my running story

Running – it’s my go-to whenever I’m feeling anxious or upset. It’s my release. Running has saved me, from me, time and again. Ultramarathons have shown me, repeatedly, what I already knew- I’m a survivor. I don’t give up easily. Here’s my story.

I grew up with very loving and supportive parents, and my siblings were high achieving. I was not. High school was awful. I struggled with depression, anxiety and PTSD (following a traumatic incident at age 15), and was hospitalized twice (for weeks) on suicide watch. I was on a slew of medications, which may have been the reason I developed epilepsy at age 16. To cope with it all, I played the piano a lot, and ran a little. After high school, I left that small town, stopped all the meds (including the anti-seizure drug – the grand mal seizures never returned), and tried to leave it all behind. I learned from early on that life can be really awful at times, but we somehow get through.

Away at school (WMU), I was a casual runner, but those 3 to 5 mile runs were always followed by a cigarette (or two). My sophomore year, I was in a car accident (riding in the back seat of a cop car; it’s a long story), which messed up my knee. Not able to run, while awaiting surgery, I met Fred (Frederick Eagle Royce III, to be precise), who became my mentor – Fred was a successful attorney, he owned a castle (I got to house-sit!), and he was the definition of health – vegan, no alcohol, and he ran marathons.  He took me under his wing (his nickname is The Eagle after all), I quit smoking, decreased the drinking, increased the miles, and ran my first 10k. The opportunity to move across the country to the Lake Tahoe area arose, and I was all-in. Fred promised to visit (as long as I graduated). Time for a new start.

My first week in Truckee, 4th of July weekend, we went for a hike on the Pacific Crest Trail (“PCT”) on Donner Pass – the Mt. Judah Loop.  I was stunned to see someone running way up on the ridge. It seemed so extreme, I thought we were out there doing some serious mountain climbing – how could anyone run in conditions like that

Over the summer, I regularly ran around Donner Lake (a 7 mile paved loop) before dawn, with my neighbor JP. As we crested the hill on the south side of the lake he would quietly say “Make it count!” Those words have stayed with me. 

Photo Oct 04, 9 04 41 AM
Donner Lake

My first trail race was in the fall of 1999, a point-to-point from Squaw Valley to Donner Pass on the PCT. 16 miles. I was blown away by the beauty, and absolutely thrilled to be running out there like that mythical trailrunner I saw back in July.

I worked full time (as General Manager of The Truckee Hotel) while finishing school at University of Nevada-Reno, so I didn’t have much free time, but I continued to run when I could, as an escape from work and school. 

In the year before I got pregnant, I developed exercise-induced anaphylaxis. I was rushed to the emergency room three times (as my throat was closing up), during one episode the doctor told me “you have got to stop running or you are going to die. it’s not worth it.” I was allergic to exercise.

Fortunately, an allergist in Reno was able to get the condition under control; I had to carry an epi-pen for the first 5 years, but now I can keep it under tabs with daily antihistamine. I learned not to take running for granted.

In 2005 I gave birth to twins, went back to work (in my current capacity, working for a real estate investment group) when my babies were 4 months old. It was challenging to fit many miles in, that double stroller became heavy, but I craved those endorphins and knew it was necessary for me to stay sane.

When my kids were 15 months old, on a dare of a friend (thanks, Christie), I signed up for a road marathon in Reno, NV (Marathon De Mayo 2007), and had a blast, finishing in 3:25, and as 2nd female (small field). 


Stephen and Avian spent a lot of time in this jogging stroller as I trained for my first marathon. May 2007

Life with young twins was hard (the first few years were a blur), the marriage was challenging (to say the least), and during the worst of it, I suffered from chronic migraines. I was put back on anti-seizure meds for about a year in an attempt to control the debilitating headaches. There were days that I couldn’t do anything but lay in bed, but going for a run offered temporary relief from the pain. I ran the Boston Marathon through a migraine.

In the summer of 2011, while experiencing the devastation of being separated from my small children for a week at a time (very difficult divorce in process), I was asked to pace someone at the Tahoe Rim Trail 100, for the last 20 miles. 

Running through the magical woods and along the snowy ridges at night, watching my runner (miles 80-100) push himself through the most intense physical and mental challenges, overcoming the impossible, to finally make it to the very emotional finish line, made me want if for myself.  I discovered what might actually get me through this very difficult time and especially through the long weekends without my kids. That was the beginning of my obsession with ultra-distance events (and long adventure runs).  I ran my first 50 miler in October of 2011 – and Fred was there, to crew for me and pace me the last 10 miles. 

Day after winning the Rock N River 50 Mile Race in 7:57, with my pacer/crew Fred and cheerleader Avian

The first few years of racing ultramarathons I went a little overboard and faced some nagging injuries that kept me from doing more than 2 or 3 races a year. I hired a running coach in 2015 (Meghan Laws), and by following her advice, and incorporating regular (monthly) massages and foam rolling, I’ve managed to avoid injury: I can now run about 3,000 miles a year without (much) discomfort. An acupuncturist, Carla, has given me relief from the migraines. 

A few years ago, my mom reminded me of a story. We were all riding bikes on Mackinac Island, and my mom got off the bike, to walk it up a hill. My sister gave her a sideways look and said, “It’s ok to push yourself sometimes, you know.” There are many times I feel like “I can’t do this”, and I remember those words. Running, like life, isn’t always easy. It’s ok to push beyond your comfort zone and see what you can accomplish.

I enjoy racing, but my true release is during the everyday runs- the peaceful acceptance that I have only come to find while moving quietly through the woods or climbing up a ridge, with the only concern being my breath and where my next foot falls.

Photo May 21, 6 37 48 AM
an early morning on the Pacific Crest Trail. Photo: Gretchen Brugman



5 responses to my running story

  1. Jana says:

    Thank you for sharing your story. What a gift that you met your mentor when you did. Keep up the good work!


  2. helenpelster says:

    I’m glad that you have running, and that running has you. xo

    P.S. I love your 2018 race calendar so far… pretty much the same as mine (but maybe I’ll be sticking with the 50k’s again.)


  3. Jean Heun says:

    Jenelle, everyone I meet as a stranger and on meds for this & that who tells me that they run, I automatically tell them about your inspiring story. I wish my young niece who has migraines & fibromialga would listen to me. She thinks it is ok to continue taking meds. She’s not a runner.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jenellep says:

      Jean, thank you for your kind words. Re your niece, I hope she finds relief from her symptoms. Thanks for reaching out.


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