"It is our choices that show what we really are." J.K. Rowling
Borrowing an idea from my friend, Danielle DePass O'Connell, I recently asked my daughter to find a quote that would speak to her in her times of utter frustration. How impressed was I when the quote above was her discovery? That she would find a quote that encompasses not just a supportive statement for a time of need, but that speaks to a philosophy to which she can turn to drive all of her decisions, was more than I had hoped for, surely. That it also creates such a clear understanding of how her actions will shape her identity and how experiences will guide her social identity; she has her first taste of the expertise my guest this month embodies.
Lourdes Gutierrez Kellem was faced with the decisions that plague young mothers. How do I as a mom with small children make time for me, so that I have enough of me left over to offer to this little child? How can I take care of myself while taking care of them? Running became her refuge. Waking early morning for 5 am runs allowed her the time to get her exercise in while simultaneously working through projects for her architectural firm. Sunday runs with her buddy, strollers in tow, allowed her to push her boundaries a bit further. Her running partner and she decided to train for a marathon. They trained and ran, but Lourdes knew herself well enough to know this was the start of her finding a new passion. She continued to run marathons. Seeking locations that would be attractive destinations for the family, she combined family vacations and her vocation, to help get the family involved in her sport as well. When her family moved to Australia in early 2010, it was the first time in 15 years that she did not have to work, she began devoting more time to running. After 30 plus marathons, she was ready to try the next level.
Enter, FAT ASS runs in Australia. According to the website these are longer races that are organized strictly by volunteers and other passionate runners and are organized on the basis of, "No fees, No Awards, No aid, No Wimps". When work relocated them again to Calgary, Canada, she put her aspirations to run a 100 K on pause to find some new running partners. Now in the mountains, she had to retrain not just her body, but her brain. To "run" this kind of terrain, it takes a combination of hiking, running, and walking. She had to train to eat during a course, a new concept. Pork chops, burgers, rice bowls, are all common fare. Some runners use shot blocks (concentrated jelly like blocks with electrolytes, nutrients and calories) but for Lourdes, only real food works. Over all she was surprised at the new pace, and she would come home and run another 5 miles to feel as if she got in her workout. She took almost a year to retrain this way. She signed up for a 125K. It was 25 K more than she had done in the past. To get ready she decided to up the intensity on herself. After a 50 miler, she did a combination of three 50-milers in six weeks and two 50- milers back to back. For her it has always been about pushing to the next level and finding inspriation. She sets goals for herself like doing a Winter Ultra, (100 miles in the frozen tundra of Alaska pulling 30 pounds on a sled at temperatures 30 below zero). Another goal was to complete a 100-miler under 30 hours (most are 36 hours). To get to the end of 100 miles, it is 90% mental, says Kellem. The first time she did such a race, she thought, “Oh I can't take another step," upon finishing. After a few, she was able to get up and run 10 miles the next day. The courses need to inspire something in Lourdes. “There's a 100 miler in the Florida Keys.” Kellam says. "Just shoot me, I don't want to run 100 miles on flat ground. You might as well be on a treadmill, right?"
Lourdes also finds strength in the community of the sport. She volunteers to pace her training buddies in races for which they sign up. Recently she had a two friends who signed up for a race. One of them was a stronger runner, but the other one wanted to finish. In these races, desire discriminates among those who are prepared. 60 miles in, everything starts to hurt. "What did you think?... It’s going to suck," says Kellem. So for everyone who participates, they are battling their own worst demons and it can be your friends who pull you to the finish. These courses are less about racing and more about checking off a bucket list line item for many people. "Not even like an event, but a life moment." But the ultra runners do also urge each other on and watch out for each other. When you pass someone who looks like they could use some help, it is common to check in with them. Also at the pace they maintain, they are able to talk and communicate and grow close to each other over several miles and hours. Lourdes says she has seen people moving at a pace of less than 3 miles per hour. But the individual got herself to the next aid station, ate, and her crew urged her to keep going and to not quit, and she was able to finish the run. It is not about “you”, but it is also about the people you place around you for such an experience. Lourdes confesses many things motivate her to cross a finish line. Mostly she feels grateful on the day of the race and gleans courage and support from others. Anger can also creep into her emotions if she questions herself on a course. She remembers all the hours she spent away from her family, and all the training and all the support and sacrifices made by others to get her there; and that will press her forward sometimes too. "People just don't understand what they can overcome if they push, if they really try... And for every time that you go out and even fail, even a training run, you learn something."
