Carolyn Weber is an Illinois native, currently living in Pocatello, Idaho. She is presently an assistant professor at Idaho State University, and is a runner.
Carolyn first came to one of our camps in May 2012, spending 7 days in the company of an eclectic group of women runners. Like every returning runner, it has been a joy to see Carolyn return stronger, faster, and more confident in her abilities.
This Idaho runner attended one of our co-ed trail running camps this last weekend, and I had the chance to interview her while she was here.
Can you tell us something about running history prior to 2012?
As a kid, I played a lot of team sports in which running was a punishment, so it wasn’t until college and graduate school that I took up running as a form of exercise and found that I enjoyed it. A friend convinced me to run a half marathon, my first race ever, in 2005. Between then and 2012, I ran several 5Ks, 10Ks and a few more half marathons. My race times were improving and I began to take running more seriously. I especially got a lot of enjoyment out of running after moving to New Mexico in 2009 and then Idaho in 2011 for professional reasons, as these regions introduced me to running at higher altitudes and I got my first tastes of trail running. However, I felt that my running had plateaued and, perhaps oddly, I didn’t truly feel like I could call myself a runner. In 2012, I felt like I needed something to bust down the wall that was preventing me from improving and I was also beginning to feel a bit beat up physically. Never having had any formal coaching, I suspected that my form was pretty inefficient and I wasn’t taking the right approach to training—at least one that worked for me. Although I couldn’t really articulate it at the time, I also felt that I wasn’t fully experiencing all that the sport had to offer. That’s pretty much what brought me to Active at Altitude in 2012.
You came to one of our women’s running camps in May 2012. What was your experience at camp like?
The Women’s Running Camp was exactly what I needed to elevate my running from the plateau that I had reached physically—but also mentally, which was a life-changing discovery for me. I came to camp mostly expecting to figure out what I needed to do differently to better approach the physical aspects of running—and there was certainly that! Through a video analysis I saw for myself that I was a profound heel-striker and had lots to work on there and I learned a tremendous amount about running work outs, cross training and proper nutrition, among other things. However, the real watershed moment for me at the Camp was discovering how far I needed to come mentally and that I would never become a runner if I didn’t first believe that myself! I was always told in high school that I was a terrible runner, but team sport coaches left it at that and never provided constructive criticism. During camp, I came to the realization that I had been letting other people’s criticisms define me and my potential even though I am a pretty independent person in most everything I do and I think I am fairly strong mentally. But I really realized that I could be stronger with a supportive network of people with whom I could safely share my aspirations for running—or anything in life….a network of people that provide a safe environment to dream big and serve as a sounding board. The Women’s Running Camp provided that network. To this day, I have stayed in contact with fellow campers from the 2012. This supportive atmosphere and community established by the Camp is a primary reason that I also came to Women’s Running Camps held in 2013 and 2014 as well as Trail Running Camp this year. The Camps also take place in an absolutely stunningly beautiful area of the country and provide a wonderful place to run with like-minded folks. The hospitality at Active at Altitude is amazing and meal times are always a highlight—they are really fun and provide great venues for laughing, dreaming, planning, mental training…they provide food for the soul as much as they do for the body.
What was your biggest take away from that camp?
I think the biggest take away from Camp was a new mental foundation on which to build myself as a runner—or anything–as well as a new framework for living life. After Camp, I knew that I wanted to achieve new goals, but that the focus should really be primarily on the journey towards reaching those goals and that living life with gratitude was paramount. I also learned the power of visualization as a tool in realizing goals. Camp was my first real immersion in making mind-body connections and I was absolutely blown away. In 2014, I ran a personal best at the Missoula Half Marathon. At the time, I knew it was a bit lofty, but doable to run the race in 95 minutes. I did the math and knew what pace I had to hit. I had never run the course before, but had a map and course profile. Using only those three pieces of information, I visualized several times before race morning what it would feel like to run the race in 95 minutes—with gratitude for every step. I ended up finishing in 1:35:06 and almost couldn’t believe it.
You formed a close bond with your bunk room buddies during the camp. What was special about this for you?
Yes. My bunkroom buddies almost couldn’t have been more different than me in many ways—age, profession, ethnic background, religion, physical appearance…everything. But we were all united at Camp in the act of self-discovery and redefining ourselves as people. I have remained in contact with Mirabelle Tinio, one of my bunkroom buddies, who continues to be a fountain of inspiration in her dare to dream big back in 2012 and run with the Canadian Mountain Running Team—a goal that she once didn’t think was possible, but that she accomplished. Mirabelle represents boundless energy packaged in a frame that is just over 5 feet tall. At about nine inches taller, I have fond memories of she and I running the streets of Boulder, CO—we had a good laugh after I told her that we must look a bit like Penn and Teller to those we were passing by! In the last four years, I’ve only had a chance to see Mirabelle twice, but she remains a key person in my support network. Interacting with Mirabelle and others at the Camp made me realize that in today’s world, people tend to focus too much on what makes us different with respect to so many things– ethnicity, religion, gender, physical appearance, etc.—but we are all human beings—we all cry, sweat and bleed. We all have fears and doubts. We all also dream and have a tremendous amount of potential–more than we usually realize–to make those dreams a reality. Mirabelle is living, walking … running proof of that. With an environment created by a supportive network of people in which it is safe to dream and safe to take risks, we can accomplish what may have once seemed impossible.
