Faced with the prospect of the dreaded Freshman 15, Nicole Huston knew she had to get physically active. The running club was the cheapest to join and she could meet new people, Huston figured.
What she didn’t factor into the equation is all the places running would bring her. In less than eight years, running has brought her to the finish line of challenging races, to the mountain tops and to a 48-hour run on her home treadmill.
But first she had to train for the college running club.
“I tried to prepare over the summer by running a three-mile loop around a lake,” Huston recalls. “I mostly ran/walk, starting out running until I couldn’t catch my breath and then walking to catch back up. That continued on into the running club where I was one of the slowest back-of-the-pack runners starting out as most of the other club members ran throughout high school.”
Doubling the distance
She persevered through the running club, making friends, getting in shape and discovering a passion for the sport. It didn’t take her long to sign up for half marathons, then a marathon and ultimately, ultras.
After completing several halfs, she felt comfortable with the distance and decided to take the next step.
“Mentally the idea of running double was pretty scary for me so I avoiding thinking about it for a long time,” says Huston, whose social media profiles and blog are called Bonk to the Finish. “But then I stumbled upon the Big Sur Marathon, which is my favorite place, by far. When I realized their marathon was on my 21st birthday I knew I had to try to get in.”
She did indeed get in but decided to do a different marathon first.
“I was so nervous for the hills of Big Sur I ran the Phoenix Rock ‘n’ Roll marathon a few months before Big Sur,” Huston says. “I’m not saying that’s sound advice but for me it was a much needed confidence boost to know I could at least complete a flat marathon.”
The accidental ultra
She became hooked on the marathon and signed up the Columbus (Ohio) Marathon. Her training included long runs on the paved Olentangy Trail, which became tedious after a while. Needing a change of pace she signed up for a 40K (about 24 miles) trail race an hour from her home that would serve as her last long run before Columbus.
“My previous experience with trail runs was eight miles or less, so I didn’t have much of a concept of how much harder trail miles were compared to road miles,” Huston admits. “I figured I would just walk the last couple miles after I hit the distance I needed for my marathon training plan.”
Then she applied a cost-benefit analysis only a runner could embrace.
“It was a good theory, until my finance background overruled my better running judgment,” she says. “About a week before the race I realized that the 40K and 60K options were the same price. If they were the same price I should totally get my money’s worth and pick the longer distance, right? And before I knew it I had sent an email off to the race director asking to change distances. Luckily I finished, but my legs were completely beaten down by the time I was done.”
Huston has learned valuable lessons as she has mastered longer distances.
“First of all I learned that I was stronger than I realized,” she says. “Trying not to overthink things or convince myself I’m not ready is really harder for me than actually getting out and running for me. Even during the runs I find that my mental strength will usually fail me before my legs will.”
48 hours on the treadmill
Huston definitely needed not only her physical strength but her mental tenacity when she set out on a unique challenge toward the end of 2018.
“I heard about the Dreadmill 48 Hour race the previous year and it was a funny thought of, ‘Oh, my, who would put themselves through that?!” she recalls.
It turns out that Huston would.
A year after hearing about the Dreadmill 48 Hour event, Facebook reminded her of it. The timing worked out as she had hit some PRs during the summer but let her training slide afterward and endured a slow Seattle Marathon in November.
“I figured this would be a great opportunity to give it a go as it had been several months since doing any sort of ultra,” she says. “The race proceeds went to Alzheimer’s research, which is an important cause to me. I figured the worst thing that could happen is I’d donate to a good cause. I planned to do a lot of walking after the first day which is exactly what I ended up doing. I also planned to give myself plenty of rest during the whole time which took up a good chunk of the 48-hour period. I wasn’t quite sure my treadmill would last the entire time given it’s unknown age and prior history but luckily it made it through! I had a backup plan in place in case it died.”
Even though the race course was in her living room, there were a lot of logistics to address beforehand. She rearranged the living room so the TV would be elevated and a large aid station would be next to the treadmill. Her husband agreed to cook and bring her food throughout the weekend.
Since her view did not change for the two-day period, she relied on what entertainment she could muster.
Prior to this my longest treadmill run was 90 minutes several years ago so I knew entertainment would be an issue,” Huston says. “I had a window to look out of but on a quiet street the view got old pretty fast. I binge watched The Expanse (a tv show) but that quickly got old too. I tried to mix in some podcasts which helped a lot but I had trouble sticking to one thing for a long period of time. I called some people as well and also tried to use social media as a distractor. Basically, not much entertained me for long so I wish something had worked better for me here.”
An endurance event on a treadmill can understandably be quite a challenge, even for experienced runners. But just like in road or trail races, adjustments have to be made.
“Originally I planned on going all day and getting a full eight hours of sleep,” she says. “After going through it I wish I would have broken it up into shorter sleep breaks from the beginning and run at more odd hours. I think this would have helped a lot more with the boredom, knowing I could take a break every eight hours instead of having a large 14-hour section without long breaks. I tried to change this once I realized but by then the boredom was already pretty bad.”
Would she do it again? “I would consider doing it again! I figured out some lessons that I could apply to a future treadmill run — or not —we’ll see.”
It’s been quite a journey for Huston since her first training runs around the lake. Now she pushes herself to see what’s possible, not for PRs but for adventures.
“I run simply because I love it,” she says. “I don’t force myself to stick to regimented training cycles and I just let running fit into my life as I please. For now I’m happy with the balance I have. I may not get PRs in the near future but I went through a stint of them recently so I am allowing myself time to continue to love running instead of immediately going for the next PR.”
Huston is training for the Mesa-Phoenix Marathon, which she also did in 2018. She is still configuring her race calendar but is signed up for a weekend of races at the Tacoma City Marathon that includes a 5K, 50K and marathon. Then she may sprinkle in some endurance and timed events and the Seattle Quadzilla, a series of four marathons held around Thanksgiving weekend.
“My New Year’s resolution was also to go to more Parkruns which are free timed 5Ks,” she says. “There are two cities close to me that hold them every Saturday so hopefully I can work that in at least once a month as well.”
Huston’s love of running has spread not only to her husband, James, but to their 4-year-old dog, Viira. A week after Huston completed her treadmill adventure, the entire family completed a marathon.
“It was a slow recovery run for me and another marathon in the books for my husband,” she says. “He prefers cheap or low-frill races so this worked out that we could all do it together. She runs at least a few times a week and has done long runs with me as long as it’s not too hot outside. We have to adjust pace and distance in the summer but when it’s in the 40s and 50s it seems like she can’t get tired no matter how much exercise she gets.”
And just like her mother, Viira built up her race mileage.
“About a year ago she did her first half marathon and wanted to play fetch the rest of the day so I knew she could do more,” Huston says. “The marathon was windy, hilly and rainy so not really what you would consider ideal for a first marathon. She did great and somehow still had energy to play with one of her doggy friends the rest of the afternoon.”
Name: Nicole Huston
Hometown: London, Ohio
Number of years running: 7.5 years
How many miles a week do you typically run: 0-40 depending on volume of cross training
Point of pride: This one stumped me for a while. Having the courage to sign up for my first marathon and ultra!
Favorite race distance: 50K
Favorite pre-race or training food/drink: Tailwind nutrition
Favorite piece of gear: Sealskinz waterproof socks (with hydrostop)
Favorite or inspirational song to run to: No music, but occasionally podcasts! I like Dirty John, Dr. Death, Alone, Happy Face, Heaven’s Gate
Favorite or inspirational mantra/phrase: "Mental will needs exercise, just like the muscles of the body"
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