Stacey Riddle’s joyous approach to running, sense of humor, and infectious laugh and smile are as legendary as her incredible mileage stats. Her love for the trails and fellow runners shines through in every race. And she races a LOT – according to Ultrasignup, she has run 85 ultras since 2011! If you follow her on Strava, you’ll see that she averages well over 100+ miles a week – and shares entertaining blips from every run, most of which begin hours before any of the rest of us are even thinking about waking up. Read on to learn more about Stacie, how she became interested in running, tackled a medical setback and stays motivated.
Where are you from and where do you live now? When did you begin running and/or long-distance running, if that applies? Why?
I mostly grew up just outside of Vacaville with my brother, our parents, and my horse (plus dog, cats, and various other pets). I tried to spend every waking moment with my horse exploring the trails in the hills around the house. Homework would always be done on the bus on the way home and piano would be practiced pre-dawn when I wasn’t supposed to be riding. (Mom loved that! :-D) There was/is a large ~3000 acre ranch down the street that we were allowed to ride on… that was pretty awesome and we spent all daylight hours there, literally dawn to dusk, out on the trails during the weekends when it wasn’t hunting season. A headlamp would have been handy back then (I probably would have even put one on the horse if I could have obtained the funds for it). I was an avid reader of Horse Illustrated magazine, which started printing articles about endurance riding and that’s how I heard about the Tevis Cup. I was extremely interested in this and had the perfect horse for it, but when I showed my mom, she said it was too dangerous. I think it was just the angle the photograph was taken for the article which made it look as if the horse could fall over the side of a granite cliff at any moment, but she wouldn’t listen to reason.
That pretty much sums up my daily life from age 9 to 17. Because we’re talking about running, I’ll mention that I did run track and cross country in high school, but only because we were expected to participate in sports and I liked those the most – simple without a lot of equipment and team interaction. I do not really see cross-country and track as being very similar to ultra running, probably because I do not run competitively. I graduated high school on a Saturday and began college immediately with summer classes the following Monday. I got a job nearby at a racehorse farm as an exercise rider that paid amazingly well compared to minimum wage: $20/horse/15min gallop. I was usually done with work by about 9am. During undergrad, I worked 3 part-time jobs, which rotated almost every semester according to my full-time school schedule.
The point of mentioning all the work and school is just a long way to set up for the statement: I became a workaholic and I gained a lot of weight. When I decided to lose it, it took me nearly all of 2011-12 to lose 100 pounds and start running again. I only tracked the weight loss, the food I was eating, and the amount of time I spent exercising (an hour a day during lunch). On weekends I started doing my own little “challenge events” to see if I could run all the way to various landmarks and back. I wasn’t tracking distance at the time, but I now know those were 8-10 mile weekend runs and I was doing them thinking that I had never run more than a 10k.
Generally, I like exploring on foot. It adds a certain intimacy with my surroundings that is missing from other modes of transportation. It’s very similar to being on a horse, but I can take smaller trails and fit through fallen trees more easily.
Do you race? Does racing motivate you? If not racing, what motivates you? Do you have any dream races (either hoping to qualify for or get selected for)?
No. I very intentionally do not race. I am an extremely competitive person and I run to take a break from that. Running is my balance. Races are a lot of things to me. They are a chance to practice a new nutrition strategy with a safety net of aid stations, they allow me to lazily follow ribbons when I need to take some time off from planning my own courses and water. They are a chance to socialize with other runners. Mostly, the races in California and neighboring states that I have experienced so far are like luxurious group runs with various challenges to keep things interesting.
There are other races that are more like special events… they are a chance to bring resources to people living in remote places who have had their lives disrupted through no fault of their own (e.g. Caballo Blanco), who want to develop tourism and need some hardy fools to practice on (e.g. Fuego y Agua), there are also races that just take you through epically beautiful undeveloped places that are best experienced on foot (too many to list).
I have a long race list that I’ve been working on for years. The troublesome thing is that I feel compelled to come back to so many because they are each unique (even the same race on different years is its own event!) and my calendar gets so full.
