Emily Richards Interview

Sarah and I spoke with Emily Richards a few weeks ago, right after she won the competitive Marin Ultra Challenge 50k near San Francisco.  While doing background research, we found not only some killer finishes–top ten at UTMB, TRT, and Leadville–but also a powerful story about her struggle with eating disorders as a high school runner.  With that, we felt compelled to talk with her about how that impacted her as a teenager, how she overcame it, and how it effects her now that she’s rapidly approaching the elite level.

As a mother of a teenage daughter, Sarah came into the conversation with a powerful perspective, while I had questions more centered around how anorexia and competitive running coincided.  Neither of us are experts, and Emily certainly doesn’t want to be seen as a spokesperson for eating disorders in athletics, but bringing her story to the greater URP audience was important to all of us.

Emily now looks at her eating disorders in the rear view mirror, but we had questions about how hard it must be to not want to drop just a little weight to get that much faster.  How do these two powerful influences not feed each other into a relapse? Heavy questions, but ones that Mario Fraioli’s and Ashley Arnold’s recent posts show are quite relevant.

This episode is not only about eating disorders. Hopefully not lost in the discussion are Emily’s recent accomplishments during her foray back into ultrarmarathon trail running and her exciting future plans.

We had an issue with the quality of the talk, so I decided to have the conversation transcribed rather than release an inferior recording.  Thanks again to Emily for sharing her story.



Eric         Welcome to UltraRunnerPodcast.com, and a new episode. This week on my run, I learned what it’s like to run a 5k at the back of the pack, and to have an awesome time doing so. My daughter, Sunny, is 5, and she ran her first 5k on Saturday. I ran with her, we had a heck of a time, finished in 43 minutes or so, on a hilly course. But it was awesome!

Anyhow, I’m very happy to be joined again by Sarah Lavender Smith, and our next guest, Emily Richards. Emily just won the competitive and beautiful Marin Ultra Challenge in San Francisco. But she’s also got a stout resume of ultra finishes and wins, including a top-ten at UTMB, Leadville, Bryce Canyon, and Tahoe Rim Trail.

Emily started running marathons in 2010, and has had quite a few years. But aside from running and racing, we’re anxious to talk to Emily about another battle she fought while a competitive high school cross country runner: anorexia. I’d like to talk to her about how she’s seen it in other athletes, what she thinks about it, how she overcame it, and a whole other gamut of questions.

I’m going to throw a disclaimer out there right now: Sarah’s not an expert, I’m not an expert, Emily’s not an expert. But we’re going to talk to her in a casual way. I’m coming from the male perspective, and I’m a staunch believer that men and women see things differently. I think there’s a lot of guys out there who may not believe in anorexia or just say, “Why don’t you eat more?”, and I’m going to probably be bringing up that perspective.

Sarah      And I’m probably going to be balancing it out.

Eric         Sarah will be balancing it out. That’s why I like having Sarah here. So Emily is 35, she lives in Reno, Nevada, where she’s actually starting a new nursing gig next week. This is her first time on URP, and we’re happy to have her on the show. Emily, thanks for joining us.

Emily      Thank you Eric and Sarah. Yeah, it’s an honor.

UTMB finish line
UTMB finish line

EricFirst, obviously a big congratulations on Marin Ultra Challenge last week. I wasn’t there. Sarah, were you watching?

Sarah      No, I had to miss it. We should clarify she won the 50k.

Eric         Yeah.

Sarah      In an amazing time. Emily, congratulations. I think I looked at the results, and you took, I think, 32 minutes off your 50k time from the prior year there, is that right?

Emily      Yeah.

Sarah      Wow! And it was a hot day. How did you do it? How did it go for you out there?

Emily      Well, it was a completely different experience for me from last year. I don’t usually repeat courses, and I sort of keep things unknown. I don’t usually preview courses. But having the course knowledge sort of helped.

But I think my body is just – it’s conditioning, it’s maturing as a runner, and certainly the racing UTMB kind of put it into perspective last August! [laughs] I don’t know, I just felt a lot stronger this time around. The weather started out warm in the morning. Last year, it was really cold and then it warmed up quite a bit. This year, thankfully, it was supposed to be a hot day, and the heat never really became an issue.

But I was mentally – I was talking to Jennie, because she’s a friend of mine, and she was going to be running the course this year. And I was prepping her, and I was kind of, “Oh, I did this race last year, and I remember how faint I felt at the end. It was so much climbing.” And this year, I just felt really good. It felt so much easier.

