Name: Natalie Rooney
Based out of: Corvallis, OR (by way of Columbia, SC, by way of Columbia, MO, by way of Springfield, MO)
Favorite Distance: Half marathon
Favorite place to run: My own backyard - the McDonald Dunn Forest!
Currently training for: McDonald Forest 50k (http://mac50k.org/)
Q: Can you tell me a little bit about yourself? If someone is thinking about Natalie Rooney what should immediately come to mind?
A: I smile and laugh (loudly) a lot. I say “y’all” way too frequently. People are so important to me, and I don’t take any of the fantastic relationships I have with my friends and family for granted. One of my favorite things to do is make others feel loved and appreciated. I’m an includer through and through, and I will do my best to make sure everyone feels like they belong. Baking from scratch is my biggest hobby aside from running, but I always make sure I have plenty of friends to eat the treats I make so I don’t devour an entire cake myself. I’m proud to be from a very Irish Catholic family. I live in a guest home in a forest in Oregon, which is the crunchiest thing I can think of, and I have two incredible landlords who I feel like have taken me in as one of their own kids. I dream about sunshine and summertime year-round (although I do love that I live somewhere that gets all of the seasons). Since moving to Oregon, I’ve become quite the wine connoisseur and I’ll never say no to a glass of Pinot Noir. I’m a self-proclaimed nonfiction book nerd, and I am always on a mission to read about people, concepts or moments from history that I’m unfamiliar with.
Q: Where did your love of running come from? How did you get started running?
A: I began running around the time I turned 18. When I went to college and stopped participating in group sports/activities that kept me active, I knew I needed to find a way to stay in shape. Running seemed to be “easy” in that it only required clothes and shoes. I signed up for a half marathon training course through my college’s campus rec, and after completing my first half, I had officially caught the running bug.
Q: What has kept you running?
A: Gratitude. I find such an incredible sense of gratitude when I think about how I’ve been given a body that can keep me running some crazy distances in beautiful places. I’ve also always told myself that I run for those who cannot, which is a powerful reminder to myself. Running has become a spiritual activity for me, especially when I’m trail running in nature. I feel very connected to the earth and to God. It’s hard to explain, but I know that when the going gets tough and I want to quit a long run or I can’t muster the energy to get out of bed, recalling those deep feelings of gratitude help me stay motivated and get moving.
4K FOR CANCER: RUN ACROSS USA
Q: You’ve accomplished many amazing things but one of my favorites is your journey running across the United States with 4K for Cancer. Can you tell me a little bit about what this experience entailed?
A: The 4K for Cancer is a program through the Ulman Cancer Fund whose mission is to support young adults facing cancer. 4K has running and cycling teams that travel from coast to coast over a couple months in the summer. Members of each team are generally college/graduate school-aged students, and each participant must fundraise at least $4,500 for UCF to participate. That money goes to help UCF with things like providing scholarships to young adults affected by cancer, creating/delivering chemo care bags to young adults receiving chemotherapy, supporting the Cancer to 5k training program for survivors, funding cancer support groups nationwide and much more.
A typical running day consisted of each team member running 8-15 miles with another teammate. We split this up into 3-mile segments. You’d be dropped off from the 15-passenger van with your teammate for the day, run 3 miles, then hop back into the van and wait for your next turn as another pair set off running. Collectively, our team ran the 4,000+ mile journey from San Francisco to Baltimore.
Each night of the trip, we’d stay on the floors of a YMCA, a church, a firehouse or even in the homes of community members. We had arranged these spots ahead of time, so we were always greeted by smiling faces who took us in and often fed us incredible meals out of the goodness of the heart because they connected strongly with our mission. The hosts were some of the best people we met along the route because they were such genuinely compassionate people.
I was one of the directors of the summer 2014 running team that ran from San Francisco to Baltimore, and it was an experience I’ll never forget. Along our route, our team faced challenges, overcame hardships and made lifelong connections. We became a family. Throughout the summer, we’d have service days where we’d deliver chemo care bags to a hospital or present someone with a scholarship - I think those days were most impactful for everyone on our team. While our days spent running were challenging physically, our service days were emotionally powerful and reminded us why we were running and raising money.
Q: Did it have a lasting impact? Where there any moments that you’ve continuously carried with you?
