Stephanie Howe going the extra miles

Courtesy Pure Light Images/Thomas Martens Photography

Stephanie Howe says she relies on positive thoughts -- like how much she loves running -- when the going gets tough.

The first ultramarathon Stephanie Howe ever ran was the 2010 USA Track and Field 50K Nationals in Bend, Ore. She finished second.

"I signed up for it on a whim," said the 30-year-old, a former competitive Nordic skier at Northern Michigan. "I hadn't trained or even planned on running that far. Ever."

Howe found a new athletic strength, and she hasn't stopped running (much) since.

Currently pursuing her Ph.D. in exercise physiology at Oregon State, Howe is taking a break from her studies to take on the Ultra Race of Champions on Saturday in Vail, Colo. Over the course of 100K, she'll climb five mountains and more than 13,200 feet of elevation. She expects it to take about 10 hours.

She's a pre-race favorite, with one catch: This will be the first time she's run this race distance. Being a distance novice hasn't stopped her from standing on the podium before, though, so she's got that going for her -- and these other training secrets:

Stressed out

I had a stress fracture in my fibula this past spring and had to take three months off from running. I couldn't bike or swim, either, because that aggravated it. So I spent a ton of time on the elliptical machine, which was really hard for me. I'm so not an indoor workout person. But I brought my iPad and usually did an interval workout to pass the time.

Hit the mat

I try to get some yoga in whenever I can. I'm really bad at stretching, and yoga forces me to spend an hour taking care of my body. There's a strength aspect to practicing yoga too, but the body-mind connection is key.

No junk miles

For training, I focus on quality, not quantity. I don't just run miles to run them. A typical week for me is to have two intense shorter workouts (one speed-focused, one tempo-paced), one or two long runs, and recovery runs that are, at a maximum, 40 minutes long. I always take one day a week off, and I run on trails almost all of the time. I love the scenery and the fact that they don't pound my joints, like roads can.

And no junk food

As a nutritional consultant who works with a range of athletes, I'm here to say that there is no magic food. There are no magic diets. When people ask me about them, I want to bang my head. I recommend eating a lot of fruits and vegetables. Whole grains are great, and healthy fats, like nut butters, olive oil and avocados, are really important, too.

Fueling for the long run

During a race, I typically eat gels -- they're easiest for my stomach to absorb. When I race, it's really important to fuel every 20 to 30 minutes, starting from the beginning of the race. If you wait until you start to feel hungry, you're going to bonk. Starting early and staying consistent with nutrition pays off in the long run.

Finish line perspective

My main goal is to finish the race feeling good. I want to be relaxed through the race, and remember that I do this because I like it. When it gets tough, I like to remember that it's great to be an athlete, and it's great to compete.

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