People often ask me, "What is it that motivates you?" My response is one that I have crafted over the years and is completely true. I LOVE to watch people do amazing things. Whether that be in business, philanthropy or sports. I love to watch people follow their passion and just do extraordinary things. I chose the next person to do a member spotlight on because of her passion to push what is thought of to be possible. She is a wife, a mother, a friend and an amazing runner. This edition of the member spotlight highlights the Gnarly Bandit herself, Jessica Pendleton.
I have known Jessica for a couple of years now and consider her to be one of the baddest ladies I have ever met. As you will read in her bio, Jessica was like many of us who started running as a way to lose weight. In the years since her first "jog" she has done some truly mind blowing things, has become one of the "faces" of the CS Turkeys and a true model of ultra running in Central Iowa. She has seen high times in races and some incredible lows and continues to learn and refine what she is capable of doing. She is someone who I truly admire and draw a lot of strength and knowledge from. Please enjoy!!!!
Running has changed my life in every way.
10 years ago I didn’t run at all. In fact, I smoked and was generally uninterested in exercise or anything physically challenging. In 2007, I quit smoking and (as is typical) gained weight. To lose weight, I dieted and started walking. I got bored and a little inpatient with walking and picked a couple spots on my walks to jog to for short stretches. I was kind of shocked that I could do it at all. And, it worked. I lost the weight and found that jogging doesn’t kill you. In fact, sometimes, it felt kind of good that I could move my body in that way. Then, Mom bought me a book, Marathon: You Can Do It! by Jeff Galloway. Using the run-walk-run method, I decided to take on an audacious goal of completing a marathon. In 2009, I joined the Capital Striders and started doing my long runs with them. Encouraged by my new running friends’ support and my own desire to do something ‘crazy’ I completed my first marathon in 2009 (the Des Moines IMT). I cried the last couple miles: amazed by the fact I really was doing this. This was the start of building the kind of unshakable self-confidence I had really desired all my life. This was me, accomplishing things I thought were hard. I was addicted.
I did my next marathon the following spring (2010) in Madison, WI. There I heard about ‘crazy’ people that ran 50 mile races in the woods on trails. Wow. Could I do that? Maybe… The wheels started turning and I signed up for the Ice Age 50. And, it was hard. Really hard. But, I finished and was blown away that my body could do such things!
Then, injury hit late 2010. I was training hard and enjoying what my body could do. But it was too much, too soon, and I got a stress fracture on my right tibia (the main shin bone). I was disappointed, but also completely committed to a full healing, so I took all of 2011 off from racing. I did physical therapy to improve my gait. I started doing yoga and I started rowing (all as cross-training). And slowly started running again. By the second half of 2011, I was feeling strong and looking for my next challenge… a hundred miler(!).
In 2012, I attempted Zumbro 100 in MN and DNF’d. I was shocked the amount of pain you had to tolerate and general grit you had to have to finish a 100. I wanted to be one of those people that could do it. I doubled-down and did a trail double marathon in Michigan and then signed up and FNIISHED (!) my first 100, Lean Horse, in SD. Then, I started snowshoeing that winter because it was beautiful outside and some of my other running friends raved about it.
In 2013, I set such a big goal for myself that I was embarrassed to tell anyone for fear they would think I was stupid and crazy to think that I could do such a thing. I signed up for the Gnarly Bandit series. To complete the series you have to finish four 100 mile races and one 100k in a year. That year, with the help and support of my running friends and my ever-patient family, I completed that series and commemorated the completion with a tattoo. I felt compelled to get that tattoo as a constant physical reminder that I can do hard things. Challenges so hard that at times, I didn’t think I could. That winter, I started cross-country skiing, because, well, I had some running friends that raved about it and it just looked fun (see a pattern?).
In 2014, I felt free to accept crazy challenges. Why not? I’ve failed and succeeded, and loved every painful and joyful crying moment, because they kept improving me and improving my capacity to live and love and enjoy everything around me more. I did Rocky Raccoon 100 in TX (first time with no pacer), Syllamo 3 Day in AR (gained experience in minimal course flagging), Peak 500 in VT (experienced my first multi-day race; DNF’d at 200 miles), Fat Dog 120 in Canada (most beautiful course), and Ozark 100 in AR (did a race with no crew and no pacer – but lots of friends!).
This year, I went back to some favorites (Syllamo and Zumbro), tried Infinitus 888k in VT (DNF’d at 456 miles), enjoyed Post Oak (fun 2 days in OK with friends). Next, I’ll be doing RAGBRAI later this month followed by Ouray 100 in CO (most elevation change I’ve tried), Plain 100 in WA (first time self-navigating), and Bear 100 in UT (coinciding a family trip with a beautiful course).
So, what has running given me? Self-confidence, gumption, grit, knowing myself more, appreciating others more (you get to meet some phenomenal people out there), grown my capacity to love myself, others, and the world around me, the joy of other sports and activities, love of nature, love of adventure, trust in myself, trust in others, an appreciation of rest and of challenge (mental and physical), how to live life fully, and how to give yourself over to your passions and let them change you.
- Jessica Pendleton