My first international race was Fuego y Agua 50k in Nicaragua in 2014 (first ultra was Silver State 50k in 2013 – running it with my brother was his birthday present request… I tried to just pay for his entry). During this time I was training by running Mt Tam and the Headlands pretty much daily. When I got to Nicaragua, I realized I had misread meters for the vert… those volcanoes are enormous!! I climbed over and into Madera. I scaled a rock wall to get out of the caldera. I did not read the course description, which clearly said there would be swinging from trees over a swamp for approximately a kilometer (there were also crazy territorial monkeys in the trees…but you know… details). It’s still the only race I’ve run where my arms were actually sorer than my legs afterward. A trick that I saw the other runners doing was using poles and sticks to “ski” down the mountain because it was so slick. It was unlike any other race I had ever encountered and for years it was the winner for “the hardest” race I had ever done. I told my brother about this when I got back and he was inspired to find the race with the most required gear. He then sent me a link to a UTMB video on YouTube that looked so spectacular that I knew real life would just blow it away and I started looking at the requirements for how a person even gets into such an event (they all looked like professional athletes to me!). That’s how I found out about most of the local races in California and Nevada – their UTMB point counts… I decided to train for the 1 point races (old scale), like Marin Ultra Challenge.
To summarize running races over the next few years… I basically kept increasing the distances in an attempt to master a given distance in various environments with the intention to finish off each year with a self-supported long run. As an example… 2016 was “the year of 50 milers” and I capped that off with a self-supported double-crossing of the Grand Canyon. For the year of 100Ks, I got to run 80 to 50 with DPMR member Jenelle. Those runs make me feel how much support a race is actually giving me. They help me stay humble and thankful. It may feel really simple, but just having water at an aid station is an enormous help that I am grateful for.
What was your favorite running experience this past year? What was your most challenging/ character-building experience this past year
This past year has been incredibly challenging. This time two years ago in 2017 the Canyons 100k was moved back a week so it became possible to run it, followed by Miwok 100k and then Quicksilver 100k (plus Silver State 50M the weekend after that)… I was getting ready to do this! And I did do it. 🙂 I was also registered for the CCC in August (a 100k on the UTMB course). For CCC, I needed a doctor’s note signed, so I went to get this done after the races but before Memorial Day Weekend. I literally scheduled the appointment for the Friday morning a few hours before the flight that would take me down to LA to check out the Angeles Crest 100M course. During the appointment, the doctor felt a suspicious tumor in my abdomen that we estimated to be about the size of a softball. I had been suspicious of it for awhile and had shown it to another doctor when it felt like a golf ball but he had told me it was nothing and to ignore it. Anyways, this doctor got me scanned before I left and scheduled me with a surgeon in oncology the following Tuesday (as soon as my flight got me back to SF). I went and previewed the AC 100 course in a bit of a funk. The surgeon showed me the scans, which showed the tumor was actually the size of a loaf of bread and crushing my organs. He wanted to remove it immediately that Thursday. It was too large for a biopsy and the possibility for cancer was something like 15% (which my mind immediately translated to “better odds for cancer than getting into Western States” :-D), so not too bad, but still, it would require my entire torso be opened on a table. My next race was the TRT 50M in mid-July and I immediately told the RD I didn’t think I’d be able to make it.
