SGPT Interviews Ultra Runner Elaine Stypula

SGPT: Tell us about yourself.

Elaine Stypula: I am a 51-year-old lawyer and mother to 3 exceptional young women.

SGPT: Were you an athlete growing up? How did you get interested in ultra running?

ES: I was not an athlete at all growing up. I did not play any sports. I started jogging a little bit when I got a dog in college and would take her for walks and hikes so she would get some exercise before I went to class, and later before I went to work in the morning. When I graduated from college and started working in an area that was new to me, I started biking with a local bike club to try to meet people. From there, I decided to start trying 5ks and 10ks and then triathlons.

Eventually, I started running marathons and doing Ironman triathlons. I then found out about ultra runs and thought it was unthinkable that people could stay up all night running, so I wanted to try it. The atmosphere of ultra runs was so different than Ironman that I immediately fell in love with the sport. It was laid back, not competitive, didn’t have to do with how much money you had to spend on your bike, and there was no fanfare when you finished. The other runners were nice and helpful. It was all about what you could do because you wanted the challenge. The rewards and the heartbreaks were all very personal. Ultra running is not a spectator sport.

I only had crews for specific races, which required crews, and I had a pacer when I did Western States, Leadville and Badwater. I didn’t think I needed a pacer, but they made a tremendous difference in my time. They made the end of the run more fun and they keep you from slowing down at the end of the race, which you will naturally do if by yourself. I really can’t say enough good things about ultrarunning. The community is unmatched. The people I have met all over the world and the friends I have made by suffering together through long miserable nights during a run, are priceless. Plus, the memories of hard races and the struggle to get through them are etched in my mind forever. There are so many memories I would not trade for anything. They are better than any material reward or thing. The pain you feel when running that long is very real. But, the experience and the will to get through the difficulties is something that lasts forever.

SGPT: What are some of the races you have done?

ES: In 2010, I did my first 100 miler at Rocky Raccoon. In 2011, I did the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning (Western States 100, Vermont 100, Leadville 100 and Wasatch 100). Afterwards, I did Gravestone 100, Umstead 100, Bighorn 100, Badwater 135, Brazil 135, UTMB, Vol State 314, Javelina Jundred, Tec 100 (Sweden), Washie 100 (South Africa), Sovev Emek 200k (Israel), Old Dominion, Keys 100, Miwok, Marathon des Sables, Tunnel Hill, Rouge-Orleans 126, JFK 50 miler, Run Rabbit Run, Viaduct Trail, and others.

SGPT: What was the hardest race? Or hardest moment in any race?

ES: Ultra Trail Mont Blanc was the most difficult race for me. It also had some of the hardest moments of any race. It is a 100 mile trail that travels through the Mont Blanc mountains in France, Italy and Switzerland. I train in Michigan, which is flat and at sea level. The terrain in that race was very different. The climbs I could handle but the steep, technical down hills scared me to death. I was very slow and careful on the down hills, which put me near the cut-offs. The cut-off was 46 hours and we went through 2 nights. I was exhausted and the last portion of the race was a long climb up large boulders and then a long down hill on large boulders. Besides being very tired and a little loopy, I was so afraid of those last down hill runs and had to run them because I was making the cut-offs by seconds. So, I just asked myself how much I wanted to finish this race and went for it. There was no more walking, no hiking, just going as fast as you could (which I am sure in reality was not very fast at all) and to not stop moving until you got to the finish line. I did it and it took everything I had. I was extremely out of my comfort zone, I was scared and I was exhausted, but I finished. It was awesome! Then . . . the funny part. Once I finished, I stopped focusing so hard and the fatigue and exhaustion set in. I could not find my way back to the hotel. I was so lost walking through town trying to find my hotel. It was comical and frustrating at the same time. I finally found it and celebrated after a short nap and a shower. Great memories. I was very afraid to even try to do that race. It was way outside my ability, but I am so glad I did it now.

SGPT : Did you have a race where everything went great or a long portion of it where all went well?

ES: Well . . . . I have many stories. Here is one. My first Brazil 135 race. I had a crew that was to meet me at certain points to give me supplies like more gels and refills of water and sports drink. It was a rough trail, but you could drive a 4 wheel drive vehicle on most of it. But, this is Brazil, not the U.S. Rough road in Brazil is pretty rough. You really needed a 4 wheel drive that was not low to the ground. We rented a Fiat SUV in Brazil, and long story short, the car broke down midway through the race. It was during the hottest part of the day and I had no idea when or IF I would ever see my crew again for more supplies. When I ran out of water, I started getting it from running streams, then when I went through a town, I went to houses, knocked on the door and asked for water. I was tired, getting overheated, and really angry at my crew for abandoning me. I didn’t want to quit, but I didn’t want to pass out from heat exhaustion in a foreign country on a trail somewhere where I didn’t speak the language. I was trying my best to do everything I knew to do to keep my body temperature down and to conserve energy while still making progress. Then, right when I was swearing in my head about my crew leaving me, they appeared on the trail with a taxi and a taxi driver. The taxi driver agreed to drive my crew to support me the rest of the race and he knew the trail really well. So, I re-vamped, reloaded my vest with gels and water, and on we went to finish that race. The taxi driver knew where our hotel was after the race so stayed with us to take us there as well. He was a crazy driver, but he truly saved that race.

SGPT: What is a typical training week for you to get ready for a big race?

ES: I only run between 40-60 miles a week. I do some interval training and in the winter, do most runs on the treadmill when it is icy out so that the runs are a better quality run. I also cross train with TRX workouts and do sit ups and push ups every day. When I was training for Marathon des Sables, I also trained with an increasingly heavier weighted vest a month prior to the race.

SGPT: What is your diet like in training?

ES: I try to eat well. Not much sugar, no soda, salads, rice, potatoes, fish and veggie burgers. I basically only drink coffee, tea, water and wine.

SGPT: What is your diet like during a race?

ES: I have two water bottles, one with sports drink like tail wind or Gatorade and one with Carbopro. I eat only gels during a race for calories. Accel gels. If I see something at an aid station that looks good, like chips or m & ms or Coke, I will take some, but do not depend on aid stations for food. I only use aid stations to refill my sports drink, my water and to throw away my trash. However, I really like chicken broth at night if is it available – especially with potatoes thrown in. I take salt pills (Metasalt) anytime I feel sweat dripping on my face or I start to feel nauseous.

SGPT: Have you had many injuries and if so how did you work through them?

ES: I have not had many injuries since I stopped doing Ironmen. I do have plantar fasciitis right now that I just can’t seem to get rid of. I just keep stretching and hope it eventually heals. I have a wonderful foot doctor that always takes very good care of my feet for me so they never get too bad. I have also successfully used dry needle acupuncture in the past for pulled and strained calf muscles. I will try anything to get rid of injuries quickly.

SGPT: What kind of shoes do you wear on a typical race?

ES: I wear Mizuno and New Balance road shoes for road runs and everyday training. I wear Salomon Speedcross for all trail, rock or sand races.

SGPT: Do you wear a pack with food and water?

ES: Only during races. I carry my food, water and emergency blanket, jacket, and flashlight with me all the time.

SGPT: What is your next race?

ES: I am doing Icarus Ultrafest 24 hour run in November and Hurt 100 in January.

SGPT: What book are you reading now?

ES: Street Lawyer by John Grisham and The Big Fight My Life in and out of the Ring by Sugar Ray Leonard

SGPT: Many thanks for the interview!

ES: Thanks, Brad!

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