To say that Ultra-Marathoner Angela Herrboldt is driven is an understatement. A mother of four, Herrboldt juggles the demands of mom life with her successful career and an intense ultra-marathon training schedule. To top it off, she does it all with an infectiously positive attitude.
That positive, driven attitude carried Herrboldt through her first 105-mile race this summer, the Black Hills 100. While the official 105-mile race took participants twice over the Centennial Trail in the northern Black Hills of South Dakota, Herrboldt tacked an extra four miles onto the total. The extra miles weren’t in her race plan, but a focused mindset kept her pushing forward.
“I recognize that I’m directionally challenged and getting lost is always my top fear every time I’m running,” she said. “That fear is really amplified on trail runs when a lot of things look the same.”
Despite a few wrong turns and running the additional four miles, Herrboldt still managed to take second place female in the race and was happy with her performance. She said her overall goals were to run a smart race, finish without feeling like it was a death march and to go with the flow of any obstacles that came her way.
“I think I’m hooked on these 100 milers now. It was such a fantastic first run. I kept waiting for those dark moments when my brain would try to convince my feet to stop moving, but it never really happened,” she said. “In the last five miles, my feet started swelling and were just done. But you prepare for those last miles to hurt. If those last miles don’t hurt, I probably didn’t try hard enough.”
The Black Hills 100 marked Herrboldt’s fifth ultra. Her biggest takeaway from them has been the level of exhaustion your mind and body can handle through discipline and determination. To keep her mind focused while racing, Herrboldt said she is constantly assessing her body’s condition and thinking of what she may need at the next aid station.
“Longer distances are feet management and a fuel game. Make sure your feet are taken care of and that you have fuel coming in, even if you don’t always want to eat,” she said. “Your mental capacity becomes very strained toward the end of a race and you can only focus on what you need to move forward. It’s fascinating how you can power through things mentally if you have the willpower for it.”
Herrboldt has also learned the importance of listening to her body’s warning signals. While training for the Black Hills 100, she was sidelined with an injury that took her out of training for six weeks.
“I’m very goal driven, and I was beside myself for having to miss those six weeks of training. I thought I was losing all of this fitness. To get through it, I just had to keep reminding myself that the rest was making my body stronger,” she said. “Pay attention to your body. If you feel something that’s not quite right, it’s much better to take a break and cross train differently so that you can keep running when you want to run.”
Herrboldt took a break from running for most of the month after the Black Hills 100, following the guideline of taking a day off for every 10 miles that’s run in a race. She also listened to her body’s cues for when it was fully ready for her to re-lace her shoes.
“I really took it slow. I’m a very motivated and competitive person and I was eager to do all of the training for the Black Hills 100. But, when it was over, I was equally as eager to rest and recover,” she explained.
Herrboldt earned the title as an ultra-runner in just the past few years. Her exposure to the running community didn’t come until college when she began running primarily for fitness reasons. However, after graduating and getting married, Herrboldt said running became a larger part of her life and she became motivated to run a half marathon.
“I still remember my first 10-mile run training for that half marathon. I thought I was going to die and was sure it was the hardest thing I was ever going to do in my life. But, through the training process, I fell in love with the long distances,” she said.
After running that half marathon, Herrboldt turned her eye toward a full marathon and again initially felt overwhelmed by the jump in mileage.
“Training for that first marathon, I remember wondering how I would ever be able to run 26 miles,” she said. “My husband Jason and I were still early in our marriage at that time and I traveled a lot for work, so I’d only see him on the weekends. He was a sprinter and at that time despised longer distance runs, but I slowly persuaded him to run with me on the weekends. He hated it at first but that turned around and he ended up running a few marathons with me.”
After running those marathons together, Jason decided to sign up for a 50k race. Herrboldt said it was her first experience seeing someone complete a race longer than a marathon on a trail rather than pavement. It was also her first exposure to the trail running community and she quickly fell in love.
Today, Herrboldt said she always prefers running dirt over asphalt. The support that’s rooted within the trail running community has also shifted her focus from road races to finding trail races that she can run with friends. She also no longer fears the jump in mileage that comes with training for the longer races. Her long training runs typically span between 20 and 30 miles and Herrboldt said she’s thankful to have Jason’s support for her training schedule.
“I have a really supportive spouse and that, by itself, is a total game changer,” she said. “Often, he will give me priority for running over his own training. I think that’s the number one reason for my success if I’m being completely honest, because it eliminates the mom guilt that I know other women struggle with.”
Having her husband’s support is important, but Herrboldt also recognizes the importance of personal dedication in achieving her goals. A partner’s encouragement might get you out the front door, but your own disciplined focus is what keeps you moving forward.
