Tracy Gariepy is the Southeast regional sales manager for the Vibram FiveFingers shoe company, a wife, a mother of three and a runner.
She’s not just a weekend warrior who sporadically hits the pavement, though.
Gariepy, 38, of Fort Mill, is a long distance runner. She began in her early 30s as a way to stay in shape, but has since taken it to a whole new level. She recently competed in and took eighth overall in the Anchor Down Ultra Marathon in Bristol, R.I. Gariepy was first among female runners and won her age group as well.
An ultra marathon is technically any race longer than a 26.2-mile marathon, but the Anchor Down wasn’t for the faint of heart. Contestants began running at 6 p.m. on a Friday, Aug. 19 and ended around 6 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 20 – a 24-hour race to test all limits of humanity.
“Some people lay down in tents and catch a quick nap or something, but I didn’t,” she said. “If I were to stop I wouldn’t get up and do it again. Other than walking a couple of steps to catch some food and water at the stations they had set up, I just kept going.”
Gariepy covered 90.65 miles over a grueling stretch of 23 hours – she was so far ahead of the field by that point that there was no way she was going to get caught – over treacherous trails, through darkness and literally into the night.
So how did she go about training for such a run?
“You run as much as you can as often as you can,” she said.
“I wouldn’t run 24 hours to train for a 24-hour race. I run as much as I can and the biggest thing is to teach yourself to run when you’re tired. If I do a long run on Saturday, Sunday you wake up sore and tired, but you need to train your body that even though you’re tired you can still run.
“The soreness is one thing, but it’s a mental game more than anything else. Hitting the wall in an ultra marathon is when your mind starts saying, ‘I can’t do this anymore, I don’t want to do this anymore and it’s time to stop.’ All of the training I do is to train my brain that it’s going to hurt, it’s going to be uncomfortable and I’m not going to want to do it anymore, but I have to do it anyways.”
Gariepy said she could have run further, closing out the final hour to add even more distance.
“Another girl covered the same distance as me, but I finished an hour earlier than her, so I won the race by an hour,” she said.
“By 6 p.m. I stopped. I could have kept going and gotten a few more miles, but I was done and they told me I was far enough in the lead that I was going to win the race. I kick myself afterwards. I say I should have kept going for my own personal pride, but 91 miles is pretty good.”
Two days after the Anchor Down she was at it again, going for a jog to get in shape for her next adventure, which is even more daunting.
“You’re OK with the pain, but it’s hard to get your mind to deal with the pain,” she said. “It happens, but I just run through it. The soreness the next day is there but not as bad as you would think.”
Gariepy is on to her next challenge, which she is putting on to gain support – both for awareness and financialy – for one of her favorite organizations, Girls on the Run, a non-profit that aims to inspire girls to become joyful, healthy and confident through running. she will begin on Sept. 15 at Concord Mills Mall in N.C. and end Sept. 24 at Georgia Game Changers in Savannah, Ga. It’s not a race, but a test of her will, love of running and to support Girls on the Run.
It will be a 300-mile trek that Gariepy will tackle in 10 days with consecutive 30-mile runs.
“I’m doing it to gather awareness for Girls on the Run,” she said. “It’s a great charity and I’m hoping that by doing this much distance it inspires people to donate for the charity. It’s very near and dear to me and it’s a good challenge for me. I know I can cover 90 miles, so let’s see if I can do 300. I’m excited about that.”
Gariepy has already covered the monetary expenses for her trip. She’s having a friend follow her in a support vehicle with food and water and to make sure she’s physically strong, and has paid for the gas to get down there. She’s staying in police and fire station parking lots along the way to ensure she is in a safe environment, but said she’s looking forward to the challenge.
“It’s going to be a challenge, and talk about getting back at it and running when you’re tired, right,” she said. “I’m excited for it.”
Gariepy said anyone can run with her for part or all of the race if they choose, but the only thing she’s looking to do is raise money –100 percent of which will go to Girls on the Run. She’s already raised more than $500, but hopes to get to $5,000 or so by the time she starts her run.
“Any donation that I get will not go to pay for my run at all,” she said. “No donation has been too small and I think I’ll get there. It’s starting to snowball now as the event gets closer I’m getting more and more donations.
“It’s a good test for me and it’s for a really good cause that I believe in strongly, so I’m excited to get running.”
Although it’s a long distance run unlike she’s ever tackled, Gariepy is more than ready for the challenge.
“Running brings me peace, clarity, confidence, empowerment, joy, strength and awareness,” she wrote on her Girls on the Run page.
“My only regret is that I didn’t start running earlier in life. Knowing what I know now about the positive impact running can make on a girl’s life, I wish I had been exposed to a program like Girls on the Run when I was young.”
Want to help?
To learn more, or make a donation to Girls on the Run, go to giving.girlsontherun.org