A Q+A With SPIbelt Ambassador Tasha Holland
This month on social media we’re focusing on all of the ways you’re #freetobebold while wearing your SPIbelt. While we think all of our ambassadors are bold runners for their confidence, courage and ability to take risks, Tasha Holland’s journey as a runner is one of the most bold ones we’ve ever seen! The mom of two started running to improve her health and within one year she had run not only a half-marathon and a marathon, but completed her first 50k ultra! We chatted with Tasha about her adventurous running experiences, what pushes her to continue challenging herself, and how SPIbelt has played a role along the way. Check it out below!
How did you first get into running?
I began running a little over three years ago to be healthier. I was overweight and have four endocrine diseases. I was desperate for change and wanted to be proud of my body instead of ashamed. I had little time to drive to a gym and running seemed to be the easiest option because I could walk out my door and just run. So I did!
How has running pushed you and inspired you to be more bold?
Running has pushed me in so many ways. It has definitely made me bolder and braver. When I ran my first 110 miles at Ozone I learned how to run on blistered covered feet and discovered how to dig deep and run through the pain. When I first began Vol State, I was scared to run at night. Everything made me jump! Running in the country at night is stressful and I second guessed every move. But by the end of my 314 miles I was at peace in the night. When you run across a state you discover things about yourself that you never knew. I grew so much during that race! With each new accomplishment, my confidence in myself has grown.
What races have you competed in that have pushed you to be bold?
My first Olympic triathlon pushed me like crazy! It was an open water lake swim and I’m not a strong swimmer. It was the scariest thing I have ever done during a race. I finished it in 42 minutes—double the time of everyone else, but I was thrilled! I had faced a fear and overcome it, smiling and triumphant.
I continued to push when I signed up for the Tarheel Ultra (378 miles along the North Carolina coastline). I ran that race solo, which means I was responsible for carrying everything I needed or finding it and buying it along the way. It was a new adventure and quite scary. It was hot during the days and freezing at night and I lived eating out of gas stations. For someone with Hashimoto’s, Celiacs disease, and that is also lactose intolerant the challenge to eat nutritional foods was huge. I finished that race in 7 days and was the first female finisher (setting the course record for females!) and placed 3rd overall. Less than 24 hours later I ended up in the hospital with cellulitis and a severe concussion. I had fallen and hit my head with 16 miles to go, but refused to stop until I finished. I was banned from any activities for a month so that I could heal. This adventure taught me how resilient I could be.
What does an ultra race like that entail and have you participated in any others?
Vol State and Tarheel are both 500k (plus) races across states that require 31-50 miles of running a day to finish in the required time. I ran Vol State last year crewed, but this year I’ll run it solo just like I did with Tarheel. For these races you carry everything you need and replenish supplies along the way in gas stations, dollar stores, restaurants, or grocery stores. You can sleep in motels or anywhere outside you can find—gas station benches, on the grass in town squares, on the side of the highway in a construction zone, and under trees in parks are a few of the places I have slept! These races test your endurance and resilience and it’s often a mental battle to keep moving. You’re responsible for your safety as well as finding your way, your shelter, and your food. They’re extremely tough, but are guaranteed to change your life!
What made you decide to take the leap from running casually to running in these types of races?
After my first half marathon I claimed I would never run a marathon. How little I knew myself! I love a challenge and wanted to be that small percentage that called themselves marathoners. It was only 13 more miles, which I figured I could do. I chose the Hatfield and McCoy marathon that is ranked as one of the toughest 10 marathons in the United States. I had planned on running it alone until a very nice 50 State Marathon finisher heard me telling someone it was my first and told me he would like to tag along. “No one should ever run their first marathon alone”, he said. It was the toughest thing I had ever done. I hit a wall at mile 20 and never recovered, but he refused to leave and stayed with me until the end when I finished around 6:30. Because of him, I have given up my own race multiple times to run alongside first time marathoners. When I discover it’s their first I ask if I can tag along, hearing my friend’s words of wisdom in the back of my mind.
After my first marathon I took a month off of running and got to thinking that if I could run 26 miles then I could run a 50k, and if I could run a 50k then I could run a 50 mile! I wanted to be amongst the few runners that have run mind staggering distances. I ran my first ultra—a 50k—within a year of when I took my first steps to running!
I love challenging myself and seeing how far I can go, both mentally and physically. I want to push until I feel like I can go no further, then push some more. It’s moments like these that show us what we’re made of. I want to show my diseases that they don’t own me. Running makes me stronger and more confident.
What type of preparation do you take to prepare for races?
I don’t do a lot to prepare. I run marathons to train for longer distance races and run bleachers and hills to train for trail races. I also bike and even swim a little, and do light weights and core work as well.
What goes through your head on race day?
The hours leading up to a race can be the hardest. I’m usually so excited that I can’t sleep—I’m lucky to get four hours! It’s just so hard to stay calm when I know I’m about to start something that I may not finish. I know I’ll hate it at some points and will love it at others. I’ll most likely curse, cry, and laugh during, but no matter the outcome I always learn something new about myself.
What do you do when a race doesn’t go as planned? Can you tell us about specific moments when you’ve really had to push yourself to be bold?
When things don’t go as planned, I stay calm and think of a new way to continue on. I ran into a lost, hurt, aggressive dog during the West Virginia Trilogy 50k last year. He was at the top of the trailhead, miles from civilization. At first I thought I was hallucinating, but when he raised his hackles and started growling I knew he was real. We had a 10-15 minute standoff during which I was certain I was going to be bitten. I talked to him and made my way slowly up the hill, stopping a lot and trying to appear harmless. He came so close to me that I could pet him and I held my breath as he sniffed me. He growled once and then ran away. I was lucky that day that I only lost time on the clock. It could have been much worse.
I have gotten blisters too early in a run, ran out of food and water, gotten lost, been stung by hornets, caught in thunderstorms, lost shoes in calf deep mud, fallen in stream crossings, had heat exhaustion, and fought hypothermia. Some of these things can be worked out, but some can end your race. All you can do is just deal with one mile at a time. I stay calm and do my best to stay positive and keep moving forward. If the mile I’m in sucks, the next mile could be better. You never know until you get there!
How has your SPIbelt played a role in you being such a bold runner?
SPIbelt accompanies me on every adventure. It has been with me since my first half marathon and I also wore it for both of my 500k’s! I can run knowing my possessions are safely by my side—mace, gels, car keys, phone, other food sources, charging accessories, and more. I love the reflective belts so I can run at night with confidence knowing that cars will see me, and the hydration belts come in handy when it’s too hot for a vest. Honestly, I cannot imagine running without my SPIbelts! When you have gear you trust and believe in, it makes it easy to be bold in your actions when on racing adventures.