Here in our small town of Shepherdstown, West Virginia you will find truly amazing people with their own amazing personal stories. So please enjoy this fun and inspiring interview with Two Rivers Treads’ leading ladies, Diana Gorham and Sheri Fiolek, who finished the Burning River 100 miler in Ohio on August 3. If anyone tells you something is impossible, they are wrong. Diane (wearing purple top in photo) and Sheri succeeded because they run level, they run smart, they have the support and love of their amazingly supportive families and pacers, and they smile. Both met their goals in the Ohio ultra: Sheri finished in 26 hours and Diana in 27 hours. Sleep well and recover ladies.
Q: When did you start running races and why?
Sheri: I started running ultras in 2009. I was running on the trails for so many hours a week just for fun so I figured I might as well do one of these races. I signed up for the Catoctin 50K, which was brutal, but I was hooked.
Di: I started running races when I turned thirty. I was overweight and worried about getting older and being unfit. So I signed up for a charity 5k .Chris, my better half, laughed at me and told me I’d never finish it. I did have a particularly funny gait at the time (you know how a chicken runs right?) His teasing was like a red rag to a bull, and I am ever thankful for it. I started a run/walk plan and ran my first race which ended up being a 8 mile hill race on the beautiful South Downs (where we lived in the UK) and was forever hooked.
Q: What made you want to run a 100 mile race and what was your longest race before this one?
Sheri: I knew I could finish a 100 miler and would regret it if I never attempted it. I thrive on setting goals to test my limits. There were too many snow days this winter and I was getting antsy stuck indoors so was looking at races. I asked my friend Diana, “Will you do it if I do it?” I ran “Hellgate” on December 14th. It started at 12:00 midnight on Friday the 13th and was 66.6 miles. So I had run through most of the night before, and had gotten to the point where pretty much every step hurt, so I knew what I was in for. Of course I also said to myself at that race “I will never do a 100 miler.”
Di: I was a marathon runner when I moved out here from the UK. I loved tracking my times and was training 100 miles a week at one point but then thanks to the wonderful running friends I have made here in WV was introduced to the lighter side of life– trail running. I ran my first trail ultra (race of more than 26.2 miles) by accident really. My great friend and partner in crime Sheri and her husband Jeff crewed for me at Seneca Creek Trail Marathon and somehow they convinced me to keep going and complete the 50k. It all escalated from there, each challenge met brings the question: what more can I do if I let my mind believe it possible? The best thing is I get to have fun with the best people while testing my limits.
Q: How did you train leading up to the Burning River 100 miler?
Sheri: It varied. I loosely followed the training plan from “Relentless Forward Progress” by Bryon Powell and ran anywhere from 20 miles a week to maybe 70 miles per week. I followed a periodization plan where I gradually built up my miles and then always allowed for a recovery week. Most important was making sure I got in a long run on the weekend, which varied from 10 miles to 50 miles. I included long races as a part of my training.
Di: My longest event before this was the 24 hour A.T.R back in May. I ran for just over 22 ½ hours and made 75 miles, which was great prep for Burning River. In the past I’ve stuck rigidly to training plans and I believe that they really help with confidence on race day. Nowadays life is a little more crazy being a Mom of 4- and 6-year old girls and part time manager at Two Rivers Treads (“The World’s Greatest Shoe Store!”). Training has to be squeezed in. My main focus is a long run on Sundays, a night run once a week, yoga wherever possible, and a few miles here and there. Races are a great way to prep too. I did my 24 hour race and the beautiful Highland Sky 40 miler this summer, all great for working out nutrition and kit issues.
Q: You both are busy with jobs and family. How did you fit it in?
Sheri: I have an awesome husband. I was on a 50 mile training run and called him when I was at mile 44 and said, “Honey, I am almost to Harpers Ferry, I am afraid it will get dark on me, and it looks like it might rain…” . I was hoping he would offer to come and pick me up, but instead he said “You’ll make it” and hung up. Not because he’s mean, but because he knew I could. He has more faith in me than I have in myself sometimes. He has encouraged me all along. I fit in the running whenever I can! I run as late as 9:15 at night with my H.U.R.T. friends (Harpers Ferry Ultra Running Team). On Sundays I get up as early at 5:30 am to get my long run in so I still have family time.
