Runner Moms Podcast | Episode 16

How much can one person endure and overcome?

How much can one person endure and overcome? You’re about to find out. 

Jennifer DiCiesare, this episode’s guest, is an ultra distance runner who has overcome immense obstacles and trials in her life. She joins the show to share her story of living with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, the near death experiences that she has experienced, and how returning to running has helped her to rise again and again. She also walks us through her journey of caring for her son who was born prematurely at 26 weeks, of discovering as an adult that she is autistic with ADHD, and so much more.

The most amazing part of Jennifer’s story is that, despite all of the struggles, setbacks and near death experiences that she has faced, and continues to face, Jennifer keeps pushing forward. And she isn’t just getting by. She has some amazing goals and aspirations. Listen along on her journey and soak up the inspiration as she shares how she has overcome so much and continues to charge forward on her amazing running and life goals. 

Connect with Jennifer:

Check out the Runner Moms Coffee Collection! The Coffee Collection is a celebration of our community and of your strength as a mom runner. The collection includes three unique roasts that were created in collaboration with a local roasterie that upholds the highest standards in coffee roasting and takes great care in where they source the beans for their roasts. 

The three roasts included in the Runner Moms collections are: 

Rise and Run: A light and warming roast to fuel your running journey. 
Sole Sisters: A smooth and inviting roast to enjoy with your best running friend. 
Strong as a Mother: A bold and complex roast. Just like you, momma. 

Shop now and read the full story behind our coffee collection, including sourcing details and producer stories on our website. A portion of all proceeds from the shop will be donated to provide shoes for youth in need.

Shop the Runner Moms Coffee Collection: https://runnermoms.com/shop/
Explore the Runner Moms recipes: https://runnermoms.com/recipes/

Episode Transcript:

Introduction:

Welcome to the Runner Moms Podcast where we help women embrace their inner strength, take time for themselves and lead healthier lives. So, settle in and soak up some inspiration. Then rise, lace up those running shoes and embrace your inner strength because, momma, you run this world.

Shayla:

Welcome to episode 16 of the Runner Moms podcast. Thanks for tuning in to today’s show. I’m Shayla, your host and founder of the Runner Moms community. In just a moment, I’ll introduce today’s incredible guest. But, before that, if you haven’t stopped by our website, runnermoms.com lately, I have to say that you’re missing out on a ton of great, new content including some delicious new recipes. My personal favorite is our recipe for seared scallops with a lemon caper sauce over orzo. I know it sounds fancy, but it’s actually really easy to make and is soooo good.

While you’re there, be sure to check out the Runner Moms Coffee Collection in our online shop. Our whole bean roasts are made in collaboration with a local roasterie and a portion of all proceeds are donated to provide shoes for youth in need. You can find the incredible producer stories behind the coffees and learn more about the roasts over at runnermoms.com/shop.

Now, let’s dive into the good stuff.

How much can one person handle? That’s the question that kept running through my mind after my conversation with today’s guest, Jennifer DiCiesare. As you’ll hear, she has been through more than anyone I’ve ever met. Seriously, I sat in stunned silence for a long time after our interview just processing everything that she shared. But, I think the most amazing part of her story is that, despite all of the struggles, setbacks and, quite frankly, near death experiences that she has faced, and continues to face, Jennifer keeps pushing forward. And she isn’t just getting by. She has some amazing goals and aspirations. I can’t wait to introduce her to you. So, with that, let’s welcome Jennifer to the show.

Well, welcome to the Runner Moms podcast, Jennifer! I’m thrilled to have you on the show and I really can’t wait to dive into your story. So, let’s start the conversation with a bit about you and your family. If you don’t mind, maybe share with the Runner Moms community where you live, what you do, how many kids you have, those kind of background tidbits.

Jennifer:

So, I’m in Lakewood, Colorado. I have one kid, he’s three years old. And I am basically just a full-time mom and then I coach running on the side as well.

Shayla:

Oh nice, how long have you been a coach?

Jennifer:

I’ve been in the fitness world for about eight years now and then just this last winter decided to just go strictly into coaching running.

Shayla:

That’s awesome! Yeah, I’m just kind of diving into the running coaching realm as well. I’m pursuing my certification this weekend. So, fingers crossed it all goes well! I guess, diving into your story as a runner, when did you first start running and what sparked your interest in the sport?

Jennifer:

I started running in college. I used to say for a long time that I couldn’t run a mile to save my life, literally. Then, in college, I had to get out of a really bad situation and had to run. So, I started running. Eventually, I just kind of fell into it and then in the army I actually learned that there was some technique to running. Once I learned about the technique and actually learned how to run correctly, I figured out I was kind of good at it and sort of fell in love with it and just kept going.

Shayla:

Maybe walk us through your journey as a runner. How has your relationship with running kind of grown or evolved over those past 10 years?

