WHITEFISH – Upon reaching the five-decade milestone, many people ease into less demanding activities – flipping channels on the remote, even knitting, perhaps. But not pint-sized Cindy Weaver. Instead, the naturally gray-locked, makeup-free 50-year-old seeks to run the 50-mile Le Grizz ultra-marathon.
On a remote, golden larch tree-lined dirt road, the ultra-marathon from Spotted Bear to Hungry Horse garners only 70 entrants for the grueling early October race. A mere sixteen are women. Last year, Weaver bicycled the route as support for Coram’s Sandy Crandell; this year, she aims to be one of the runners, hoping to finish her 50 miles about mid-pack in 10 hours.
When her 11-year-old daughter Rebekah was one year old, Weaver, saddled with diaper duty, gazed into the future. “I could look down the road and see the possibility of running Le Grizz,” she says. “50 miles when I’m 50!” To get there, however, requires training – especially for a runner who had done only one marathon 30 years ago.
Weaver stumbled into running during high school in Judith Gap. There, with no cross country team for distance running, girls ran track sprints. “I don’t have a single fast-twitch muscle in me,” she laughs, glad her coach pointed her toward the 880-yard race. By college, Weaver saw the advent of Title IX introduce more sports for women and athletic scholarships, too. Weaver received a full ride for track. But for the Montana State University distance runner, 10 miles constituted a big run.
Through raising four kids, now 11 to 21 years old, she ran. “I never stopped running,” she says. “But I kept getting slower and slower, so I had to go longer and longer.” She even ran through her pregnancies and pushed tots in flimsy strollers rather than baby joggers. She quickly learned to train early in the morning before the family woke. “If I wait, it doesn’t happen,” she says. “Women often have to work around more people’s schedules. Are lunches ready? Who needs picked up? Who’s fixing supper? Is the wash done?”
In 2006, Dru Jackman, a neighbor who had never run more than a few miles, talked Weaver into entering Whitefish’s new Two Bear Marathon. The pair trained together, running behind their Highland Drive houses on single-track and Stoltze Lumber Company dirt roads. Using books and the Internet, they gleaned training tips, deciphering the difference between distance running and marathoning. “Around 20 miles or two to three hours, your body has to physiologically shift,” explains Weaver. “Marathoners must train themselves to hit that wall and go through it.”
Their goal – the Two Bear Marathon – tours 26.2 miles around Whitefish Lake on single-track trails and dirt roads through Stillwater State Forest before hitting pavement for its last half. While the route only nets 24 feet of elevation gain between the start and finish, it actually gains 2,400 feet total in elevation due to the trail’s ups and downs. In last year’s race, Weaver learned how to pace herself with a “reverse split,” running the second half faster than the first half. Near the end, she passed 15 lagging runners who started out too fast.
This weekend, Weaver plans to run the Two Bear Marathon again, but as training for the upcoming, longer Le Grizz ultra-marathon. With a slow pace, she also intends to run through the finish, adding on four more miles. For her, knocking out 30 miles provides a mental boost for tackling the 50-miler in less than a month. “At the 30-mile marker, I can say ‘I’ve done this’ and flush it,” explains Weaver. “Then I have only 20 to go, less than marathon distance.”
While running five days per week gets Weaver’s muscles firing right, marathoning also requires mental preparation. “Oh, you have to play huge games with yourself,” she sighs. “You have to break everything up and avoid thinking in the big picture.” Contrary to many marathoners, she opts to runs sans iPod, choosing instead to sing songs, calculate pacing, count steps to reach points on the horizon, and run in five-mile chunks.
On race day, Weaver won’t eat solid food until after she’s finished. While training combats injury, dehydration, and hitting the wall, she bolsters calorie burning with a total liquid Hammer Nutrition diet – before and during the race. “Using a fueling strategy of all this high tech stuff makes a really big difference for me,” she confesses, dreading like most marathoners, not finishing the race.
This fall, Weaver will be one of the few women running in her age group in both marathons. “I’m 50! I get to compete in a new age bracket,” she laughs. But really, she isn’t racing anyone but herself. What she is tackling is not lost on her daughter. “I haven’t inherited the running,” says Rebekah, a harpist and volleyball player. “But when I see her trying to do well, it inspires me.” Perhaps that’s more what it’s all about.
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