Just a MOM!

 

   

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 I can" for one, but 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, a 3:45 at 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. 

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, not the one's that stand 4 feet high and are not meant to be knocked over as you sprint, but the one's that are 4 feet low, as you pace yourself, and are meant to be knocked down, just to be picked up, to see there's another, and another.  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 4 foot hurtle.  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. 

I actually came to, when I was on a flight to Colorado, yes leaving home, to do my second 50 miler and realized I was addicted to the sport, yet felt so lucky to have found this passion in my life, in my thirties...Thoughts of my kids at home as I was away would sometimes blanket the excitement of it all, but I felt this was for everyone's benefit, I mean, if mom isn't happy, no one's happy!  I made sure everyone at home was left happy, taken care of, and that my husband would take pictures of our kids weekend sport competitions that I was missing...I ran the double marathon in Colorado and came in 4th woman with competitors use to the altitude and I lived at sea level.  The race director told me when I finished, that I ran each loop faster than the last as it was 4 loops of 13 miles, and then he told me I need to run the 100 milers, I replied "no way".  The flight home allowed me time to think, to realize 50 miles felt good, and to understand that I need to run 100 milers.  I ran a couple more 50 miler's to finish the year, placing in the top 10 overall woman in most of my competitions up to this point....Coming in 3rd overall woman in the San Juan 50 mile trail run was and still is one of my hardest 50's, as I pushed so hard, fell so bad, and came into the finish so strong. I tell my running group today, "it's not how you start, it's how you finish" and love to share with them my scars on my leg from that fall and how I quickly had to get up as I had someone seconds on my back and all this work wasn't going to 4th place...

I looked for that next race, but now it's double the distance of my most recent 50's.  The 100 miler that I was so fearful of.   Most "normal" ultra runners would continue with the baby steps and complete a 100k (62 miles) after a few 50's before jumping into a 100 miler, but I was excited, gladly adopting this new feeling of confidence, and saw that the next race that I wanted to conquer, was a 100 miler.  I thought I'm not 20 years old, I'm 37 and attempting to run my first 100 miler, where was I 10 years ago? I had a friend Jennifer Janis, who ran all these crazy 50's with me, her old boyfriend was Ben Hian, who was a champion in the sport, she crewed and paced him and knew how to take care of a runner during a 100 miler.  I asked if she would pace me in my first 100 miler, the Rocky Raccoon 100 mile, 5 loops of 20.2 miles in Texas, and she was just as excited as I.  To this day, she has been, one of my most favorite pacers, she was compassionate, and tough at the same time, she knew when to brutally push me and when to lovingly take care of me.  She told me to slow down in the little over 3 hour 20 mile loops that I was running, since I had 80 then 60 more miles to go, each loop I added a few more minutes to my time, and I told her I felt great.  In this particular race, a pacer can run the last 38 miles with the runner, and she was there to let me know I was going too fast in the beginning, and that I would pay for it later. At mile 62, I  asked her "when is it going to hurt"?  The kiss of death, if you ask me and this hit me at mile 70 with bloody blistered feet wrapped in duct tape, and never running through the night with my fears of darkness, slowed me down.  I thought what a cool chic Jennifer was to pop my blisters and take care of me like she did, I don't think they do this where I come from. I had to dig deep to finish this 100, but my pacer Jennifer wouldn't let me quit and I wanted to, so bad.  Those proud words from my children that I had cherished and how I couldn't let them down, captivated my thoughts, over and over.  I could see their faces gleaming with pride and missed them so much, now they were my comfort zone. Gabriel Flores who was also pacing a runner,  approached my pacer Jennifer and I at mile 80 when I was thinking of every excuse to quit, and the words  "I'm done, no more, my life is so good at home, what am I doing here", constantly battered my mind and conversation, and Gabriel told me to "shut up, everyone is hurting, if you quit you will feel this forever, and you only have a few more hours of suffering".  Somehow knowing that I wasn't the only one suffering, made me go on.  My husband and children, and the children with cancer, the charity that I was running for, I knew  I had to go on and how would I explain to all these people who gave me love, donations and support , that I quit because I was tired and hurting, the children with cancer who not only do I run for, but I volunteer at the hospital and hold them, they can't quit when they hurt and feel tired, how could I... I finished Rocky Raccoon in just over 28 hours and even I couldn't believe it.  I ran 100 miles...WOW!  I touched every part of my soul, every part of ME!  I came home with this new ego, I felt like I was on top of the world, and if I can run 100 miles, I can do anything, as I witnessed the "power of the mind". So now, here I was looking for that next 100...I ran a couple more 100's, finally ran that 100K, ran more and more races, raised thousands of dollars for all my favorite charities, had a national commercial, infomercials and was recognized as "just a mom who runs 100 mile races", my favorite title to this day!  So what's next for me..

