If anyone knows what running grit means, it’s Bethany Praska! Bethany has a unique running history and evolution from being a D1 track athlete who found her running finesse in the 800 meter distance, went on to run post-collegiately as an elite runner who competed at the 2016 Olympic trials, and now runs 50 mile ultras. Aside from such acknowledgements, Bethany maintains a humble perspective on the journey she’s traveled thus far and the direction she aspires to move towards. Bethany and I sat down several times for some “GRIT Talks” and her story has been incredibly intriguing and grounding to hear.
How Bethany Discovered Her Running Passion
Bethany claims that she was a little bit of a later bloomer to running. In fact it was during a season of participating in high school volleyball, when she describes having to run a mile for conditioning and says, “There was a base of something that lit me up a little bit!”.
After high school Bethany made a move from Longmont, Colorado to the University of Iowa to run as a Hawkeye track and field athlete. She and her coach discovered her competitiveness could be stretched from the 400 and 600 meter distance to the 800 meter distance. That’s where Bethany seemed to settle into her track finesse.
She was such an unstoppable speed demon that she continued on after her final years of eligibility at Iowa, to run as an elite within the 800 meter distance. She was even successful enough to reach the bar of making the 2016 Olympic Trials.
Finding Out What It Takes to Run Both Distances
Bethany’s perspective of what running “long” meant, has progressed since her college years. Within her podcast episode interview, she compares the challenges within the training, the lifestyle and racing the varying distances of the 800 meter distance versus the 50 mile ultra distance.
It wasn’t always a cake walk for Bethany and she was forthcoming about the low moments of her college career. She fought thru figuring out how to match her expectations for herself and what she describes as disappointing results of her performances. Running and Bethany’s relationship with it, had gotten to point where she says it was not fulfilling or soulful. Although, her desire to repair and redefine her relationship with the sport, has circled back around to now taking on the opposite extreme of running trail ultras .
The GRIT of the Lifestyle
Bethany details a few of the times when the going got rough and her character was being tested. The days when she says, “it was not glamorous or fun”, but she describes how those were the days where she maintained hope for redemption.
“You’re kicking your heels, and shuffling your feet, and pouting a little bit. But I think the more you do that, you know there’s going to be a weight that goes up after those lower points.”-Bethany Praska
Even now when she has been in the thick of training for an ultra, she realizes that regardless of how unappealing “going for a solo run in the rain before work” seems, she feels the most herself afterwards. We both agreed that after a run, no matter how uncomfortable it was at the time, you never seem to regret having gone in the first place.
Bethany’s Perspective on Growing Grit
“I think that you can grow that…I absolutely think that it’s something that if you prioritize it, you really can put some calluses on your mind. And create a better relationship with your head and understand yourself more.”
“I think you have to want it! If you go thru the motions but are not present to it, that could be just as useless as wanting it but not doing anything bout it. The accumulation of the two are maybe what can give you that.”
I absolutely loved and may find myself reiterating Bethany’s analogy of what defines grit, next fall with my own athletes. Aside from her saying that to her grit means “digging deep”. She gives a mental image comparison of three tanks of gas containing the physical aspects, mental aspects and heartfelt aspects of running. When one tank becomes depleted, a runner somehow finds a way to get it done by searching for more gas within one of the other tanks.
She also theorizes that it’s life experiences, both good and bad, or challenging and easy, that give you perspective and develop mental callous.
What Does The Future Hold For Bethany?
It’s undeniable that Bethany has a true and unwavering passion for running. In two weekends she’ll take on her third 50 mile ultra in Ottawa, Kansas. She’s prepped and facing the distance head on with her arsenal of experience and confidence from the completion of her first two ultras.
A few family members and friends will go to support her and help pace her thru the latter miles. And for the most part, Bethany feels mentally callused for the distance and has embraced the inner dialog that cycles thru her brain during all the miles. Whether they be random thoughts irrelevant to running and the race, or allowing her brain to just wander, she says she finds comfort in it all.
Beyond her race in two weekends, Bethany’s ambition to set new goals remains fueled. She has already begun dreaming of a fall 100 mile ultra. If that becomes her next chapter after the 50 mile distance, rest assured she’ll do it because she “wants it”. I’ll certainly be a fan of Bethany’s and be staying tuned to her continued evolution.
GRIT Talks with Bethany Praska also available on almost all other podcast platforms. Go to the RMC Podcast & Music Playlists page for links to other podcast platforms to listen!