But it’s funny. I have no internal GPS, and I ran into some snags coming into Rodeo Valley, past the aid station, and I was behind this runner. And we started running down this road, and he had heard the aid station officials tell him that at 0.4 miles or so you should see a right hand turn. We were running down the road and kept running, and he stopped, and he said, “Do you think we’re still on track?” And I said, “Well, I know that the course takes us on the road along the water after we pass the Rodeo Valley aid station, so I think we’re on the right track.”

So we keep running, and then we stopped, and we thought, “We haven’t seen any markers. I think we should turn around…” So we turned around, and sure enough, we were running up the road, and we start seeing a line of head lamps. So we still fumbled around trying to find our turn, but got back on track.

Sarah      Wait a minute, you did that, and you still finished in 4.15? That’s incredible!

Eric         Was it 4.15?

Sarah      Yeah, 4.15. And that’s hills! I’m really impressed.

Eric         Yeah, that’s tough.

Emily      It was a rough start, but it was good practice. Everything’s going to be okay, it’s early on, and there’s nothing you can do. We just laughed about it.

ITMB, running through Trient, 2014



Eric         Emily, I’m intrigued by something you said. You said that UTMB really put it in perspective. That it helped you train physically running over 80 miles in the Alps. That it really helped you train physically, or was it more the mental thing saying, “I ran UTMB. This is nothing.” What was the combination?

Emily      Well, certainly those were some burly times there in the Alps. That race really challenged me physically, and absolutely, it was a huge mental challenge. It took my body some time to recover from that race for sure. But it has recovered well, and stronger, I think.

But yes, UTMB is a very different experience altogether. But I think as far as putting the sort of climbs that I was doing here in the Headlands; no doubt, they’re hard. But it wasn’t the Alps, for sure.

Eric         Emily, are there any specific – any workouts – anything you can point to that you think really helped you prepare for this race.

Emily      Well, my off season has looked very different this season compared to last year. Because last year I was in nursing school, and studying 14 hours, 7 days a week. I was lucky to get in a two hour run if I could. My life was consumed by nursing school. I was trying to incorporate some strength training a year ago.

But since coming back from UTMB, I took a full two and a half month off of running because I thought I was being really conservative getting back into my training, but my body – there aren’t any real trails around for me to run on, and any downhill impact was really thrashing my quads. So I was developing some patellar tendonitis and I just really didn’t want that to take hold. So I took five months off running to let my body heal.


Then I was doing a lot more strength training, circuit training and yoga during that time just to keep some fitness and conditioning. I just really thought hard about how I had a great season last year, I love this sport, and it’s important for me to take care of myself and have some longevity in this sport. I felt like I needed to make my training more dynamic by incorporating the strength training, the yoga, as well as the running. And maybe not running so much.

Sarah      And I should say, too, that in addition being a nurse and starting to work as a nurse, you’re a massage therapist. So it sounds like you have a really good, well-rounded base of knowledge for balancing out your running.

Eric         And helping prevent injuries and everything.

Emily      Yeah.

Sarah      So what’s coming up on your calendar? Now that you’ve had this success at Marin, what are you getting ready for now?

Emily      Well, I’ve committed to three races this year. I’m trying to challenge myself a bit more. I have Speedgoat in July, and Run Rabbit Run in September, and North Face in December in San Francisco.

Then depending on how things go getting my footing in my new job, I’ll just do some training here and there. I’ll do Silver State here.

Eric         Back yard.

Emily      The race is literally in my back yard.

Sarah      Which, the 50 mile or 50k for Silver State?

Emily      I did the 50k last year, and I would like to try the 50 mile this year. Yeah, I’ll see how my training’s going. I definitely want to be working on my elevation, my hill climbing, and everything like that for Speedgoat. So it would be great if I could do the 50 miles.

Eric         Emily, for those not familiar, I’m going to reverse. Let’s back up about five years or so ago. It looks like from reading about you and looking at your UltraSignup stats, it looks like you started running marathons and ultras in about 2010. Is that right?

Emily      Yes.

Eric         So walk us quickly through a progression from how you went from – just five years ago is not a long time. You’re starting marathons, and now you’re top 10 at UTMB. How did that whole thing happen?

Emily      When I was 29 in 2010, I was living in Truckee at the time, and in a relationship, and working a ton as a physical therapy aid, and many other jobs to try and make ends meet.

I had been a road cyclist before that and burned out on that. I felt like I needed to just get myself back in shape. I just started running around the neighborhood, but thankfully everywhere I lived in Truckee, I always lived basically right on trails.

So I started discovering the trails in my back yard, and I decided at the beginning of the summer, I grew up coming to Lake Tahoe. I’d been coming there since I was a baby. My grandparents built cabins at Lake Tahoe, so that’s where my parents vacationed from Petaluma. But I’d always heard about the Tahoe Rim Trail, but as a family, we’d never hiked it or explored it at all.

