Liza Howard

A year ago, I sat in a room full of strangers. An odd lady with a squid hat stood at the front of the room. She explained that the things I would learn and the people I would meet over the next few days would change my life. What did she know? I mean, she obviously could not discern good head wear from bad, how could she know that the people in that room would change the course of my life?

That lady with an odd taste in hats was Liza Howard. She was the reigning champion at The Leadville 100. Most importantly, she was the person who had brought all of us together. She had assembled a team of trail and ultra runners in a camp outside of San Antonio. The purpose was to teach trail running to members of Team RWB.


Liza, the Squid hat and myself

Not only was she right, but she, herself was one of those people who helped shape my trail running future. Her love for teaching others has inspired me and helped me discover a love of sharing the knowledge that I gained from her and her team.

Knowing that you have made a difference in someone’s life is, perhaps, the most satisfying thing one can know. This is probably why you will almost always see her smiling.

But still, a squid hat? Why? Well, according to Liza, her friend Nikki was shopping for Halloween costumes and brought over some prospects. She accidentally left the squid hat behind and it was never returned. She wore it to camp because she thought it set just the right tone. As Liza put it “There’s room for everybody under the ultrarunning big top. Also it made me more visible.”

Ok, I will give her this, it does command attention in a fun way. Whomever was wearing the hat had the floor, one had to respect the squid hat. It does fit in with her personality. She has this fun way of teaching, where we ended up laughing our way through the planned lesson. This was usually due to bad acting or missed cues from the students she had chosen to help. Her teaching method involves anyone and everyone. Even bystanders are not immune to  becoming object lessons.

As someone who spends so much time giving advice, I was curious, what was the best advice she had received. She said that when she was at the 50 mile point of a 100 miler, a friend asked how she was doing, she replied that she hurt. He told her that everyone was hurting. According to Liza, “It was the perfect reminder during that race and during training, that, of course, it’s hard. Don’t expect otherwise.”

Since she told me about this several weeks ago, I have turned to it during my training. Yes it hurts sometimes, but if it didn’t hurt, everyone would do it. The pain we are willing to endure is what makes us. Even when I am trying to learn more about her, she somehow has taught me.

With so many wins and podium finishes, I thought she would have this great story of how she got into running. Alas, it was just a simple choice, she wanted to run a marathon. The training group was so much fun that, as she put it, she kept going and never looked back. Going is somewhat of an understatement, her favorite race distance is now 100 milers. She claims it is due to her love for belt buckles.

I asked her what her most memorable finish was, she said it was the 2011 Javelina 100. It involved being hauled off to the hospital with a case of rhabdomyolysis. This is basically when the muscle tissue breaks down and releases their contents into the blood stream. This can be a very serious condition that can lead to renal failure. You can read her account of that race here.

In addition to running, she coaches for Sharman Ultra. She also teaches first aid having instructed at the Wilderness Medicine Institute of NOLS and National Outdoor Leadership School.

Still somehow she finds the time to mentor me, answering even the smallest question, whether a running question or helping me plan a day long clinic based off of her trail running camp. Once I sent her a message asking for some input, her reply was that she would love to help me, but it would have to wait a couple of weeks since she was on her way to Morocco for a race!

I am sad to report, this will be the last year that she will wear the squid hat at trail camp. An operation like this cannot be an easy task. Her energy to teach and training as a world-class runner on top of being a mother to 2 small children is amazing, but she feels it is time to move forward.

Her impact on trail running will last for years to come, both through the one on one teaching 12096110_968416266532786_2936749125802329052_nshe does and through those she has taught at trail camp. My personal aspiration is to live up to her example as a mentor. While I may never achieve the impact that she has, I will still strive to. Even if it hurts, we all hurt so I might as well enjoy the pain and smile through it.

Of Inspiration

Much has been written to inspire and about inspiration, but one thing that I haven’t seen much of is the duty to ourselves.  We should open up our minds and allow others to inspire us.  As a runner I have had people tell me that they will only run if a bear is chasing them, (I’m so sick of hearing this cliche). What if these people allowed themselves to be inspired by others running? Just imagine what they might be able to accomplish.

Many people look to the podium for inspiration, but I look beyond that. Some of the best stories of overcoming are at the back of the pack. The ones who were told that it would be impossible to finish, yet kept going. Those people inspired me as much as the ones who place. The tortoise was more dedicated than the rabbit, that is why we know the story.

I am a sucker for any inspirational story, even one not related to running. My book shelf is filled with stories of people who were injured and overcame, people who got a rough start in life and despite the situation they went on to become great inspiration to others.  img_3720

There is a common thread in all of these stories, they allowed themselves to be inspired. They are more than willing to tell you who it was and how. Knowing who it is that helped them makes the story more personal, more achievable to others.