Jennifer:

For me, running is kind of, as much as I fell in love with it in college, it has also been a huge part of figuring out how to stay alive. I struggle, I have a genetic condition called Ehlers-Danlos syndrome which causes problems with my connective tissue and affects my joints a lot. I had a lot of doctors tell me that I shouldn’t be running, but running at the same time has been the only thing that has actually kept me out of a wheelchair and alive and healthy. So, just over the course of the years, there has been a lot of ebb and flow of every time I stop running, I end up really really really sick and in the hospital and in a wheelchair. When I find the strength to slowly get back into running, and keep it consistent and maintain all of the training that needs to go into it, I stay healthy and I’m not in the hospital. I’m not in a wheelchair. So, running just over the course of the years became my life because, if I didn’t run, I didn’t live. So, it just became a huge part of who I was.

Shayla:

So, I know that there are several different types of that syndrome. Would you mind walking us through the type that you have and is this something that you’ve had since birth or when did it kind of first take hold in your life?

Jennifer:

Um yeah, so Ehlers-Danlos syndrome is a genetic disorder so I’m born with it. That said, I probably started experiencing symptoms as a young kid and they were just pushed off as a growing pains and what not as a young child. Then, as I got older, those different pains and what not became more severe to the point that I couldn’t function. I couldn’t hold a pencil in high school and then later on in life, I really struggled with keeping my heart rate high enough. My heart rate would drop too low and then I’d just randomly pass out. A little over four years ago, I was so sick that I was on a feeding tube because I couldn’t keep any food down. My GI system was just really messed up from it and not working right. So, it has kind of been a lifelong journey. I have what’s called the hypermobile type or type 3, depending on what research you look at, with what we call classical crossovers. So, classical affects more of the main organs in the body whereas hypermobile tends to affect more of the joints and I have kind of a combination of the two.

Shayla:

What precautions do you have to take as a runner with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome? Have you experienced any running injuries linked to it?

Jennifer:

It’s kind of almost a blessing in disguise as far as injury goes. Because my joints are super flexible, like more flexible than they should be, so every time I roll my ankle or do anything to my joint, I’m actually less likely to harm the joint itself. However, I really lack stability. So, I don’t have great stability, especially in my hips and my back. So, I have to do a lot of extra work, a lot of extra PT work to build that muscle strength. To protect my joints because I will just roll my ankle or dislocate a hip on any given run if I don’t maintain all of that strength. So, I’m less prone to actually tearing it in the moment on just a fluke injury that a lot of runners have that can usually result in some pretty bad stuff. I get more of the long term repetitive, I do the same thing over and over again and eventually that will result in a more serious injury if I don’t take the precaution on the muscle strength.

Shayla:

Do you know of any other runners who also have this syndrome? Is there a community out there that you can turn to for advice, for comradery, anything like that?

Jennifer:

Not really. I know of a few other people who happen to run and have Ehlers-Danlos syndrome but none of them are ultra distance athletes or they have all retired because their health issues basically took hold too much and they weren’t able to keep running. So, I don’t really know of anybody. There used to be like a community online of athletes with Ehlers-Danlos but some stuff got really messed up politically I’m going to go with, in the group, and it kind of shut down. So, there hasn’t really been that community any further that I’ve seen. I could be missing it but I haven’t seen it.

Shayla:

That’s unfortunate that the community didn’t continue because I could imagine that it would be helpful to have that community to turn to. Someone who, you know, other people who would understand what you’re pushing towards and things that you’re going through.

Jennifer:

Yeah, I’ve been, it’s kind of hard in that sense but, at the same time, being an ultra distance runner, you run into so many people from so many backgrounds struggling with so many different medical complexities that the community kind of builds itself around that aspect. So, you still, maybe don’t have the exact same problem as you, but there are a lot of ultra distance runners out there who are battling some sort of complex medical problem and running is what keeps us going. So, there’s kind of that connection is still there.

Shayla:

So, looking at you as an ultra distance runner, what led you to that identity as a runner? To kind of pursue those longer, extreme distances if you will.

Jennifer:

I just never really liked short distance. Even when I grew up, I was a swimmer and I always hated anything less than 500s and then when I started running, I always felt like it took me several miles just to warm up. Then, once I got to this point of like, oh, I just ran like anywhere from 5 to 13 miles, now I feel warmed up. And I just feel like I could run for ever and ever and ever. I started just kind of off trail running and, oh, I can just go run all day and as long as I give myself some grace in that first period of running that I just absolutely hate, then the rest of the run goes wonderfully and I feel awesome and amazing and that just kind of led me to the ultra distance.

In the army, the physical fitness test is two miles and I always hated it because I could never run two miles fast enough unless I went and did a run before the test. I would go and run a mile or two before the test and then go test so that I could actually run the speeds that they considered necessary. I just like, to go run two miles was just never my thing and it took me too long to warm up.