There’s a 165 miles certificate that you can earn if you complete all the sections. So I just thought, “Okay, well, I’m going to try and run all the sections this year and get 165 miles certificate”. And I just fell in love with trail running and part of my spiritual place.

Sarah      That’s fantastic.

Emily      I was hooked. By the end of the summer, my relationship had dissolved, and it was my 30th birthday, and I thought, “You know, I’m going to do a marathon on my birthday.” So my mum and my brother came up and were my crew, and I did really well in the marathon, and I was really happy.

Eric         That was your first marathon?

Emily      Yes.

Eric         I’ve got to ask, you said you did really well. What did you do?

Emily      Well, I almost won it, and then my insides wanted to be on my outside about a mile from the finish, and a woman from Tahoe City passed me right there towards the finish.

Eric         Awesome.

Emily      She was incredible. She was 52 years old, and just this obviously very seasoned, strong runner, and we had a great chat with her afterwards.

Sarah      Did you say your insides wanted to be on the outside towards the finish?

Emily      Yes.

Sarah      [laughs] We don’t need to hear the details, but I can picture it!

Emily      I didn’t, but I felt that way. My iPod was falling on the ground, I was just fatigued. I had given it my all, I didn’t know anything about saving anything for the finish. I was just balls to the wall, you know?

Sarah      That’s really cool. So you got hooked on running again by doing the segments of the Tahoe Rim Trail, then you did your marathon. When was it that you went back and raced the Tahoe Rim Trail 50 mile and won it? What year was that?

Emily      Yeah, the 50k.

Sarah      Oh, 50k.

Emily      Yeah, the 50k was in July. So I had started my pre-reg at that point. But I was still trail running, and I signed up for the Tahoe Rim Trail 50k. Again, thought it was an amazing experience, it was so hard for me, but I was racing in a place I loved.

Then it was about a year until I did my next race, and at that point, I was with my to-be husband. I remember how terrified I was for signing up for the Leadville 50 mile. I was like, “Oh, this is such a far distance, I don’t think I can do this!”, when I was pressing the ‘send’ button to register.

Then it was a fluke. Then I did the Leadville 100 a month later because.

Eric         A fluke! “Oops!” [laughs]

Sarah      That can’t be a fluke, Emily!

Emily      At the end of the 50 mile at Leadville, they had a lottery draw, and I put my name in the hat to be one of five or six people to get an automatic entry into Leadville 100, and they pulled my name!

Eric         Uh-oh! [laughs]

Emily      Exactly!

Tahoe Rim Trail 50 mile


Sarah      And this was when you were a newly-wed? You got married two years ago?

Emily      Yes, we weren’t married yet. We were probably engaged at that point. We knew each other for a year, and were married not on purpose – but the same day we met a year later.

Sarah      Nice, well congratulations. It sounds like you’ve had such an odyssey. I’m going to admit, I was unfamiliar with you until last weekend. I tried to keep on top of names coming up in the sport, and I had insomnia Saturday night, so I was scrolling the Marin Ultra Challenge results, and I thought, “Who is this 35 year old woman who smoked the 50k?”

Eric         That’s why the email came to me late at night!

Sarah      Yeah! All like, “We gotta get her on the show!”

But here’s the thing, Emily. I Googled you, and these really eye-opening powerful articles came up from last fall in which you really bravely opened up to some local newspapers about your battle as a high-schooler – and into adulthood – with Anorexia.

We hear a lot about eating disorders in this sport, but it sounds like you had a really serious case. According the articles, you were at Petaluma High School running cross country. So I really appreciate your willingness to open up and talk about this.

So take us back to high school. And I’m saying this partly as the mother of a teenage girl. I’m wondering if, in hindsight, if there’s anything that your coaches or teachers or parents could have done differently. But tell us what happened back in high school.

Emily      It isn’t anything that you choose to have happen, number one. In my family, addictions are often times genetic, and very definitely anxiety, depression, addiction in my family – both sides of my family.

I think I was a very normal child growing up, but a very conscientious, sensitive child. I grew up with two very loving parents who exposed me to – I’m very artistic. I studied dance growing up, and piano, and chorus.

But I felt my parents had issues, and it was maybe somewhat of an emotionally anorexic relationship between them. Certainly, they were completely loving towards their children. But I think I really always sensed that tension between them, and that I felt that it was my responsibility – or my fault that something was wrong.

I think when I became a teenager, I was just really not sure how to come into my own. I was shy and had my small group of friends. But you have these pressures of your wanting to be noticed by boys, or just wanting affirmation that you fit in, that you’re admired by other people just so that you fit in.

