Interview of the Month: Catching up with Tracy Y. Thomas

Posted on May 2, 2008 by

2007 Across the Years 72-Hour, Litchfield, AR, USA

Tracy at Across the Years, 2007

by Connie Karras

Greetings Fellow Ultrarunners!

I am pleased to have the opportunity to help Phil after a long sabbatical during which I did not have the time to contribute to Planet Ultramarathon. Phil and I became acquainted during the time I helped Jesper Olsen on his World Run. Upon the completion of Jesper’s Guinness Book record, I blogged for Phil while this site was still “Ultramarathon News” and just couldn’t find the time to contribute to PUM until now. It’s nice to be back, Phil. You are a tireless advocate for our sport and I’m grateful you have kept this site going.

What follows is an interview with ultrarunner Tracy Y. Thomas, 46, of Champaign-Urbana, IL, USA, a member of the Second Wind Running Club’s ultrarunning group, “Buffaloes of the Prairie,” also based in Champaign-Urbana, IL : I’ve been wanting to introduce a monthly interview feature to PUM and this is our first interview.

I wrote a piece in 2006 about this talented woman with a follow-up that featured her 2006 McNaughton Park Trail Run 100 Mile race report, but haven’t reported on her latest doings. Next on Tracy’s dance card is the approximately 300 mile Vol State Road multi-day run this July that winds west to east through the USA state of Tennessee (she hopes to complete all of it and as fast as possible), and PUM will be bringing you her race report this summer. This interview not only brings us up-to-date with Tracy, exploring how she got into ultrarunning and what meaning the sport has for her today, but discusses her views on life and the people in it…

PUM: What physical activities and sports participation did you engage in growing up and what got you started in ultrarunning?

I played softball recreationally in the summers while in junior high and high school, but it was basketball that captured my passion. Getting in shape to play basketball is what got me started running and intriqued in what I thought at the time was “long distance” running (2 miles!!!). During my junior year in high school, one of the seniors on our basketball team, Cheryl Herring, who was a gifted runner and set our high school record in the mile, noticed that I did well in running and was always fast in the drills at basketball practice. She talked me into running track and joining her in training to run the longest distance event offered to girls – the mile.

After my senior year, I became interested in local 5 and 10K races and ran them for a few years before eventually running a marathon in 1988. I ran marathons for several years until I plateaued. I would always run in the mid 3:20s each marathon, so I decided to run a 50-miler because I’d have an excuse to slow down. Well, as most ultrarunners would agree, once you “taste it” you’re addicted. A week later, I signed up for Angeles Crest 100 and the rest is history.

PUM: Throughout your life, who has shaped who you are and how?

First and foremost, my folks were ALWAYS supportive of ALL of my athletic endeavors. They continue to support me in many ways and are always so proud of me whether I win, finish or DNF. My mom comes to many of my events and crews for me – which is not easy. I am a vegan and I have her prepare pretty unique stuff for me to consume/eat. My dad would love to be at my events too, but someone has to stay home and take care of the dog and “man the house and gardens, etc.”

Additionally, my partner and my best friends are also very supportive in my athletic endeavors. I do a lot of running with my partner, Laura, and she also does resistance training with me at least 5 days a week when she isn’t traveling.

PUM: What accomplishments are you most proud of, not just in ultrarunning, but in general?

I am very proud of my BFA in Art/Ceramics/Pottery as well as my Masters Degree from Cal State Long Beach in Kinesiology.

As far as ultrarunning goes, one race I will never forget is finishing first overall at the Arkansas Traveller 100 in 2005. Also, breaking the course record and winning the Across the Years 72-Hour race was also an exciting moment.

I am also proud of the balance that I keep in my life and the fact that I have plenty of quality time with the most important people in my life. I speak to my Mom almost every day and we visit each other a few times each year. I also get plenty of recreational as well as exercise time with my partner and I love having that kind of balance. I spend a good deal of time with my business of Personal Training and Running: and that really fulfills me to help others; however, in the past, I used to get overworked. Now I keep my amount of clients manageable and have time to do other things that interest me as well. I just wish I had the time to visit all my great friends in CA, AK, etc. more often!

PUM: I know you’ve been trying to deal with some nagging injuries. How are you doing with that?

Having been injured with ITB issues for the past two years, my races and accomplishments have been very limited. In fact, I feel like a “has been” as far as running goes, but I am going to attempt the Vol State run (-300 miles) and would also like to do Ultra Centric as well as ATY again.

Eventually, I’d like to do a 6- and 10-day race. And, if money were no object and/or if anyone were willing to join me, I’d like to run across the United States and even up into Canada.

PUM: I have to tell you that for someone struggling with injuries, I admire how you still find ways to give to others. I know you would have rather been running McNaughton this year but instead of feeling sorry for yourself, you helped Sherpa John LaCroix finish 100 miles under very difficult weather conditions. You truly embody the meaning of “sportswoman.” What do you consider your most difficult challenges and how have you perservered through them?

My running injuries have been a huge challenge as well as adult-onset asthma. It really bothers and scares me a lot. I don’t like the medications that I’m on as they increase the risk of asthma-related death and that doesn’t appeal to me. However, I am forced to take something or I can’t breathe right. So this is an ongoing struggle for which I wish I could find some sort of healthier alternative medicine.

