Sunday, May 9, 2021

50K on 50th Birthday - Leah Attempts 1st Unofficial Ultramarathon on May 18 (#TwinsRun50K)

#TWINSRUN50K by Leah Connor

I’m so excited to attempt my first unofficial ultramarathon on May 18th: 50K on my 50th birthday! Why 50K and not 50 miles? Well, first off, it’s a LOT shorter (31 miles), but it’s also one of the most common ultramarathon distances (any footrace longer than the traditional marathon length of 42.195 kilometers or 26 miles 385 yards). And, there’s a connection to my favorite past time: Pokemon Go. This mobile game encourages players to walk and the top weekly distance reward level is 50km. I thought it would be fun to hit that in one day rather than one week!

If I had to put a time goal on it, I guess maybe my “A Goal” would be 5:18:59 (the pace I ran my latest marathon and because it fits the birthday theme!). That’s never going to happen (mostly because I want to enjoy this challenge and not die or injure myself), so the “B Goal” is under 6 hours and the “C Goal” is under 7:11, the time of my slowest marathon (16:28/mile), when I walked 26.2 miles in the 2010 Disney World Marathon with a bedazzled air-cast because of shattered sesamoids (fun fact: someone from Turkey just messaged me on Instagram asking about my sesamoids injury because I posted my x-rays. My advice to her was never have surgery unless you need to crawl to the doctor’s office, because I’ve managed to run for 10 years after the diagnosis albeit not pain free, but manageable). Walking a marathon was probably the hardest “race” I have ever done because I knew it was going to take a long time, but it helped getting so much encouragement from fellow runners and compliments on my pretty boot.  

I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about the impact of running on my life as I take my daily walks. I set a goal on January 1, 2021 to walk/run an average of 10 miles a day while I look for a job which has been vital to keeping me motivated and healthy in both mind and body. It’s helped me realize that I want my next career to be in the running industry because it’s been so life-transforming for me. I am honored to be a 13+ year volunteer for the Charlottesville Track Club, but I wouldn’t mind getting a paycheck doing good work that supports running. Also, with my daily mileage commitment, I easily cash in on those sweet 50k rewards in Pokemon Go!

I started running in 2006 to lose weight and soon realized I had some natural talent, but the former anorexic in me took things a bit too far. I was super focused on maintaining the best “racing weight” and ended up obsessing over the scale and dealing with a serious ferritin deficiency that resulted in me barely finishing my first marathon in 5 hours and 17 minutes in 2007. Over the next 5 years I improved my diet (a little!), gained back some of the weight I lost, and hit all of my PRs in 2011-2012. I was still lean, strong and healthier than when I had relapsed into disordered eating, but even though I was fast, I wanted to be faster and always found some way to negate my accomplishments.

Being “skinny” or “speedy” didn’t make me any happier than I am today, but I’m still not in the best place when it comes to body image. I haven’t touch a scale in over a year, but I know I’m not at my best “racing weight” anymore and it’s hard not to feel “fat” when I’m “normal”. Even though I know I probably look “good” and “healthy” to most people, when I look back at old racing photos of me much thinner, I can’t help but feel frustrated and disappointed in myself. And then I feel guilty for feeling that way because I’m not struggling as much as my identical twin sister who is currently in treatment for her own eating disorder and spoke about it with the New York Times.

Ok, that all just took a somewhat dark turn. Sorry! I wanted to be all happy and positive about this solo ultra run of mine and I really am looking forward to it, but I am also sad that I can’t share the experience with my twin like we shared the 2017 Boston Marathon. That will always be the most meaningful race with my twin because we both worked so hard to get there.

When we started “TWINS RUN”, Malinda came up with the faster twin / slower twin concept. On the back of our shirts we had, “If I’m passing you I’m Leah, If you’re passing me I’m Malinda”. Malinda’s whole attitude was that running should be fun like running in costume and not competitive, while I was focused improving my race times and qualifying for Boston. That all changed when the bombs went off in 2013 at my first Boston Marathon. Malinda wanted to run Boston with me instead of cheering for me, so she started to train with purpose and after many attempts, she qualified too!

So here we are about to turn 50 and how do I want to celebrate? I’m running for fun and fundraising! Every mile is a gift and I want to share it by doing something good for others. That’s why we are raising money for Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation for Childhood Cancer.

At my core, I prefer to be a solo runner. I don’t normally like running with other people unless that’s the only way I can book time with them. I like to run alone so I can think and listen to my music. I’m preparing my playlist and hoping that my friends and family can share songs and virtual cheers to keep me motivated and give me a reason to think about those special people in my life. I’m also planning a “Chalk the Walk” event to decorate the path I’ll be running back and forth many many times on Tuesday, May 18th with positive messages and art for everyone to enjoy. So please fill out this form to share a song, photo, or mantra. 


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