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As with many runners, it took a huge life event to reignite SparkleSister Natalie Youtsey’s running career. In January 2008 the former middle and high school cross country runner was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. The second life event that spurred her into action happened later that year when she got engaged.
“Because of some of the steroids I was on when I was first diagnosed I gained a large amount of weight. I decided to start running not only as a way to lose some of that weight before my wedding but also as a way to start living a healthier lifestyle with my new medical condition,” said Natalie.
Having completed 5 half marathons and 18 marathons, Natalie transitioned to ultras. To be considered an ultra, a race must be at least 50km or 31.07 miles. According to Ultra Running Magazine, “other standard distances are 50 miles, 100 miles, 100 kilometers, and a series of events that last for specified time periods such as 6 hours, 12 hours, 24 hours, 48 hours, and 6 days.”
She is now training for her next 100-mile ultra (that’s right, she already has one 100-miler under her belt) using the eRunningGuide.com 100 Mile Ultramarathon Training Program for First-Timers.
“One of the biggest pros of this program so far is; you get acquainted with time on your feet. This program has several back to back long runs which really wears you down, but this mentally and physically prepares you for the long road ahead of you.”
She said that pro is also a con, and a running challenge many athletes face: time management.
Natalie explained, “When you are training for any distance you are usually taking time away from your social life and family. With so many long runs you might have to miss out on some parties or time away from the family. It can be frustrating, but you have to remember the end goal will be worth it.”
Nutrition is critical when running any distance, but especially extended distances. Natalie said finding what agreed with her stomach was actually a key training component for her.
“I practice eating foods I would during the race to see what will agree with my stomach and what will not. There is nothing worse than eating something and a few miles down the road it totally ruins your run. I have a few friends who have had stomach issues drop them to a DNF so nutrition leading up to race day and especially on race day is pretty important,” said Natalie. She said she sticks with what she knows in the days leading up to the race and on race day she eats a banana and a bowl of oatmeal.
Twelve weeks into her ultra training Natalie offered the following advice to hopeful ultra runners: Make sure you are mentally and physically ready to tackle a race of this distance.
“I wouldn’t recommend jumping from a 5K to an ultra, but if an ultra is on your radar you should slowly build up your mileage. Do some smaller ultra distances of 50 miles or 100Ks and when you have your distance built up and you are ready to tackle a 100 miler, use this training program,” said Natalie.
Staying Motivated (Even on Hot, Humid Days)
We’ve all been there. It’s 110% humidity and way too hot for any sensible person to run, but you have to. So, how does Natalie stay motivated? Her Irun4 buddy, Evie.
“Irun4 is a great nonprofit organization that pairs runners with someone who is not able to run. You dedicate each run to them. I share my runs and daily activities with my buddy. Her smile melts my heart and when I am really having a difficult run I think of her and get an instant boost of energy.”
She also draws motivation from a Facebook group whose members are constantly pushing each other to keep moving.
“We have silly monthly challenges and this helps keep me going. Another motivator is to reward myself with something I really like at the end of my long run each week; for me that is a Coke. I go all week without a Coke so come Saturday I know if I can just finish this long run I will have a nice cold Coke waiting for me,” Natalie said, laughing.
Takeaways and Tools
When asked about lessons learned during her running career, her response was simple: Mind over matter.
“There have been several runs that I have mentally failed myself before I even begin the run and that is the hardest thing to recover from. If you go in with a positive mind and a smile you will be amazed at how much you are able to accomplish,” exclaimed Natalie.
Excellent advice on Natalie's shirt above, "Enjoy the process as much as the result."
In addition to inspiration from her buddy and friends, Natalie uses two apps to help her runs: Garmin Connect, which syncs with her Garmin watch and helps keep her distances and other exercises logged. The second app, RaceAddict helps her stay organized by keeping upcoming race schedules organized.
“Once the race is finished you can enter your time and you will have a nice PR page for quick and easy access.”
It wouldn’t be a SparkleSister story without the skirt, right? Natalie shared that she was introduced to SparkleSkirts at the 2015 Route 66 Marathon.
“So many ladies in the Marathon Maniac VIP area had on MMYelo Plaid. I was so fascinated with them and knew I needed to have one in my life.” She said SparkleSkirts make her feel confident and happy when she runs.
“It is amazing what a fun print can do for your self-esteem. Plus, the pockets are an added bonus. I am able to put extra gels, Tailwind and other items I might need in my pockets and hit the road.”
We are so proud to make a product that helps incredible athletes like Natalie. We cannot wait to see those ultra marathon photos and wish her the best of luck as she continues training. Follow her journey, @keep.smyelin.runner on Instagram or Facebook.
Got a question about ultra running? Leave it below and we’ll check in with Natalie for answers!