I started running cross country and junior varsity, and I was doing track at the time, and I found that I enjoyed being on the trails more and the longer distances. I was not fast by any means.

I started improving in the sport, and getting more and more positive feedback from my coaches and my peers, and I was bumped up to the varsity team. I was getting stronger in my racing and getting more and more positive feedback. I didn’t have a whole lot of self-esteem or confidence, and I realised that I was feeding on that affirmation from other people.

I had started researching how to eat really healthy and starting to incorporate of a healthy eating style – what I thought was healthy. But there wasn’t any discussion from my coaches as far as how you fuel yourself as an athlete. And particularly an adolescent who is growing, and your hormones are changing, you’re starting menstruation, everything like that. Your body just needs fuel at that age.

I was thinking that I was doing the right thing for myself by eating healthy, and that was carrying over to positive results with my running, but it got out of hand.

Sarah      Right. It said in this one article that your weight got down to 62, and you were hospitalised repeatedly. So at some point, cross country went from being a really good thing to completely tipping the other way. It sounds like your high school years ended up being consumed by an eating disorder, which is just heart breaking.

Emily      Yes.

Sarah      But ultimately you got well enough to get out of it and go to college.

Emily      Yes. I finished that season, but by the end of that season, I had no control of my running. I was running compulsively, obsessively, I was running because I felt I had to. It was definitely a weight-focused thing. I was eating less and less, and I was first hospitalised when I was 85 pounds.

At that point, insurance companies didn’t recognize eating disorders. My parents just freaked out and realised that I needed help and took me down to Stanford, and the insurance company wasn’t approving that they were going to pay for it. That was my first hospitalization. But I couldn’t return there, and for the next three years, I was in and out of Marin General. I’d be in there for three months, out for two weeks, and back in. Then for another three months. On feeding tubes, IVs, heart monitors, I was completely isolated.

Sarah      How old were you at this point? 17?

Emily      It was 14 to 17. I mean, that’s all the insurance company would approve. They thought I was medically unstable. They’d stick me in the hospital until I gained a little bit of weight. I wasn’t medically unstable, and my electrolytes were back to being balanced, and I’d be discharged.

But I had no tools to apply once I got out of the hospital. No matter how hard I tried – because I really did see what this was doing to my family, and I wanted in my heart to change this behaviour – but I absolutely could not. I did not know how. It had completely taken hold.

Again, the insurance company was not going to pay for this. They found a treatment center down in San Diego, and drove me down on Easter Sunday and dropped me off. I was terrified. I enrolled, and I was going to be there until I was better. It took me a year and a half before I left there.

But what was different about that program was that it took a multi-faceted approach. I had to be somewhat medically stable to go in there, but I was 72 pounds at that point. But of course, we had to learn how to cook our meals, I went to therapy every day, we worked with a psychologist.

Sarah      I know parents and adults who have had ongoing battles with eating disorders and have been in and out of treatment. I know it’s like a full time job to get on the road to wellness.

Emily      Yes.

Sarah      But you must have managed to, and I want to fast-forward a decade to when you moved to Truckee in 2006 and got back into running. Because having been through what you went through, didn’t you worry about running? How could you make running be something that is your friend, and a healthy part of your recovery without having it causing you to relapse?

Emily      I have to say that I have gone back into the competitive scene very cautiously, because I don’t want to feel any expectation. I’m competitive with myself maybe, and I really want to keep that in check. I don’t want to feel like I’m doing this running for anyone but me, and I’m very protective about it.

Keeping my physical health and my spiritual health is what keeps me in recovery today. I’ve found that my running gives me a whole lot of inspiration. It’s my spiritual practice. With a strong sense of spirituality, I feel more resilient in my daily life.

So I live where I love, I’m close to Tahoe, and I’m out there and I feel a great sense of joy. It’s my gratitude practice. It’s a healthy thing for me.

My relationship with it is very different. I don’t feel like running keeps me from being emotionally honest with myself or others. I’m not secretly, obsessively or compulsively engaging in it. I have boundaries around it. I don’t feel like I have to run every day. I run maybe four days a week. I take time for family, I don’t feel like I’m pinching out the things which are important to me. I’m not using it to run and hide from the reality of my life.

Addiction and isolation really went hand in hand for me. I feel like running has been an avenue which has given me a lot of connection and community with people. I’m meeting local runners here, and certainly doing those articles last fall. I didn’t anticipate to go into my story when I went into those interviews, but the comments I got from people was really quite powerful and there was a sense of connection there with people that I wouldn’t have gotten if I hadn’t ventured into just being verbal about telling my story.