Shayla:

That’s funny! Kind of turning to you as a mom now, your son is three years old now, right?

Jennifer:

Yes.

Shayla:

But, going back to kind of his start in this world, I know he was born quite early. Could you talk us through that story?

Jennifer:

I’ll kind of back up a little bit further actually. When I found out I was pregnant, I had only been out of the hospital for a hair over like two or three months. I had literally been on my death bed starving to death, I just did not think I was going to make it. Then I found out I was pregnant and I had to go through kind of, it was never an, oh yay, I’m pregnant. It was an, I don’t know if my body can handle this, I don’t know if I can carry a pregnancy. I had been told so many times that if I ever got pregnant, I would have to abort for my own health so that it didn’t kill me. Which turned out to be partially true.

I chose to go, after lots of medical consults, chose to go through with it. He was born at 26 weeks 5 days gestational age. So, I never hit the third trimester. We spent a couple of weeks in the hospital on and off before he was born. It was really super traumatic. I really won’t get into the details of that, but it was very traumatic and very scary. A lot of time spent in the hospital, absolutely nothing like any mom would ever imagine going into birth. I didn’t even have a birthing class. I didn’t make it. My son was born before it was scheduled. So it was just kind of this really big whirlwind and then we spent 74 days in the NICU before he could come home.

Nobody really takes care of moms during that time very well these days. So it was just kind of, you’re just kind of in survival mode for the longest time and you don’t even really start to look at yourself as a mom until you’re actually all the way home from the hospital, like 100 percent. It’s a lot of nights leaving your baby alone in the hospital because it’s the only option.

Shayla:

Oh my gosh. I can’t even imagine the stress and anxiety of, number one, having a baby that early but having your own health issues. Having to leave him in the hospital. How did you manage all of that mentally, that stress, but also the physical things that you were dealing with?

Jennifer:

Um, not well. I had additional complications from the pregnancy and the birth afterwards and ended up having to have surgery in a different hospital than where my son was two weeks after he was born. Then I struggled really poorly with the pain and I had repeat infections over and over again. My body did not like breast pumps but I tried to feed my body and over and over again in pumping, the actual act of pumping made me ill so it was just constantly battling all of these different things and then the stress of being in the NICU. Like, you don’t really have food, you’re not allowed to have food in the room where your baby is. So, you’re like sitting there trying to take care of your baby but then you have to leave your baby to go take care of yourself and back and forth.

Eventually, my now husband and I got on a schedule where we pretty much would get up at like 4 a.m., eat on our drive to the NICU. He would see him for a few minutes and then he would go to work. I would stay in the hospital all day with our baby. He’d come back to the hospital after work, spend a little bit of time with him and then we would drive home at like 9 or 10 o clock at night and we would take turns eating meals and I would eat my lunch during, the NICU always had like designated quiet time where you couldn’t hold your baby, they were needed to be not touched. So, that’s when I would basically sneak away and eat my lunch and then I’d sneak back in and I basically just lived at the hospital for 74 days with going home at night which was really sad and weird and awful at the same time.

There was no really like, the closest thing that I got to taking care of my own health was that we eventually figured out how to meal prep for a NICU schedule but that was about it. I ate way too much Dasbog because there was a Dasbog in the hospital. So, I probably would hate their burritos now because it’s all that I lived off of for a long time.

Shayla: 

Well, that, and I’m sure it would bring back the memory of that time as well. The taste and everything.

Jennifer:

Yeah, that too. So, it was more like survival mode. There was no self care so to speak. It was just survival mode. I was blessed that our hospital had the option for things like a shower. So, sometimes I took a shower in the middle of the day because I wasn’t allowed to see my son at that time or whatever and that’s when I would get a shower.

Shayla:

Did you have family close or anyone who was able to help you out during that time?

Jennifer:

We did not. Actually, for myself, this is where the running community really stepped up and showed me how much they matter. I had no real family close by and so our run club actually had some people put together meals and they would deliver them to the hospital for me.

Shayla:

Oh, that’s amazing. That’s great to hear. So, looking at that transition of taking your son home. How did that process go for you? I mean, I’m sure there were a lot of worries about his health and your health after going home. How did that transition go for you guys?

Jennifer:

It was really rocky. My now husband and I were actually not together at that time. So, we lived separately. I went home being a single mom. So it was me and my new little newborn. He weighed like six pounds when we brought him home and my dog and we lived in a little one bedroom condo. It was a lot of chaos. My son was super sensitive to sound and light so we spent like the first six to eight months of being home living in silence in the dark.

He struggled really bad with colic and reflux. So, he would only sleep if he was upright which usually meant on top of me. Then I had problems with transitioning from pumping to breastfeeding and over production. I had mastitis seven times total over the course of 17 months. So, just kind of like a whirlwind. Spent a lot of time laying in the recliner with my baby on my chest and I would put the TV on mute because he couldn’t listen to it. But, that was the only way that I got to do anything adult related until we were finally able to work slowly on getting him outside.

