By CHRIS MORRIS
CHARLESTOWN — Traci Falbo ran competitively in high school and college, but for 10 years after getting out of school, she did nothing.
“I got pregnant and got fat,” said Falbo, 41, of Charlestown.
But one day, she looked in the mirror and didn’t like what she saw. So she decided to lace up her running shoes again and hit the pavement.
She has been running ever since.
Falbo lost 80 pounds in a year but didn’t stop there. She took her running to another level and beyond.
Since 2004, Falbo has run in 79 marathons and nine ultra-marathons, which is anything beyond a marathon distance of 26.2 miles. In the last three years, she has competed in more than 20 marathons.
Beginning Dec. 31 and finishing on Jan. 1, Falbo competed in the Freedom Park New Year’s Ultra Run in Morganton, N.C., and totaled 137.98 miles in 24 hours. That earned her a spot on the United States team which will compete in the Ultrarun of Steenbergen, the Netherlands, May 11-12. She is one of six women on the team.
“I am so thrilled to be representing my country,” she said prior to a workout recently. “It’s really a dream come true.”
The ninth edition of the Ultrarun of Steenbergen will officially kick-off May 10 with the flag parade.
Most 24-hour races are held on a mile loop of some kind. The scenery during the competition doesn’t change — it’s both a physical and mental test, Falbo said.
“You run laps, but you don’t get overly bored with it,” she said. “When I ran in North Carolina, I thought this was the stupidest thing I had ever done when I was 10, 11 hours into it. Some say it gets easier after midnight. You battle yourself some [mentally]. It’s tough.”
During the 24-hour races, Falbo said you continually drink and eat to keep your body nourished and functioning. And there is very little stopping if you are serious about winning or finishing at the top of the pack. She said you have to stop to use the bathroom, and a few other times along the way you may decide to walk briefly. But it’s a running event.
“I stopped some in North Carolina at three little hills on the course. Your perception of hills changes during the 24 hours,” she said.
Falbo is not about to rest on her laurels following the race in the Netherlands. She is planning on running in four 100-mile events — which are different than 24-hours runs — in June, July, August and September.
Sound a bit crazy? Don’t worry, she agrees.
“I can’t deny it,” she said. “When you push your body that hard for that long, you have to be a little altered.”
Others would agree.
“The whole concept ... I have no desire to run a marathon [distance] on Saturday and Sunday and then do a 100-mile race. I can’t wrap my mind around that,” said Kerry Kemmer, manager at Pacers & Racers in New Albany and a former collegiate runner. “You have to do cross-training and be able to cycle and swim and learn when to take breaks from running and when not to. To run 100 miles on a weekend to me is just mind-boggling.
“The dedication it takes ... it has to be an obsession. She has worked her butt off to get to this point.”
However, despite logging thousands of miles, Falbo has been relatively injury free. She did tear her hamstring two years ago but has bounced back from that injury.
Not only does she praise her physical therapist for getting her back on the road, but also her family — which includes a husband and two children — for their ongoing support. Falbo said her husband works as support crew during her 24-hour and 100-mile runs by providing her running gels, water and shoes. She uses three pair during an ultra run.
Her training regimen is also not for the faint of heart, She runs five days a week — taking Monday and Friday off. She may run 20 miles on Saturday and come back with 30 more on Sunday. Her runs during the week may be shorter. She averages between 60 and 70 miles a week. She logged 2,913 miles in 2012.
“I love running. It’s freeing, stress relieving, [allows] social time with friends, and permission to eat what I want,” Falbo said. “Running races out of town also give me an excuse to travel and see new places and meet new friends.”
The costs to travel to the Netherlands is extensive and only part of Falbo’s way is paid by the United States of America Track and Field. From 5:30 to 7 p.m. Saturday, March 16, there will be several auction items to bid on at Pacers & Racers, 3602 Northgate Court, New Albany. Proceeds will help defray the travel costs for Falbo, who will be on hand to greet friends and supporters. Refreshments and appetizers will be served.
Some of the auction items include six-month membership to Louisville Athletic Club, passes to the YMCA, running shoes and restaurant gift certificates.