hard and they made it look so easy, so effortless. A part of me envied them, but the other 99.9% of me had no interest in running. Gosh, it wasn’t until I was the ripe old age of 28 that running became a part of my life, but even back then, it was only out of necessity…to achieve fitness goals, nothing more. In fact, it remained just that for quite some time.
I first started running on the treadmill (gasp)…in the gym…(no effing way!). And when I started running, I lasted all of one minute. True story. I would run for a minute; walk for five. That’s how it all began, with one minute of running. I slowly increased my running time and decreased my walking time until I was running for a full 45 minutes. And that’s where I stayed for at least a couple of years, running at the gym to stay fit.
In those days, you couldn’t get me to run outside. Nope. Running always felt harder outside. I mean, there were hills and wind and pavement and stuff! Eventually though, it happened, I was forced outdoors after numerous problems that were all attributed to treadmill running. It hurt! It was tough! I didn’t enjoy it. I looked for advice, read books, talked to people at the running store to look for ways to make the running easier, enjoyable. One of the running books I read talked about how I was supposed to be breathing while running. I would practice breathing in rhythm with my foot strikes, as the author described…it was daunting, annoying. Nothing about it was comfortable. I REALLY was not enjoying it, but I was achieving my fitness goals; I was getting lean.
Eventually, something changed. My life got really hard(er). I needed a way to work through some stuff. I began to realize my running was a bit of an escape for me. The time out there on the road, that was my time. The solitude was necessary to stay sane. I needed it. So I began to run more often and longer. Those standard four or five mile runs became six mile runs…seven mile runs. I can still remember the day I ran eight miles….at Creve Coeur Park…on a very hot day. It was a BIG DEAL for me!! It was hard. But, it was great! And so an idea was born. I was going to run a half marathon.
The idea was a bit scary. I had run eight miles and it was difficult. Running 13.1 seemed like such a long way to run. I was intimidated. I was worried I wouldn’t be able to run that far, but I found a training plan and on September 18th, 2005, at the ripe old age of 33, I ran my first half marathon. It was hard, but it was fun! It was thrilling! Oh, the adrenaline!! I wanted to do that again, but I wanted to run farther. I signed up for a marathon and 7 months later, I ran my first marathon. Believe me, I was intimidated by that distance, too; overwhelmed, actually. I could not wrap my brain around running twice the distance of my first race, but I pushed back those feelings of doubt, trusted the training and I got it done. It wasn’t entirely pretty. I didn’t really know what I was doing. I hardly drank or ate anything during that race and I bonked pretty hard. BUT, I did it. I finished a full marathon.
After that race, I remember thinking, “I’m not very fast, but I would like to see just how far I can run.” Even back then, I was thinking about ultras, but it would take me a long time to bite that bullet. Over the next few years, I ran a couple more marathons, but really didn’t race that much. I still ran and I ran long distance. I loved it. But, I maybe ran in a handful of races a year and mostly just for fun, with my friends.
Fast forward to 2013, the year I began to run trails. I was sort of forced into this because I moved and I really didn’t feel safe running on the roads around my house. My husband, Dave, encouraged me to get out on the trails. Once again, I was intimidated. It was hard; there were rocks and roots and stuff. I felt so slow…and I was slow already. But, I did it. I went out there, ran, fell, cursed, got up and ran some more, got overuse injuries, and fell in love. I have always loved to be surrounded by nature. What I learned from my time out on the trails is trail running is the perfect mix of these two passions. I mean, seriously, is there anything better than spending hours in the woods? Umm, NO. My time in the woods has been both time spent suffering and time spent feeling more gratitude than I have ever felt. Trail running is my rejuvenator, even when it is sucking the life out of me.
As I ran more and more on the trails, it became clear it was time. It was time to bite the bullet. It was ultra time. Those same doubts that crept into my mind before all the other distance leaps came lingering back. How was I going to run further than a marathon? A marathon is pretty freakin’ hard!!! Thirty miles, 50 miles, 100 miles…that’s a lotta damn miles. Who does this? Why would anyone WANT to do this? Man, can I do this? Do I really want to do this? The answer: Absofuckinglutely!!
Eight months after I began trail running, I ran my first ultra, a 50K. Then, I ran a couple more. Eleven months after I began trail running, I ran my first 50 miler. The 50Ks were important. They were practice. They were stepping stones. But, the real biggie for me was finishing my first 50 miler. Fifty miles is quite a leap from 32. I had 18 miles of unexplored challenges I had never experienced to think about. Going into it, that was intimidating (that word again). I chose CO for this race(not always the brightest crayon in the box), so had to contend with some elevation. Also, it was hot, temps nearing 90 and nearly half the course was exposed. I ran nearly the entire distance alone, only meeting and talking to two people over the entire day. It was hard. It was really hard. But, I never thought I couldn’t finish. I never felt I wanted to quit. Finishing that race meant a lot to me because it reminded me of what fear can do to your life. Fear of losing. Fear of failure. Fear of DNF. It can hold you back. It can prevent you from going for something you are fully capable of achieving. At mile 48 of my 50 miler, I cried. I cried because I knew I had done it. I had achieved this goal, this goal that had seemed so out-of-reach, so unattainable. I had run 48 freakin’ miles!! The race was all but done. Death was the only thing that would have prevented me from finishing. I felt amazing! I felt strong! I felt proud! My husband was there waiting for me at the Finish Line. It was a great day. One I will always remember. But, at the finish, I still thought in my head, “How the hell am I gonna run twice this distance? Fuuuuuu….”
What is your favorite distance to run & why? Hmmm...I'm definitely a double digit run lover. Sometimes it takes me a good seven miles before the run feels good, then I just want to keep running. I've always said if I only ever ran 3 miles, I would hate running. I love the LSD (long, slow, distance). As of late, I've really been enjoying 50Ks, but for a weekly long run, I love the 20-24 miler.
Favorite shoes? How many pairs of running shoes do you have? I'm still ISO the perfect shoe. I love the traction I get with my Salomon Speedcross 3s, but I love the wide toe box and cushion of the Altra Olympus. I've lost so many toenails thanks to my SS3s though. frown emoticon I've been doing long runs in Hokas lately, but neither the Olympus nor the Hokas have the grip I'm used to with the SS3s. I think I have 10 pairs of running shoes currently, but...I have my eye on some Topos.
How many years have you been a runner? Been running for 15 years this year. Woooo hooo!!!