“I don’t think I’ve found my limits yet, and I don’t know if we ever do.”
~Faith Raymod Strafach
On June 1, 2011, a tornado swept through eight communities in Western and Central Massachusetts, with wind speeds between 150 and 200 miles per hour. One of the hardest hit areas was Faith’s hometown, Monson, MA, a small town of 8500 residents. “I had a lot of friends that lost their childhood homes, it was pretty devastating.” Faith recalled. She remembers wanting to help her community in any way should could, following this terrible event, helping with the cleanup efforts. “Someone in town got the idea to have a benefit 5k, and that was actually my first race.” She laughed recalling that day. “I think it took me 35 minutes, and I really thought I was going to die!” In fact, not only did Faith survive this race, it also ignited a passion that has led her to race longer and pursue her own limits.
I had the chance to catch up with Faith, just days after she underwent oral surgery. As I learned, Faith doesn’t sit still for very long, so this recovery is requiring some patience from her. Her doctor has advised no running or heavy cycling for two weeks.
“I grew up riding horses, since I was seven years old.” Faith competed in many disciplines, including show jumping, driving and competitive trail riding. “This was my biggest love.” It was through horses that she met her good friend, Jamie. They worked and kept their horses at the same barn. It turned out, Jamie was a long time runner. Immediately after Faith’s first 5k, the two began running and training together. “We fell into a natural rhythm.” I was curious and asked Faith how she felt about her new running routine. “I always enjoyed it, I enjoyed being physical.” Her active lifestyle went all the way back to her childhood. “I grew up being a tomboy, so I’d come in the house covered in pine pitch from climbing trees.” Years later, when Faith finished her first 100 mile race at Ghost Train, Jamie was by her side as one of her pacers.
Her early long races were road marathons, and the goal was to qualify for the Boston Marathon. “My qualifying time was four hours, and my fastest time was 4 hours, twelve minutes. So, I did probably seven or eight marathons that fell in that range, but I couldn’t shave those twelve minutes off my time.” She decided that it was time to go for longer distances, and her first race was the Pinelands 50k in Maine. This brought her off the pavement and onto the trails, and she was off and running.
We chatted about her best eating experiences during a race. Faith described running Lake Waramaug in the spring of 2017. This is a 50 mile race that includes numerous laps around the scenic lake. “I did that race last year, and one of the aid stations was making fresh, hot grilled cheese sandwiches. The wind was coming off the lake and it was raining and brutal. The next aid station had deviled eggs, and those were actually pretty good!” She also spoke about avocado wraps that were a big hit at Ghost Train. She tends to stick with salty, protein foods. This works well with her Skratch Hydration, which also provides her with carbs and calories.
This sport is not always pleasant, and we chatted about one of those such memories. It happened during the 2017 Vermont 100k race. “I ended up with some golf-ball sized blisters on my feet.” It was especially painful as she battled through the last eleven miles. “There was a lot of mud, and every time, my foot would land and go sideways”, I could hear the pain in her voice as she relived that day. Then she said something that I’m sure hits home with many of us that tackle this sport. “It seems like every time we solve one problem, something else comes along and it’s like, Crap!” Since this race, she has followed a specific plan which includes changing her socks, ‘buttering’ her feet, and lancing any blisters at each crew stop.
Faith told me about one of her favorite places to run. “Bluff Point, right here in Groton, it’s a beautiful state park.” She talked about the fire roads and single-track trails as being very appealing. “It’s right near the ocean, how can you beat that?”
Her happiest running moment took place on March 13, 2016, at the Bolton Road Race 5k. She arrived at the race a single woman, and that day her pre-race routine included marrying her fiancé, Joe. They then ran the 5k as husband and wife. She recalled being on the course and hearing people on the side of the road saying, “I heard someone was getting married before the race this year.” And being able to wave at them and say, “Yep-that was us!” Sharing the miles together provided the two of them with many happy memories. When Joe had to scale back his running, due to overuse injuries, they shifted to biking dates.
Her proudest moment was her performance in the 2018 Vermont 100k. “Without a doubt.” She spoke about a section of the race when she knew things were going well. Agony Hill had always been her nemesis for the prior two years, but not this year. “I power hiked all the way to the top. Then I started running, and I was so happy, I started singing. That was the moment I knew all the training was paying off.” Having Joe pace her for the last twelve miles made the day even sweeter. She described the scene at the end of her race. “I don’t think I was touching the ground when I finished!” Her time of 15 hours and 51 minutes was her personal best, and she now has her sights set on the 2019 Vermont 100 miler. “I’m going for the big one!” After finishing the 100k in each of the last three years, I could sense her excitement as she spoke about it. “That’s been my goal race since I started trail running.”
When Faith’s not running, she enjoys cycling with her husband. She also enjoys her work as a high school substitute teacher. At her last race, Ghost Train, many of her students wrote her inspirational notes that were read to her out on the trail. These notes brought her to tears, with their kind messages and profound thoughts.
“If I could go for a run with anyone, it would be Steve Prefontaine. I was born on his birthday, and I’ve always been fascinated by him. I think that his outlook on running and on life, resonated with me.” She wondered what he would have contributed to the running world, had he not been taken at such a young age. She often thinks about one of his quotes, “To give anything less than your best, is to sacrifice the gift.”
Faith has recently launched her own coaching business. Her love and background of teaching, played a part in this venture. She felt there was an unfilled niche out there when it came to working with mature runners, especially those runners who had started later in life. She looked into many avenues of becoming certified and, “Found one that is all science based.” She is enjoying this role, and has found that she has a knack for identifying problems that runners face, and helping them build a plan to succeed. You can find a link to her coaching site here: http://www.facebook.com/runlongrunstrongendurance/?modal=admin_todo_tour
As we wrapped up our discussion, I asked Faith what kept her moving forward in this sport. She paused, thoughtfully considering this, “Because……I don’t think I’ve found my limits yet, and I don’t know if we ever do.”