Stephanie Howe Violett returns to competitive racing at the 2016 The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championships following a long injury. In this interview, Stephanie talks about how her Achilles injury, surgery, and rehabilitation went; how she started back too soon and became re-injured through overcompensation; what a long injury has taught her; and how she thinks she’ll fare among this weekend’s competition.
By the way, Stephanie’s interview is part of a pre-race women’s interview show. Check it out!
[Click here if you can’t see the video above.]
Stephanie Howe Violett Pre-2016 The North Face EC 50 Mile Interview Transcript
iRunFar-Meghan Hicks: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar.
iRunFar-Dylan Bowman: Dylan Bowman also of iRunFar.
iRF-Hicks: We’re here in Mill Valley, California. It’s a couple days before the 2016 The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championships. I’m with Stephanie Howe. Hi.
Stephanie Howe Violett: Hi.
iRF-Hicks: Welcome back to racing!
Violett: Thank you. It’s been awhile.
iRF-Hicks: The last time we saw you race was last year’s UTMB. You have been on, pardon my language, a hell of a ride since then.
Violett: It’s been a year.
iRF-Hicks: Talk about what’s been happening in your world.
Violett: Where to start? Do you want the long story?
iRF-Bowman: Start with the injury. Tell us about that.
Violett: The injury—I’m not sure when it started. My left Achilles and heel would always get really tight after a race. I’d limp around for days after. I remember just one day it just didn’t go away. It was just there. For a whole year, every time I ran, it was bothering me. It got to the point where after Western States in 2015, I couldn’t really train. I couldn’t run more than 10 miles without suffering the next day. I made it through the fall, ran UTMB—it didn’t go super well. I was just frustrated and decided for surgery.
iRF-Hicks: So you went abroad.
Violett: Yeah, I went to Sweden to see Dr. Alfredson. He’s done a number of runners. It was a great experience. The surgery was something that was going to happen no matter what, so I did it. The recovery was supposed to take three months. I’m a numbers person. You tell me times, and I’m like, “Good. I’ve got this.”
iRF-Hicks: ”11:52 a.m. three months from now.”
Violett: I marked it on my calendar, “March 16, you should be good.” So, that was in my mind. I just need to make it through these three months, and then I’ll be good. I got to that three-months deadline, and it was sort of better but not great. I thought, Okay, so I’ll have three more months to train for Western States. That race just means a lot to me. I really wanted to do it. In my mind, I had to get there. I had to do it. I maybe jumped back into training too soon. I thought in my mind that after surgery, you’re healed, so you can pick up where you left off. I learned that the hard way. No, you actually sort of have to start over. What you thought was your normal before, you have a totally new normal. Long story short, I started training and I tried to make it to Western States, and I got a stress fracture. It wasn’t really surprising because the whole previous year when I was running, my right leg would get sore. It was working a lot harder trying to compensate for the injury I had which was on my left side. One day I woke up after I went to the Memorial Day Western States Training Camp—it was great, and then it wasn’t great.
iRF-Hicks: You ran all the miles there, didn’t you?
Violett: I ran all the miles. It was tough for me, but I made it. I was really like, You’re getting there. Then I flew to Boston and did a short run and felt this tweaky feeling in my hip flexor. Turns out it was a stress fracture in my lesser trochanter which is a really weird spot. It’s not load-bearing, which is good, but it meant the torque… I was just overusing my right leg. Anyway, there goes my whole summer. Honestly, at that point I realized I need to do something different. You need to reset. I just kind of let go. I actually had a great summer. I didn’t run. I didn’t do any cross training. I wasn’t trying to train for a race. I just let it all go. I did things like normal-people stuff.
iRF-Bowman: You did normal things?
Violett: I did normal things.
iRF-Hicks: What are normal things?
Violett: It took me awhile, but I do a little bit of art. I really like to cook, so I spent more time doing that. I traveled a bit, not for adventure travel, but I went to see my best friend from high school. I visited my parents. We went camping in the Boundary Waters. Just stuff like that, simple things, like took my dog for a walk when I could walk. I realized when I got back to training again, things felt good. When I say training, I mean back to running—going out and just feeling it out. So for this race, this is the least—I don’t want to say least prepared—but the least serious I’ve ever been leading up to a race. I really just wanted to be healthy. I’ve done what felt good which means running maybe three days per week, sometimes four lately. I feel healthy which is super important to me. I’ve just learned a lot over this last year. You never wish for an injury, but in some ways, it was so good for me because my perspective.
iRF-Bowman: Do you think you benefitted a lot of from having a deep rest, having a year off of racing?
Violett: Definitely. I think it helped. If I’d have had anything else going on, it better have healed by now. For personal growth, I think it really helped me as a person and to kind of see what’s important to me. Running, to me, I want to do it for a long time. I don’t want to get these really good results for two years and then be done. I want to do it my whole life.
iRF-Bowman: Do you feel 100% confident in your foot?
Violett: Yeah, all my injuries are great. My body feels good. I just feel a little bit like, Oooh, racing? What’s that?
iRF-Hicks: We want to ask you about that. You are the sweetest, nicest, most competitive person. You have top finishes here. You have two podium finishes. Are you here to race? Let’s be honest.
