Nome woman finds solace in running ultra-marathons
“I started running in 2014,” began Carol Seppilu. “I remember the day very well. I was depressed and overweight, severely obese. It was hard just getting out of bed.”
Seppilu’s friend Crystal Toolie was running marathons and encouraging her to run. She’d invite her to come along on a run. “But that day I thought ‘I’m going to get up and go for a run.’ It was a beautiful sunny day,” said Seppilu. “I ran for a couple of blocks and then I was out of breath. And then I walked the rest of the two miles I’d planned. I made a goal to do two miles a day. Every day I got faster and then I could run a whole mile without stopping.”
Carol Seppilu now runs ultra-marathons and on June 20 completed the 52-kilometer (32 miles) Broken Arrow Skyrace at Squaw Valley, California. The race gains over 10,000 feet high in the Sierra Nevada mountains.
“The progress was very gradual,” she said. “It takes a lot to get into running, especially if you’re overweight. I was 233 pounds when I started. It’s probably not the best idea to run when you’re at that weight.” She was 31-years-old at the time.
She did her two miles a day faithfully for a year, running on a treadmill much of the time.
In 2015 she entered the Dexter Challenge, an eight-mile run. She had never run that far before but she finished with no trouble.
This motivated her to enter an upcoming half-marathon, which is just over 13 miles. “If I can do eight miles I can surely do thirteen,” she said to herself. “Not knowing what I was doing I got into the half marathon and finished it. And I just wanted to keep going further and further.”
Crystal Toolie was talking about doing a 100-miler in 2016.
“I thought ‘Wow, I didn’t know 100 milers even existed!” The race was in Louisiana and Seppilu made the trip to do the 20-mile run. Crystal was entered in the full length 100-miler but midway found her training to be insufficient so she dropped down to the 100-K, which is 62 miles.
“And that’s when I decided I wanted to get into ultra-marathon running,” said Seppilu. She watched the people doing the longer race and their endurance and perseverance inspired her. “I thought someday I’m going to do what these guys are doing,” she said.
The 20-miler was not easy. Seppilu’s feet were badly swollen, she fell often, and the race took her a long time to finish. The rain fell constantly in a serious downpour. “Even though it was painful I fell in love with the ultra-marathon community. What I witnessed I knew that someday I’d sign up for a big race.”
She attempted a 100-mile race in December, 2017. The race was on her birthday and she figured that was a good sign. But she neglected to check the elevation profile, which details the up and down sections of the trail. Although the hills weren’t big by Alaska standards there were nine of them in the 12.5 mile loop. Runners had to do the loop eight times. She made it to 50 miles and had to tell the race officials “I have the heart but I don’t have the body.” This race was the Hitchcock Experience in Iowa. “People think Iowa is flat but in that trail run it’s nothing but hills,” she said.
Seppilu has now completed six ultra-marathons officially and two 50-milers which are unofficial. She broke her ankle during a 50-K race. At around mile 5 she was headed down a steep hill with loose rock and saw an animal coming up. “I took my eyes off the trail. It was a dog. But once I took my eyes off the trail I took a wrong step and fell. I broke my ankle without having any idea I’d broken it. It hurt but I could walk decently on it. I ended up finishing that race with a broken ankle. I actually thought it was sprained.”
In August she heads to Leadville Colorado to compete in a well-known 100-miler.
What sort of training does a person have to do to run these extreme long distances? “Leading up to this 62-K I was running about 40 to 50 miles a week up in the mountains,” said Seppilu. “And a lot of it was on a treadmill. When I do my heavy long runs I head up to Anvil. I’ve spent a lot of time on Anvil. This week is my recovery week and I’m just taking it easy making sure my legs recover properly.”
Her friend Crystal Toolie gives her tips and the two also find time for dancing. They are both members of the Nome St. Lawrence Island dance group. “I make time to go to performances. I think that’s more important than running. I’m very into our culture and I think it’s important that we keep our traditions alive.”
During a long and difficult run there is plenty of time for self-doubt to creep in. Does Carol Seppilu experience it? “All the time,” she said. “I think when I’m running an ultra half of it is fun, the other half you’re wondering what the hell you’re doing. I start hurting and wonder if I want to ever do that again. You go through a lot of dark moments where you wonder if you’re going to make it. There’s that voice that says you can just drop out. But once you finish it all that goes away. All the pain and frustration just turns into joy. It’s a very good feeling. That’s what keeps me coming back to these difficult races. You go through all these emotions, you overcome the difficulties. I like to apply that to my life. I’ve been through a lot. It helps to push me to keep going,” she said.
She lost a lot of weight and she tries to eat healthy, but admits she has a big appetite. “I love to eat,” she says. During a race it’s important to get at least 200 calories an hour.
“Running has helped me a lot with my depression,” she said. “I suffer from depression and go through a lot of dark days. When you’re training and running a whole lot you don’t have time to think about all the sad things that you’ve been through. Running has helped me a lot.”