Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Tracy Y. Thomas: Someone You Should Know

The World Ultra News Team is proud to introduce to you Tracy Y. Thomas, 44, formerly a resident of California but currently in Champaign-Urbana, IL, USA. Tracy personifies the true spirit of an ultrarunner: blood, sweat, and tears persistence in a humble and generous soul. Her story is the first in a series of monthly, autobiographical accounts of ultrarunners giving us the opportunity to tell the world about these very special people who oftentimes get very little recognition.

Please do share your story with us. We are seeking submissions from ultrarunners everywhere, not just the USA. One need not be at an elite level; on the contrary, if you have several ultras under your belt, even if you're a middle-/back-of-the-packer, please share with us how you became an ultrarunner and what it means to you. For more information regarding submissions, email Constance Karras at and cc: to Phil Essam at

And Tracy Y. Thomas, winner of the 2005 Arkansas Traveller 100 Mile Trail Run, Perryville, Arkansas, USA, and the first female ever to win the race; overall female of the 2005 Kettle Moraine 100 Endurance Run, La Grange, Wisconsin, USA; and 6th overall in the 2005 Nardini Manor 72-Hour Across the Years Ultramarathon, Litchfield, Arizona, USA, where she was on pace for overall female until nausea brought her to an abrupt stop after approximately sixty hours of running.

Tracy's autobiography concludes with her ATY race report. She lost two close friends in 2005, Shar Anderson and Dan Kelly, who were both instrumental in cultivating her interest in ultrarunning. Shar lost her life to a very aggressive and rare form of liver cancer in 2005 and in honor of Shar and all who have tragically lost their lives to cancer as well as those who courageously survive, Tracy plans to run this year's ATY representing the Susan Love Breast Cancer Research Foundation.

Running! How in the world did I ever get started and become addicted? When I began to go through conditioning for my first year of basketball in junior high school, I soon realized how good I felt after running. Soon I was "recruited" to run track in the "long distance" event - the mile! The mile led to my first 10K and several of those thereafter.

I didn't attempt my first half-marathon until I was about 26 years old and soon thereafter a friend convinced me to run a marathon. I had no idea what to do to train for this and the fact of the matter was that I didn't have much time to train, so my longest training runs were a couple of 12-milers and a couple of 14-milers. And, who ever heard of drinking water - or any type of fluid, for that matter - during your run?

My first marathon was the Long Beach (CA) Marathon and I finished in 3:59. I qualified for Boston in my second marathon and didn't even realize it - I mean, what is "Boston?" I soon learned when a friend paid my entire expenses to make sure I'd go since I had qualified. How nice was that?

I was now officially addicted, but I would still take long stretches away from running only to return and wonder why I stopped. It wasn't until I'd run many, many marathons and saw that my times were beginning to plateau in the 3:20s that I decided I was "old" and needed an excuse to slow down during races, so I decided to run my first 50-miler in 1999. While barely surviving this 50-miler (Leona Divide in CA - my first time running in mountains!), I learned shortly after the race that some of the people in the race had also run a 50-miler the weekend before this race! How? Why? I mean, I can remember running two marathons six days apart and it nearly killed me - enough so that I knew I'd never attempt THAT again!

I found out that these people who were running "back-to-back" 50-milers were training for a 100-mile race that would be run 5-months later called the Angeles Crest 100. Oh my god! I barely ran 50 miles. I could never run 100. Two days later I looked up AC100 on the internet and a week later I was signed up. This began my summer of nothing but running - literally. I was training on the AC100 course with a gal I'd been introduced to who was also training for her first 100-miler (Shar Anderson - last name was Cadwallader at the time). Shar and I would run EVERY Saturday and Sunday on the AC100 course and I had to do all the mileage that her coach had prescribed for her if I didn't want to get lost and if I wantd a ride out of the mountains; otherwise, I never would have done all the mileage that she was doing. I saw how all sorts of people were getting injured doing this extreme mileage that she was doing (up to 70 miles on just the weekends alone, and then speedwork, intervals, etc., and sometimes no days off during each week...), but I tried to persevere and I didn't do all the other mileage during the week that her coach had prescribed for her. I knew my body needed rest between weekends.