Di: My husband Chris and my girls are incredibly supporting of my training and plying me with bacon jerky and smiles that keep me going.
Q: Who were you main supporters for this?
Sheri: We are so lucky in this area to have “you” offering free running analysis, injury prevention, and running clinics. So thank you! My husband Jeff is a multiple 100 miler finisher as well. He has helped me tremendously with everything from gear to training plans. I would probably still be running in cotton if it wasn’t for him. My running buddies from H.U.R.T. make hitting the trails just plain fun. A great running group who support and encourage each other makes all the difference. A friend Bill Susa had done this specific race before and had a BBQ and took the time to go over the entire course with me and some other runners doing the race. The running community here is supportive and amazing. My buddy Ramone paced me for the last 29 miles of the race, that’s a great friend! My family is awesome. My parents came out to my race to help watch our 8-year-old son Jackson. Jackson frequently volunteers at running events. He sometimes gets confused at home and calls lunch “the Aid Station.”
Di: Sarah Hodder (superstar pacer , colleague, and best of all friend) saw me through the dark hours and kept me going even when I was hallucinating giant toy dogs and wooden waffles in the woods. Jeff Fiolek is crew master extraordinaire whose own 100 mile experience and attention to detail proved invaluable. You also taught me how to run in a more forgiving way for my body. I’m not sure how many steps I took but I’m sure glad I wasn’t heel striking
Sheri: My plan was to go at a pace that I felt I could keep all day. Eat, drink, and enjoy the run! I thought of it as a journey. It didn’t change much. The only thing I wasn’t prepared for was the hallucinations, but I had to just convince myself that the giant boa constrictors were not really there.
Di: Get to the end inside the 30 hour limit. Run within myself, find that “run all day” kind of pace, and walk the hills. Later in the race I used run/walk strategies to get through those dips in motivation.
Q: Were there times in the event you doubted you could do it?
Sheri: I never once doubted that I would finish. My mind was so set on the fact that I could do this, that I didn’t let it even go there.
Di: No. I believe that our bodies can do the most amazing things if we just believe. Nothing is impossible. I knew I had fantastic support and people who believe in me, so a DNF (Do Not Finish) was never an option.
Q: Tell us how you ate leading up to this and during the event?
Sheri: I have really cut out most sugar and bread products. The carbo load is out for me now. I ate hard-boiled eggs and salmon the night before. OK, and a beer, and a couple Doritos, I am human. During the event I fueled with Tailwind, which is newer product. It is calories and electrolytes added to your water. I ate Larabars, potatoes dipped in salt, watermelon, grilled cheese, pizza, soup broth, and bananas at the aid stations. It is difficult at times to keep up the calories your body so badly needs.
Di: I follow a paleo kind of diet: lots of veggies, lots of bacon, eggs, healthy meat, avocado, red wine, chocolate, but no bread or processed sugars. My two little girls call it the goo diet and constantly remind me when I eat the wrong things. The day after a race, I have a great excuse to eat whatever I want.
Q: What do you like most about running and what would you share with someone who is beginning or wanting to take it up?
Sheri: I love trail running, being out in nature, testing my limits, and the comraderie of my running group. If you are a beginning runner I suggest finding some people around your pace and at least once a week have a friend group training run. Hold each other accountable for showing up. Start out slow and very gradually increase your mileage allowing for rebuilding breaks. You don’t have to do 100 miles. Just have fun with it.
Di: It’s hard to pick one thing. The friends running has brought are some of the best people I know. Also it lifts my mood and makes me a better happier person. I would say to all newbies that we all started somewhere and to not worry about where you are now but dream about where you could be. Stick out the tough times. You can improve so quickly. Give it a go it may just change your life.
Q: Any “secrets” of wisdom to share?
Sheri: If you put in the training, have fun, and gradually build up your running, anything is possible. I never thought I could do this. The human body is capable of amazing things. I talked with lots of runners during the race to pass the time. One gentleman in his 60s was on his 7th hundred miler of the year. Talk about amazing. Making it fun for you is what is most important. That might mean being with friends, taking pictures along the way, or doing yoga on the mountain top.
Di: Love what you do, hit the trails, and never look back.