You decided to become a Chi Running coach after this camp. What prompted you to follow this path?
I actually “discovered” Chi Running after coming to camp in 2012, at which I learned my running form needed some serious work so that I could prevent injury, first and foremost, but also become faster and more efficient. At Camp, we talked about running from one’s core and landing midfoot with a forward lean from the ankles while maintaining a relatively high cadence. I started working on this after Camp and began to feel like I was improving—I felt that running was easier and I was definitely getting faster. During this time, a colleague brought Chi Running to my attention and I began to read Danny Dreyer’s book on the subject. The technique described many elements of running form that I was already working on and provided a mechanism for honing in on these elements using various focus techniques and a metronome to train your body to run with the proper cadence. After feeling like this was really beginning to work for me both physically and mentally and undercutting my first half marathon time in 2005 by about 18 minutes, I found myself wanting other people to feel this good. So, in 2013, I went to a Chi Running instructor training course in Asheville, NC and completed my certification.
Since that first camp, you have also qualified for Boston twice. How important was your camp experience to helping you achieve this, and what was your highlight from running Boston?
Running a marathon, let alone qualifying for Boston, wouldn’t have been possible prior to coming to Camp—physically, but particularly mentally. During the Camp, I learned that I didn’t have to listen to the doubts and fears of others about something that I could and would do. While I was training for my first marathon in 2013, a coworker had learned what I was doing and said to me one day, “running a marathon is a really good goal to have even if you don’t finish it”. I learned that people commonly project these criticisms onto others, but they are really just the reservations that they have about themselves. My coworker was rudely surprised when I not only completed the marathon, but also qualified for Boston, undercutting the qualifying time by nearly 10 minutes.
After Camp, consciously running with a sense of gratitude became a practice for me that got me through the marathon. Before race day, I made a list of people that I was grateful for and, up until the last 5k of the race, I had this mental playlist of people and fond memories associated with them that I was flipping through. I dedicated the last 5k of the race to every person who ever cast a shadow of doubt on my running ability—turning their negativity in motivation to cross the finish. When I started the race that day, my goal had been to simply finish it; although the Boston qualification time was in the back of my head, it definitely wasn’t a focus. To BQ was just the frosting on the cake.
Boston 2015 was great, but 2014 will always have a special place in my heart. I was really nervous, of course, to run Boston as my second marathon ever, but it was also the year after the horrific bombings of 2013. I remember being at the Salt Lake City airport and when I arrived at the gate for the flight to Boston it was this sea of really fit people wearing the Boston jackets from years’ past and I instantly got really anxious. I started having a bunch of negative self talk run through my head—wondering if I was really worthy of running with seasoned Boston Marathoners, etc. I actually stepped away from the gate at one point. When I came back, a woman in her 60’s struck up a conversation with me and asked me if I was running. She explained to me that she had run Boston several years in a row and had planned 2013 to be her last go at it —she had had every intention of hanging up her shoes after running in 2013. But she said that after the bombing, she would absolutely not do that and that she needed to be part of the 2014 race that would take back the City and show people that we wouldn’t live in fear—that we must overcome. At this point, I realized that this was way more than a race and finish times. Boston represented so much more—it was all about overcoming. Another key moment in the race was during the latter half. We were running up hill and I was feeling less than fresh when some guy in the crowd shouted “Meb won! An American has won!” Those of us who were feeling the burn were instantly re-energized. It was amazing. Since Boston 2014, I have thought very differently about running. There’s always competition, but mostly running is about overcoming—it’s about the journey. It doesn’t matter how fast one is, but every one who toes the start line of any race had to overcome something to get there. Toeing the start line is a victory and crossing the finish is the celebration of a fantastic journey of overcoming.
You have decided on a major career shift coming up soon. Can you tell us something about this and why you are excited for the next part of your life journey?
Sure. I have a Ph.D. in biological sciences and for the last 4.5 years, I have been teaching and running a microbiology research lab at a university. This summer I will be leaving this position to take a seat in the Doctor of Physical Therapy Class of 2019 at Des Moines University and Osteopathic Medical Center in Des Moines, Iowa.
My decision to become a physical therapist (PT) stems from my own journey in becoming a better runner and the newfound confidence that this has afforded me in tackling new challenges—running and not. Although I still very much consider myself a work in progress, improving my own movement patterns has helped me unlock my potential as a runner and discover that I am capable of doing something that I never thought I could before. Not everyone wants to cross the finish line of a marathon, but every person has his or her own equivalent goal. I am looking forward to having the opportunity as a PT to help people discover their potential to move better in the process of achieving whatever goals they might have. I maintain a staunch love for science and research and being a physical therapist will allow me to marry that with my passion for education that I discovered as a university faculty member. As a PT, I will be able to function as a teacher and liaison between research and the general public, utilizing evidence-based practices and translating scientific findings into tools that people can use to optimize movement and live more satisfying lives. Although many people only encounter a PT after they become injured, there is movement in the profession to play a larger role in preventative medicine, which is something that I am particularly excited about.