An Ultra Runner Revealed (Part 1)

Less than a year ago I didn’t even know what Ultra Running was – or that people did such a thing for fun! Throughout the last year I have been diving deeper and deeper into running – I want to read about it, learn it, and live it! BUT there was a gap in the information I was finding…I quickly noticed that MOST information available about “Women’s” running was all written by MEN. So, I hopped on Amazon and searched for anything and everything on running for women by women…this is how I learned about ultra-running as a sport. I read Rachel Toor’s book, Personal Record, and was amazed that someone could make running 100’s of miles sound…dare I say…FUN!
 
I was hooked on learning more about this sport – but unfortunately there isn’t a whole lot out there written by women for women on the topic. A few months ago I discovered that there is a treasure trove of ultra running information and even MENTORING right at my fingertips. Right here in Okinawa are some amazing women ultra runners, athletes, mother-runners, triathletes – you name it and they have done it – all members of a running group called WOOT!
 
In this blog I would like to introduce to you Anna Boom (one of the founders of WOOT). An amazing woman, wife, mother of two beautiful girls and an ultra-runner!
 
I think there is some sort of veil of mystique about ultra-runners and the act of ultra-running…I hope this can help pull back the curtain a bit!
 
Take it away Anna!

Hi. I have been athletic most of my life, which stemmed from parents who both jogged and ate healthy foods. Having that as my role model, kept me moving too, even though I didn’t realize it until I was much older. This is one of the top reasons I love seeing other moms get out there and kick it. The positive influence you are having on your child’s life may not be apparent at this moment, just like in any important lessons in life, but it will be there, in your child’s mind forever.

I was not always a runner, but I have played a variety of sports throughout my younger years. In high school, I played varsity tennis and received scholarships to play in college. At that time, it seemed agonizing to go out and run even a mile.

One day, while still in college at Hawaii, I decided to go and run. I was running away, honestly, from everything for just a bit: boyfriends, homework, upcoming graduation, the future. I climbed to the top of a hill and looked at the beauty around me: the sky was crystal clear blue and wide open, the ocean was never ending and every plant around me was green and in bloom. Perhaps it was my first runner’s high? I was hooked although I had to walk part of the way back home.

After moving to Okinawa in my mid 20s, I began to focus only on running. I still played a lot of tennis but loved the solitude that long runs provided. I remember my first hour long run; I was so proud of myself.

Since then, I have run many marathons, all over the Ryukyu Islands. My first marathon was the Iheya Moonlight Marathon. I had flown in from Quantico the night before the race, took the ferry over in the morning and started running at 6 pm. The first half was incredible; I passed people left and right. Then, around mile 20 (this is going to sound very familiar to any marathon runner) I started to fall apart: I needed the bathroom and couldn’t find one, I was tired, aching and dehydrated, my mind had let go of finishing the race. But, I kept going, and finished, and even placed in my age group. At the post race party, I celebrated along with all the runners for a beautiful course, helpful volunteers and on a job well done. And let me tell you, Japanese athletes know how to celebrate a job well done!

After getting a few more marathons under my belt, Naha, Okinawa City, Yoron, I picked up triathlons. I was already biking to work because I couldn’t afford a car so I thought, why not?

My first triathlon was an Olympic distance at Torii. I was so far behind on the swim, the paddlers were yelling at me to swim straight, and I ended up one of the last out of the water and crying. Oh yes. Defeat was right there in front of me, but I stripped off my wetsuit, transitioned to my mountain bike and rode. Then I got to the run and ran my heart out and had a great day.

Since then, I went on to complete the Miyako Strongman and IronMan multiple times. I was lucky enough to participate in the 25th anniversary of IronMan Kona. It was a once in a lifetime achievement for me.

After Kona, I gave up triathlon racing. It came down to time management. I am married to an ultra supportive guy (this is a must-have for any ultra running woman), we were planning on starting our family and I was working full time. I did not want to spend all my time riding and swimming anymore and did not miss doing those things at all. But running, well that I missed more than anything. So what to do? Pick up ultra running of course!

During both pregnancies, I ran throughout all the way up to delivery. A week post delivery, I had the babies strapped into their car seats, which were strapped into the jog stroller. Both girls have spent many hours watching the world whiz by while mommy happily pushed them along.

After the birth of our second daughter, I returned to running with a passion and decided to try an ultra marathon. An ultra is anything beyond the official 42.2KM marathon distance. You will find all kinds of distances, terrains and places that host ultras. Here in Okinawa, Miyakojima has a 50/100Km road ultra every January.

