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Why I Became An Ultramarathoner.

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One that loves to take the mind and body to places some find unimaginable!
One that loves Challenge!
For those who know me in our ultra running community, I'm Shannon, another competitor in the sport, and the woman who doubled Badwater.  For those outside of the sport, i.e. my neighbors, carpool moms, sponsors, friends and acquaintances, see me as this crazy woman who runs 100 mile ultra marathons, and "why do I do this" is the question they seem to ask.  "Because running is my passion, allow me to explain…

I was never an athlete in school, just a feisty little tom boy.  I had a pony when I was 10 years old and would ride everywhere, just Sadie and I.  I loved being outside with her and feeling my independence as I would ride her bareback for miles and miles.  My horse was taken away when we moved to Lake Tahoe.  A great place to live as a child and to be exposed to the outdoors.  My friends and  I rode motorcycles in the summer and snowmobiles in the winter, cross country skiing was the PE class and yes, I walked a mile in the snow to the bus stop everyday!  How adventure could only be a part of my life, it's so plain to see.  We moved back to LA, but kept the Lake Tahoe house, so now here I am in Los Angeles and me the teenager, a bike and skateboard became my new means of transportation.  Not quite the same as Sadie and that "tom boy" really kicked in, this was obvious when most of my girlfriends wanted to go shop and get their nails done, I wanted to practice my 360 on my skateboard.  Pippi Longstocking at the time was my idol, she had it all; the horse, the independence, the adventure, and I wanted that!
 
I had no interest or experience with running until my thirties... Fast Forward to me sitting on the couch, 30 something years old, nursing my son, still carrying quite a bit of my pregnancy weight, always wondering how could I lose this weight while I was relishing in the fact that I was a mom, just a mom! I was so happy and fortunate that I could spend each moment with my new baby. Here we were, my baby and I watching the LA Marathon on TV, and all I could say is "why would anyone want to run 26 miles".  The next morning I woke up thinking about those crazy people running the marathon and later that day while I was at the market, I picked up a Runner's magazine.  As I quickly read through the pages, I came across an ad with a little bald girl and the Leukemia Society ad read, "Run for Me".  I looked at this little girls beautiful face, and that was all i needed.  I contacted the Leukemia Society and started to train with the coach they provided, raised money, and in return, I "can" and "will" become a marathon runner.  I thought how cool would that be, there's not a lot of people that can say "I run marathons".  I made the commitment, met with the coach and Team In Training at the high school track, and my daily 1 mile turned into 3, 6, 10 and before I knew it, I was covering the entire valley.  Neighbors were telling me that they saw me running 15 miles away from home.  With pride, I told them I was training for a marathon, some laughed, many were excited, and I was hooked and looking forward to run my first marathon.  I jumped into every local 5k and 10k, ran a half marathon, and now I loved having the race bib to put on.  I once collected perfume bottles, now I'm collecting race bibs, ribbons, medals and 100 mile finishers buckles.  I ran my first marathon at 34 years old, in under 4 hours at the LA Marathon in the pouring rain, but what an incredible experience, not only to finish, but taking my body through 26 miles of new territory.  I ran several more marathons, started competing in triathlons, was invited to be the only female team member in a 1 day adventure race, and realized, it was the running that I truly love and that at mile 20 when most people were hurting, is when I start to feel good.
My 3 sons! Moe, Ben and Jet.


I asked around if there was anything beyond the 26 miles and learned about Ultra Marathons.  I was pleased to hear about 50k's.  At this point 100 mile ultra marathons was not even a thought in my mind. I immediately started training on the trails since I was told this is the terrain most ultras are on.  I loved being in nature, running through mountains, and streams and wondering if I will see a mountain lion, snake, or any animal who's neighborhood I was in.  I loved the thrill of it all!  I ran my first 50k, known as Bulldog, considered to be a tough 50k, but it was a 5 minute drive from home and I knew my family could come watch me cross the finish line. This was the most amazing feeling, running through the mountains with less than 100 other competitors on the trails, not the typical 20,000 runners on the pavement, and just being so in touch with nature and the outdoors is what captivated my mind.  I will admit there were times when I was a bit nervous, being alone, and would think, am I alone?  Signs were posted of mountain lions in the area and still I wasn't use to this, I was a city girl.  I finished (5:51) 4th or 5th woman, I forgot, I don't really keep track, but I felt satisfied with my run. After the finish, I talked about the experience to everyone I knew for days, many stopped calling for some strange reason, could it be they were tired of my story? Any way, I immediately looked for the next race.  I loved the 50ks, they were fast, short and what I heard from a few other ultra runners, not considered a true "ultra marathon"...I felt I was constantly being challenged to see what I was made of, not only by myself, but the sport...Shortly after, I realized, I needed, I had to have, and I wanted more!!!  So typical of my life... 

