Liza Howard just keeps going. Whether she’s racing 100 miles on foot (she came in second at this year’s Leadville Trail 100 Run), braving interstate travel with a sick kid, or battling an injury, her perseverance sees her through. Howard, who documents her adventures in running and motherhood on her blog, LizaHoward.com, and who lives and trains in San Antonio, TX, shares with us a few of her secrets of survival.
Your stomach was not kind to you during this year’s Leadville Trail 100. How did you summon the mental and physical strength to keep going… and going?
Like most folks who line up at the start of a 100-mile race, I planned to finish the race unless an injury forced me to stop. I'd hoped and planned to take a lot less than 30 hours to finish, but I was ready to be out there that long. Making the decision to run until the cutoff before a race makes it a lot easier to keep going when things get rough. I won't start a race if I'm not willing to run until a cutoff. I also had wonderful friends who had traveled to Leadville to help me run and I was determined to do the best I could to honor their support. And my five-year-old son was out there. I didn't want him to see me give up. AND I was wearing a Team Red, White & Blue shirt. Team RWB supports veterans struggling with reintegration and their eagle emblem kept my discomfort in perspective. Not finishing wasn't an option -- unless I was physically broken. I admit I did fantasize about breaking an ankle a bit around Turquoise Lake after the second hour of vomiting. :)
Did you expect to better your 2010 time, or was that a complete surprise?
I certainly hoped to run a lot faster than I did in 2010.
You’ve had your share of injuries & illnesses. What are your secrets for not getting discouraged and staying patient during the recovery process?
I still get plenty discouraged and impatient, but the more I run, the easier it is to take the long view. One race or one race season doesn't make or define a runner. Injury and recovery is part of running and learning to be a better runner. Reading about other runner's experiences dealing with injuries has also really helped me keep my injuries in perspective.
You combine two passions – ultra running and motherhood – in your blog. How well do the two fit together in real life? How does running (and your devotion to this sport) affect your perspective on motherhood?
I am a nicer person and better mother because I run and am part of the ultrarunning community. Running calms me and balances my moods -- and leaves me too tired to overreact to lots of small stressors inherent in having a five-year-old. Like all moms, I couldn't train for ultras without my family's support. And like all moms, I always feel guilty about taking time away from my family to train and race. Some days I perform the balancing act a lot better than others.
I think motherhood affects my perspective on ultrarunning more than the other way around. The life lessons you teach your child are hard to ignore -- especially when they're repeated back to you constantly. "But Mom, you said it doesn't matter if you win. It only matters how hard you try." I do think parents of young children have a slight advantage over other runners in a 100-mile race. Quitting is not an option as a parent. There is no DNF option during a regular day -- regardless of tantrums or whining or spilled milk. Moms and dads are perfectly practiced at the "keep on keeping on" necessary to finish an ultra. When my son, Asa, was younger, running was really an escape from struggling with the reality of a mother's day. Running 100-miles through the night was easier than facing a colicky baby whom I couldn't sooth. It was fun in comparison. That perspective has stayed with me.
What are your favorite things to do in the off-season?
Living in Texas, we don't have much of an off-season. Most of our big races here take place October through March and then we start training for all the big summer races in cooler parts if the country. It's hard not to keep training and racing throughout the year. I work as a field instructor for the National Outdoor Leadership School and month-long backpacking courses serve as my off-season.
Because you also work as a coach, how do you recommend runners spend their winter training time in order to come back stronger and faster when race season starts up again?
You know, it really depends on the individual. Some folks really benefit from the mental and physical break from running during their off-season. We focus on other activities they enjoy, so they maintain their fitness and come back to running fresh and healthy. For some it's a time to focus on improving nutrition or strength or particular aspects of their running. Whatever the particular preference, the outcome should be an excitement and eagerness to return to training and racing when the season starts again.
What are your running goals for 2013?
I would like to better my 100-mile PR and break 15 hours. I'd also really like to run the Badwater Ultramarathon this year if I can raise the funds to enter. It's one race that'd be pretty easy to train for here in South Texas. I'd like to race a lot more this year in general. I don't like racing and I figure the only way to get over that is to race more. Above all, I'd like to run well to bring more attention to Team Red, White & Blue and the good work they're doing introducing returning combat veterans to the trail running community.
Any chance you’ll be back to rock the LT100 in 2013?
I would love to run Leadville in 2013.