Army spouses join 'ultra-runner' ranks
April 19, 2012
By Amy Perry
FORT LEE, Va. (April 19, 2012)-Earning the elite title of "ultra-runner" is no easy feat. Few athletes have the stamina to complete jogging journeys that far exceed the already grueling 26.2-mile marathon. It demands a lot of training and unshakable determination as well, and those who make it tend to be fanatical about their love affair with long-distance running.
Two Fort Lee Army spouses joined the ultra-runner ranks Saturday when they completed the 20th Annual Bull Run race in nearby Clifton. Glenda Frazier, spouse of Chief Warrant Officer 5 Cortez Frazier, and Brittany Smith, spouse of Staff Sgt. Daniel Smith, completed the 50-mile trek and raised their running game one notch higher.
Both Army spouses also run on Fort Lee's Army 10-Miler Team. Its coach -- Larry Toler, deputy to the Quartermaster School commandant -- played a part in bringing the two together for their first ultra run.
Frazier and Smith were clearly meant to be running partners; both have overcome serious health issues that still impact them today.
In May 2008, Frazier, a non-smoker and marathon runner, was diagnosed with lung cancer. After her surgery, her physician told her she would never be able to run the way she used to.
"I was like 'whatever you say …' and later that year, I ran a marathon," she said. "I've been running with the Fort Lee team for two years, and I'm now achieving numbers -- or close to it -- that I accomplished before my surgery."
Frazier admitted that the road to recovery hasn't been as simple as it sounds.
"It affected my breathing," she said. "When I run, I notice it's a little heavier. Sometimes when I need to drink water, it takes a few more deep breaths to keep my pace. I'm just grateful I can still run."
When Frazier joined the 10-miler team, Toler said he was aware of her situation as a lung cancer survivor, and summed up her first year of running with one word … "Tough."
"She had trouble regulating her breathing and just could not keep up with the group back then," he recalled. "But she had fire; there were others with more talent, but no one with more grit. She never gave up.
"The second year, we spent a lot of time working on what it took to improve her breathing techniques," Toler continued. "Through hard work and training her body has re-adapted to the rigors of running. I continue to be awed by Glenda's accomplishments -- she has developed physical strength, endurance and even leadership skills while working with the 10-Miler Team. When she completed the 50-miler, it established her credentials as not only a true survivor, but someone who has faced her challenge directly and found a way to not only live with it, but also overcome it."
As for Smith, she said she has continuing cardiac issues.
"I'm pushing the envelope a little with what I'm doing, but I really love running," she said. "I really love distance running. I don't know, I didn't drop dead from the 50, so I guess I can go further."
Toler became aware of her cardiac issues when she couldn't complete a workout with the team and he had to pull her away from the group. She was later cleared by a cardiologist to return.
"As a cardiac risk myself, I kept a close eye on Brittany during all the workouts -- and closely monitored her food intake and hydration -- I knew they had to improve for her to compete at any level, let alone a marathon and then a 50-miler," he said. "The key was to make her more aware of her body, know what food and drink worked for her, and then to build her confidence to the right level."
And so, even with the medical conditions, both women continued to run and dream about completing an ultra race one day.
"I've always wanted to try a 50-miler," said Frazier. "Even before I had lung cancer, I wanted to do it. So, I decided if I found someone to do it with, I would do it."
Then, on one Saturday run with the team, Smith casually mentioned to Frazier that she planned to enter the lottery for the Bull Run Run, as only 350 are selected to participate in the race.
"She went home and entered," said Smith. "There were 670 people who entered the lottery and only 350 who get spots. We both got spots and figured it was fate."
"We just went with it," continued Frazier. "It was that simple. Once you start running long distance, it becomes an adrenalin thing. How much further can't go … what can I do."
Smith volunteered at the race last year, and she said she's wanted to participate for more than two years.
"I just ran my first half-marathon with the group that runs the race," said Smith, who began running in 2008 to get into shape. "It seemed so unattainable to reach the 50, and I was so in awe of the people who were doing it. Until I started running with the team, I never had a base to work to get there.
"I told Mr. Toler last year that I wanted to run this race," she said. "I don't think he believed me."
And Toler said he didn't.
"When she first came to me, I didn't give her much credit for ability or toughness, and I was wrong on both counts," he said. "As Brittany and I worked together on the Army 10-Miler Team I started to notice her commitment to the workouts, and while she lagged behind most -- she didn't give up. It didn't take long before she didn't lag behind."
The 50 miles of the Bull Run Run is a difficult trail. It's not just a flat run -- it's climbing up a mountain, over rocks, roots and bridges -- which made the race tougher for the two to complete, especially since they had trained to run side-by-side.
"This hellacious terrain -- that neither of us was prepared for -- was climbing mountains. Climbing mountains and then going back down mountains," Frazier said. "So our plan went out the window."
The two said they took turns in the lead on the single track for 6-7 miles each. For the last five miles, Frazier's husband joined them and saw the terrain for himself.
"I'm glad he got to see the terrain because nobody would believe you," said Smith. "Going into the aid stations, the trail widens up and it looks nice and smooth. From the volunteer perspective, you never really see what the whole trail is like. When her husband came out and saw the trail, it was like 'thank God, someone else saw this trail' so we're not being wimps."
Having to pause and think about the obstacles made the race just that much tougher, said Smith.
"You're already kind of gone mentally when you are running that far," she said. "To have to stop and do something that requires your attention, it brings you back. You're like 'Oh, my gosh, I can barely move my legs, and I have to navigate this terrain.'"
The two finished in 11 hours and 50 minutes, and have already started looking for the next race. Both said they look forward to doing even longer races, such as a 100-miler.
"My husband said, 'I can't believe you're already looking for another race' because that's what I was doing the next night," Frazier said. "Legs hurt, I got a bad brush burn from my camel pack, but I'm looking for another race. Before the race, I thought that I would either hate the 50-miler, or I would want to do another one."
Frazier started running in competitions after watching some of her husband's Soldiers run in one in 2004 and thought she could do that.
"You can't just run; you have to run a race," she said. "Get into a local 5K -- whether you walk it or run it -- just get into it. There's something different about a race than just going out your front door and running. It's totally different. Just run a race and you'll get hooked."