Nome woman finishes 50-mile ultramarathon
Most people eat cake on their birthdays. This year, Carol Seppilu ran a 50-mile ultramarathon.
The race was called "The Hitchcock Experience." It took place Dec. 9 in Iowa, and stretched 100 miles and more than 20,000 feet in total elevation. Temperatures ranged from 10 to 40 degrees across the race. Fifty-nine people signed up to attempt the full 100 miles. Seppilu was one of them.
Seppilu had never attempted to run such a long race, but wanted to challenge herself as she grew a year older. Years of struggle, training, and perseverance carried her through the first 50 miles of the race, where she ultimately stopped due to fatigue, and finished with a medal as a 50-miler. She hopes to return to Iowa later this year to complete the remaining 50 miles.
Although running 50 miles is an incredible feat for anyone, Seppilu faces an additional hurdle. She attempted suicide when she was a teenager â€” an act that left her with severe scarring and damage. She usually wears a mask to cover up the scars from the tracheostomy. But when she runs, she leaves her mask behind.
For Seppilu, racing is about more than just finishing. Running represents a connection with nature and something bigger than herself. It takes her out of her body, and it reminds her of her own resilience against hardship and depression â€” including her own suicide attempt.
Seppilu spoke with the Arctic Sounder about her experience running, and her message for others struggling with depression.
How did you get into ultra-races and running?
In 2014, I had reached my heaviest weight (233 pounds) and I was very depressed. I decided to run. At that time, all I could run was a few blocks and then I'd walk. Two miles a day was my goal, with my dog Solar. I enjoyed doing it so it wasn't very long that I started losing weight. I loved it so much we'd go running in the winter storms. It made me a happier person.
My first race was in the summer of 2015, it was a local eight-mile event called the Dexter Challenge. I was so amazed at eight miles and I thought, "If I can do eight, I can do a half-marathon." I had volunteered for the Cape Nome Half and Full Marathon, so it was my goal to run the half in 2016. I did it and I fell in love. My friend Crystal had signed up for a 100 miler that December, so I signed up for the 20-miler and followed her. Before that, I didn't even know there were 100-mile races. Twenty miles was so far for me at that time, but I enjoyed it â€”despite the rain â€” and knew I wanted to go farther. I found a race in Utah where I frequently go, so I decided to give ultra-running a try. The 50K had sold out, so I signed up for the 100K. I ended up dropping out after 41 miles because of a hard fall and unbearable heat. I loved the experience though. I fell in love with mountain trails.
That DNF (Did Not Finish result) left me depressed, so Crystal told me to look up a 50-mile race in Alaska called Resurrection Pass Ultra. I signed up for it. I loved it and wanted more, hence the 100-mile attempt.
I finished a 50K in September (The North Face Endurance Challenge Utah) and a 50K in November (Grand Ridge in Issaquah). The 50K in October had to be cut to a 25K because of weather. My goal is to do an ultramarathon in every state, because I love to travel. I really enjoy being out in nature, so I prefer trails.
What is training like in the winter? How do you stay motivated?
I have to be careful when training outside during winter. My dog Solar and I will run up to the mountains, and I let someone know exactly where we're going and for how long. I dress in layers to prevent sweating. It's so cold when you've been sweating. If I start getting warm, I'll take off layer and put it in my backpack. Since daylight is shorter, we leave once the sun rises and run back before it sets. Wintertime is Solar's favorite time of the year, so it's easy to stay motivated. I also prefer cooler weather. It's nice to not worry about bears too.
You've been public about your struggles with suicide and depression. Can you talk a bit about those struggles and how you manage them now?
I was a good kid growing up. I had faith, my grades were great. I had big dreams. I was into science and space, I wanted to become an astrophysicist. But as a teenager, I got sucked into peer pressure and started getting into drugs and alcohol. It got to the point where I felt like I needed it. It didn't feel good at all. I became severely depressed.
When I was 16 years old, I attempted suicide while intoxicated. I shot myself.
It's amazing to look back and see how strong I was to get through the initial shock of that trauma. I remember taking it hard at first, but I also remember waking up one day and thinking, "OK, I'm going to be OK." I remember telling my mom that someone told me everything would be fine and I believed it. I went from the lowest point in my life to climbing this huge mountain, and to this day I still tell myself everything will be OK [if I] just keep going.
Suicide is extremely prevalent in Alaska youth populations. What are ways that you think would be most effective to target these populations?
It's very important to keep our cultural traditions alive and strong. I think having the whole community working on cultural traditions and involving the youth would be a good thing. I love Eskimo dancing: it a good feeling when our community gathers to perform and have potluck?
How do you hope to continue to incorporate running and races into your life?
Running has become very therapeutic for me â€” it helps me in so many ways. I hope to help others by inspiring them. It's difficult for me to have others see my face, but ever since August, I've been running in races with my mask off. People also notice my tracheostomy. Those that see me tell me I'm strong and an inspiration. I'm doing something I love and it helps others feel that they can get through whatever they're dealing with in life. I hope to keep inspiring others with my running.
What has been the reaction from your friends and family about the running and races?
Everyone is happy for me. Some of them have even taken up running or tried it. Frequently I'll have friends tell me how far they ran recently, or ask for advice on running. I love it when they ask me how far I ran today. My mom is probably the proudest, she tells everybody about my races.