It’s a pleasure to share the amazing story of Two Rivers Treads very own Sarah Hodder who in addition to helping community runners every day, achieved a rare ultra-running feat in 2017. Sarah not only tamed the BEAST series, she was the top female finisher!
Tell us a little about your sports/athletic background before finding running
Growing up as a kid, I was always running around outside and played all kinds of sports up until I was in High School. I played everything from Softball, Soccer, to Gymnastics. High School came and I moved to West Virginia and stopped playing all sports. I didn’t like running, though and never did it unless I had to for any other sports.
How did you discover your love for running?
For me, running never started out as a love relationship. I always struggled with running. But when I went on my first trail run, it really changed everything for me. Running always felt like a chore. I’ve dealt with anxiety for a number of years. My anxiety had gotten to a place in my life where it was hard to deal with daily tasks. It was hard to even get out of bed a lot of days. I was trying to find some way to cope with it when I went on my first trail run. There was just something about being outside in nature that really clicked with me. Running on the trails, I was able to detach myself from the anxiety. It was just the nature, my breathing and my steps and that’s when I got hooked. I started to notice that everyday I got to run outside, my anxiety was much easier to cope with. That’s when I really began to love running and what it can do for everyone.
Tell us about your first race
My first race was the 2012 Cougar Challenge 5k at Sam Michaels Park. I ran it with a group of my friends and was probably one of the last people to finish the race. But it was the most incredible feeling to set a goal for myself that I was able to accomplish. My best friend Paul and I trained for the race and got to run through the finish line together which was really special.
When was your first ultra and what inspired you to do it?
My first ultra was the Seashore Nature Trail 50k in December 2013. I was surrounded by crazy people running crazy distances in crazy locations and wanted to see what I could do. I had finished a half marathon but didn’t really have a desire to run a road marathon. So I decided I wanted to push myself and try a 50k. I didn’t have any faith in myself that I could actually do it (which I still feel anytime I sign up for any race), so I wanted to make sure I found a flat course that wasn’t technical to increase my chances of finishing.
How did you come to working in specialty running retail?
It happened by chance, really. I had gotten shoes at Two Rivers Treads in town and had a great experience and so I liked their FaceBook page. Then I noticed one day they posted that they were looking for help and so I pestered the store at least once a week until they decided to interview me and give me a job. I’m hooked now. It’s a really great industry with lots of inspiring people who do such great things for their communities.
What is the most enjoyable part of the job at Two Rivers Treads? the most challenging or difficult?
The most enjoyable part of my job is the people. I get to be surrounded by a sport that I am so passionate about and get to help our community push themselves to set new goals and help them reach them. I love the excitement a customer gets when they talk about what running has done for them. The most challenging or difficult part is probably taking my bias out of decision making.
What is the BEAST series and what inspired you to enter this?
The Beast Series is a series of 6 races spread throughout the year. It starts with a really flat 50k in February, then two really technical, mountainous 50ks in March and April. Then in October there’s Grindstone 100, Mountain Masochist 50 miler in November and Hellgate 100k in December. Honestly, I don’t know what inspired me to do this. I had heard a friend of mine that had done it a handful of years ago and thought that she had to be completely out of her mind. I also always told myself that I would NEVER do Grindstone because I truly didn’t think I was capable of finishing it. But I wanted to get better and knew that if I didn’t set a crazy goal for myself that I didn’t think was possible, that I would never train for it. For me, if a race seems impossible, that’s the only way I’m really able to push myself to do the work. The fact that less than 20 females have finished it in the 10 years it’s been going on didn’t hurt, either.
Which of the events was the most difficult for you?
Mountain Masochist was probably the hardest. Grindstone had just happened a month before, so coming off of that, my body really started to feel the effects of that race and all the training I had accumulated over the year. My legs felt spent from mile 1 of that race and the cut off was pretty tight, too. They say that over half of the field finishes in the last hour of that race, so you’ve really got to run up hills that you would normally walk. That didn’t feel great on spent legs.
You must have some secret recovery sauce. How do you recover to come back and run events?
