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Grit, Grace and Gratitude: The Path from a Desk Job to Running 100-Mile Races

By Betsy Nickle ‘02 
This article appeared in the Fall 2017 issue of the Tower Hill Bulletin

At Tower Hill, I played sports. I was far from a star. I was a member of the state championship field hockey and lacrosse teams, but I probably played fewer than 60 minutes of varsity athletics. 
 
I remember struggling with it. Some of my friends quit a team because they did not have playing time on the “right” team. I took a different approach. I felt like I had an obligation to play, even if I practiced with junior varsity, because I had a love for the sport. My coaches recognized that and allowed me to practice with the varsity players—people like Maggie Giddens ‘02, who went on to make a career out of her passion for field hockey. 
 
Guess what? The risk paid off. When I went to Smith College, I found that I had not only made the team, but I was a varsity starter and played pretty much every minute of each game. Over time my Smith teammates recognized my passion, and I ended up being the captain of both the field hockey and lacrosse teams in my junior and senior years. It was an honor that my Smith teammates thought that highly of me. 
 
When I graduated from college, I found myself working at a desk job. Initially, I struggled with not being on a sports team and not having fitness in my life. At this job, I worked a lot of overtime hours. One day, my colleagues mentioned a two-mile walking path near our office. I went out to find it and made a commitment to myself that I would run three times a week at 4 p.m. After all, 4 p.m. practices were a habit for over 10 years. After my run, I would come back to work the late night shift feeling refreshed. Who needs a dinner break when you can run?

I have always been a runner. Endurance is my strength. I can go for hours and fight the urge to quit. I confess that the first mile is always the hardest, even when you are in amazing shape. Starting a run is hard when there are so many competing obligations. However, I continue to set running goals and meet with other runners who are also committed. I also find people who are new to running keep me inspired. 
 
What does it take to become an ultra runner—those of us who go beyond marathon distances? I’m not quite sure, but I think it is grace, grit and gratitude. By that I mean:
 
Grace – Being empowered to live a life as a runner
Grit – Continuing on even when you doubt yourself
Gratitude – Embracing the fact that the human body is an amazing machine that is able to push beyond your mind’s wildest expectations and heal in amazing ways
 
When people ask me about ultras, they always ask me the longest I have run. My longest races are: 103.7 miles, 101.7 miles and 100.7 miles. I have also completed countless other 50-milers, 50Ks and marathons. Yes, I keep a list. The total mileage that I have raced is the equivalent of running across the country. Perhaps I’m running back to Delaware now from the West Coast? 
For me, running is about the life lessons. It has helped me connect with a person whom I could not imagine years ago when I ran my first mile on the track in 3rd Grade. Running has taught me how to become assertive about what I want to do, have confidence to start something that seems bigger than I could imagine doing and continue when things get tough. 

I truly believe that every person will find contentment in life if they explore a passion outside of their career. Having an outlet like running, art or theater will help you connect, explore and stretch your boundaries. 

The lessons I have learned on the athletic fields, running through the mountains and volunteering as a running coach or buddy runner for organizations like Girls on the Run and Back on my Feet enable me to see beyond myself and my own experiences. Sharing my ability of being able to run for hours on end without stopping has allowed me to connect and inspire other people. Isn’t that what living is all about?  
 
One of the people who I have inspired is my baby brother: Scott Nickle ‘07. He has run the Boston Marathon and countless other road runs. I enjoy sharing this common bond. In fact, my brother joined me for a 100-mile race in Wyoming. The event was an epic adventure and amazing sibling bonding experience. 
 
In November, I relocated from Washington, D.C., to New York City. Of course, I quickly realized that finding running paths is like most things in NYC: complicated, but not impossible as long as you ask lots of questions. I find myself enjoying running adventures on the West Side Highway. 
 
For anyone who aspires to be a runner, start by stopping to make excuses. After all, I started out on a two-mile office loop. That experience taught me that starting small and growing into the next phase of the undertaking through small goals. People often ask me how to start running again. Find your sneakers in the back of the closet and lace them up, go for a 15-minute walk, and then challenge yourself to do it three times a week. 

When you feel comfortable doing that, challenge yourself to go out for 20 minutes. Maybe one day you feel really frisky, so you challenge yourself to run for two minutes and walk for six minutes two times. Yes, that’s 16 minutes. It’s okay because Hillers always over-achieve.  
 
By the way: When I run 100-milers, I do not run the whole time. Most trail runners are not about the running. Instead, we are about going outside and being in the moment and experiencing life away from our computers. 
 
If you are going to start, start small and allow yourself to grow by committing to being active on a regular basis. As my father Henry Nickle ‘76 says, “Betsy, I’ve figured it out. Yard work totally counts!” Dad’s response is one of a typical Hiller finding a way to accomplish “many things done well.” 
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