“Running is important to me, so I make time for it. For me as a mom, I have to get up early to get my workouts in when the children are still sleeping,” she said. “If that means I have to get up at 4:30 a.m., then that’s what has to happen. If something is important to you, you make it work and you fit it in.”
Most of Herrboldt’s long training runs are now completed in the company of running friends, which is much different than her early days as a runner when she primarily trained alone. She said she finds immense value in surrounding herself with friends who push her beyond her comfort zone.
“Getting involved with a community of women runners is so valuable. You meet some great people and it’s how I found some of my core training group and my greatest friends,” she said. “When you are in these long 20- and 30-mile runs, you end up talking about everything. You bear your soul a little bit more freely and you quickly become rooted in those friendships.”
Just as Herrboldt developed strongly rooted friendships through running, she said the sport has strengthened her marriage. They’ve now been together for almost 20 years and she said that running has offered an important avenue of bonding for them.
“Our journey as a running couple has been interesting,” said Herrboldt. “I think my husband would quickly agree that he would have never started doing distance marathons had it not been for me. To the same tone, I would have never started doing trail running and longer distances had it not been for him. You’re so vulnerable on these long trail runs because your body is wrecked and you’re in an exhaustive physical state. It’s amazing to have your person there supporting you. I think it certainly has deepened our relationship.”
Now that their children are older, spanning in age from 12 to 5, Herrboldt says they regularly look for opportunities to run as a family. Each year, the family runs a local Thanksgiving race to raise money for food for a local charity. They also always run a family race over the July 4th holiday.
“Running has been a nice accidental parenting tool that we’ve offered to our kids,” she said. “Honestly, reiterating this lifestyle to them every day wasn’t intentional, but it’s great and it works. The kids love running with us and they think it’s a real treat to sprint to the finish line and beat their dad.”
Although running is a core activity in their household, Herrboldt said she knows that many moms struggle to find time to run or do other activities that they enjoy. That struggle can become more difficult without a supportive partner.
“I would encourage you to openly communicate with your partner about how important running is to you. They can’t read your mind and won’t understand how important it is to you until you talk about it. Just don’t let it become a stress point,” she suggested.
Although finding time to run is easier now that her children are older, Herrboldt says she remembers how different things were during her first few years of motherhood. Early morning runs became even earlier when she needed to pump breastmilk during the nursing years. When her kids were infants and toddlers, she completed most of her runs on a treadmill at home during the early morning hours while they still slept. Yet, despite the challenges of including running on her priority list, she stuck with it.
“Running was really important to me and it made me feel better. That was probably the biggest thing, it just made me feel better,” she said. “When you first have kids, your body is doing all of these crazy things to you and running was a normalcy that allowed me to take back control of my body.”
For other new moms feeling similar struggles, Herrboldt recommends including your needs on the list of household priorities.
“Carve out the time for your goals. You schedule dentist appointments. You schedule playdates for your kids. Don’t be scared to make the time for you whether your goal is to run a 5k, a marathon or something else. Don’t shortcut your own needs,” she said.
While making time for your goals is important, Herrboldt also cautions against being too hard on yourself. Adopt a flexible training schedule, do what you can, and give yourself some grace as you settle into the demands of motherhood.
“Those first few years as a new mom can be so hard and it can feel like you’ll never get through them,” she said. “Just be easy on yourself, try to enjoy the time and know that you will get through it.”
Herrboldt’s love for running truly shows when she talks of getting other women involved in the sport. Knowing the mental and physical benefits that come from running, she encourages others to continue setting new personal goals.
“I get so excited when I hear someone saying that they want to achieve a new running goal. I love to encourage people to challenge themselves. You learn so much about yourself in the process so don’t be scared of it,” said Herrboldt. “Yes, you’ll have longer long runs so get yourself some running friends or find some other treat to fuel your motivation.”
Having lived the progression of running just a few miles at a time to now competing in 100-mile races, Herrboldt understands how overwhelming a jump in mileage can seem.
“My number one piece of advice is to not look at the big number of total miles. Break it up. In a race, just focus on running to the next aid station. If you’re training, set a similar motivation point like running another five miles and then reward yourself with an exciting treat that you need to fuel that run,” she said.
One treat that Herrboldt recommends to spur motivation is only letting yourself listen to a desired podcast or audiobook while you’re running. For runners who are working to increase their mileage, she suggests setting a goal for running a certain number of miles and then giving yourself a brief walk break as a reward.
“I encourage anyone new to running to not be afraid of reaching out to other runners and joining a group run,” she said. “Some of the best friendships come from those invitations and the support that you get from the running community is amazing.”