40 EVENTS IN THE YEAR SHE TURNED 40!
Merilee Rowley recently completed her 40th event this year to chase down her goal of completing 40 events in the year she turned 40 years old. In this interview she shares all the insights and wisdom she learned along the way to accomplishing this goal.
UtahRunning.com: Let’s start out with some of the basics. Could you talk about your running background?
Merilee: I’ve never really been super athletic. I didn’t do any sports in high school or anything. When I was 24, I had my first baby, and I was in terrible shape after the pregnancy. I wanted to start doing something that would be fun and not really super intimidating. I started walking and then I just started running.
I would run about three miles a day and I did that for a couple of years before I stopped again. That’s how I started. I’ve just run on and off since then.
UtahRunning.com: That’s great. Tell us about your decision to participate in 40 events the year you turned 40. How did this goal come about and what inspired you to set out on this lofty adventure?
Merilee: I actually had starting getting back into fitness again, probably three or four years ago. I started working with a trainer and doing some more long-distance running, making my way through that. Figuring out, “Oh, I do probably need to have some kind of Gatorade if I’m going to run for ten miles,” and things like that.
My friend and I decided to do a half marathon, the Salt Lake Half the year I was 38. We were so excited. As you know, runners are amazing people. And when we were on Trax going to the start line of the Salt Lake Half at 5 o’clock in the morning, we’d never done anything even remotely like that before. It just hit me that when I turned 40 I wanted to do 40 events. I had still never done one!
I told my friend while we were on the team and other runners were there listening, the feedback I got was really mostly a lot of, “You’re crazy,” “That is crazy,” “Why would you do that,” and “That’s nuts!” This was from runners, but I thought, “No, this is going to be good; I’m going to do it.”
What that did was give me a year and a half to mentally convince myself I was going to do it. That’s how it all started. I just thought of it right before my first event ever.
UtahRunning.com: That first event got you hooked. That’s great.
Merilee: It did. It was very exciting, and that was a fun run.
UtahRunning.com: I do like the Salt Lake Half. It is a fun one. Let’s talk about the road that led you to accomplishing your goal. It was a lot of time you had to put into it, not just in training, but in the events that you participated in, in and of themselves. Maybe describe that road that got you there.
Merilee: It took a lot of organizing at first. I sat down for probably 20-30 hours just trying to plan out my calendar for the year because I would have no choice but to do a wide variety of events. I wasn’t going to do 40 marathons. I tried to think of the big ones I wanted to do, then fill in with some smaller ones that I thought would be fun, so I could stretch my training out.
I also had to set some rules for myself. It’s very expensive to do 40 events in one year. I had to say, “I can’t do any events where I have to go someplace and stay overnight. They all have to be within driving distance that day.” That’s why I only did local events.
That was hard. It was hard to kind of sit down and just have the discipline to search through websites and leaf through magazines and try to find the events that would work the best for me. But after that planning part was done, then things kind of took on a life of their own.
The other hard thing was I was doing events that had been done in the past, but a lot of them hadn’t announced their 2013 dates yet. I had to do quite a bit of shuffling when their actual event dates were announced. Some were totally different, and some didn’t even do it in 2013. There was a bit of shuffling but for the most part I stuck with my schedule.
UtahRunning.com: You didn’t just do running. If I remember right, you did some triathlons and things like that. Or, was it mostly running events?
Merilee: It was mostly running. There was only one event that I didn’t do any running and that was the Goldilocks Bike Ride, where I did a 40-mile bike. But I did five triathlons, so while I was trying to plan out my schedule and training for the spring and summer, I had to add swimming and biking in addition to just running and weight training.
One of my events was the Spartan Beast and so I did a lot of specialized training. I don’t know if you’d call it specialized training but workouts that the Spartan Beast organizes, so I had to work that into my schedule too.
UtahRunning.com: So a variety of things, but it probably kept it fresh and fun.
Merilee: It did. It was very fun. For a while, in the spring and summer, what it mostly felt like was totally relentless because every weekend there was something else that was really hard.
UtahRunning.com: What would you say contributed the most to your success in setting this goal, in being self-disciplined throughout and crossing that finish line of accomplishing that huge goal?
UtahRunning.com: I think the factor that was the biggest was making this goal as big and splashy as I could. I told everyone that I was doing it, and I put it on Facebook, and I created a website that I didn’t end up keeping up because it was too complicated. It was much easier to post on Facebook.
After a while, I would run into someone I knew at the grocery store or the library and people would say, “What number are you on?” “How’s it going?” “What are you doing?” “What’s your training like?” It kept me very accountable but I made it as big as I could, and told as many people about it as I could.