He didn’t really spend any substantial time outside until the spring after he was born.

Shayla:

I’m just kind of pausing. That is so much. I. wow. So, through that time at home getting him acclimated to the world, if you will, what did your journey with running look like? When did you take running back up during that time in your life?

Jennifer:

Yeah, that was kind of complicated. I tried to take running back up, I want to say in like December. I remember it was raining one day and I just, I smelled the rain and I wanted to go outside and run so bad. I love to run in the rain. I know, I’m weird. But, especially at that time, I just remember the smell of the rain was like, bothering me because I couldn’t go outside. So, his dad came over and watched him and then I went and ran one mile to see how my body felt having not run at that point since June. So, like, seven or eight months of no running. I went out just to see how my body was and it felt great during the run and absolutely awful as soon as I stopped. I realized then that I had a lot of work to do rebuilding my body from a strength standpoint so that I could get back to running. So, then I kind of switched over to as we slowly got my son back outside is that I walked. A lot. And I walked. And I walked some more.

Eventually, we got to the point where we were taking like four or five walks a day. If my son was having trouble with the sunlight, I would just like completely cover him whether it was inside my coat or draping a blanket over him. But we would just walk. And walk and walk and walk and walk. That was probably, I don’t think I ever really got back to running until he was strong enough for me to push him in a running stroller. Sometime that following summer.

Shayla:

I can imagine that first one mile run, that it was quite the sense of freedom to be able to get out and do something after being at home in the dark and the quiet for that long.

Jennifer:

It was! It was also super painful! Not recommended to anybody. Go see your physical therapist first and then go try that run. It was awful!

Shayla:

Well, sometimes, we’re not, at least I wasn’t with my kids, in the best of mental states. Considering what you went through, I couldn’t imagine that you were in the best of a mental state. So, you know, you do what you have to do and what you feel like doing at that time.

Jennifer:

Yeah, true!

Shayla:

So, your son is three now. How is he doing? Does he have any lingering health issues from being born so early?

Jennifer:

He does. He’s immune compromised because he was born basically completely without an immune system whereas a full tern baby would have been born with an immune system more similar to their mother. Then, his lungs were the least developed. Lungs and GI system are the last to develop fully. So, he has underdeveloped lungs and asthma with some sleep issues around that. Then, his digestive system is still really struggling which really frustrates him because he can’t eat a lot of foods he actually really likes the taste of. Like, he just can’t digest them.

Then, he has some other issues. We don’t know, are they related to the fact that he was born prematurely, or would he have had them either way? Around his spine and his brain, last January he had spinal surgery to untether a spinal cord and we are pending more testing to see if he’ll need brain surgery this year. It has kind of been like a floating maybe. Probably going to need brain surgery to fix some issues before he gets too big and they cause too many issues.

So, it has kind of just been a whirlwind. Then, he is autistic, which we found out when he was about 18 months old. Which also then led to the diagnosis of myself with autism and ADHD which is kind of a whirlwind but a helpful thing to know.

Shayla:

So, how, what led you down the road of testing for autism with him?

Jennifer:

So he’s, he had lot of really super obvious red flags to us. Like, his light and sound sensitivity was so bad. We literally, blinds closed, lights off, no sound. That’s how we lived. It was awful and we had a lot of people, medical professionals, tell us that it would get better. That he was just premature and this was just kind of some things that he needed to grow out of. He never grew out of them. He just either learned how to cope with them and some of his coping mechanisms are definitely not healthy or they got worse.

Just time in and time out, the only way he would sleep is if we bounced him for hours. There would be some days that I would just sit on a big fitness ball bouncing him for hours. 10, 13 hours a day, just bouncing. That’s all we did because it was either that or he would scream bloody murder. So, we would bounce for 10 hours. Eventually, the point finally got across to his doctor that, yo, we need some help. Somethig is off and I need some help so that I know how to handle it because I can’t bounce on a ball for 10 hours a day every day.

Eventually, we got in with some developmental specialists at the children’s hospital here in Colorado and were able to go through that assessment fully with him and get that diagnosis, which then led us to being able to get some services to help manage and learn so we can take care of him better for himself.

Shayla:

Well, thank goodness that you were able to advocate and push for the testing and then get the services that you need. The support that you need. I honestly don’t know how you’ve been able to maintain your sanity through everything that you’ve been through. I mean, bouncing a baby on a ball for 10 hours in and of itself would drive anyone mad. So, oh my gosh. Through that process, how did that lead to you being tested for autism and ADHD? Is that kind of standard that the mother is then tested or what did that process look like?