Also challenging for me is running my own business while also trying to continue my passion and pursuit of great, beautiful pottery/art. In racing, it is a real challenge for me to keep going and think positive when I get really fatigued or am in pain – not damaging pain – just sore muscles and joints. I wish I had a higher pain tolerance and could think more positively when the going gets tough.

PUM: If you weren’t able to ever run again for some reason, what would you do?

Well, if I were paralyzed from the waist down, I’d do wheelchair racing and many other types of activities that I could still do. For example, wheelchair basketball, and I would always do weight lifting.

Now, if I were to be paralyzed from the neck down, I don’t want to discuss that as it isn’t very positive. If I just couldn’t run because of my knees or something of that nature, I’d walk or bike/spin or anything else I could do to stay physically active and I would further involve myself in my business of helping others with running and exercise. Their success is my success as well.

PUM: Does your partner, Laura, ever get concerned for your health and safety? How do you think your life would be different if you didn’t have each other?

As I said earlier, Laura is very supportive of my running. Well, I should say she is as supportive as she can be until she thinks I’m attempting something that is unhealthy – like anything longer than 100 miles. At that point, she still says I can do it, but will not go and spend her scarce vacation days catering to me and watching me suffer only to come home and sign on the dotted line to do yet another ultra distance event!

Laura runs with me, she resistance trains with me, she goes to most races with me, and she never says that I’m “wasting money” on these events or this lifestyle. She is also very proud of me. I can barely hear her when she yells to me during events because she is so laid back and just does NOT know how to be loud. But I feel her with me every day in everything that I do. Without her, I wouldn’t be able to do half the events that I do and I would not be as happy as I am.

PUM: Do you think ultrarunning should become a big-sponsor sport or remain pure? Do you think Dean Karnazes has helped bring our sport to the masses and if so, in a good or bad way?

I’m happy with ultrarunning the way it is and don’t really want it to “go commercial.” I love the “family feel” of ultrarunning.

Yes, I feel that DK has helped to bring our sport to the masses and I have mixed feeling about it. It is such a joy to see new ultrarunners and the new enthusiam they have for the sport and the people in the sport, but I don’t want millions of people clogging up races so that it is next to impossible to get into events because they fill up immediately.

PUM: What is your philosophy on life? How do you believe we should behave toward each other?

This is too deep for me to fully answer. I don’t have the time to think or type that much right now…

Try to treat others as you would want to be treated. Read “Tuesdays with Morrie”! Try to see the positive side of life and the positive side of others. I wish I would follow this advice all the time too!!!

Giving to others and helping others comes back to you in many and far-reaching ways! Try it!!

PUM: I think you do plenty of this, Tracy. In all the time I’ve known you, you have been a giver rather than a taker. I will never forget how you helped so many people at last year’s “Howl at the Moon 8 Hour Ultra” in Danville, IL. I was very tired and sick from my Badwater Solo and I can’t tell you how uplifting it was to see your happy face on every loop. You are a big reason I donned my Buffalo hat and kept going and I know you motivated many newcomers who were running that race as their first ultra. If you could tell newcomers to this sport what is most important to know, what would you say?

Respect the earth, respect the people: the other runners, the volunteers, the race staff. If it weren’t for them, you wouldn’t or couldn’t be participating in these races.

Do NOT pollute. Pick up others’ trash or politely point out the error of their ways to them so that they learn a valuable lesson.

PUM: If you had a week to live, how would you spend it?

I would spend it with the most valuable people in my life and we’d have a ton of fun. It’d be a week they’d never forget!!!

PUM: Tracy, what closing thoughts would you like to share with us that will give us an even better idea of who you are and what legacy you want to leave?

I want others to feel that I gave of myself and tried to help them – in many ways: maybe with their exercise, with their nutrition, with work they needed done. I want to be thought of as generous and that you can count on me. I’ll be there through thick and thin.

It’s true; I do like to shop, but I love to give to others even more. All charitable solicitors know this – that’s why they knock on my door SEVERAL times each year! Seriously, I hope to leave this world and the people in it a better place when I’m gone. The legacy that I will leave is that I am “REAL.” You usually always know how I feel or what I think. I don’t hide it and I am passionate about what I’m passionate about. I will defend my loved ones to the end.

PUM: Thank you so much for your time, Tracy. I’m sure your words will continue to motivate those who have the pleasure of being touched by you, and will speak volumes to those not yet in this sport who need motivation to get started. I’m sure I speak on behalf of everyone here at PUM and the ultrarunning community when I say we wish you the best at Vol State and in all future endeavors.

You’re most welcome!


(Interviewer’s note: I am proud to call Tracy a friend. When I entered this sport in 2005, I was unsure how to proceed and was in search of support. No matter how busy Tracy was with her business, racing, and many other activities, she always made time to help me. She dedicated a race to the memory of my deceased father and to me as well, as she knew what a difficult time I had in the year 2006 with health issues and a flood that had impacted my area. Her honesty and integrity in this sport and in life in general stand as models for how we should live our lives. Tracy helps me to be a kinder and gentler soul. I wish you many, many more miles, my friend).

Posted by Connie Karras

Posted in: Ultra Marathons