Five weeks before the AC100, Shar's coach held the first and last Angeles National Forest 100K and I agreed to participate. 100K would be the longest single distance I had ever run and it would be a real test of what my training had done for me and would also give me a better idea of how I would fare at the AC100 because a large portion of the ANF 100K was on the AC trails although not the most severe or highly elevated portions. Well, I apparently did things right and went out conservatively enough and was the female winner and something like 5th overall. I was shocked and elated. I wished my mom had been there to see me, but she would be coming down from her home in Canada to see me at the AC100.

I seemed to recover well after the ANF100K, but then, 9 days before AC100, I got horribly sick. I went through 2 courses of antibiotics and should have never even started the race. I hadn't run in 10 days and was still sick. People said I'd do great because I'd be well-rested. I felt horrible just 20 miles into the race and by 33 miles had pretty intense pain in my left IT band. Of course, it only worsened throughout the race, but I was determined to finish because there were about 25-30 people at the finish line waiting to see me finish. Were it not for my very patient pacer, Jack Slater, I would not have finished. I was reduced to walking the last 25-miles and went from expecting to finish well under 24-hours to barely finishing under the cutoff. I was in the best shape of my life and then an injury reduced me to this. To say I was disappointed was an understatement.

I came back to run the AC100 tne next year (2000), but my running buddy, Shar, was off riding her bike around the world and I just wasn't nearly as "into it" as I needed to be. I did AC again and improved by almost 3 hours, but still, that was enough of ultras for awhile.

I continued to train from this point on, but only for marathons and a couple of 50Ks. My marathon times improved to a PR of 3:10 and then I decided to get back to the longer races in 2004. I ran the Vermont 100 in 20:54 or something close to that and was pleased with it as it was my first time of not having to run through the entire night. It was nice to finish in less than 24 hours! Obviously, this was a much easier course than the AC100 had been, but still. I was pleased with my time since I hadn't trained for a 100 in 4 years and didn't get to train in the mountains for this one.

At the end of 2004, my partner got a great job offer in Illinois, so at this point I was uprooted (willingly) from my job (lead trainer at a corporate fitness center) and we moved from Southern California (which is my most favorite place to live) to flat-as-a-pancake Illinois - Champaign-Urbana area to be more specific. I decided to focus solely on my own personal training business when we got to Illinois as I was tired of working for other people and wanted to manage my own business and work on my own vision and focus for training people instead of dealing with all the read tape of big business. This has been a wonderful choice for me and has allowed me the flexibility to train more and enter more races so in 2005 I did three 100-milers: Kettle Morraine (21:56), Western States (25:44), and Arkansas Traveller (19:49). I finished out the year with my first ever attempt at a multi-day race, the 72-hour Across the Years race.

2005 was good to me. I was the first female finisher at Kettle Moraine, at Western States where all the elites run, I was, as expected, and "also ran," and at Arkansas Traveller I had a major PR and was not only the first female finisher but also for the first time in the 15-year history of the AT100, I was the first female to be the overall winner.

The next runner was more than 42 minutes back. Everything went right for me that day and the fellow that had led the race for 62-miles had to bow out with a hamstring injury. Still, I overcame the other top runners to go into the lead at 80-miles and I kept it until the finish. I am still in shock and disbelief, but I will cherish this victory for the rest of my life.

Next up was my most recent race, the Across the Years 72-hour race in Arizona. What a great place to run this time of year. I was running this race in memory of two special people that I lost this year. One was Shar who I mentioned above, and the other was Dan Kelly, who was the first person to ever take me out trail running - thus getting me addicted to off-road running and later ultras. Additionally, I had my own personal scare when it took nearly 5 weeks to get the diagnosis that the lump that I found in my breast was benign. I had surgery less than a month before the ATY race and figure that the very short break that I had to take at that time only helped me to rest a bit before my final long run and then taper for the race. All this made me realize that there was more to life than running and racing, so I kept Dan and Shar close to my heart and Melissa Etheridge's new song, "I Run For Life," was playing in my head the whole race. That is MY song! I didn't realize it until day two of the race that I was the lead female and 2nd overall and apparently at one point I was even ahead of last year's winner (John Geesler with 300-miles) who didn't start off feeling very good this year.