Jennifer:

It’s not standard but it’s more common now than people think. Especially in women. Women have been overlooked for a lot of years. For me, it kind of, I was working with a therapist at the time who specialized in the postpartum period. I had been really struggling with some stuff, as you can imagine after everything I just shared. I brought forth that he was being tested and then what the result was once he was tested. My therapist was kind of questioning, “Well, I kind of wonder if that would explain a lot of some of your underlying problems that aren’t necessarily postpartum specific?”

Then, I was working with what they call an early interventionist social worker. They basically came into the house and helped us with, kind of like therapy, but around a child and it’s a little more play therapy, a little more parenting therapy on how to work through some things. She had some experience working with a lot of women who were ADHD and she kind of brought that up to me as, “Well, if you’re going to go forward and get tested, then you should have them look at both because sometimes it’s one or the other or both.”

In women, I guess the symptoms kind of overlap a lot. It took me a really long time to find someone who would look at me as an adult because everybody looks at children. My son was diagnosed in April and then it took me until December to be evaluated because it took me that long to find someone who would see me. And, sure enough, apparently, the team who did the evaluation, so it’s always a team, it’s never just one doctor. It’s always a team of doctors. They basically came back and looked at me like, “Who was this missed? You are so obviously on the spectrum.” I was just like, “Well, I’m really good at putting a mask on and pretending to the rest of the world that I am fine.” Not always the case. Trying to work on that.

But, kind of a really long process to figure out something that’s now making a big difference in my life. Because, now I get to start working on understanding certain things about how my brain works and how my son’s brain works and how it’s just different. It’s not that it’s bad. It’s just, our brains work differently than most of the rest of the world.

Shayla:

So, looking back through your history, was there ever, was it ever voiced to you as a child or through your teen and adult years that it was a possibility that you had autism or was that conversation ever brought up?

Jennifer:

Never. I basically presented as kind of like the classic female who get diagnosed as an adult where I was amazingly good at everything growing up. Like, to the point where it was actually a problem. I was always the teather’s pet, rule follower, never in trouble, perfect grades, etc., all of the way up until college when eventually I crashed and I couldn’t maintain my grades anymore and I was like, “What the heck is all of this?” and then I started failing exams.

I guess that’s, I’m told, that’s really typical of females. You do really well, we’re really good at putting on that face to the rest of the world and we’re really good at hiding things. So, as a child, I used to hide in the closet and read a book at family reunions but I didn’t find out until I was an adult that none of my family actually knew I even did that. So, kind of like my own ability to hide things from the world, I also kind of hid it from my family without even realizing it. That was just the way my brain worked. So, nobody thought of it.

Shayla:

So, I don’t have a deep understanding of ADHD. But, the main thing you hear is that it’s hard to remain focused for long. Is that your experience? Or, what does ADHD look like for you?

Jennifer:

So, there are two different sub types of ADHD and I can’t even remember them so please don’t ask me what they are. But, I have what’s called a combined type, so I have both types. My autism allows me to hyper focus where I can really narrow down and focus on one topic. But then, in my brain, it’s like I’m doing a million and one things at the same time. Sometimes they’re all related to the same thing and sometimes they’re not. So, imagine having a million and one cartoon characters inside your head and they’re all a part of you but they all are thinking something different at the same time. That’s kind of my brain. A short version.

Shayla:

Wow. So, looking through this time period after you got the official diagnosis for being autistic and for having ADHD, what was the process of getting the services that you need and beginning to understand yourself and work through just beginning to understand your brain and use it to the best of abilities? What does that process look like for you?

Jennifer:

 I don’t know what it looks like for everybody. I know for myself, the first thing that the team who diagnosed me brought up that was like a big, “Oh, why didn’t I think of that?” was they recommended finding a mental health therapist who had experience working with people who had autism and ADHD because I am told, and this makes perfect sense when I look at my own history, that, from a mental health standpoint, traditional therapy does not work if you are autistic or have ADHD. You will run in circles which is literally what I’ve done for years is run in circles with therapists and be likes, “I’m not getting anywhere.”

So, the first step for me was to find a therapist who had experience working with people who are autistic and ADHD and again, I found this to be very challenging as an adult. There are very limited options as an adult for finding these people. If you’re a kid, it’s way easier these days. Which is an improvement but, as an adult, it’s still really hard to find people. I kind of got lucky that the group of doctors who did my evaluation and diagnosis also worked in an office of a team of therapists that all they do is people on the spectrum and family counseling around that. So, I had kind of a connection in there. It will kind of took a while to get in with someone but that was like the first big step.

Then, for myself, I’ve also done just a lot of research. I have a degree in chemistry and a history in biology and so I know how to do some real science-backed research and I spent a lot of time just looking stuff up on my own and trying to learn on my own and reading books a memoirs from other people. There’s a doctor down in Australia and I can’t remember her name right now but like all she does is work with women who are on the spectrum and she’s got a couple of really great books out there that kind of really helped me just come to terms with how I felt and how my brain was working. It was like, “Oh, there’s other people who feel this way and it’s not a bad thing. You can feel this way. You can feel crazy about it at the same time.” And it also helped me find some words to explain it to my family and my friends who were like, “Wait, what?”

