Throughout the month of January, we are highlighting things you can do every day for your mental and physical well-being. 2020 was a tough year for all of us, but 2021 can be used as a great refresh to become healthier, stronger and to achieve personal goals that we’ve been putting off.
We are highlighting one of SoFHA’s very own, Leah O’Dell. Leah works at State of Franklin Healthcare Associates as a Director of Operations. Outside of work she is a wife, a mom of two, and an ultra-runner!
What is an ultra-runner you might ask? According to active.com, “Ultra-running is the long distance running sport that has taken shape around ultramarathons or ultra-distance races. An ultra-distance race is typically a race of any distance beyond 26.2 miles.
The most common races begin at 50K, or 31.069 miles, and can span up to 100 miles long. Ultra-races can take place on roads, trails or tracks. Due to their recent popularity, more than 70,000 athletes compete in ultra-races each year.”
Recently, we interviewed Leah about her latest victory, a 100 mile run. She shared with us a little about the race, why she chooses to run, how she got started and how it helps her physical and mental health.
Can you tell us about 100-mile run and what it is about?
The trail-running and ultra-running communities are special. Generally speaking, they are less about competing with others and more about competing with yourself. Everyone shows up to these races hoping to prove something to themselves. They have trained their bodies and their minds and want to show themselves what they’re made of.
It is exhilarating to put yourself in a position where there is a high likelihood of failure, (There was a 40% drop rate for the 100-mile race I participated in) because it provides an opportunity to overcome and succeed even when, at times, it feels impossible. You literally push yourself to the brink of mental and physical exhaustion and, somehow, muster the ability to push forward.
At ultra-marathon aid stations, you see people in their most vulnerable states doing their best to manage their internal dialogue – their body is screaming “quit!” but their mind is insisting they march on. If they’re disciplined enough, their mind will win and they’ll leave out of the aid station.
Why did you decide to do the run?
Truthfully, I only began running to be a supportive wife. When my husband (who grew up running and attended college on a scholarship for cross country) began participating in ultra-running, I thought he was crazy! He asked me to go on a slow, 10-mile training run with him. I thought to myself “How bad could it be? Worst case scenario I walk out.” It was bad. It hurt and I did walk a lot, but in the end, I finished it. It was at that moment that I became intrigued. Before capitulating to his training run invitation, I had never run more than 1 consecutive mile. I thought to myself “If I could make that leap, what else could I do?”
What once seemed infeasible was now intriguing and exciting. The distance bar kept raising, as I pursued one challenge after the next. In less than 3 years, I transitioned to an ultra-runner who had completed (3) 50K’s, (1) 50-miler and (1) 100 mile ultra-races.
In your opinion, how does running keep you well?
If you’re doing it right, running benefits both physical and mental health. Stretching outside of my comfort zone and proving to myself just what I could do if disciplined enough crossed over into every facet of my life. Getting out on the trails for a long run, where you often don’t see a soul for miles, was especially helpful this year. Thoughts of quarantines and face masks disappear, even if only for a moment, as I wind through the woods. Running is a wonderful time to clear your head and decompress.
What advice would you give someone who would like to take up running?
Don’t box yourself into what you think a runner “is.” There are all kinds of different running styles. Some people are sprinters, while others like a nice steady pace. In the past, I desperately avoided running as a form of exercise. Now, I am thankful to have found the outlet. I recommend everyone find their own stride and enjoy the run – I find it’s helpful if you make it about more than just physical fitness.