A: Absolutely. We’re coming up on 4 years past my 4K experience, and I still tell people stories of that summer. After all, how many people can say they’ve truly ran across the entire United States?! I’m so glad that I blogged my way through that summer, because sometimes I’ll still go back to that site to reminisce on the coolest summer of my life.
I’m not sure if there’s just one moment I can pick out that I carry with me because we had so many meaningful experiences that entire summer. I know that my entire team loved our hosts in Evansville, Indiana, at Immanuel Lutheran Church. Pam and her congregation were amazing to us, we definitely felt so loved and cared for when we stayed at their church!
I’ll also always remember how much fun our team had on rest days. Hands down the best rest day experience was hiking in the Grand Tetons and jumping into freezing cold Phelps Lake. Even a team that runs hundreds of miles couldn’t resist using a “rest” day to be active and go on an adventure!
Q: What did your training look like for this?
A: Ha...well...nothing really prepares you for running across the entire country! To try and prepare for this trek, I would do shorter length two-a-day (or more!) runs to get my body familiar with what it was like to run, then be idle for a couple hours, then run again, etc. Could I have trained better? Absolutely. But I also had no idea what running that kind of mileage day after day would be like on my body, so I did struggle with a couple injuries that slowed me down for some of the summer. However, our team had a handful of injured members, and many of us would still walk to get our miles in on days where our bodies just weren’t going to carry us any faster than a slow stroll.
Q: You’re currently training for your very first ultra race! How did you decide you wanted to make the jump in distance?
A: It was truly an impulse decision. I’ve run a couple marathons, neither of which were super fast or highly successful, but I at least finished them. I recently began trail running over the past year and I’ve fallen in love with it, so when I saw the opportunity to try a trail race, I was excited. I’ve had a few friends who spoke highly of the race I chose, so I decided to bite the bullet and sign up as soon as registration opened/before I could talk myself out of it.
Q: How’s training going? Are you experiencing any unexpected highs or challenges?
A: So far so good! I’m about two months, and I’ve been keeping up with my training plan pretty well so far. I’ve found that I even enjoy the track and speed workouts, which surprised me. I’m doing hot yoga two times per week to help prevent injuries, because every time I train for longer distance races I seem to find a way to hurt myself. I’m hoping to add in some strength training too, and the Roll Recovery R8 that I got for Christmas has been a godsend to work out muscle kinks on my own. It’s been fun to balance running with other activities - who knew that cross training was so important?! ;)
The challenges for me have been my crazy travel schedule. I would love to be able to get my Saturday and Sunday long runs done on the trails in the forest I’m running the race in, but I’ve been traveling a lot on the weekends for work-related things, so hotel treadmills have sadly become my best friend. I haven’t gotten to long enough runs yet where I really have to think about the fuel I’m intaking, but that will definitely be something I have to test out and learn when I get to that place. Finally, I think those higher-mileage weeks that I know are coming up will be a challenge for me as well, but I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it!
Q: This is also your first trail race. How is this comparing to your road running you’ve done previously? Do you prefer one over the other?
A: Trail running is my EVERYTHING! I have seriously fallen in love with this sport, and I’m so grateful I have easy access to miles and miles of trail. It’s tough as hell, but it has made me such a stronger runner. Struggling up and over hill after hill out in the forest has built up muscles I didn’t even know I had. When I head out for road runs now, my pace is so much faster than it’s ever been thanks to my trail training. I’ve also had fewer injuries since I began logging more miles on trails instead of roads, which is a great added benefit for an injury-prone runner like myself. Trail running isn’t just physically tough, it’s also mentally tough. Staring up a gnarly, muddy trail hill is almost enough to make you want to give up...or to grind harder and push past your mental barriers. I’ve noticed that I take more chances with running and am willing to push myself harder than I ever have because I’ve started trail running. Maybe that’s why I decided to jump in for the 50k!
WOMEN IN RUNNING
Q: It’s hard to believe women have been “allowed” to participate in running for only 50 years here in the U.S. Where do you feel we stand as a community in 2018? How can we continue to move forward?
A: One of the things I love most when I’m out running is seeing other women out there. Whether it’s on the trails or the streets, whether it’s just one gal doing her thing or a whole group of them, I feel more pumped up when I cross paths with another woman runner. Even a quick smile, wave or “keep it up!” from another runner is encouraging, but even more so when it’s a woman. I feel like women continue to increase our presence in the running community and at races, which is exciting to see. I still think often about how women had to break through barriers to even be able to participate in marathons, so I love seeing how many of us are out there these days. In 2018, we are obviously more than welcome to easily sign up for a race of any distance, and I feel comfortable and welcomed into the racing community. However, in 2018 women also still get harassed, whistled at or honked at by strangers when we go for runs on the roads. While I find that the running community tends to be quite caring and welcoming, the rest of the world isn’t always as kind.