So, that’s kind of been my path.

Shayla:

It’s insane that there isn’t more support for adults with autism. I mean, we’ve heard for many many years about autism in children. Well, those children grow up to be adults. So, you’d think there would be a support system along the way. That’s just insane.

Jennifer:

Yeah, actually, up until just, I think it was just signed last year, up until last year, all of the support services that a child with autism can receive used to end at the age of 18. Like, period, across the country. It has just now been signed into law that it has to expand past adulthood, past the age of 18. That being said though, there are so few providers out there that finding someone is really really hard.

Shayla:

I mean, that’s great that that’s been enacted but, yeah, obviously, there’s a lot of work to be done on building up the community of providers to support adults with autism because ending services at the age of 18 seems to me to be about the worst time to stop receiving the services that someone needs because 18 is confusing for anyone, those years as an independent adult are very challenging for anyone and especially so I imagine for those who have autism. Just to be kind of thrown into the world and not have the services that you need to support you along the way.

Jennifer:

Agreed wholeheartedly.

Shayla:

So, kind of transitioning back to you as an ultrarunner, you know, a little bit ago, you mentioned that autism for you means that, looking back on your history, you are very good at staying hyper focused on something for a long period of time but then that can also kind of lead to problems. You mentioned that you kind of crashed during the college years. Have you experienced that at all with ultra running? I mean, it’s obvious that autism is a very big attribute for you in running to be able to maintain those long distances is that would be an accurate assumption, but have you experienced that crash at all that you also experienced in the past?

Jennifer:

No, I have not. I have another ultra running friend who says the fact that I am autistic with ADHD is my running superpower and what allows me to be an amazing ultra runner. When I told him that I had autism and ADHD, he looked and me and said, “Oh, that explains so much.” I was like, “What do you mean.?” He’s like, “Well, it takes a lot of focus to run those distances and you don’t really have to try very hard to get focused.” I love running. I love the mountains. Now, if you were to put me in a road run, I might have some problems. But, if it’s trail running and it’s in the mountains or anything like that, my brain just kind of, it’s like for me, the one time my brain is peaceful and I get super hyper focused into the run but like hyper focused into the run doesn’t mean I’m just like thinking about one step, two step, one step, two step.

It’s more like, “Ok, I am running this pace. I am breathing. I need to slow down my breath. I have a turn at the next trail junction. I need to follow the trail to this point. I need to go this way. The weather is doing this. I need to watch the clouds. That cloud looks a little scary over there. I need to make sure that it’s not getting too windy. That I’m not going to get caught in a storm. Ok, I am this many hours out from home. How many hours do I have to go until I go back? And it’s nine hours. Three miles.”

Just ongoing, that’s what my brain does nonstop while I’m running and, to me, that’s peaceful.

Shayla:

Haha, yeah, you could be a dangerous competitor to others out on the course for sure.

Jennifer:

And, um, I don’t know if you’ve heard this, but ultra runners in general tend to love spreadsheets especially around races and aid stations and cut offs. I memorize them. And I don’t do it on purpose. But, I’ll make a spreadsheet for a race and literally, once I’ve made it and solidified it, it’s just then like permanently engrained in my head and I get out there on the course and it’s just like, “I know my pace needs to be this, this, this and this for this part of the race and this for the next part of the race and this for the next part of the race and there are x number of miles to the next aid station and I need to grab this food and this water and my brain just goes into super drive.”

Shayla:

Oh my gosh. All I can say is, that’s incredible! I wish I had that super power! Oh, that’s amazing! Looking at all of the things that you’ve faced in your lifetime and I have a feeling that we haven’t even gotten into a lot of them, I imagine that there have been many people who have told you that you couldn’t do something whether it was them telling you directly or indirectly somehow. How, throughout all of the struggles that you’ve been through, after the diagnoses that you’ve had, how have you risen above those voices and continued to do what you in your heart feel like you need to do?

Jennifer:

It has kind of been situational. There has been some of them that like, ok, you say I shouldn’t do this because of my body and what my body is going through and it’s like, I’ll try it for a little bit and then my body goes, “Haha, I hate you.” Then it’s like, never mind, I’m going to go back to what I was doing. It was working. There has been, unfortunately, a lot of misunderstandings in the medical community that’s kind of led me to tell them where to stuff it because they just don’t like to listen I’ve found. Kind of like with a child, the medical community has a tendency to say, “Well, mother knows best.” They forget sometimes that we know best about ourselves as well. Especially as an adult, I’ve really struggled with that. So, I’ve had a lot of just having to turn away from the general medical community and seek a small niche community of medical professionals that actually understand me or are willing to learn if they don’t. That has kind of been tricky. But, once I’ve found the people, then it has kind of been good to go. It’s just, every time I have to find someone new that it gets challenging. Then, for other people kind of outside of the medical world, it has been a lot of like, “Oh, you don’t think I can do this? Here let me show you that I can.” Not always the best thing! Oh, you told me I can’t, that must mean I need to go prove you wrong.

