Elizabeth Northern, who has been running in competitive races since the age of four, has experienced a lot of different situations. The COVID-19 pandemic, however, presented some unique challenges to competitive runners across the country. Running, for example, became even more of an individual event during the pandemic, according to the record-setting marathoner.
“With races either cancelled or turned virtual, my goals for running changed dramatically – away from racing and towards new challenges,” Northern explained. “In May 2020, I challenged my high school neighbors to an all-out mile, which I won. Then in August 2020, I saw how far I could run in six hours. I ran 48.5 miles. Honestly, it’s been fun trying new things and extending my normal half- and full-marathon training plans.”
Fast forward to June 2021 – Northern was just weeks away from starting her training regimen for October’s World 50KM championships in Taipei when she was notified about the championships being cancelled. With her race calendar suddenly becoming open, she decided to do the unthinkable and sign up for her first road 100KM (or 62.5 mile) race – the USATF 100KM National Championships in Sacramento, Calif. Northern wanted to boost her endurance so she decided to double her normal running distance. “Why not?” she quipped.
During the summer months of 2021, Northern woke up early and logged lots of hot, sweaty miles before the sun rose high in the sky. “When I returned to TCC Trinity River in August, my lunch breaks were replaced by quick shake-out runs in the heat along the river,” Northern explained. “I felt very prepared leading into the 100KM race, which was scheduled for October 2, 2021.”
A few days before the race, Northern arrived In Sacramento to get acclimated to the weather conditions. She was greeted by temperatures in the mid-90s, which presented a new set of challenges.
“I had run in the heat before, but I had never run in a progressively rising dry heat for eight straight hours,” said Northern. “To prepare for the heat, I packed salt tabs, a variety of energy gels and electrolyte powders, bandanas, multiple pairs of socks, long sleeves, short sleeves, compression socks… you name it. I packed anything I thought I might need on race day.”
When Northern and her husband arrived at the course, the field of runners had shrunk from the original list of 30 entrants. The weather conditions caused many runners to drop out of the race. Ultimately, approximately 16 runners, including Northern, started to run together along a 10KM loop that was traversed 10 times.
According to the seasoned runner, two things really made a difference in her performance that day. First, she attacked the course as 10 loops instead of 62.5 miles. “It’s a lot easier to digest doing something 10 times versus the other option,” she said.
Next, she stayed on top of her cooling, nutrition and hydration. While practically every other runner in the field, including men, suffered substantially from the heat, Northern managed to maintain a decent pace up until the end. The strategy paid off in a big way.
“In the end, I won my first 100KM and earned my second USA Track & Field national title,” said the running champion. “While this win and finishing time have offered me the opportunity to represent the U.S. at the 2022 100KM World Championships in Berlin, I am not sure if I ever want to run that far ever again!”
Let’s hope she decides to run in 2022.
Elizabeth Northern is a senior research analyst in the Office of Institutional Research. When not crunching data with the IR team, she spends time with her family and runs many miles. She competed in the 2016 and 2020 marathon Olympic trials, she and her children held the 10K double stroller Guinness World record for a brief moment, and she is the only woman to have won each Cowtown Marathon weekend distance – 5K to 50K.