Q: What are the biggest challenges, in your opinion, that our community is facing?
A: Outside of the running world, women face constant challenges every day, especially women of color and/or trans women. Women have to step up, speak out and, most importantly, support one another. There is too much negativity toward women out there in the world, the least we can do is lift other women up. Every woman deserves access to affordable healthcare that will allow her control over her own body. Every woman deserves equal pay to men in the same roles. Every woman deserves to wear what she pleases and to be free from harassment. Every woman deserves the ability to be represented with both a seat and a voice at the proverbial table. These rights, and so many more, are things that women have to continue to advocate for in 2018. As women continue to support and invest in other women, I believe that we will be able to secure these freedoms for women in future generations.
Q: Why, in your opinion, should women try running if they haven’t already? Any favorite tips:
A: If a woman is even remotely interested in running, she should go for it! What I always tell my friends (male or female) is that running can be whatever you make of it. If you jog for 2 minutes, walk for 5, then repeat over and over again, you’re a runner. If you can make it around your block once or twice, you’re a runner. I often try to convince my gal pals to come on runs with me - most of the time they are scared or intimidated because they know I’m a distance runner, but I absolutely love running with a friend, letting them set the pace and choose the distance, and then just chatting the whole way. I have had nothing but positive experiences with other members of the running community, and if a woman is out there looking for a way to jump in, just buy a good pair of shoes, a couple outfits that are comfy and you love, then hit the pavement.
My tips (or words of advice) would simply be to stick with it. Starting to run is HARD. It sucks. You will feel defeated, and it’ll be tempting to just give up. Some days you’ll feel like a running rockstar, then the next you’ll feel like you’re moving through molasses at a snail’s pace. Running is 90% about building mental toughness and developing the ability to tell yourself that you can overcome anything.
THE FUN STUFF
Q: Do you have a best run ever?
A: Oddly enough, one of my most memorable races was the Rock n Roll New Orleans half marathon...the night after I got food poisoning. Something I ate Saturday didn’t agree with my stomach, and for a while that night, I didn’t think I’d make it to the starting line the next morning. After managing to keep some food down and chugging a ton of Gatorade to get some electrolytes in me, I dragged myself out of bed and actually ended up having an amazing time on the course and ran a decent time! New Orleans is one of my favorite places to visit and to run in - the French culture is beautiful and so lively.
Q: Dream races or places to run?
A: I’ve been lucky enough to run in some really amazing places in my lifetime. I spent some time in Ireland during graduate school and fell in love with every city I visited across the country. I’d love to get back to Ireland and run in a race there...or maybe run across another entire country :)
Q: Do you have any favorite runner you follow?
A: I’ve lived in Oregon for 3 years now, and I’ve definitely begun to follow some of our (many) talented local athletes. I love following Shalane Flanagan and Lauren Fleshman on Instagram. Shalane is such a motivator when it comes to my running game (she’s a total beast), and I love how authentic Lauren is in everything she shares with her followers (she has the cutest little family!). One of my favorite local male runners is Nick Symmonds - he is hilarious and always going on cool adventures!
Q: Favorite post-run food:
A: Give me all the salt, please. I love French fries or popcorn after a long run - not healthy, but sooo yummy. I’m slowly but surely becoming lactose intolerant, so I have to pump the breaks on dairy most of the time, but every now and then I’ll treat myself to some post-run cheese pizza too.
Q; What are you looking forward to in 2018?
A: Way too many things! Of course I’m looking forward to crushing my big running goals, but I’m also looking forward to growing professionally in my career. I’m looking forward to taking on new opportunities to challenge myself and to learn more. I can’t wait to see many of my friends get married and start blissfully happy lives with their partners. I am looking forward to making new friends and staying connected to the great friends I already have. I’m looking forward to taking advantage of every beautiful summer weekend in Oregon and getting out to do some crazy hikes and backpacking trips. And, of course, I can’t wait to continue tasting all of the Oregon wine I can get my hands on. I have a feeling that 2018 will be my best year yet, and it’s only just begun.