And then I had a couple of people that joined with me who heard I was doing it and wanted to do it also, or some version of it, like 30 for 30 as someone was turning 30. Or someone that turned 20 and wanted to do 20 events. Those people really inspired me and kept me accountable because it wasn’t just if I fail I’m going to fail by myself. It was if I fail I’m going to fail all these people.
UtahRunning.com: That’s good pressure on your shoulders, right?
UtahRunning.com: That’s neat. Were there times when you thought it was going to be impossible to accomplish your goal? If so, how did you keep your head up during those times where you felt like giving up?
Merilee: I never felt like the entire goal would be impossible. The only thing I worried about was an injury that I couldn’t overcome. But luckily I did not suffer from any terrible injuries. I had a couple of things I had to work through but that was the only thing I was worried about for the whole goal not being able to be accomplished.
I did worry about not being able to do individual events, just because of the weather. There was sometimes when I woke up and it was snowing and super cold outside and I just thought, “I don’t want to go and do this today. I really don’t want to go and do this.” But I’d have people that would call me and be like “Okay, I’ll meet you there.” And so I’d say, “Okay, I guess I’m going to go.”
I ended up not missing any of my events, but I don’t take the credit for that. That definitely belongs to the other people that were inspiring me to get out in the snow.
UtahRunning.com: It does take a good support group, it sounds like.
Merilee: Yes, absolutely.
UtahRunning.com: What would you say were maybe your top two or three experiences along the way? You have all these events behind you now, where you’ve gotten to experience a bunch of different events. What would you say were your top two or three experiences and why?
Merilee: In addition to the friendships that I made with people that I might not have ever gotten to know, that’s definitely the biggest thing I will come away with this year. One moment that was really a high point for me was in the middle of the year I was doing a 5K by myself. It was at the end of July. It was like a Pioneer 5K, and I tried to do as many events with other people as I could, but I did several of them by myself.
It’s always kind of boring. It’s fun but not as fun as if there was somebody else. I was just trudging along and trying to get through it and get it done so I could go on with my day. I happened to look down at my Garmin that was tracking my mileage and time, and I saw I’d run a mile and a half faster than I’d ever run before in my life. In fact, it was two minutes faster than the mile and a half I clocked during my Fit for Life class when I was in college, and young and fit.
I just thought, “Wow! I just ran faster than I’ve ever run, and I wasn’t even thinking about it or trying to do it.” It just made me really grateful to be healthy and to have a goal that pushed me that far.
The other really high point I would say is right after I did my first triathlon, which I was terrified to do. I had no context for that. I didn’t have any idea where my bike would go or how I would find it or how I would manage in the swim. I just was doing it all by myself, with no friends, and no support. I didn’t have anybody even as an onlooker there that day.
I was really scared. When I finally crossed that finish line, after the run, I wanted to cry that I had stretched so far to be able to do something so far out of my comfort zone. I read something about setting a goal and doing it, no matter how scared you are that day. And that has been really meaningful to me since that happened.
UtahRunning.com: That’s cool. I know that from my experiences with participating in events, there’s something I learn from every single one, so you’ve got probably a big ball of knowledge now with all these events under your belt in such a short amount of time. It’s a great thing.
Is there any additional advice maybe you’d offer to other aspiring runners as they look towards 2014 and setting goals for the New Year, and maybe some final words of wisdom after you’ve accomplished this big goal in your own life?
Merilee: I guess I would say that I’m not an athlete. You wouldn’t look at me and think, “Oh, she’s a runner. Look at her long and thin legs.” That’s not what you would think. You would think, “Wow! That woman looks well fed.” I don’t look like a runner. I’m not coordinated. I’m kind of a big goof ball, and this was something that was not even on my radar when I was growing up. It was something that I stumbled onto later in life. I guess you can make it your own, even if you’re not what people would traditionally think of as an athlete. You can still be that, even if people don’t think that that’s who you are, even if that’s not what you look like. You can do and be whatever you want, and there’s no reason to be held back.
UtahRunning.com: That’s great. I totally agree with you on that. That’s some really great advice. Merilee. We really appreciate your time and the thoughts you’ve had and experiences you’ve shared with us. I know that it makes me want to sit down and lock down a goal that would be just as amazing and inspiring. Thanks for not just doing it for yourself but for those around you, to be motivated and to be more and do more. We appreciate you being here with us.
Merilee: You’re so welcome. It’s been a pleasure.