Taking Leaps of Faith, Doing Hard and Scary Things: Part 1

“Show a little passion, baby
Show a little style
Show the knack for knowing when
And the gift for knowing how
And have a little trust in us
When fear obscures the path
You know we got this far, darling, not by luck
But by never turning back…”    
We all have those song lyrics, lines of a poem, or quote that stick with us. This one, by my favorite singer-songwriter, captures my typical feelings midway through an ultra, aka the infamous “bad patch.” This particular song, “The Hard Way” is on my ipod shuffle, so I usually hear it once or twice during a race; the title alone is a constant reminder of why I am drawn to the hard work of ultrarunning. I love the challenge of creating a training plan, navigating the delicate balance of family, work, early wake-ups, bad weather, and going hard for a goal *almost* as much as racing. Putting together the pieces of speed workouts, strength training, recovery days, and long runs is the fun part of the training cycle, and requires trust in my training, a bit of luck and good timing, as well as commitment and consistency. Creating a successful training cycle can be tricky but incredibly rewarding, as the race itself becomes the “frosting” on the proverbial training “cake.”  
Leaping into the cool green waters of Lake Huron with my trusty Aussie Jack watching over me. PC: Sophie Speidel
Turning 55 in December reminded me that a) I wasn’t getting any younger, so b) 2018 had to be the year of “taking leaps of faith and doing things that scare me.”  2017 turned out to be particularly satisfying season of ultra adventures, as I had managed to string together a few solid races: Mt. Mitchell Challenge 40, Promise Land 50K, Bighorn 54, Iron Mountain 50 and the Trilogy 50, where I finished first female. I had a blast pacing Jeff Lysiak to a sub-24 silver buckle at Old Dominion, crewing John Andersen at his first sub-24 Western States, pacing Keith Knipling to his third Hardrock finish, and pacing Jason Farr to his second Grindstone 100 finish. Helping these men work through their own bad patches in four very different but difficult 100s was inspiring. Taking their lead, I realized that I needed to suck it up and overcome my “never again!” attitude about 100 milers, so I decided to go for a sub-24 Old Dominion 100 finish.
​After finishing as first female of the Trilogy 50 in October with RDs Adam Casseday and Dan Lehmann. PC Sophie Speidel
OD100 is a very cool, old school, “no coddling” ultra. It is the second oldest 100, celebrating its 40th year in 2018. The course is a mix of rolling gravel roads, pavement, and a few stretches of rocky Massanutten Trail single track and ATV trails. The start field is limited to 90, and runners finishing under 24 hours are awarded the coveted silver OD buckle. Those who finish between 24:01 and 28 hours get a handshake at the awards breakfast and a commemorative race souvenir, and nothing else. These are just a few of the reasons I want to run this race. I love hilly gravel roads more than technical single track. I love the low-key vibe and the family feel of the event. I love the challenge of going under 24 hours, and the long history of the event — the finishers list is a tribute to the men and women who have shaped ultra history: there are Hardrock and Barkley finishers, Grand Slammers, and back-of-the packers. To be considered a true Virginia ultrarunner, I have been told, one must finish the OD100. 
It was after pacing Jeff Lysiak (here at mile 75) to a sub-24 Old Dominion 100 finish that I started considering trying it myself. PC: Sophie Speidel

The one defining characteristic of OD that has scared me away all these years is the infamous Virginia heat and humidity that settles in Fort Valley in late May. Having always considered myself a cold-weather runner, I have steered clear of hot races, but I realize now that it was fear of failure, not the heat, that had kept me away. And, after running in the canyons of the Bighorn 50 for the past few summers and regularly spending a few mornings a week in the sauna at my gym, I am much more confident about how my body handles heat. A few weeks ago, I entered OD and committed myself to training smart and consistently for my fifth 100 finish. I know the odds. It will be hot. I will suffer. But the idea of running 100 miles in the hot, humid, and beautiful Virginia countryside both scare and delight me.

This is what it feels to be alive.
Is there is a race, event, adventure, or challenge that you have been drawn to but are scared to commit to? What are the obstacles (real or imagined) that stand in your way? 
What are the things that scare you?

Sophie Speidel

Sophie Speidel has been running ultras since 2002. She has finished over 100 ultras, including Western States 100, Massanutten 100, and Old Dominion 100 as well as the Hellgate 100k eleven times and the R2R2R of the Grand Canyon. Sophie and her husband Rusty have three adult children, ages 28, 26 and 24 who grew up watching their mom transition from road marathons and triathlons to running trail ultras — and they turned out just fine! Sophie works full-time as a school counselor, and in her free time she and Rusty are often found running and hiking with their 3-year-old Australian Shepherds, Cooper and Blue, on the trails near their home in Charlottesville, Virginia.

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6 thoughts on “Taking Leaps of Faith, Doing Hard and Scary Things: Part 1”

  1. I am 48 and new to running. After having life threatening anemia last year and major surgeries, I bounced back and ran my first ever 5k in December. So far I’ve managed to maintain my momentum and am training for a 10k, a duathlon, and a half marathon for this year, of which all have previously intimidated me. I guess my health scare caused me to take risks and make goals for myself that are not contingent on anyone but me. This trail running community is so inspirational and I will carry your stories with me to draw upon as I attempt what two years ago I thought impossible.

  2. I love your ambition! You are so strong. I’m 44 and have run several road and trail half-marathons in the past couple of years. I love the semi-casual feel of the trail community and would love to complete a 50k someday but I fear the distance. It’s been almost 10 years since I ran a marathon and my body just behaves differently (post-children, different hormonal things going on). I know I have to commit to hetting my body to be stronger. Your story is an inspiration. Thank you for sharing!

    • Nancy,

      You are a perfect candidate for a trail 50K! I encourage all my female friends over 40 to consider the 50K as the “next step” as it is not as painful or hard on the body as a road marathon, has less emphasis on speed, splits, and finish time and more on being present, out enjoying nature, and challenging ourselves with a new (and scary) goal. Even though you are 10 years our from your last marathon, you might find training for a trail 50K with a group of new (or old) friends to be a totally different experience — perhaps life changing! Where are you located? I can recommend a few novice-friendly trail 50Ks on the east coast, and the rest of the Trail Sisters can fill in the rest. Best wishes to you!

  3. Thank you so much for the encouragement! I’m in Milwaukee and have learned of a few ultra’s I could try (North Face Endurance Challenge in our area being one). Thank you for making me smile. I won’t count myself out yet. 😉 Best Wishes to you!

  4. I keep coming back to this three part Hard and Scary essay series, it’s really helping/helped me. I also LOVE that photo of you jumping into the water! When and where was that? Is it after a race? If so, that is enough to get me to sign up! I am thinking of signing up for OD for 2020. I just did my first 100 this summer, Eastern States 100. OD would require me to work on something that has not been my strength: speed! I think it would be a cool challenge. Thank you for shining a bright light for us Masters Ladies in the ultra scene!


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