October 20, 2014

Running With Purpose : Interview With Wendy Drake

Wendy and I at the legendary
Canyon de Chelley Ultra, 2013
I met my friend Wendy Drake under the best possible circumstances: we were both running the first-ever Canyon de Chelley Ultra in the heart of Navajo Scared Land, marveling at the luck we had to be out there, exploring, sharing and being very much alive. We immediately struck a conversation and became friends. We talked about the value of taking time off, finding meaning to one's existence and dedicating efforts to what really matters in life.

We stayed in contact ever since.

Some weeks ago, amid the turmoil of my house renovation project (I know, will it ever end), I got news from Wendy, and discovered that our first conversation that day, in the Canyon, was not just the ramblings of two elated ultra runners. Wendy truly follows her heart, and I admire and respect her for that. I think the story of her past year, as a person and as a runner, will surely strike a chord with FlintLand dwellers.

Q1 - Wendy, you’re awesome. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, tell me more about your adventure, Destination Epic? 

W - Thank you Flint. I founded Destination Epic to promote inspiring stories of adventure in beautiful places all over the world. I’ve been influenced by many experiences in the ultra community of small gestures that make a difference. Until July, I had been working on it in between work at a startup and my ultra running.

Q2 – You run for pancreatic cancer. I’m guessing there’s a reason you chose that cause? 

W - Yes. In January my best friend and ultra running partner, Marcy Servita, was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. Stage 4 means the cancer has spread to other areas of the body. Surgery was not an option and chemo didn't work. I was her primary caregiver for sixty days and, like many, was disappointed in the few options available to both treat this disease and detect it before it progressed. I wanted to make a contribution to change this. My project, Elevating a Cure, seeks to raise $1/ foot of elevation gain at the Bear 100 Endurance Run.

Q3 – September 26-27 was a big day for you. How did it go? 

At 6 A.M., 267 other runners and I departed from Logan, Utah’s Hyrum Gibbons Park to gain 21,986 feet of elevation over the course of 12 major climbs and descents. For the first time in a long time, I had that nervous, edgy feeling. Although I was prepared, I wasn’t sure I could finish. Anything can happen.

I chose not to have a crew or pacers, which I don’t regret. I met so many helpful volunteers and fellow racers that I wouldn’t have had I had a crew. It also resulted in deepening existing friendships. Two friends who were pacing and crewing other friends stepped in to help me at a critical moment. I'd miscalculated my time into the 52-mile aid station where I would pick up my headlamp for the night. Rob Howard and Eric Lee conspired to get me a lamp at mile 48. It was a gesture among many that exemplifies community in our sport.

It was a long night and day Saturday. My Sleep Monster was the 6-limbed purple reptile, Randall, from Monster’s Inc. My mind changed him to a woman as she coaxed me to consider quitting. “Night is for sleeping,” she’d purr as I found myself stumbling along the trail. I stopped once, but I was too afraid of the dark to keep my headlamp off. Thunderstorms started about 1 A.M., turning the course into the reason for signs that state: “In a flood, climb to safety." The early morning hours from about 3 A.M. - 6 A.M. were the worst. I was miserable, lonely and tired. Unfortunately for my Sleep Monster, I LOVE running in mud. When we hit a downhill, I started playing and got filthy. By 8 A.M. I left the Mile 78 Aid Station in better spirits and dropped her.

I finally finished in 34:02. It meant a lot to me to finish in the same month, a year ago, that Marcy finished her first 100 in 26:24 at Marin Headlands in California. I’m proud of the finish and grateful for the donations given so far. Elevating a Cure still has room for your contribution!

You can read Wendy's full race report on her blog, right here.

Q4 – Is this adventure also a way for you to cope with the loss of your friend? 

Marcy Servita
W - Yes, no question. I’ve been wandering off on forested adventures since I was four years old. Being an adventurer is who I am, so it functions well as a coping structure. As an example, I bargained bodily stress at the Bear for hallucinatory conversations with Marcy. I desperately wanted one more chance to talk with her. None of my imagined conversations materialized into hallucinations. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way.

I’ve had my moments of depression. After I quit my job in July, I slept a lot and watched the light on Boulder’s Flatirons change for hours. Instead of doing hard workouts, I’d take our dog Scout out on long walks on the trails. And, I know it’s normal, but I’m still embarrassed to admit a lot of anger that most of the time I took out on the trails. Instead, that’s when I’d embrace crushing a workout. It was good awareness training. Thankfully most of Kubler-Ross’ stages of grief are giving way to accepting Marcy’s loss, remembering the good and finding things to cherish in her absence. Everyone said it takes time, just like training for an ultra.

Q5 – What’s next in line for you? Will you keep raising funds for pancreatic research cancer? 

I continue to seek donations for my $1/foot at The Bear goal. $1, $10 or $100. It all adds up to a difference at Elevating a Cure. We need a cure and short of that an early diagnostic. The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network has advocated for increased government funding for pancreatic cancer research since its inception in 1999 when the NCI was only funding $17.3 million in pancreatic cancer research. That number has grown to $105 million in 2012, but it is still not nearly enough.

On the adventure side, I’m organizing with my partner, Jorge, for polar training in February in preparation for longer, slower winter distances. On Thursday, I learn whether I’m on the starting roster at the White Mountains 100-mile race in Alaska (March 2015). Then December 6th is a big day for our sport. Entries into both Hardrock and Western States 100s are based on lotteries similar to White Mountains. If neither materialize, I’d like to get back to Sweden in 2015. By December 7th, my 2015 will be scheduled.

Q6 – You are also the published author of a beautiful and intimate book called Running to Thousand Letters. It was an absolutely lovely read. Do you have new writings coming up?

Thank you again.

Yes. I've been in writing intensely since leaving my position at Simple Energy in July. I finished a short excerpt of my 2nd memoir just after the Bear. In the words of Tim Hewitt, 8-time finisher of the Iditarod Trail Invitational Alaska (1,000 miles Anchorage to Nome), “It’ll take as long as it takes.” I write everyday and am targeting my 2nd draft completion by the end of 2014.

Q7 – How can we help support your projects? 

Thanks for asking!

1. Follow @DestinationEpic and Like the Destination Epic Facebook page.

2. If it's within your budget to do so, please make a contribution to Elevating a Cure and share my story with a friend. There is no cure for this disease. No early detection and the diagnoses continue to grow. Thank you.


I love Wendy for her running and adventurous spirit, and love her even more for the beautiful human person that she is. She is an inspiration to me and I always follow her adventures with a deep interest, no matter where they take her.

May you run light and free, my friend.

FlintLand is a proud contributor to Wendy's Elevating a Cure campaign.

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