That's Emily previewing the UTMB course.
That’s Emily previewing the UTMB course.

Emily, I want to back up. One more question about high school, then I’ll definitely revisit where we are now. You said you were bouncing back and forth. You’d go into the hospital and go back and forth and back and forth. When you were out of the hospital, were you on the cross country team? Were you running?

Emily      No. I only completed my first run season. I tried to return in my junior year. It was obvious that I wasn’t healthy enough.

Eric         Was that your decision, or was that a coach or parent’s decision who said, “No, you’re not healthy enough”? Whose decision was that?

Emily      I think it was an all-round decision. I knew myself that I felt too fragile mentally as well as physically. I just ended up being the photographer for the races.

Eric         Did the coach or somebody at school recognise an eating disorder, “Hey, we’ve got to stop this by cutting off your access to running”? Did that happen?

Emily      It was surprising, because I didn’t get the sense that my coaches really had radar for this kind of thing, which is really quite surprising.

Eric         I’ve got to ask, male or female coaches?

Emily      They were male.

Sarah      Well, here’s the good news. I really believe that in the past two decades, there has been way more awareness about this, and that coaches and adults are a lot more proactive. But the thing is, even when you have awareness, and even with someone like you who really gets it now and intellectually knows what you need to do to be healthy, it’s still a struggle. When your mind says to do one thing, and your body wants to do another.

When I read the articles about you from last fall, it made me go back to trail runner magazine and dig up a really good piece that we should link to on our site written by Ashley Arnold. I don’t know if you’ve read it?

Emily      I have. Very powerful.

Sarah      She did a great job reporting on disorders in the sport of trail and ultra running, but she also shared her own personal stories. She really opened up about why, and how she gets into a binge and purge cycle.

To me, the really sad part is that being competitive in the sport became part of the problem rather than part of the solution. It’s like she started off with a really healthy, loving and positive relationship with trail running, but then the competitive aspect dragged her down with the focus of ideal race weight.

I’m going to quote something she wrote,

“The deeper I got into ultras, the more injury and burnout I saw. I overheard both men and women talking about ideal race weight, and their daily diets, and the pressure to be competitive. Even among non-elite athletes, three separate running partners have confessed to serious bouts of bulimia.”

So I guess my question for you is if you are on the cusp of being an elite level competitor, which is the direction you seem to be moving in. How do you plan and hope to avoid that obsession with an ideal race weight that could lead you down the path to being really sick again?

Emily      Like I said earlier, I’m very conscious of that. Very protective of not putting a tonne of expectation on myself. Because I need to remember and not get far from why I do this and what it takes to keep it a healthy activity for me.

This thing in my past is something that is part of my everyday life. Today, I know I have the tools that I can apply to keep me physically and mentally and spiritually balanced.

But I know that professionalism and expectation to perform and please others – I need to keep that in check. I’m not doing this for anyone but me.

This is something that is part of my husband’s and my relationship. He loves to mountain-bike, and I run, so we’re out on the trail together, and it’s something that we share together.

I don’t obsess about my weight or calories. I really try to have a very healthy diet, and give my body what it needs to recover well.


Sarah      I think so many listeners can relate to the issues of you struggling with weight and having a positive relationship with food. So I was wondering, is there anything you’ve learned in the past decade that has helped you have a positive relationship with food and meal times?

I’m all ears with this, because I struggle. I have a hard time at meal times. Either I’m over-controlling and restricting what I want to eat, or I’m over-indulging. Neither makes me happy. I just want to have a happy medium and achieve moderate eating and not have hang-ups. It’s so much easier said than done.

Have you done anything in particular to make you feel just more normal and happy about your relationship with food?

Emily      Well, part of the eating disorder was being extremely regimented, extremely calculated in everything that I ate. I found that I can’t do that. That feeds the obsession. So I feel really relaxed about what I eat. Because I know that if I’m trying to control what I eat, that’s kind of disease behaviour for me.

But food is my vice. We all have ways in which we choose to numb out, whether it’s an addictive behaviour or if it’s not an addictive behaviour.

I know that acting out on food is my way to numb from what I’m wanting to face. So it’s a very mindful process for me to be aware of how I’m eating; my behaviours around food; and my trying to escape from uncomfortable feelings. Or am I eating to fuel myself?

My husband and I are real foodies. We love to cook.

Sarah      That’s good, that’s really good to hear.

Emily      But I still struggle a lot with anxiety and being overwhelmed, getting too stressed. I know that when I’m in that state, that I have to be very aware of my behaviours around food.

