When most runners turn 40, they begin to relax their racing goals. Connie Gardner is not most runners.
Last year, at the age of 49, the Medina, Ohio, resident set an American record for the 24-hour run when she covered a stunning 149.368 miles at the World 24-hour Championships in Poland. Her effort was good for a silver medal and helped Team USA win the team title.
Gardner is an 11-time USATF national champion in distances ranging from 50 miles to 24 hours.
When you set the American record in Poland, running 149.368 miles in 24 hours, what was going through your head during the race?
I had trained for the race in Poland to run 150 miles. During the race I was trying to stay on a pace that I had been practicing for years. It was difficult because there wasn't the feedback every few hours. I don't wear a watch or Garmin, I just like to check on things every four hours to see if I am on my goal pace. There was no leaderboard there, the coaches were overwhelmed, so I was trying not to get frustrated and was just hoping for the best. I did feel healthy the entire run, I was appreciating that every step of the way. There are some races where I just don't feel great from start to finish.
What's on your "bucket list" for records/races in the remaining years of your career and why?
My bucket list: I still want to -- need to -- hit that 150-mile mark. I'm not sure why it is so important [to me], I just think it is something I should be able to do and have never done. Other races and events on my bucket list are I would like to get a speed record crossing the United States. I would like to race Badwater again. I would like to race the Spartathlon. My biggest problem is simply getting to the races. The time off work and expenses are too high.
What kind of advice can you give to someone who has never tried an ultra?
People ask me all the time about ultras. I figure if they are asking, they probably are considering completing one. I let them know it is quite simple: you take the event one step at a time. If you break the event into smaller segments it becomes a bit more realistic. I can't fathom racing 100 straight miles, but I can work my way from aid station to aid station. Aid stations are typically about an hour apart. It's simply stringing together a series of very relaxed 10Ks. The key to ultras is running fast and relaxed, with the most emphasis on the relaxed part.
Do you have any interest in trying to better your non-ultra PRs?
The only non-ultra PR that bothers me is my marathon time [3:04:03]. I have never really focused on racing a fast marathon -- honestly, I think I'm afraid to. Anyway, not having a sub-3 hour marathon is really something I should do before I get too old. I turn 50 this year. I guess it's now or never.
During your long races, you certainly reach a point where you want to quit but don't. What do you tell yourself and/or what do you do to not quit?
When things are falling apart in a race I look back to other experiences that have been worse. I've been racing marathons since I was 17. That's 33 years. I have a lot of experience running races when my body is beat, or the weather is too hot or too cold. It seems like these days when things get tough, I can always recollect a time when I was able to get through something worse.