Dr. Meghan’s Transition from Gymnast to Ultrarunner

I grew up as a competitive gymnast. The thought of running made me cringe! The furthest I’d run was the 70+ feet down a vault runway and the 3-5 steps into a tumbling pass. Then, after a string of injuries that forced me to miss multiple seasons in high school, I decided to quit gymnastics and start coaching it instead. I loved the sport and knew I wanted to remain part of it even if my days of competing were in the past. But what I didn’t consider was what happens when you go from working out 30 hours a week to…not!

For as long as I can remember, my Dad has been an avid runner. Even at the age of 73, he runs a casual half marathon in the middle of the week! I remember him coming home from work and lacing up his shoes to run a quick 8 miles before dinner. It wasn’t until I was 18 years old that I decided to join him for a run. The first time we ran to a park and back. When we got home he informed me we did one mile and that a marathon covered over 26! I could not fathom how people could make themselves run for that period of time! However, as time passed, I gradually upped my distance and started feeling comfortable with 3 to 4 miles at a time. 

A friend asked me if I wanted to run a marathon. I turned to my Dad for his thoughts on whether I could train to run a full marathon in 4 months. He said, “no.” I wanted to prove him wrong and decided to go for it. My friend Angie taught me about pacing, ramping up miles, and the mental toughness it would take to travel 26.2 miles on foot. We trained together and then lined up at the start together to complete the Rock ‘n Roll Marathon in San Diego, CA. I called my Dad the second I finished. He said he knew I could do it and he knew that I’d take the challenge based on his response! I was excited to cross this item off my bucket list but I didn’t love how beat up I felt at the finish line and pretty much decided then and there that I was “one and done.” 

Running became a fun form of exercise and stress relief for me over the next several years. I enjoyed running a few miles here and there and even ran in some half marathons with friends while in grad school. These distances felt difficult and challenging, but were short enough to prevent me from hating life after reaching the finish line. 

When I graduated PT school, I was introduced to trail running. I was really nervous about running up and down mountains due to the technical, rocky terrain and the possibility of crossing snakes…but I showed up and gave it a shot. I met some friends at their Sunday group run and we spent miles running, hiking, and enjoying some of the prettiest views I have ever seen. I was instantly hooked and my husband, Brian, and I became regulars. Sunday Rundays quickly became my favorite! We were surrounded by some of the most adventurous and inspiring people I had ever met. I no longer needed music to run – it didn’t feel like a chore anymore. I loved being in nature and seeing the world in a way I had never seen it before.

My new trail running friends were “crazy.” We would get coffee after our Sunday runs and they would talk about running rim to rim to rim in the Grand Canyon or signing up for ultra marathon races. I was quite happy with our 4-6 mile group runs and could not comprehend the distances they were talking about! Brian and I signed up for some local trail races, sticking with shorter distances up to 10k. After crossing our finish line, we’d stay to support our “crazy” friends who were still running their longer races. 

My friend Jon asked me to pace him at one of his 50k races. I had no idea what pacing meant! He explained that I could run my 10k race and then help him maintain a rate of speed for a loop of his longer race. I agreed and was ready to give it a try. The day of the race, as he came through on his third loop, he asked if I could be ready earlier than planned. I quickly said yes – not knowing that this moment was going to spark something in me that I didn’t know existed! I jumped in and paced Jon for his last two 10k loops. This was my first time witnessing some of the mental and physical struggles of ultrarunning – and I was thrilled to be there by his side to help him through it. As we ran, we talked about his goals. It was my job to help him move at the rate he wanted. I watched him break through barriers and I was so inspired by the way he continued to move forward, one foot in front of the other. We crossed the finish line at about 2 am and I will never forget that moment!

I ran a few more races after which I paced friends who kept going for the longer distance finishes. I absorbed as much as I could from their experiences and finally got the urge to try an ultra marathon myself! I signed up for a local 50k in Cave Creek, Arizona and I trained with my friend Jon as he trained for the 100k race. He taught me how to gradually build mileage, fuel my body on and off the trail, and how to push through the mental roadblocks that would surface when running this more extreme distance. 

I completed my first 50k in February 2015! I was a bundle of nerves but gave my husband a kiss and approached the start line. After almost 32 miles on technical terrain, I could see the finish line! As I got closer, I was shocked to see that my husband had arranged for both of our families to surprise me at the finish. I crossed that finish line as an “ultra-marathoner” and in that moment I knew that I was in it for the LONG RUN!

I love reaching new summits, and then looking back at the path that it took to get there. Having recently completed my fourth 100 mile trail race, I have learned that our bodies are capable of big and great things! Trail running is a metaphor for life. There are rocky and challenging parts mixed with easy and effortless moments. Things can become overwhelming and difficult but if we simply focus on the next step in front of us, we really can conquer the mountain! 

This sport has taken me to some amazing places and I enjoy seeing the world from my own two feet. I have fallen in love with the trail running community. My husband and I enjoy volunteering, crewing, and pacing at races. Thinking back I have to laugh about when I wondered how I could ever replace the 30 hours per week I used to spend doing gymnastics! Running all day in the mountains is a perfect substitute!

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