I had just finished a 50 mile race, which now was what I considered good training runs for the 100's.  I think back when I couldn't even imagine running 100 miles, and now I'm constantly fantasizing about my next.  As I was leaving to drive home, saying good bye to all the runners, I had to thank another runner Denise, for giving me this special drink while I was throwing up during the race.  Her husband was also there at the finish and told me that I should run Badwater, I told him "no way, I'm not that crazy".  Both of them have done Badwater, a 135 mile race through Death Valley in July, known to be the world's toughest foot race, and me I couldn't' even think of this, I just wanted to get in my car, drive home and get to my family.  The 5 plus hour drive was Badwater boggling, and the thought of now running 135 miles, through Death Valley in July, was just sick, yet I couldn't stop thinking about it, and 5 hours of time alone driving, allows one's mind to go to some weird places.  Where I went was visualizing running Badwater, trying to picture the heat, the pavement, running the world's toughest ultra marathon, and of course crossing the finish line.  In those 5 hours, I crossed the finish line 10 times, and it felt better each time.  Now what was wrong with me?  Why couldn't 100 miles be enough? 

I spoke to a few friends and found out my one friend Jay was running Badwater that July, 2 months away.  I asked if I could be a part of his team, crew or pace him, anything, just to be there, and knew this would be a chance to see what kind of torture I was putting my self into.  I couldn't wait to get to the desert, and feel the heat.  Jay is such a smart runner and I knew he'd run a good race.  Tom Neilson ( a champion 100 miler), Tracy and I would take turns pacing Jay. I was also in charge of blisters, and when Jay told me he felt a "hot spot", I asked to take care of it.  So here we were climbing up Towne's Pass, my body was cringing on the thought of popping someone else's blisters, I mean for many years I've changed poopy diapers, took care of rashes, splinters, kissing boo boos, being the loving mom that I am, was my life, but this was different, Jay wasn't my blood.  Jay had a blister the size of a lemon, I looked at him and only wanted to make him feel better, I knew how much I loved him and how I truly was an ultra runner when I popped it and took care of him...To this day he tells me that my blister care saved his race, that makes my day!  I also took this opportunity time to pick Tom's brain and asked many questions, as if he wasn't tired enough as it was.  We were already into the next day in the race, 24 hours, and none of us had slept yet, our goal was to get Jay to the finish and that's it!  I asked Tom, if he hurts when he runs the 100's and told him my strategy of when I start a 100 mile race, I never say "I'm going to run 100 miles today", but instead I tell myself that I'm going to run 4 marathons, and after the first, I only have 3, then 2, then 1, and that was easier on my mind.  He told me he breaks the 100's down even more than that with getting from aid station to aid station, which can be 5 to 20 miles apart, depending on the race.  I knew I would take his words into my next 100...Jay had finished Badwater 8th overall,  looked great and I felt honored to be part of his team, popping his blisters, running with him, and that this validated my Badwater fantasy.  During the race I spoke with the couple Ben and Denise, that originally put the thought into my mind, we exchanged numbers and became Badwater friends.  I told them and everyone else, I want to do Badwater, and I couldn't wait for the day to send  in my entry and hope to be selected.  After a couple months of running races, and secretly training for Badwater, the same woman, Denise who gave me the drink that saved my stomach during the 50 miler, called and told me she had a very crazy proposition.  I was afraid of this, I sat down and listened to her words...Denise wanted me to be the first woman in the world to double the official Badwater race and that she would be my crew captain.  At first I couldn't believe she believed in me to even want me to double the race, when I haven't even done the one way.  I asked what was involved with training, the race and what does it mean.  She explained about the sauna training I needed to do along with every thing else the next 9 months had in store.  I looked at the upcoming months training as a pregnancy and now I just wanted to see what this baby's going to look like...Here I am, training to run not 135 miles, but 292 miles, and this scared me to death. Wouldn't it you?

Denise came to my house where I took care of her since she had surgery on her foot.  She gave me information on the race and how to run the double and told me that competitors have 60 hours to finish Badwater and since I was doing the double, I should finish in 59:59, in my mind, I didn't want to do that, but I understood her plan for pacing the double.  I didn't want to think of the double, but instead do the race, and if I felt good, the summit and if I felt good the return, although I knew in my mind I would do the double, just didn't want to go there, yet...even though between you and I, I had crossed the finish line, reached the summit and ran back to Badwater numerous times, I needed to visualize this over and over, it is what helps me through the process.  I trained running 100 milers, 24 hour track runs, going any where there was heat over 100 degrees to train for the day and the month before spent an hour in the sauna for an hour each day, teaching my body how to process fluids, just running in circles in the sauna and drinking water.  I loved the focus I had going on, but felt bad for being so detached from my home life, or was I?

The day came and here I was at the starting line of the Badwater135 mile race.  I felt confident, and excited, although my crew van had a flat driving to the start, and I looked at this as I was going to have a good day!  I went thorough the typical ups and downs, had some good bloody blisters, threw up, but not a lot, and got to the finish line in 51 hours with my family being there.  I came in 5th woman, and couldn't believe I just ran Badwater. The one person I owe this finish to is Jay, I couldn't have done it without him he knew me, and took care of me so wonderfully, I feel like he's my birthing coach...I had such a great crew, all of them were the best, Kari made me laugh, Denise made it happen, Phil and Richard gave me a feeling of comfort, and Michelle, Scott, Luke and Alexis filled in the areas needed and were great support.

