In a sport that is often all about personal transformations, Traci Falbo’s story is a great one. She is a 47 year-old mother of two who lost 80 pounds from 2003 to 2004 and ran her first marathon in 2004. Since that time, Traci has become an accomplished ultra runner. She is a pediatric physical therapist and member of USATF MUT (Mountain Ultra Trail) Executive Committee and the AAC (Athlete Advisory Council) representative for USATF MUT Executive Committee.
After all that you accomplished, what drives you to continue running?
I love to run. It enables me to eat food more freely without worrying about gaining the weight back. It’s my social life: most of my social time is dually spent running with friends. Running helps my emotional state: If I am stressed, mad, sad, happy, whatever, I feel better after a run. I feel healthier and happier running. Plus, I love running when I travel. It enables me to see a lot more of the country and often things I wouldn’t see if I wasn’t running.
How do you motivate yourself on days when you don't feel like running?
I take music with me, go somewhere different to run for variety, or ask a friend to run. Ultimately though, I head out the door, knowing once I get a mile down the road, I will be glad I ran.
On average, how many times and miles do you run a month?
It really varies. I generally run close to 3,000 miles per year. If I ran a long race, I won’t run for 10 days. But, generally, I’d say I run 50 to 70 miles per week. Usually 5 days a week.
You hold the indoor record for the 48 hour ultramarathon, what was it like running on an indoor track for that long mentally?
I know it is weird, but I never got bored. I listened to music and talked to people. There was always something going on to keep your mind off the loops. The track was filled with people to talk to all the time. Plus, there were things going on in the building. It was just the usual mental race challenges: Why do I do this? This is stupid. Can I do this? And when it gets hard, wanting to stop.
How did it feel to get the world record and was that something you were aiming for?
I was originally aiming for the American Record. It was my BIG GOAL for the event. I always set tiers of goals. Joe Fejes told me what the indoor World Record was and that it was a possibility if I could hit the American Record. It felt amazing when I ran across the mat. I was listening to Katy Perry’s “Roar” and was overcome by emotion, choking back tears. It was weird because a year later, I took my teenage daughter to see Katy Perry. She started to sing that song, and I found myself starting to tear up. Initially, I didn’t know why I was crying at a “fun” concert…then it hit me. It is so true that sounds, smells, etc. can really bring you back to memories.
You've run a marathon in all 50 states, which one would you say was your favorite and why?
I love the Harpeth Hills Flying Monkey Marathon. I am not big on repeating races, but I have been there 8 times I think. It’s a small race (I prefer smaller races) with an ultra feel. The course is hilly but beautiful. The swag is awesome and it’s basically a party at the finish with a pitch-in of food.
There's a saying in ultra running, "ride the highs and grind the lows". What helps you grind through the lows?
Music works for awhile. I count to 100 and count again. Sometimes, I use mantras. I always tell myself that I just need to hang in there, it will get better.
What does your weight training consist of and which exercise do you feel helps your running the most?
I mainly do core exercises and a couple of upper body exercises. I think the Dead Bug exercise is a fantastic core exercise.
What's the weirdest or funniest thing that ever happened to you while running?
My running partner Jeff and I were running near an old 1940’s ammunitions area. It was a hot and humid summer day. We didn’t realize that we had gone into a restricted area because we ran down a road through an open gate. Within 5 minutes after passing the gate, a “rent-a-cop” guy in a security truck comes screaming up to us. The man demands to know what we were doing and how we got there. We told him we were running, obviously, and just ran down that road over there, motioning to where we had come from. He demanded to see our ID’s. My running partner and I looked at him incredulously, as we were only wearing socks, shoes, and short shorts, and I had a sports bra on. My running partner says? “where do you think I would put an ID?” I tried not to laugh. He escorted us out of the area. It was serious, but the thought of my running partner running around with his ID in the brief of his shorts was hilarious.
What's your favorite types of fuel for running and why?
I live off SWORD and gels mostly. SWORD has calories and electrolytes, tastes good and mixes into my water. They also have caffeine tabs which are AWESOME. Gels are a good supplement because they are small and easy to carry.
What's your favorite cheat food & drink?
I drink Diet Mountain Dew, Crystal Light mix-ins, and Sugar-Free Oregon Chai tea at night with desert. None of my drinks have calories. Having been fat, and loving food, I’d rather eat my calories. I usually eat 5 to 7 Tootsie Roll Midgees after lunch each day. After dinner, I eat cookies and drink my tea. I love sweets and eat them regularly. I just make sure I don’t go overboard with them.
In 2013 you completed the grand slam of ultra running. Can you explain what that is and what that experience was like?
It was hard, which is why a lot of people don’t do it. Running some of the hardest 100 milers in the US in a short time: Western States 100, Vermont 100, Leadville 100, and Wasatch 100 (from the last weekend of June to the first weekend of September: 10 weeks). I was new to ultrarunning and had no idea what I had gotten into. A marathoning friend, Keith Straw convinced me to do it if we both were drawn in the lottery. I still wasn’t good with pacing, fueling, or recovery. I would change so many things now if I went back and did it again. I got through Western States after puking my guts out and walking the last 20 miles. Vermont was a disaster because I was mad at my performance and went out way too fast. I was sick at Leadville, and couldn’t sleep the night before. I got a little hyperthermic and spent 1 to 2 hours warming at an aid station finishing within 90 minutes of the cut off. Wasatch, I was dead. I had overtrained between all of the races. I didn’t want to be there. It is really hard to run one of thee hardest 100 milers in the US if you have no desire to be there in the first place. HUGE SHOUT OUT TO TROY SHELLHAMMER, my pacer for all the races but VT100. He helped me through all of the races, and put up with me at VT100 where I told him to leave me because I was mad we got lost and we went 2 hours off course. He never left me and helped get me across the finish line. I would have not finished the Grand Slam without him!
You went from running to lose weight to winning 22 marathons to date. I also lost 90 pounds from getting into running. What advice would you give someone looking into running as a weight loss helper?
I think running is the best way to burn calories from a time efficiency standpoint. However, I think losing weight is 80% diet and 20% exercise.
Do you like ice baths? Why or why not?
No. I have done them, but don’t do them anymore. It is miserable to be cold.
In your free time when you’re not running, what other hobby’s do you enjoy?
I love to play games with family: cards, board games, etc. I am a private pilot. My husband is a licensed instructor who taught me how to fly and I like to fly with my husband. I love to snorkel or SCUBA when we travel. I also scrapbook, but haven’t had much time to do it as of late.
What's the most important tip you like to give new runners?
Running is so hard when you first start. It feels like you are going to die. Build miles gradually and start your runs slowly. It will feel easier in 2 to 3 weeks. Commit to run 2 to 3 weeks before considering throwing in the towel. Challenge yourself with different distances and surfaces. I was surprised by the fact I liked running uber long. I was surprised I was good at uber long.
Would you ever consider attempting the Barkley's marathon? Why or why not?
No. I get lost on a marked course sometimes. I am also not a good climber. You have to be good at hiking and have orienteering skills.
With all of your wins and records, what is your favorite running accomplishment so far?
I am most proud of my 48 Hour performance in the Dome. I fought back from thinking I was done and wouldn’t be able to accomplish my goals. I was so dizzy that I was having trouble running, behind my pace schedule at some point, and wanting to quit. I have endured many times, but never had to dig to such a depth. I am certainly proud of the result, but more proud of finding out what I could do mentally.
Is there a race you would really like to run? If so, which one and why?
Antelope Canyon 50 miler. It looks so pretty.
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Published June 29, 2019