Weekend Warriors: Ultrarunner Traci Falbo Sets Records -- And That's Just One Of Her Jobs
One calendar isn't enough for Traci Falbo.
The record-setting ultramarathoner and pediatric physical therapist in Charlestown, Indiana, keeps two going at all times. One is on her phone and the other is a printed-out Excel spreadsheet. Every day she consults both to determine where she's going, what she's doing and when she can fit in her training runs -- often a difficult task because patients' parents often need to make last-minute session changes that throw her calendars into chaos.
Falbo, 43, essentially has two full-time careers. The first is as a physical therapist for children up to 3 years old, helping infants and toddlers with developmental delays reach milestones like sitting up, crawling and walking. it's a job she loves.
"I've helped hundreds of children take their first steps," she says. "That's really exciting."
But having a full caseload that requires driving time, after-hours paperwork, and appointments that shift by the day and hour isn't conducive to running 3,000 miles in a year, as Falbo did in 2014. She needs to run from 50 to 80-plus miles per week when she's prepping for a race.
So Falbo always keeps a packed bag with her running gear wherever she goes -- just in case. In her mission for miles, she has to get creative. Instead of getting a ride to pick up her car at the shop one day, she ran the 18 miles. After running a 10k for fun with her husband, Mike, and kids, Mackenzie, now 18, and Logan, 16, one weekend, they dropped her off 20 miles from home so she could run back.
When her daughter ran Saturday cross country meets that Falbo didn't want to miss, she made them part of her day. "If I had to do 30 miles on Saturday, I might run 10 miles before her meet, and then we'd drive up to the meet and I'd literally run around the course until she ran, and get whatever I could," she says. "And then maybe the guys run, so I can run while they run, and maybe there's some time before awards, so I run some more."
Since running her first ultra, a 50-miler in October 2011, Falbo has twice been selected to the U.S. team for the International Association of Ultrarunners 24-Hour World Championships. In 2013, in the Netherlands, she was fourth among women; this April, in Italy, she was the silver medalist, running 148.96 miles.
In 2014, she set two U.S. records. The first was covering 242.09 miles in 48 hours at the Six Days in the Dome event in Anchorage, Alaska, in August. It was an American record and world indoor mark. In November she ran 14:45:25 in the Tunnel Hill 100-mile race in Illinois, breaking by nearly 12 minutes the 100-mile women's trail record set in 2007.
Falbo is a relative newcomer to ultra running, but a successful one -- even while balancing work and all the things that come with being married with two teenagers. She was a runner in high school and college, but says she "wasn't very good." She stopped running while building her career and having her two children. But after nearly a decade away from running, she had gained a lot of weight and wasn't happy about it. "I ended up being depressed and eating and gaining more weight, and in '03 I decided I needed to do something," she says.
So she laced up some running shoes and hit the roads. After a year, she'd lost 80 pounds. She joined a running club -- in the midst of a divorce -- and found solace in new friendships and a goal: to run a marathon.
In 2004 she completed her first. By 2008 she admits she "got a little crazy" as she discovered the 50 States Marathon Club. Since then, she's run sub-4-hour marathons in all 50 states and has completed nearly 100 marathons. She's also won 20.
Yet it was when she ran her first ultra that Falbo found her calling.
"I'm not super fast but I can go for a long time at a pretty good clip," she says. To pass the time during the endless miles she listens to music, talks to other runners, calculates her split times and sometimes counts "when it gets hard."
Lately, she's been ramping up her training to run the Spartathlon on Sept. 25, a 152-mile race from Athens to Sparta in Greece that is billed as one of ultra racing's toughest events. The race has a 36-hour time limit and, at one point, a steep ascent and descent of a mountain -- at night. It's meant to follow the course of Pheidippides, the legendary messenger from Ancient Greece, sent from Athens to Sparta to seek help during the war between Greece and Persia. It's a destination of sorts for the world's top ultra runners, and for Falbo, it will mean many more long runs squeezed in after work -- or any other time she can find on her calendars.
Why does she do it?
"It just becomes one challenge after the next," she says. "And I guess I just keep setting challenges because it's fun to do and see what you can accomplish."