A love of cheese brought Gina and I together on August 15, 2009. Yes, cheese. Strangers during the day, by evening a chance meeting at a restaurant in Manitou Springs, CO would result in a life-long friendship.
We had both run Pikes Peak Ascent in the morning and then later headed to a local fondue restaurant for a celebratory dinner. She was dining with her then husband, and I overheard her talking enthusiastically about the race. I couldn’t help but butt in to share that I too, ran Pikes. We talked about our race experience and love for the mountain we had just conquered. We exchanged email addresses and said that we would meet up the following year at the race. We kept our promise and have been tempting each other with races ever since.
I paced Gina for her first 50 and 100-mile races and have experienced firsthand her sheer determination and strong mental fortitude. She’s a very talented runner and never fails to impress or inspire me. I’m extremely proud of her running successes, but more importantly, I’m proud to call her my friend.
As I was putting together the foundation for what would become Going the Distance, I knew that Gina’s interview would be one not to skip. I always enjoy my conversations with her and hearing about her next adventure.
Where do you live and train?
I live in Golden, Colorado, the home of Coors Brewing. Lately, I’ve been training more, and my friend, John Sharp, has been my running coach. I have a year of big races and thought I better get my butt into gear. I have upped my mileage to about 60-80 miles a week, and have even added in speed work!
How long have you been running?
I ran my first marathon in 2008. Before that, I never really ran much. I ran a half marathon in 2008 and thought, hey, I could do a full and so in 2008, I crossed the finish line at the Boulder Backroads Marathon and that was the beginning.
How did you get interested in running?
Looking back, I wouldn’t say that I was really ever that interested in running—I just thought it would be a cool way to test my limits. I smoked cigarettes in high school (I quit in 1995) and when I had to do a 1-mile run in PE class, I walked the whole way. When I got to grad school in 1998, a friend of mine ran four miles a day on a treadmill. I got inspired and started doing it too. Then I was like, yeah, I’m going to run a marathon someday. That day came about 10 years later.
I read the story of Gordon Ainsleigh running Western States. He did it because no one believed it was possible (it started as a horse race) but he went out and did it. I thought wow—100 miles—there’s no way I could ever do that. Next thing you know, I finish a marathon, then one in every state, then 100 miles, then 200…do you see where this is going?
What about running do you love?
It’s my time for me, my outside time. I want to see just how far I can go. Is it 100 miles? 200? 300? I don’t know. In 2014, I finished a 200-mile solo run at the Tuna Run Relay in North Carolina and crossed the finish with my amazing crew. Completing this race was a true test of mental grit and overcoming all the doubts in my head.
You recently completed running a marathon in every state—what was your most memorable race and why?
That’s easy—Boston Marathon. In 2013, I went out there to complete my 50th marathon in my 50th State in three years. I had planned this day after day for three years. I lived it, breathed it, and there wasn’t one person who didn’t hear about it. I pictured myself crossing the finish line every day for at least a year. I was on the flight to Boston for the race and I was thinking man, I don’t feel like I am going to finish this thing. My Mom, Dad, friend, and husband at the time were all coming to see me finish. I had gained entry by invitation from a family friend, Tommy Leonard, and was running for the Joe Andruzzi Foundation as a charity runner.
We ran into Tommy in the elevator of our hotel. My mom commented that everything was going perfectly. I told her that it had to go perfectly on Marathon Monday, not now. Everyone knows what happened on Marathon Monday, April 15, 2013. I had this bad feeling the whole weekend, but getting on the bus to the startting line, I told my mom that I didn’t think I was going to finish for some reason—I just had a feeling.
When I got to the 1-mile-to-go-sign, I told myself that I should be excited—I was realizing my dream. I was going to finish running a marathon in every state, but the feeling wasn’t there. As I was making the last two famous turns on the course—”right on Hereford, left on Boylston,” people were running into the street and runners were slowing down…stopping in the road. I heard one guy say that there had been an explosion at the finish line and the race was over. My thought process went: Explosion. Finish line. Family. F!@#$%. Then I was telling myself out loud to get it together—focus. I asked the person next to me if I could use their cell phone. Several text attempts and some 30 minutes later, I learned my family and friend were okay, even though they had been very close to bomb number two. My friend, who is an EMT, waiting for me at the finish, helped a woman who later lost her foot. I never finished the race that day. This year, I went back to Boston and officially crossed the finish line and completed my 50th marathon state.
What’s your favorite race and why?
This is tough. It’s an even split between the Big Sur Marathon in CA and Pikes Peak Marathon in CO. Both races are very different. I love Pikes for the people who run it. For example, I’ve become friends with 86-year-old Keith Wood, who attempts the Pikes Double (running the Ascent on Saturday and the marathon on Sunday), is an inspiration. I love Big Sur for the beauty of the course and the after-race food on Fisherman’s Wharf.
Where’s the coolest place you’ve ever run?
Leh, India. I went out there last year to crew for my friend, John Sharp, for his 333k race through the Himalayas. It was unreal and I’m so glad I could share the journey with him. The Himalayas are on a scale that is impossible to describe unless you see them in person. Going to India really changed my view of the world—seeing how people lived. We’re very fortunate in the United States and a lot of us forget that.
What goes through your mind during 100-mile races?
I don’t usually listen to music unless I get in a bad way. I try not to focus on the pain, because running 100 miles is going to hurt, but usually the pain comes and goes, so you need to remember you’re going to feel better—in a little bit. I try to notice the beauty around me and I typically end up talking to the runners around me. Ultrarunners are an awesome and interesting group—everyone has a story.
Best advice for beginner runners?
Just get out there. It doesn’t matter how far or how fast you are going. Enjoy yourself. Do it because you have fun doing it. It is good for you!
What’s your favorite post-run snack or beverage?
Beer. And more beer…
What race is top on your bucket list and why?
Barkley Marathons. No woman has ever finished it. Also the Race Director, Laz, is just a very interesting guy.
What’s on your 2015 race calendar?
Probably too much. So far, I’ve run Rocky Raccoon 100 in Huntsville, TX and the Northface Endurance 50-Mile Challenge in New York. I recently returned from the 100-mile Rhonda Del Cims in Andorra, located in Southwestern Europe, in the eastern Pyrenees mountains. Later this month, I’m running Vol State 500k (unsupported) in TN. I’m skipping Pikes Peak this year and instead taking on Leadville 100 in CO. I also plan to do the Barkley Fall Classic and Rim-to-Rim-to Rim in the Grand Canyon. That should be plenty.
Thank you, Gina, for sharing your story – you’re always an inspiration. And I’ll see you in August at Pikes (she’ll be cheering me on)!
If you would like to be featured in Going the Distance or know someone who should, please drop me a note.