I got the surgery done at the end of the first week of June 2017, spent 4 days in the hospital working on standing up. When I was released, I walked 3 miles and nearly threw up (not a good thing when you have an 11-inch slice in you). I didn’t take any pain killers because I wanted to feel it all (and figured this would keep me from possibly “over-doing it” … whatever that meant). That first week out of the hospital, I walked 100 miles. I had been running an average of like 150 miles/week, so it was definitely lighter and slower. I started slowly jogging the second week, headed up to Truckee to move around on the Emigrant Trail, and quickly after told the RD for TRT that I thought I’d be able to make it after all. I also made a rule: “never leave your trail work to the last minute, because I was swinging a pick-ax on the TRT while wearing a surgery binder! (yes, it felt slightly unsafe and I was one of the best workers out there that day…)
So, I did all the races I had signed up for in 2017 including Angeles Crest and CCC and I was optimistic for 2018. However, I had been running without using my core, and this was taking a toll on my body. My 2018 races included 4x100Ks, 2x50Ms, and 4x100Ms. My last race of 2018 was to be Pine to Palm 100M. Two weeks before the race I had a stroke, which caused me to briefly lose the use on my right side for a couple of days and impacted my vision. The strength in my right side and the dexterity of my muscles took longer for me to regain, so I was knocked back to what felt like physical therapy rather than training. It was incredibly frustrating. I was put on a heart monitor and some meds, jogged around, and went and ran Pine to Palm 100M (I had to take off the heart monitor for the run and 3 days later they called to see if I was “ok”). The race was probably more difficult to do this way because I couldn’t trust my left leg to do what my brain told it to do. For example, my foot had this habit of suddenly dragging across rocks causing me to stumble. So, I took it slow and constantly watched the trail.
Given all this context, I took a legit break after Pine to Palm (running as little as 75 miles per week), healed completely, and now my best running experience this year is every day because I’m now actually improving again. I look at the scenery while running rather than hyper-focusing on the trail and I can sing along to music while running up hills in the Headlands. I can’t wait for the trails to become available in Truckee!
What are your upcoming racing/adventure plans?
Earlier this year, I finished Tarawera 100k and Marin Ultra 50k and am happy with how my body handled them. Beautiful courses!
I’m planning to be at the following races and see what happens:
– Canyons 100k
– Miwok 100k (autocorrects to Moron 100k on my phone HA! :-D)
– Silver State 50k
– Bighorn 100M
– TRT 55K (waitlist)
– Tushars 70k
– Angeles Crest 100M
– Castle Peak 100k
There are some other cool races that might happen, but the above weekends are in the calendar for sure.
What led you to join the DPMR?
I first joined DPMR officially for the hat. How did I meet this group…officially? 🙂 The inaugural Castle Peak training runs back in 2015! I did the first group run with the group, then I decided I needed a head start the next day… and was almost too scared to run that section between Basin and Castle by myself and thought about what another runner had told me about his experience up there in high winds crawling the entire way… and I got it done! This was after we had “previewed” the Palisades with a mobile app for a guide.
The Castle Peak 100k came into existence right when I needed it. It’s an awesome challenging course that makes me feel my boundaries. I have come prancing into Van Norden ready to finish sub-16, pull a smug move like only taking half calories to “stay light” only to get smacked down by the course and barely finish in 19 hours. It’s rough and it’s awesome.
What has been your favorite DPMR experience so far?
I love all of them: the training runs, the aid station on the Canyons course, seeing everyone at MUC and various other races, the social media (especially where the dirt’s at as the snow melts!), finding out how you all not only stay fit in the winter but come into spring incredibly strong… it’s just great to be a member. 🙂
Favorite local trail?
Warren Lake Loop and all the trails that connect to it. It’s beautiful, challenging. When I’m feeling like I need an easy day I do Emigrant and think about how difficult that must have been with a wagon train… and if I feel that the settlers really didn’t have it all that hard, I go over to the California Trail sections.
Do you have a favorite on-trail food or nutrition strategy? Favorite post-run meal or beverage?
Chocolate Orgain Protein Shakes. In 2017 I was really into Vitargo and Rice Balls stuffed with avocado with some salt on the outside. I’m thinking I will be doing rice balls again this year. Maybe Vitargo (I got a little carried away with it). Avocado and fresh fruit are just decadence. Don’t even get me started on cold seedless grapes on a hot day.
Do you have a favorite recipe to share?
Mashed yams with coconut oil, pink salt, honey, a splash of coconut milk… all to taste and put in those soft flasks. Doesn’t travel well through airports – had numerous incidents with airport security. An even easier trick, especially during the summer, is to put instant mashed potato flakes in little containers with water in drop bags (they never put drop bags in the shade!!!! :-D). The salty carby goodness is lovely after mile 50. I always have instant mashed potatoes in my gear bag.