Eric         I want to take something from the article that Sarah referenced, and of course I will link to it, and then have you reflect on something as well. She said athletes, runners, and ultra-runners in particular, are really good at having eating disorders. Because we have a goal in mind, nothing’s going to stop us, there’s food all around, but it’s something about the traits that make a good endurance runner unfortunately make a really good anorexic. Somebody who can really control themselves.

As I mentioned before, I want to paint this from the male perspective and somebody who’s never dealt with an eating disorder before. I see your situation, and reflect on it when I’m done, and it sounds like you’re competitive. If you’re winning events and going after that marathon, and it sounds like you were having a mess all over the place, but you really wanted to win. You have got that competitive drive in your body.

It sounds like it would be so easy to say, “If I drop four more pounds, I drop a little tiny bit, I’m going to get this and I’m going to be competitive, and I’m really not going to get sick from that. I’m going to do this.” Like an alcoholic, “A little bit more drink, and it’s going to make me feel better, and I’m going to be able to get through this interview.” …Uh, probably a bad reference right now!

Sarah      [laughs]

Eric         I’m not drunk now, for the record! But you know what I mean. It sounds like something that would be so dangerous and so easy to do. Just to say, “I’m not going to eat a bit, or binge and purge, and I’m going to lose that weight and win and it’s going to be fricking awesome. And I’m going to get a contract.” Isn’t that the case?

Emily      Yes.

Eric         Okay, so I’m not nuts.

Emily      No.

Emily and husband Colin
Emily and husband Colin

Sarah      Eric, I just want to reference another person in this sport who we can learn a lot from. I think the answer to what you’re saying is that only works in the short term. Someone who has written really powerfully about this is New Zealand’s Anna Frost. She suffered the syndrome of Female Athlete Triad, and that’s a really serious thing. We can remember when she won her first North Face 50, her body looked smaller and a little less curvy than it does now.

She had Female Athlete Triad Syndrome where you get your body fat low enough that you stop menstruating. So because of low body fat and/or the stress of running, you’re no longer getting your periods. That leads to other problems like loss of bone density and stress fractures, and it’s self-perpetuating.

So she deliberately put on weight and got her back to a healthy weight, and bravo to her. I think she’s so beautiful and so strong and awesome. But the reality is she is heavier now. She’s probably not quite as fast.

So Emily, what do you think of all of this?

Emily      She’s an incredible climber! She’s a strong runner.

Sarah      What do you make of all of this, and how are you going to stay healthy yourself?

Emily      I experienced the Female Athlete Triad in high school. I was 14 when I had osteoporosis in my spine, and osteopenia in my hips. Of course, I wasn’t menstruating, and obviously, I had eating disorder behaviors.

It wasn’t until high school and I started doing acupressure that I started my period again. It’s been regular ever since, but those are definitely markers for me.

In college, I was trying to run, and I was having recurring stress fractures. I haven’t had any stress fractures since I returned to running in 2010. My monthlies are regular. But those are definitely markers for me. If something starts going hay-wire there, I know that I’m not taking care of myself.

Sarah      So you’ve got a ton more intelligent and smart about this.

Eric         I’ve got to ask, have there been any relapses?

Emily      No. I had strong recovery after leaving the treatment center when I was 18 for a couple of years. College definitely I ended up leaving my senior year for a semester, coming home to do my internship and get myself back in balance. Which didn’t really work, because there was a lot of family stuff going on at that time.

But again, I’m very protective, and very conscious of my stress levels. Because I know I’m very serious about doing what I need to do and learning more and more about myself to keep myself balanced.

Sarah      I want to ask once last question on this topic. Your husband; I don’t know how he feels about your running, but he seems like a really supportive good guy. What has he done to help you, and do you have any advice for the loved ones out there who might be listening to this, or anyone who cares about or has a spouse or partner who might be struggling – maybe not with a full blown clinical eating disorder, but borderline disordered eating. What can they do to help and be supportive?

Emily      Well, there’s no difference between us. What’s special about him is that early on in our relationship, I divulged this information about my past, and he saw me, he heard me, and he saw the strength in me because of this experience.

My running, his mountain biking on the trails, is a healthy activity for us. But he, at the same time, he’s very in-tune with me. He’ll check in with me if I seem really anxious. Do I need to talk something out? Because I tend to hold my feelings inside, and that felt destructive. That comes out in my eating – or it could, I should say.

So I just have to say that it’s hard being vulnerable with your partner; being truly honest with your partner with what’s going on. But the secrecy that addiction is – to protect your addiction is what feeds it, and that’s why I need to really work on my shame around my past, and that’s why I need to talk about it and give it a voice, because it takes the power out of it.