We started our summit at 2:00 am, and I felt energized with my next attempt. The weather was great going up the mountain, and the experience I had with my crew was something I'll never forget, I could not have done this without them. They were great, even though a few of them got sick on the top of Whitney and Kari's (my crew girl) husband, Phil and I came down together. Phil and I felt great we were laughing and running down the 99 switch backs, that we climbed just hours before.  I was surprised my body felt this good.   I had a fall in a creek crossing and my shin swelled up so bad, and so quickly.  I thought what a great way to get out of going back to Badwater, and depending on how I felt when I got back to the portals, I might have to use this excuse.  We ran out of water and were drinking from anywhere we could get it, and the green chunky water we filtered would have to do.  I thought I was done after 157 miles, happy to just do the race, and the summit, but then I had to sleep for an hour, my first real sleep in 3 days, and a new freaky, revived person came out, I wanted to go back to Badwater, and I wanted to go back right away, no down time, no way to allow my body to feel comfort.  My younger son was crying for me to come home and I felt so bad to see him this way, and not be able to comfort him on the way home, at this point I was detached from any feelings, in order not to feel, to not feel pain, or pleasure.  A place I had to go to do the double. My husband and kids went back home anticipating that I wasn't going to look so good, so my crew and I headed back to Badwater. I wrapped my shin in a ice filled wrap and my feet were bloody and blistered, but this didn't stop me.  I never felt so amazing in my life to see what I can do, 292 miles on foot, and at times begging for a scorpion to sting me, just so I couldn't quit, but instead had to be taken away, taken from this pain I was enduring for days.  What saved me for the last stretch where it was reaching 130 degrees and 60-80 mph head winds, was at mile 250, Stove Pipe Wells, when I saw a phone booth and thought it was an hallucination, but felt it, rubbed it, knew it was real, I called my son collect and when I heard his voice, I broke down, I cried, I wanted his comfort, I was in so much pain, I was lonely, uncomfortable and wanted to be with my family where it was safe.  I couldn't stop crying, but didn't want my crew to see me weak.  He asked if I was done, I told him no, and I couldn't go on anymore, and I hurt, he asked how many more miles did I have to go, and I told him 42, he told me "please mom, don't quit, you can do it, I love you"...I hung up the phone and could have ran 250 more miles...That next day I had reached the Badwater sign, where I started just a week before, and if I could find the word to explain the feeling, I would , but I can't, there is no such word, just a feeling that I will always cherish.  I couldn't have done this without the crew I had, they were so giving of their time and expertise, and I thank them for giving me this opportunity in my life.  Kevin Setnes (a world class runner and the USA 100k team coach) coached me for the double, and I listened to his strategy on how to run the race, and my last phone call before we ran out of cell reception was to Kevin as we were driving  to the race,  his words and my words  of "you can do it" carried me through the entire time I was out there. My kids love to tell their friends, coaches and teachers, how their mom ran from Badwater to the top of Mt. Whitney and back.  I guess all it takes is to believe in yourself a little bit, and you can go so far...this is what I express to my kids.

I ran another 100 mile race, 2 months after Badwater, you know feeling like I was "super human" and tore my hamstring, since I wasn't recovered and dogs chased us as we were lost at mile 80 and my pacer and I had to jump over a fence, I can still feel the tear today, it was painful...I then came back 4 months later to run another 100 miler and  took off 3 hours of my best 100 mile time, which I owe to Badwater and the confidence it gave me as a runner,  because I knew if I could just push myself (try)  I could do better and faster in my sport. My coach Kevin,  told me if I do the Badwater double, it'll be hard to be satisfied by anything else, he was right, and the 3 hour PR meant nothing, now I just want to beat it, and I will.

Just a little update, July 13, 2005... I just ran the Badwater135 mile race, only the 1 way (135 miles), and came home with a "sub 48 hour" finishers buckle.  The official cut off time is 60 hours to complete the race, and you get a finishers medal.  Runners who finish under 48 hours receive a medal and the "sub 48 hour" buckle.  This was one of my many goals that I needed to achieve in my lifetime. On August 27th, I ran my first 100 mile solo run, another dream of mine.  You can view the pictures on my website under "what's new".  Three weeks later, On September 18th, I finally finished the Angeles Crest 100 mile endurance run, the one that so proudly put me in the hospital the year prior with 3 IV's and 10 minutes from cardiac arrest, according to the doctor.  Either Angeles Crest kicks your butt, or you kick its, this year I kick it's ass!  My marathon training group began training for the LA Marathon the following month, and just 5 months later on March 6th, 2006, I took 22 runners who I've coached to start and finish LA Marathon, most of them first timers.  My goal each year is to double the amount of people from the year before, to train and finish LA Marathon!   So by the year 2012, I hope to have a group of 1600 runners at LA Marathon, hopefully I'll have that amount, but sooner...If you'd like to run a marathon, contact me, I guarantee a finish!

 

I'm so thankful for the gift I have and hope my story inspires you to challenge yourself, live a little, and be your best..

.