Violett: I’m here to do my best for sure. I think just knowing how this past year has gone, I have let go of a lot of that. Coming into this race, of course I want to do well. Normally, I’d be gunning for a podium spot. But I’ve learned that I can’t. My body can only do what it’s going to do right now. This is a tough race to come back to in this state. I’m just going to be happy, truly, just be happy to finish. That said, I’m going to be racing, but I’m also not going to be hard on myself if my body is just not… I don’t know what’s going to happen after 30 miles. Hopefully everything is still going.
iRF-Bowman: Just like riding a bike.
Violett: Well, that’s… exactly. Once the gun goes off, I think I’ll be in my zone. Right now I’m just kind of like, Ahh, I don’t know.
iRF-Bowman: Speaking of being in the zone, you have raced recently. You did a local 50k near where you live in Oregon. It seems like that went pretty well. You won your race. You nearly beat your husband. Tell us about that. Did you give a proper effort or was it just more…:
Violett: No, well, yeah. It was totally spontaneous. Zach needed to do the race because he wanted a point for UTMB. “Oh, I’ll do it with you.” We were going to just run together, but he decided he wanted to race. “Fine, go off. Go off.” I almost caught him at the end. I had a good day. That was kind of a push for me to run that hard at that time. I ran kind of medium hard, and it went well. That was a great confidence booster. Okay, my body is healthy enough to do this. I think I can run 50 miles.
iRF-Bowman: Awesome. Good to hear. In the same vein, because this is kind of your reintroduction to serious racing, if you can call it that, I’m wondering if you’re now kind of hoping to continue your momentum. You’d spoken off camera that you guys are about to go to New Zealand. I was wondering it you’ll use this to springboard into next season, or if you’ll take the winter easy and then get back into racing.
Violett: I’m trying to figure that out now. I’m going to see how this race goes. If it goes well, I do have a goal of getting back into Western States. It’s just something I want to do again this year. I’m probably going to pick one of the earlier season Golden Ticket races. The one will depend on how this goes but looking at the first three. I do want to have a ski season because I missed the entire ski season last year. I to think I will have to take some downtime, but I’d prefer to race through January and February and then take the time off… not time off, but less serious running, and then prepare for Western States hopefully.
iRF-Hicks: Last question for you. I’ve seen you at this race in epic weather, covered in mud, slip-sliding your way around. Fingers crossed, we have a good forecast. There may actually be views. What are you looking forward to out on the course?
Violett: I will say I’m cursed at this race. I’ve never run the full course. Every time I’ve been here, it rains horizontal the entire time. So I wouldn’t say I love that, but that weather favors me. I’ve grown up in places with harsh weather conditions, and we just run through it.
iRF-Hicks: Minnesota for the win.
Violett: Exactly. I don’t know. I’d be psyched to have a sunny day where I don’t have to wear a rain jacket and be like hunkered down the whole time, but we’ll see. I don’t know. I’m here. Chances are, it’s going to be rainy.
iRF-Bowman: It’s not going to be raining. It’s going to be an ideal day. The forecast is 57 [Fahrenheit] and sunny. It will be chilly in the morning, but I don’t think it will be wet or hot in any way. I think it will actually be really fast conditions.
Violett: I’ve been running in snow in Bend just to prepare. Snow is kind of like mud. Sun would be nice, too. I’ll take it.
iRF-Bowman: One more question while we’re on the subject of snow. I noticed you have been skiing a little bit now. You’ve been riding your bike a lot. You’ve been running three or four days per week. Do you feel like that has helped you work on your fitness without necessarily putting all the pressure and physical abuse of the running on your body?
Violett: So much. I used to be more of a multisport athlete before I was a runner. I just did a little bit of everything. I think that’s a better way for me to train. When I started running more competitively, I started running six days per week. I think I’m going to get back to more of a cross-training mix of running and cross training because it does take that pressure off my body. I’m someone who needs that break. I think it was really great. I just kind of did what I felt like. This has been an interesting training up for this race. Normally I do a work out and a long run and it’s very structured. This has been not like that. It’s been very much just run easy. I haven’t done any workouts. We’ll see how that goes. One thing I did focus on was strength training. I was actually working with a strength coach. I’ve never done that before. It was really cool. I had to relearn how to use my body basically and start using my glutes. A lot of my problems come from not using muscles as they should. That’s been a big part of helping me get healthy. I feel really good. Cross training has been awesome.
iRF-Bowman: You sound awesome.
Violett: I’m so happy to be here. You guys have no idea. I’m probably going to cry at the finish. This race just means a lot to me to be here.
iRF-Hicks: Have your tissues, kids.
iRF-Bowman: Cool, well, good luck. We’re excited to watch.
Violett: Thank you.
iRF-Hicks: Best of luck. It’s a real pleasure for us to get to welcome you back to trail running. It’s this type of energy, this jubilant competitiveness, that is really exciting to document. So I’m overjoyed for you. Good luck.
Violett: Ahhh, thank you. Thanks.