Eric         It sounds like communication is a tremendous amount of key to all this. Pretty heavy topic, and you’re saying, “Talk, talk, talk about it; reach out, and find out from whoever you can who will help you”. But we’ve got to move on to a much more light hearted section of this.

We’ve got ten fartlek questions.

Sarah      But I just want to say thank you, Emily, for talking to us about this. This is really important for people that open up about and face it. It’s a serious struggle for a lot of people. Are we onto fartlek?

Eric         We are.

Sarah      Do I go first?

Eric         You are going first, Sarah. Emily, are you ready for this?

Sarah      So these are rapid-fire questions. So since we were just talking about you and your husband together. Question number one: If you and he could have a dream vacation for two weeks, where would you like to go, or what would you like to do together?

Emily      We had such a great time last August in Chamonix. We’d probably go back to Europe for a couple of weeks and hike.

Eric         Number two. You live in Reno. Reno 911 the show: fiction or non-fiction?

Emily      I don’t have a TV, sorry!

Sarah      [laughs]

Eric         Hipster!

Sarah      Actually, I don’t know the show, either!

Eric         I’ve never seen it, but I know the lines from it.

Sarah      Oh, I don’t. Well, my question number three is also about Reno. I drive through Reno frequently on my way to Utah, Colorado, but I rarely spend time there. So what is your favourite thing about living in Reno, other than running and the running community?

Emily      Wow. I think that’s sort of it.

Sarah      Is your heart still in Truckee?

Emily      Yes. Because we live on trails, that’s what allows us to stay here. So we can escape, and we do see the beauty in it.

Sarah      Okay, so it’s not the casinos!

Emily      We always laugh when we come back, because we just left Marin County which felt like Eden compared to it.

Eric         Just a quick geography for those not familiar. You have Lake Tahoe which is this giant lake that sits in between Northern California and Nevada. Truckee is about 20 minutes north of the North Shore. Awesome little mountain town, mountain village, mountain community. If you’re there, you either work on the ski slopes, or you’re a runner or a mountain biker or a kayaker. It’s like a miniature Boulder or Flagstaff.

Then Reno is 45 minutes’ east towards Nevada.

Sarah      It’s in Nevada, Eric.

Eric         Okay, but towards Nevada. I’ll say it’s less picturesque than Truckee, but there are a lot of runners there. And that brings me to my next question. One of my favourite Renoites is Frank Bozanich. Do you know Frank?

Emily      I don’t, no.

Eric         Oh my goodness. Well, you need to meet Frank. Frank, if you’re listening, you need to meet Emily and set her straight. Frank is a master’s runner. I think he’s 70 or so, and he held the record for the 50 miler back in the day.

He has some advice for everybody, whether you ask for it or not. He’s a hell of a guy. He’s been on the show before, and Frank, you can’t have sensitive ears when you’re talking to Frank. He dishes out advice in a way that only a former marine can. So, my advice: meet Frank. Sarah, you’re up.

Sarah      Emily, are you a dog person or a cat person?

Emily      I’m probably more a dog person.

Sarah      Do you have a dog?

Emily      No.

Eric         I thought everybody in Truckee had a dog.

Emily      We talked about it, but no. We travel too much.

Eric         Next up: What’s your secret talent that few people know?

Emily      Secret talent that few people know… hmm.

Sarah      Oh, I know! Tell us about your lip balm. Didn’t you start a small business making lip balm? What’s that all about?

Emily      Yes. I enjoy creating. I always love working with my hands. I like making my own household products and things like that. I’ve been working on my recipes for lip balm for a few years now. My dad raises bees, so he supplies me with bees wax and raw honey.

So yes, something I really enjoy doing, and I enjoy giving homemade gifts to people.

Sarah      And you realize that is an amazing secret talent. That’s pretty cool! [laughs]

Eric         I would have no idea. You could give me a month and a million dollars to make lip balm. I’d have nothing at all.

Sarah      All right, next question. So you’re also a massage therapist and registered nurse. So I’m wondering, do you ever get grossed out by someone’s physical condition, and if so, what makes you say, “Ooh, yuck”, and how do you deal with it?

Emily      No. Yes, you do see all different body types as a massage therapist, and as a professional, you’re trying to make that person feel at ease. Because they’re self-conscious. No, I see everyone as the same. As far as nursing goes, not much grosses me out. I can pretty much handle any body fluid, but I do not like having to do wound care type of things. Picking at wounds. That gets me. The pain factor.

Eric         I’ve got to call BS on your first answer. All due respect. I mean, come on! You’ve got to give some massages, and come home and be like, “Oh my god! This was disgusting”.

Sarah      No, that’s probably more the massage therapist at the finish line!