Yiannis Kouros was obviously in the lead throughout this race. He was very focused and what an amazing runner he is. Many people strayed from the rules of walking 2 or 3 abreast in the inside lane (you are allowed to always stay in the inside lane if you are trying to do your best and aren't walking and talking with other runners) and would get in his way, but he stayed very focused and set more than one record at the race. Interestingly enough, unlike with those other "groups" of runners, he never asked me to get out of the inside lane when I was walking - apparently he knew I was very focused too and perhaps he even knew I was the lead female. We didn't exchange words many times while he was focused on the 48-hour record, but when we did, he was very courteous and I felt it an honor just to run on the same track with him.

In my mind, I was almost a complete failure at this race. I had to quit running with almost 12 hours to go and ended up going from a comfortable lead to being 3rd female as the two German ladies continued to rack up the miles while I sat with the worst nausea I've ever had and also the worst blisters, but I realize now what all I did wrong and I am not continuing to be hard on myself. I ended the race with 207+ miles and I truly feel that 250 miles is well within my reach if I do more things smartly and correctly next time.

One of the first and most major things I did wrong was to not bring gaiters with me. Right from the very start small pieces of gravel were getting into my shoes and causing me blisters. I just could not keep it out. Finally about 16- or 17-hours into the race, I figured a way to cut a pair of socks and get them over my shoes to work as gaiters, and they worked great except that they put a ton of pressure on my insteps (the tops of my feet) and created major bruising and swelling. About 30 hours into the race, I had Dr. Andy Lovy lance some of my blisters and tape them and that helped a bit. I also now had a pair of gaiters to wear thanks to some lovely folks who were supporting one of the 24-hour runners on the first day. When she finished, they gave me the gaiters that they had loaned her and I never had any other trouble with the gravel in my shoes, but the damage was already done. On night number two, I waited in line for Dr. Chris O'Loughlin to work his wonders on my feet. He was doing an unbelievable job at draining blisters with syringes and taping up people's feet so they didn't get anymore blisters. The blisters on the bottom of my feet grew to 2" to 3" in diameter and were too big to even allow the docs to use a donut on them to relieve pressure. Nevertheless, Chris drained each and every one of my blisters and took what seemed like the better part of 2 hours to do all of the taping, etc. I was "good to go" (so to speak) after that. By the time Chris was finished working his miracle on my feet, I was completely exhausted. I hadn't slept at all up to this point although I had tried. I tried for over 2 hours on the first night, but everything in my hips and legs was twitching and cramping. The same held true on the second night. I tried for 3 hours to sleep, but still couldn't. So after Chris had taped my feet, it was around 4am and I found a blast heater in the large tent and laid right in front of it on the hard, cold brick floor and was able to get about 8-10 1-minute snoozes. 10 minutes is better than none and I came alive. It was now almost 5am and I was getting some energy back and I ran strong again through the start of the third wave of new runners and well into the third day. However, as the sun set, I was so exhausted and the blisters on the bottom of my feet had re-filled and were then bursting internally and hitting nerves, nearly debilitating me a couple of times. The docs came to my rescue a couple of times and did some reflexology stuff and amazingly I was back out there...but not for long. The lack of sleep, etc., etc., etc., all added up and the worst nausea I've ever had set in and I just could not move. Couldn't even get out of the chair to go out and party at midnight and I had looked so forward to that.

Besides my personal physical demise, the race was the best ever. I am STILL dreaming about it every night and not a day has gone by where I don't think about how nice all the race personnel and runners were. I met some friends I will keep for a lifetime and I so look forward to going back again at the end of this year. I'll be better prepared in many ways and I look forward to meeting up with everyone again and cheering on each and every person. However, next year there will be an even larger purpose to my ATY run. I will be raising money for the Susan Love Breast Cancer Research Foundation http://www.susanlovemd.comMelissa Etheridge's song won't just be playing over and over in my head, it will be BLASTING out loud as I cross the finish line and complete the race and raise thousands of dollars for breast cancer prevention research.

Love to each and every one of you who I've met through the years at races, on the trails or through the ultra list. I consider you all a very important part of my family.

Thank you.

Tracy Y. Thomas, MA, ACSM, H/FI, CSCS
Champaign-Urbana, IL, USA

To learn more about Tracy, she's profiled in the Jan/Feb 2006 edition of UltraRunning Magazine. To subscribe, go to:

--Constance Karras

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