Sunday, April 24, 2011

In the "Spotlight" with Van

Meet the amazing and fabulous Van, aka "Pigtails" from Washington State.  Van is someone I truly admirer. Two time Marathon Maniac of the Year winner and a role model for me and many others.  Van is an amazing athlete!!!

Many runners know me as Pigtails. Even the ones I have never met. In years past, my jet black hair in pigtails at the front of the pack drew attention. Now I’m more in the middle of the pack, having peaked in my mid-30s. Sometimes you can find me in the back of the pack if I have run a 100 miler the weekend before and trying to run a hard 50K for recovery. Still, I get people approaching me almost every race and ask, “Are you Pigtails?” It’s fun! Likewise, I get to see the same runners almost every race, since there are likeminded people who just can’t get enough of running.

I live with my husband, our dog, two cats, a couple cows, three pigs during spring-summer, and over 2 dozen chickens in rural Maple Valley, WA. We don’t’ have kids, but my life stays stressful enough in my physician assistant job in orthopedic surgery. In fact, I don’t exercise at all during the week because of my job. I guess I have been running so long that my fitness is good enough to allow me to sign up for any race, anytime, without having to worry if I have enough training necessary. That’s a nice feeling.

I started running at age 30 because I felt I was “soft.” It didn’t begin great. I had hip pain but found that it went away with proper running shoes. My first race was Sound to Narrows 12K in Tacoma, WA, but I didn’t even get a result because I didn’t realize they needed my bib tag at the finish. This was before chip timing at the smaller races. Immediately, I was hooked and found that I was pretty good and kept at it. I ran my first marathon 3 months later at Portland and qualified for Boston on my first try in 3:38. I know-not fair you say! Unfortunately, I couldn’t run much for three months after that race because of IT band issues. Mixing up my running routes helped with this. Then, because I increased my mileage too fast (rookie mistake), I developed plantar fasciitis, which I was able to run through for 9 months and eventually get over with my trusty Superfeet. I haven’t had a serious injury since. Next thing you know, I’m setting PRs, getting stronger with every race. I started meeting people who were running frequent races and got caught up in the excitement. I also started trail running, which is now my passion. That first year with Portland, I just did that one marathon. The next year, it was 3, then 7 marathon or longer race (including 2 ultras), then 16 (11 ultras), 28 (16 ultras including my first 50 mile and 100K), 53 (29 ultras including my first 100 mile), 51 (30 ultras with 3-100 milers), 54 (27 ultras with 2-100 milers), 30 (28 ultras with 5-100 milers and 1-150 miler), and 28 last year (26 ultras with 6-100 milers). So you can see, I’m not running as many races, but I am tackling the ultralong distances. I just completed my 277th race last week at the beginning of April, which now includes 103 marathons and 174 ultras. I’m hoping to complete 300 by the end of the year or early next.

I have been asked countless time why I run. There really is not just one answer. I run for the challenge, the friends, the nice burn I get after a hard day’s effort, and so many other reasons. Running gives me strength. It gives me confidence. I know that if I can push through the night in freezing temperatures, lost on the trail, with the wind blowing hard in my face, I can do just about anything. I enjoy giving inspiration to others and helping them find their own strengths. I enjoy running on trails most and hope this will translate into me being able to keep running for many years. I just turned 40 and feel no desire to back off. Sure, I don’t race as much. I replaced many of the weekends that I used to race with fun, long training runs with friends. I find that I enjoy these types of runs more now than ever. It’s not about winning or setting PRs anymore. It’s about appreciating the outdoors and the fact that I am able to do what I enjoy most. Racing, as much as I did, was time consuming with travel and also expensive. My husband accompanied me to my races in the beginning but that changed after I started running every weekend. He still crews for me in my 100 mile race. I am lucky that he has continued to be incredibly supportive.

What advice to I have for beginners or those who have found themselves in a rut? Set goals. They obviously do not have to be as lofty as the ones I set for myself. And they don’t always have to involve a race. Make it fun. Three years ago, I started running my age in miles on my birthday. I’ve included my friends in my birthday runs and now it’s simply an all day party. I want to run beyond 150 miles. I want to try new trails.

So next time someone asks you why you run, walk, bike, or do whatever you do so much, just tell them to get out there and find out for themselves!
-Van "Pigtails" -

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