I ran another 50k with a better finishing time than Bulldog, I knew I was going to be hooked to the utlras.  My next plan was to do a 50 miler, and here I was taking the necessary baby steps to reach the ultimate goal, the 100 mile.  I was in denial about ever wanting to run 100 miles, fear took over and although it was a fantasy, I just couldn't think of doing such a thing, the unknown, what must a body go through and running through the night, when I still need to put the hall light on during the night...I just wanted to enjoy the 50 milers for a while, starting at sunrise and spending the day overcoming the mind and body battles, getting over the hurtles. I saw how powerful the mind is when it needs to be, (exactly that...when it needs to be) and used this to my advantage with never letting myself quit when I was down in a little lull, so to speak.  Crossing the Leona Divide 50 mile finish line in just over 11 hours was a major accomplishment for me. I once thought that a 26 mile marathon was unimaginable, now I'm running almost twice the distance, and throwing in the thousands of feet of elevation gain.  Here I was again, looking for the next race, but now my kids were bragging to their friends, teachers anyone who would listen about their mom who can run 50 miles and she runs through the mountains. I saw the pride in their eyes, and heard it in their voice, unaware at the time how this feeling will be used to my advantage in my upcoming races.   Fast forward to what most ultra runners would consider their next distance, which would be the 100k.  Instead I found the Rocky Raccoon 100 miler the following month, a 100 mile run in Texas.  I decided to jump into the 100 mile ultra distance, even though I had about 20-30 miles a week on my legs, I went for it anyway.  I finished, but it hurt, it hurt bad, but felt so good to earn the "100 mile finisher's buckle".  I have since completed the Rocky Raccoon 100 mile run 5x earning the "500 mile" jacket,
Western States 100 mile 2x, Javelina 100 mile 3x, Vermont 100 mile 1x, Angeles Crest 100 mile 1x, and I believe that's it for the 100 mile distance…and if you want to know what a 100 mile finish feels like, here ya go
My second Western States 100 mile finish
Then there's good ol' Badwater 135.  The craziest race of all, and known to be "the world's toughest foot race".  So hey, why not?  Death Valley is a 4-5 hour drive from my house, so my family could come cheer me on at the finish line.  I was born in Palm Springs, CA, which is a desert and hot, so there was another similarity.  I thought If I can run 100 miles, why not 135 miles?  My first experience at Badwater was in 2000, while I was pacing Jay Grobeson, a U.S. runner and friend who we would often train together.  Being part of Jay's crew, I got a real taste of the race, the intense heat, the unforgiving pain, blisters that covered the bottoms of his feet and toes, which, by the way, I popped for him and I hope he never forgets that, they were nasty.  Popping someone's puss filled blisters, is definitely love.  Actually in the sport of ultra marathon, what attracted me the most was the camaraderie and the passion that all of us shared!  I've run with mountain lions in races, ran into bears, snakes, alligators, and this is where I feel is my home!  I love the mountains and the freedom it gives me when I run.  People always ask "how much money do you get when finish running 100 miles"? Money, (cough), more like how much does it cost to RUN 100 miles?  I run because I love it, and I've been lucky to have been sponsored and even landed a national commercial with Slim-Fast and other print and TV work, but it's not about the money, and there's no fame, it's all about the love for the sport!  But I do love my collection…


My first Badwater 135 mile attempt was in 2001, and Jay owed me one!  I had the best team: Denise Jones, Kari Marchant, Jay Grobeson, Michelle, Luke and Alexis.  A few months prior to Badwater, I was brain washed, a truth to dare, hypnotized or something, because I was talked into doing the Badwater double!  Yes, that consists of running the 135 mile race, finishing at the Mt. Whitney portals, then continue to summit Mt. Whitney and then run all the way back to Badwater - 292 miles on foot, and to become the "first woman in the world" to double the "official" Badwater 135 mile race!  P-A-I-N best describes my journey, but next to giving birth to my 3 amazing sons, running a double Badwater was the best experience in my life! And if you want to know what finishing 135 miles of oven burning temps, blistered feet, chaffed everything, fatigue and gratitude feels like, here ya go
135 miles later - thank you Deena Kastor, Lisa Gutman, Cheryl Zwarkoski, Maria Clementi, Amy Dodson,
Aric VanHalen for your love and support, I couldn't have finished without my team!

Today, I have 5 Badwater finishes, and will be competing in July 2015, going for my 6th finish!  

 
This time my race will be different as I am fighting MS.  My once "fitness model", sculpted runners body, is now dimpled with muscle atrophy from my daily injections, and due to intense treatment the past couple years, my training and base in my legs is gone, but I'm making a comeback and will prove that If I can keep a positive attitude, continue to follow my dreams and give it my best, that's all I can do!  I have a disease called Multiple Sclerosis, but my family, those who can't run or walk, and my running gives me the strength and inspiration!
My home nurse with my IV steroid treatment
Giving my injection during a 100k
I'll take these feet over daily injections and an IV any day!
You got to earn those blisters and buckle!  

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