By Staci Calder
It all started when I was a teenager. I would see people out “going for a jog” and it looked so carefree and enjoyable. I wanted to be able to do it. I would set out at a full-on sprint, make it maybe a minute, and then feel like I was going to die. Then I’d have to walk. This would go on for a few minutes before I’d get frustrated and give up.
Fast forward to about nine years ago. I was an adult. I joined a gym. I remember going in the first time and seeing the long row of treadmills and the folks cruising along, making it look easy. I decided I was going to do it. I hopped on, cranked it up to 5.0 mph and started running. As I made it to the one-minute mark, I thought I was going to die but I kept going. I made it to two minutes then had to walk.
This time I didn’t give up. I set myself a goal of being able to run for five minutes without stopping. It took a while. When it finally happened, I was so excited! I went home and sent a message to my friend who’s an actual athlete and her response was, “That’s great! Some friends and I are going to train for a half marathon. You should do it with us.”
It occurs to me now that her response may have been sarcastic. I was too excited to realize it though because I had just run for five minutes without stopping! My response was, “Okay, sure!” Meanwhile, I had to look up how long a half marathon actually was! 13.1 miles?! I didn’t know that was even a thing people did. I set it as my new goal: I was going to train for and run a half marathon.
Eventually, I worked myself up to one mile. Then I took it outside and worked up to two miles. I signed up for my first 5k race with the goal of running the entire 3.1 miles. I was hooked. Soon after, I did a five mile trail race, then a 10k, and my distances just kept getting longer. Six months after my first 5k, I completed not just a half, but a full marathon – 26.2 miles! I remember hobbling to my mom’s car after the marathon and thinking, “Never again.” Sure enough though, about a year later, I was running another marathon and loving every step of it!
As I was discovering this love for long distance running, I learned about an organization called Active Water which partners with endurance athletes to raise money and awareness for communities suffering through the water crisis, from lack of clean water and access to proper sanitation. About ten years ago, I had participated in a project to bring clean water to a school and slum area in Nairobi, Kenya. After seeing the devastation on not just individuals but entire communities, this cause had become important to me. I became a part of Team Active Water (which has since become part of Lifewater International) and began using my running as a platform to help others around the world.
I delved into the world of ultrarunning. I started with a 50k, and then 70.5 miles of single track through the mountains of Pennsylvania. Then I did a 24-hour run that was a 1.1-mile loop that I ran, and ran, and ran, and ran some more for twenty-four hours. Finally, I set my sights on “the big one” – 100 miles.
These are my five life lessons learned while running a 100 mile race:
- Dream Big. What may seem impossible right now can become possible if you set your sights on it and then make it happen. Dream big.
- It’s going to hurt. Accept it and keep going. I had reached a point in my race around mile 65 where the bottom of my foot had turned into a blister. I don’t mean that I had a blister. The entire ball of my foot had become one giant water blister. I got to a checkpoint and asked if they had anything I could treat it with (I’ll spare you the details of what I was intending). One of the volunteers grabbed a roll of duct tape, sat me down, took off my shoe, and wrapped my foot in a few layers of duct tape. It wasn’t enough to end my race, but it hurt. I took a deep breath, braced myself for the pain, and kept going.
- When it hurts, when you find yourself all alone and surrounded by darkness, remember that it will get better. I had started the race with a friend. We had planned to do the whole thing together but he ended up having to drop. I found myself running alone in the darkest part of the night, unexpectedly alone, my headlamp battery fading out, my support team sound asleep somewhere else with their phones off, and in a fight against the clock to make it to the second checkpoint because I had waited with my friend in the hopes he would rally. As I was stumbling along in the dark, I got to the place where I thought the check-in was supposed to be. It wasn’t there. So I continued stumbling along. I finally got there and I was two minutes late. I stood there sobbing because I thought my race was over. The aid station captain called the race director to see if I could continue since I’d been so close. I remember hearing him say “she seems okay…I think she’ll be fine once the sun comes up.” I got permission to continue and he looked at me and said, “You just have to keep going until the sun comes up and you’ll feel better.” He was right. I finished with time to spare. I had to make myself continue to stumble alone through the dark until the sun came up and then things did get better.
- Find something – a cause or purpose – something that is bigger than yourself. Money and prestige are nice but when your find yourself hurting or alone in the dark, they’re not going to be enough. Find a way to use your big dreams to help others.
- Keep moving forward. There will be times when you are ready to run full-force out of the gate, racing ahead, and other running metaphors. That is wonderful! But there will come times when you have to walk, maybe even crawl. That’s okay. It will be up to you to keep moving forward.