Eric         Yeah, they’re probably asking for it. When you go to a finish line, you’re asking for it. Okay, well I’ll let you pass on that one. Next. What type of music do you not like?

Emily      I’m pretty eclectic, so I will like a bit of everything, but my husband was playing this Pandora station that was Lindsey Stirling Pandora station, and we were playing it on our drive back, and I was just tolerating. I drive back from Marin, and I was just tolerating. I thought it was awful, and he thought it was the bee’s knees. He was all about it.

Eric         Lindsey Stirling?

Emily      Yeah, she’s a violinist. It’s kind of rock.

Eric         Rock violinist. Okay!

Emily      Yes, I thought it was terrible. [laughs]

Sarah      Okay, we won’t use that for the outro music! Okay. One more question. When you are in a 100 miler, what do you crave at aid stations?

Emily      Oh, at Leadville, my first 100 miler, I kind of had a full-body meltdown at mile 72. All I brought with me was vanilla Gu. I was so nauseous, and my pacer was so like, “You gotta eat!” and the last thing I wanted was another vanilla Gu.

I think I got to the last aid station or the second to last aid station, and I ran in there, and I downed a dozen sausages.

Eric         [laughs]

Sarah      [laughs] I like that, that’s awesome!

Emily      Anything but Gu! That sausage tasted so good.

Eric         And our final question as always is: What’s your favourite beer?

Emily      I don’t drink. Really. I’m sorry I’ve never acquired a taste for beer.

Eric         You don’t need to apologize. I know that answer’s coming. People sigh. “Hmm… well…”

Emily      My friends make a pretty awesome home brew, and that’s just too special to pass up. So I will enjoy that. But yeah.

Eric         Cool.

Emily      I’ll put a plug out there for Lagunitas because I’m from Petaluma.

Eric         That’s right, you are from Petaluma. Petaluma’s awesome. Okay. Well, Lindsey, thank you so much for joining us. Once again, a powerful message, and thanks for joining us. I can’t wait to see how your next three races come out.

Sarah      Yes, congratulations on your victories, and keep up with your good training!

Emily      Thank you, I really appreciate your time. Thanks for having me.

Eric         Cool, thanks. Bye, bye.

Emily      Bye.

[Emily hangs up.]

Emily at Marin Ultra Challenge, Mar 2015
Emily at Marin Ultra Challenge, Mar 2015

Eric         You had a lot of feelings going into this, especially as a woman with a 17 year old daughter. It’s heavy stuff. Eating disorders are heavy topics.

Sarah      No pun intended [laughs]

Eric         Oh jeez. I’m just going to trip over myself today and make inappropriate… Geez Louise!

Sarah      Okay, today is my daughter’s 17th birthday, and thank god she is wonderfully healthy. And I think the awareness that they have around this topic really does help girls today. And she has a healthy take-it-or-leave-it relationship with food. She’s a great, normal weight. Thank god.

Eric         It’s so hard. I’ve only, I guess, been accepting of eating disorders as real problems in the last ten years or so. I mean, married with kids now, a daughter obviously, and really learning from somebody I’m so intimate and close with, how they think. A completely rational person; my wife. She doesn’t have an eating disorder that I know about, but a completely rational person sees something entirely different in the mirror than I do. That’s just the image side of it.

The whole control thing is something that Emily sounds like she was dealing with. The controlling aspect. It’s deep stuff.

Sarah      Part of what’s going on with us as athletes is just that when you’re in really good shape, as many ultra-runners are, you are very much in-tune with your body. And the difference of just four or five pounds really does make a difference. You can feel it.

So whereas the average person on the street would look at you and think you were completely fit and healthy, and objectively you are fit and healthy.

Eric         You’re not racing weight, though.

Sarah      We know we’re not where we want to be. So it’s tough.

Eric         It’s hard.

Sarah      It can lead to unhealthy behavior and it makes you run for the wrong reasons. So that’s why I was talking about the striving for the happy medium. Personally, I lost weight last fall, and I’ve gained it all back, and I feel really chunky and crappy goes into the Gorge Waterfalls 100k.

Then I have to tell myself, “Good grief! See the big picture. Lighten up. I’m so healthy,” and I should just be happy with that.

Eric         Trying to balance that inherent competitiveness that a lot of us have as runners. That other aspect, that’s tough stuff. But let’s get onto something a bit more exciting. That is, I don’t want to make light of the subject at all, but let’s end this, man!

Sarah      Let’s go have a beer! What time is it? [laughs]

Eric         Yeah, thanks for listening. Ay ay ay!! I’m Eric Schranz, she’s Sarah Lavender Smith, you’ve been listening to UltraRunnerPodcast…now go out and run.


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