My secret recovery sauce is rest. After all of my big races, I made sure to take at least 4-5 days off of running. I walk or hike and try to be moving during that time, but I take rest seriously. I also eat a lot. My mom makes a family dinner for everyone on Sunday’s and I like to make sure that the day after a race I impress everyone with how much food I can manage to eat that night. I try to always listen to my body, too. I’m not huge on set training programs. I think the biggest thing is when you wake up and feel like running, you should run. If I wake up and dread the thought of getting out of bed to run, that’s my sign to spend some extra time relaxing.
You are always smiling and looking relaxed in pictures. How do you approach races?
I think the night before and morning of the race, I have the typical race anxieties anyone experiences. But once I get moving in the race, it’s always a blast and I remember why I signed up in the first place. I really try to take in the scenery and appreciate the fact that I get to spend hours and hours outside playing in the woods. Trail running has always reminded me of being a kid and running through the woods and I like to think of races as an extension of that. I’m not out to break any records or win anything. I’m out there to enjoy nature and get to explore new places, and when you go through races remembering that, it’s a whole lot easier to smile.
Your Favorite shoes and gear for these events?
My all time favorite shoes are the Trail Talons by Inov-8. I like something that’s flexible and gives me some ground feel so I can react to the terrain a little bit better. My favorite gear would be my Weather Jacket by On Running. That thing is incredible. It’s so light, breathable and water-resistant so its perfect for fall, winter or spring.
Any nutrition tips from your trial and error?
Drink when you’re thirsty, eat when you’re hungry. I think a lot of people set goals to eat every 45 minutes or so, but if I do that I get stomach issues. So I just eat when I’m hungry and eat what appeals to me while making sure to sip on electrolytes throughout. And pickle juice. I don’t care if it’s a placebo or what, but pickle juice has turned a lot of my races around when my legs have started to really feel tired.
Tell us a little about your training
My training is not very regimented or specific at all. I don’t approach training very seriously. I try to run 6 days a week and I like to make sure most of those are trail – that’s most of my plan. I don’t have specific weekly mileage goals or anything like that. I think it’s good for some people, and sometimes I need to be held accountable, but forcing myself to hit goals like that can stress me out more than help me. When training for longer runs like 100 milers or 100ks, I think back-to-back long runs are important. So doing 30 miles on saturday and making sure to run something the next day so that your body knows what it feels like to run on tired legs. I mostly just try to pay attention to my body. Oh, I do try to make sure I get a lot of elevation gain each week, though. The races I’ve been doing usually have a lot of elevation gain, so I try to make sure I am going up and down mountains regularly. I don’t think there’s many other ways to prepare your body for that.
What simple messages would you share with beginning and advanced runners to keep them healthy and energized in running?
Listen to your body. When you’re tired, rest. When you feel energized, run. Running is always supposed to bring you joy and to improve your happiness and wellbeing. Don’t push yourself just because you think you need to in order to run a certain pace or qualify for something. Push yourself because your body feels good enough to and because pushing yourself will make you stronger and better.
It takes a team to finish an ultra. Any special people who have helped you that you want to thank?
My mom and dad who believe in me and support my crazy goals. My boyfriend Ryan should get an award bigger than any I got. He drove down with me to every single race (even ran Grindstone 100 with me and still managed to take care of me when I needed it), spent hours crewing for me or waiting around for me or changing my nasty dirty socks. He put up with me when I didn’t feel well. And still gave me a hug and kiss at the end of every single race. Running these races is the easy part. Crewing is the work. My friends Dan Jimeno and Sarah Shafer were also angels who came to Grindstone with Ryan and I. Sarah crewed for us the whole time and fed us and got us coffee when we were falling asleep on the trail and had a smile on her face the whole time. And Dan paced Ryan and I for 35 miles of crazy mountain trails on virtually no sleep. I don’t think I can ever say thank you enough. Then of course Dr.Mark, Laura Bergmann and the incredible running community. All the knowledge and wisdom they’ve shared with the community has helped me grow as a runner immensely.
Any Goals for 2018?
I’ve been considering doing the Beast Series again for some reason…
But I mostly want to run happy and healthy and make sure to run in the mountains as frequently as I can.
Thanks Sarah for sharing your story!