Shayla:

Mmm-hmm! How do you control your inner voice or your stress when looking at all of that adversity that you’ve faced in your life and that you continue to face? Do you have any inner doubts in your abilities and how have you overcome those inner doubts?

Jennifer:

Do I have inner doubts? Yes, I think everbody does no matter what they’re dealing with. At some point you have inner doubts depending on what the situation is. It’s just like a reminder of, “Hey, you’ve already done this. What do you mean you can’t do it?” Sometimes it’s going back to those million and one cartoons in my head, they will have arguments about each other with said inner doubts. Hopefully the one that is really positive and optimistic wins. I’m still working on that! I haven’t figured it out yet. Because, at the same time, I am trying to put those million and one cartoon characters in a cone of silence so that I can sleep and that doesn’t always work either.

Shayla:

Looking at those inner voices and the million and one cartoon characters as you describe them, how do you overcome them and do what you in your core want to do?

Jennifer:

In a sense you don’t. There’s always going to be the at least one voice in your head that tells you no you can’t do this. But, when you really just kind of focus and listen into what you feel and what you want to do, the majority of the voices tend to agree with you. So, you kind of really, it’s not so much overcoming but it’s more of convincing the audience that you’re all in agreeance and then working together. So, one voice can go over here and control your legs and one voice can go over here and control your stomach and one voice can go over here and make sure you’re following the trail signs and the other voice can focus on, hey are you drinking enough and another can focus on are you eating enough. It’s like having a million and one crew team inside your head.

Shayla:

A bunch of little soldiers you can put to work.

Jennifer:

Yeah! Yeah, kind of! This last year I really was struggling with enjoying running versus it kind of being more of a chore. So, I took a lot of time this past summer to just go back out. I started turning my watch either completely off or would put it on the clock setting and not, like no pace, no heart rate, mileage. I’m just going to go out here and run and then when I’m all done, I’ll look and see what my mileage was.

Spent a lot of time trying to do that this summer. Just kind of reconnecting with the ground and the way the wind in my hair felt and how good rain smelled. Or how pretty the flowers were. Or how scary the thundercloud was and just kind of paying more attention to what was around me not just inside of me. Slowly, it came back that, yes, I do still really love running. With that, I kind of fell back into a mantra phase going into my race and really working on mental visualization. Then, I actually, for my last race in September, I sharpied a mantra onto my forearm next to my watch so that every time I would go to glance at my watch, I had to read my arm. I wrote, run in sisu. I can of want to get it tattooed right there as a reminder. That really just kind of took out a lot of the stress of, I have to run blank. And it got to be more of, I get to run. And, I enjoy running. And, I am blessed to be able to still run. And kind of just reconnected with all of those feelings over the, I have to go run. It was a lot of hard work. A lot of anxiety attacks. It was a long summer but it was worth it.

Shayla:

I love that. Yeah, I think that as moms and as women, as just put to much pressure on ourselves with everything in our lives and the danger is that that can also seep into running. That we put so much pressure that we have to hit this pace or do this or do that. And it’s just so powerful to take a step back sometimes and think about why you’re running, what it means to you. Just feel the run instead of worrying about whether you’re accomplishing this or not accomplishing that. Yeah, I hear ya. What are your current struggles surrounding running?

Jennifer:

Consistency is probably going to be my biggest one right now. With covid and the lockdown and everything, I’ve lost a lot of resources that I had as just a mom in general to have childcare support. There is no REC center daycare or anything because I used to, especially in the winter, I do a lot more REC center training where I’d lift and then go and get on the treadmill and my kid would be in the REC center daycare just right there where I could see him the whole time. It was two hours of mom time and I would go like four or five days a week and it was awesome. I haven’t had that in well over a year now. So, that has been a real challenge that I think everybody is kind of feeling.

Then, just too like, trying to figure out how do I fit running back into my life on a consistent basis with basically what’s essentially become the new normal where everybody is home. There is nothing really open or what is open is not really safe for my son to go to because of his compromised immune system. It has been a real struggle. Then, just kind of the family aspect of it too where I’m like feeling a lot of mom guilt because I can go run or I can stay home and spend time with my family. Trying to separate out that it’s ok to go run and I can’t be a good mom if I don’t go and take care of myself but to get out and go take care of myself can be really challenging a lot right now.

Shayla:

Looking to the future, what are your goals with running?