But for Lourdes it is also about the mountains. She does it because she loves this terrain and she because she gets to explore places that not everyone gets to see. Being a part of her natural surroundings and being one of the select few who will see the backcountry, whether snow- and ice-covered as some back-country skiers will, or in its bare elegant green mossy beauty. Always an appreciator of beauty, dating from her architectural work, she will often "see" parts of the courses that others just pass right over. Her memories of the Gorge Waterfall 100 K read like a fantasy poem:
We were running
under old growth tree cover for most of the race
everything was green & lush
fresh & gorgeous
... was palpable
Bright green ferns everywhere
and when the trail popped out onto one of the many rock fields
bright green moss covered the rocks
reminding me -- Of the Trolls in "Frozen"
was beyond beautiful
To say nothing of The Falls
swollen from weeks of rain
& sprayed us ... kept us on task
No ultra runner is a stranger to injury either. A few years ago on the Iron Horse, 60 kilometers in to a 100K race, Lourdes broke her leg. She says she knew what she had done at the instant in happened. The next day the doctor asked her, "Well what did you do." She said, "I finished." To her it never occurred to her to stop, she did not start to not finish. She has had a broken toe that she knows needs an operation and has put that off for two years.
And yet at 48, she is enjoying the best times and placements that she has yet accomplished. Last September she did come in first place for her age group at IMTUF 100. She did it with no pacers. She had lined up three people to pace her, but they all bowed out. So that became the challenge; 15 hours of driving by herself each way. “The race was not the problem, could I actually spend 15 hours by myself,” that was the challenge. The race includes 22,000 feet of ascents and descents through the Salmon River Mountains of Idaho. To add to the challenge, she put her daughter in charge of choosing the CD’s for the car ride and she ended up with Ricky Martin and Mama Mia and a bunch that were not her style. “Poor Ricky, I almost threw him out the window.” But she had been compelled by her friend , who told her how empowered she would be if she did it on her own. In the end, she placed 5th place of all females, she was most empowered by the fact that she “pulled up her bootstraps and got it done.” Returning to Calgary, she recalled:
as i hit Scarcee
None at the finish of the race - i cussed then, damn 5 miles of road
killing my piriformis
as i saw Calgary
i knew, i had done it
6 days alone -- 30 hours driven, 100 miles run
all on my own
would i have
imagined -- that i had the Inner Strength for that
glad others believed in me
& pushed me to go
... i was ready
When intimating this, she became humble, and says, “It's not like I am making the world a better place…” But I stopped her. It was easy to observe all the service she does for others, given the motivation she leant to others, pacing 40 K to help a friend, and even volunteering for races like the Calgary Marathon. There is also an explanation for her altruism. There is strong empirical support that when people experience awe it helps them to shift from a narrow self-serving focus to a broader interest in the groups to which they belong which in turn helps to build cohesive communities. For example, in one study 1500 people across the U.S. We're asked questions based on the amount of awe they experienced recently in their lives. In another part of the study, the subjects were told 10 lottery tickets were held in their own name, however they were told that they could keep their ticket or give it to others in the study who were not given tickets. People who were rich in awe-experiences from the questionnaire gave approximately 40% more tickets away to strangers than the awe-deprived. The researchers were able to explain some of the effects were based on the evidence that people who experience awe regularly see themselves more humbly and in a larger context of the world and their surroundings. Lourdes’ very awesome experiences have in fact wired her to be less self-centered. You can imagine what the whole community offers to each other if the above is the case. How mistaken we are to think that our internal status cultivates our outward presentation? Rather, our actions can actually influence our perceptions and it is with that which we reflect upon the world.
Lourdes had just finished Sinister 7, a 100 mile course through the Alberta Rockies when we spoke. She ran leg 1 and 2 (of 7) on a team and paced her buddy Theresa, who soloed, on legs 5 and 6. Only about 40% of the soloists finish this prestigious course named from the Seven Sister Mountain that towers over much of the course. Lourdes does not get inspired by this course. But she did enjoy being there to help Theresa when she was at her lowest and pulling her out of that rut, and seeing her finish the course under 30 hours.
In the last 5 years Lourdes has completed over 50 Ultras. Reaping what she sows and experiencing the awe of these terrains, inspires her to grow stronger, go further, and support this ultra-community. Every time she laces up her shoes and decides to hit the trail, Lourdes' adventures take her to new heights of fitness and stretch her enduring altruism.
To see photos of Lourdes on her courses, click here and follow her on Instagram @lourdes_gutiklm.