In the near future, I will start what I hope to become a regular series here, I will post interviews with people who have inspired me. Some of these people you may have heard of, some you may never see their name as a first place finisher, but all have pushed me in various ways. I have had several commit already and one has already answered my questions, so soon it will begin.


You are what you take in

As runners, most of us pay close attention to what we eat. We know that each meal is fuel for the next training run or workout. Myself, I feel the difference when I haven’t been eating right. My mental state goes down, I don’t want to train. If I go too long eating junk foods, then I will fall into a pit of laziness.

Have you ever put any thought into what your eyes and ears take in? They can affect our attitudes as much or possibly more than some foods. It may not be as noticeable as bad foods, but it can slowly wear on your psyche, draining energy. Attitudes, whether good or bad,  tends to breed upon themselves.

Recently, I have taken some time to reflect on the past few years of my life. While running has been the biggest change by providing me with a confidence and fitness, the next big change was the people I associate with. It’s true that physical exercise will cause a psychological change, but surrounding yourself with positive individuals will contribute also. Running has opened doors to allow me to surround myself with just such people, ones that I would never have met had it not been for running.

I look at some of the groups that I use to spend time with and I can see so much untapped potential. The bad attitudes, the feelings of being owed something, they all over power what could be. All of these thought patterns breed off each other and start a deadly downward spiral.

Many of these people could be contributing to their communities in positive ways. Several had the potential to be great leaders, but they let the negatives around their lives consume them. Goals were almost non-existent. There were no real future plans, just what was happening the following weekend. Big goals and dreams were scoffed at. It was as if a goal was just another plan for failure so why bother trying?

These attitudes seem to turn into an infection of apathy. This infection spreads to everyone in the group without anyone realizing or caring about what has happened. Passive concern of anything beyond the immediate is rare.

By contrast, in the running community, there is constant encouragement. The last one to cross the finish line is still a finisher and still deserves the encouragement that the winner received. How can a person not improve when they are constantly encouraged and expected to? When there is a set back, there is no degrading, only sympathy and suggestions.

There is a general interest in others and their goals. Passions are shared and encouraged. When I’ve said that I’d like to try new distances, no one scoffed; instead they encouraged and, at times, escorted me in these new ambitions.

The people we choose to surround ourselves with are the ones we will become. In a strange way, those we associate with are a reflection of our life goals and our own ambitions. Why would you make your reflection into such a negative?

Pushing Your Limits

At almost every race I’ve been to, I have seen people who were obviously broken and emotional. You can see it in their eyes, there is a lost look on their face. They stare off into the distance, oblivious to the bustle going on around them. Their eyes are glazed over, they move delicately. Some have finisher’s medals, some have tears, but all have a new appreciation for themselves and what they can accomplish.

These are the people who have my respect, above those on the podium. The runners who come in completely broken down, who have pushed themselves to a point that they never thought possible. When you look into their eyes, you can tell. It’s like they have scared the hell out of themselves and somehow in the process, they have learned what it truly means to live life to the fullest.

There are many things to fear, but fear of preconceived limits is the worst. We have no reason to think that we can’t do something, we just need proof of what is possible. Maybe these false notions of our limits come from others, after all negativity tends to rub off and multiply. These near zombies that I see at the finish line have ignored the limiters and naysayers. They have gone out and looked for that magical wall for themselves. This deserves nothing but respect and admiration.

For centuries we have celebrated great explorers, men who scaled the highest peaks, drove into the unknown forests or sailed off to the vast oceans, not knowing when or if they would ever return. We’ve idolized humans who have driven the boundaries of technology further than we thought we could ever achieve. I think that we should put the people who have explored their personal limits, and perhaps moved them, on the same pedestal.

There are times when a person hits a limit that they cannot overcome, the mental or physical demands are just too much. The task is just too strenuous to overcome. They scratch and claw to get past it, but to no avail. Some would see this as a failure, but is it failing when you have found what you’re looking for?

This journey is one of the most personal, internal struggles we face. Others can guide us or they go on their own journey that parallels ours, but in the end we must face these barriers on our own. We can have mentors counsel us, but the deep, dark trenches of our minds are our own territory to battle through.

The beauty of watching someone push these limits is that you get to see a newer, greater version of that person emerge.  It’s not like looking at a baby, who is a blank slate, full of possibilities. It’s much deeper than that. Like an entirely new soul being built from the ashes and recycled materials of the old one.

If done right, this is a never ending process. We will continue to push our internal limits, growing and evolving in the process. When we do find that point that cannot be overcome, that permanent boundary, we just turn and go another direction finding another way around that wall.

So the ones who are brought to tears at the finish line, whether of pain or of joy, are the ones who deserve our respect. The ones who limp in long after the awards are over, after the winner is home, they are the true victors.