At that point in our lives, the logistics of packing up two little baby girls and traveling to race all day was unrealistic so my friend and I decided we would set up our own ultra, running from Kadena Gate 1 to Okuma. We woke up every Saturday and Sunday around 3:30 or 4:00AM to go out and run the flight line of Kadena, around and around. On race day, we started running at midnight and made it to Okuma around 10:30 in the morning. My husband set up a kiddie pool filled with ice and handed us an ice cold Guinness. Our families were there to celebrate our crazy running lives. And after taking a long nap with my daughters, I felt happy and satisfied with myself and on completing my first ultra.

Although it felt like a great accomplishment, the pain of running that far on pavement almost ended my ultra running. It hurt. A lot. I started looking into running trails more and more. I had learned of a few trails back in my mountain biking days so I invited a few friends to join me for a recon run. One of my best friendships soon developed as Jannine and I clicked running on trails and on road.

The feeling of running on trail is freedom. It takes me back to a time when I was a kid, just going wild. I don’t wear a watch, or GPS device or heart rate monitor on trail. I go and run, rain, shine or wind. It is incredible to be able to feel that in my life filled with answering smart phones and driving cars and folding laundry.

I started wondering if there were other women around besides Jannine and me who would want to come out and run on trail. Over coffee, we decided to give it go. I put an ad in the local paper and on OkinawaHai.com. We had about 6 email replies and one great suggestion of starting a FaceBook group. That is how WOOT, Women on Okinawa Trail began a little over a year ago. We are at 220 members as of today, and that makes me so happy. Every Saturday morning we meet to run; a fabulous group of women of all speeds, capabilities and stages in life. My best friendships have developed from our group.

One of our core members, Kathleen, posted on the WOOT wall to see if there was interest in running 100Km trail race in Mongolia with her. Craziness, right?! I waited for the right moment to ask my husband if I could go, knowing that he would have to take care of the two girls alone, while I was out running some distance, somewhere in the world.

For my ultra training, I consistently ran in the rain throughout the months of April, May and June. Every Saturday and Sunday early morning, I logged many waterlogged, lonely hours and miles. At the heaviest point in training, my schedule had back to back 4-5 hour runs.

In July, a group of seven women traveled together to Mongolia and ran the Sunrise to Sunset trail marathon and 100Km. Starting the race, I had no expectation except to finish. It was the longest I had ever raced and on a terrain like nothing I had seen before. Absolutely stunning! After 14 hours and 100 kilometers, I came in first woman, fifth overall. And happy and wanting more.

After we returned home to Okinawa, we began to plan our next ultra racing trip together to New Zealand. Our friend, Jannine is a Kiwi and found a stunning 60/85/100Km trail race, the Tarawera Ultra, a few hours south of Auckland. We all signed up and starting training together for our March race. Five of us ran hour after hour on the gravel farm roads and trails of Yomitan in preparation. We each had our iThings loaded with playlists and audio books for the times we ran alone. Two of our girlfriends were even traveled from Alaska and Illinois to meet us. They trained throughout the winter months in preparation.

The Tarawera ultra was the most difficult race I have run. The terrain was mentally tough and physically tiring as it was full of rocks and roots and climbed high into the bush. I rolled my ankle around the 25Km point and had to drop at the first finish, the 60Km, even though I trained to run the 100Km and had hoped to use it as a Western States 100 qualifier. Hobbling along, I cried and said goodbye to that dream for the moment. Like anything that defeats you, I learned much. In order to compete, I must run many hills on trail and run them hard.

My next race is Sept 17, 2011 in Fairbanks AK. The Equinox 50KM, WOOT!

“The body achieves what the mind believes.”

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5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jannine Myers
    May 08, 2011 @ 19:21:52

    Love this! What I love about Anna’s passion for running is that it is contagious – she not only loves to run but she loves to share her love of running with others.

    Nice Sarah.

    Reply

  2. Amy
    May 08, 2011 @ 19:43:24

    I love WOOT and I love Anna! I was in Mongolia with her and she made the 100K look easy. I have never been more confident as a woman and a runner than during my time with WOOT. Women unite and support one another!

    Reply

  3. Anna
    May 08, 2011 @ 20:11:04

    That may be the coolest URL in history, Sarah!

    Reply

    • There She Goes
      May 08, 2011 @ 20:14:24

      Thanks Anna!!!! Hey – I updated the WOOT and MENTORSHIP words in my intro to be links to the FB pages. Let me know if there are any other links you would like for me to add! I hope you enjoyed doing this write up as much as I enjoyed publishing it and being a part of it! Can’t wait to be back on the trails w/ WOOT!

      Reply

  4. Aimee
    May 09, 2011 @ 20:25:09

    One word…..Inspiring.

    Reply

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