Jennifer:

Well, originally, I was going to try and Boston qualify at a marathon this spring, but that has already been postponed again. So, that’s kind of fallen to the side for now. I have a 50 miler in July that, for me, is kind of redemption. It was my first ultra race attempt ever. I DNFd at the halfway point. So, I’m going to go back and finish it. I don’t really care how long it takes me. My goal on that one is strictly, I just want to cross that finish line.

Then, I have a race in August. It’s a 100k distance and I’m going to work on seeing if I can break the women’s course record for that. So, that’s one is kind of my big race for the year. Those are my short term goals. Looking long term, I would really want to run the entire continental divide trail from Mexico to Canada before I’m 40. So, I’ve got twelve years, 3100 miles and I’d like to do it in one go.

Shayla:

Oh my goodness, that’s incredible. When you do that, please document the entire journey and share it with people like me who can sit at home and be jealous. Those are some amazing goals. So, as we’re winding up the conversation today, is there anything else about your story that you’d like to share with the Runner Moms community?

Jennifer:

One thing for myself as a coach that I try to focus on is that we all have these crazy stories and these crazy lives and it’s really had to do it alone. My job as a coach is to kind of take some of that thinking process out for you so that you get to just go and run. I really want to create a community within coaching women where it really is unique to each individual but at the same time, we’re a group of women that gets to support each other and we get to create a community where it’s not frowned upon if you’re flow or if you’re walking or if you are fast and flying. That we get to kind of be a little less competitive, so to speak, with each other and more supportive so that everybody can reach their goals.

Shayla:

That’s fantastic. Yeah, I love that. Looking at you as a running coach. Just looking at, again, everything that you’ve been through. I often find it’s the case that the best teachers, the best coaches are those that have been through a lot in their lives and you have obviously been through a lot. I could see that you would bring amazing value as a coach. I would love to have you as a coach. Just being someone’s cheerleader. Helping them work through the troubles, the doubts, all of that stuff. So, yeah, I really wish you all of the best in your role as a coach and I think you’re just going to knock it out of the park. How have things been going so far for you?

Jennifer:

They have been going pretty well. I have an athlete racing this weekend. I have an athlete who just recovered from covid and is back to running. Yay! That was a super hard thing to coach her through covid and everybody made it out the other side healthy and still able to run and no injuries and that has been really beautiful to see that whole process. Then, I have another runner who doesn’t even live in my state who is refinding the joy of running. She was getting really bored with running and now she’s like, “Oh, there are other things that I can do and they’re fun and I’m not so bored anymore.” And, that’s what I want. I don’t ever want to work with someone who is like, “I hate running.” It’s like, if you really hate running, then you shouldn’t be running. Please go find another sport! There are a lot of other options out there. If you really hate running that much, stop torturing yourself.

I love running. Running is literally an essence of who I am and an essence of my entire lifestyle and I don’t think I could ever imagine living this way if I hated running. This would not be the way to live.

Shayla:

Totally agree with you. Circling back to you as a runner and when you discovered running. I could imagine in many ways, like you said, it really had to have saved your life. It’s the thing that has gotten you through so much and has allowed you to remain healthy. So, I’m glad that it can continue to be part of your life. As we’re wrapping up the conversation, what main takeaway from your story would you like to leave with the Runner Moms community today?

Jennifer:

Trust your gut. So many times I’ve been told, “No, you can’t do this. You shouldn’t do this.” But, it’s your body. It’s your life. It’s your decision and you know what’s best for yourself.

Shayla:

That is a spectacular takeaway. Thank you for that. Well, if others would like to connect with you online, Jennifer, where should they go?

Jennifer:

Instagram, I am @mommainthemountains and then Facebook, I’m just my name. Then my website is intentionallyhealthyinc.com.

Shayla:

Fabulous and I will link to all of that within the episode show notes. Well, thank you again, Jennifer, for sharing your story with the Runner Moms community today. I am so excited to release this episode into the world. It’s full of so much inspiration. I wish you all of the best moving forward. I wish you only healthy and happy days ahead. You more than anyone I have ever talked to deserve that. So, thank you again.

Jennifer:

Thank you so much.

Shayla:

Before we end today’s show, I have one request for you. Please take a moment and head over to Instagram or to Jennifer’s website and connect with her. Let her know how gosh dang incredible she is. My hope with this podcast is that it serves as a launching point to help mom runners build true and lasting connections no matter if you live in the same town or on different continents. I think that one of the biggest things this world needs right now is a stronger sense of community. Let’s take the initiative to lift each other up, get to know those around us and expand our social circles. You just never know when a simple act on your part will change the trajectory of someone’s day or life.

That’s all for today’s show. If you’re enjoying the podcast, please take a quick moment and leave a review through your Apple podcast player. It’s a quick and free way to give back to the podcasts that you love and is also the best way to help other mom runners find this content.

Until next time, happy running and happy momming!

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