Canada’s Stephanie Case will make her first lap of Colorado’s San Juan Mountains during the 2022 Hardrock 100. In this interview, our first with Stephanie, she talks about her life and her work in human rights, how she found her way to racing very long mountain ultramarathons, and her thoughts ahead of Hardrock.
To see who else is racing, read our in-depth 2022 Hardrock 100 preview.
Stephanie Case Pre-2022 Hardrock 100 Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar. I’m with Stephanie Case. It’s a couple of days before the 2022 Hardrock 100. Hi, Stephanie.
Stephanie Case: Hi, Meghan.
iRunFar: Welcome to Silverton. Welcome to Hardrock.
Case: Thank you so much. We’ve just been laughing because I am worried about being out of breath in this interview. [laughs] But don’t lose confidence in me. I can do it.
iRunFar: And you have two more days to acclimatize for Friday, for Hardrock.
Case: Yeah, which is like, plenty of time. And my watch tells me my acclimatization is going up. So it’s good.
iRunFar: Off we go then. This interview is a little bit unfair because we are friends and I know a lot about you, but this is iRunFar’s first on-camera interview with you, so I’d love to back things up and hear a bit about who you are. You have a pretty important job when you’re not using your little feets to run around the mountains.
Case: [laughs] Yes. So I work for the United Nations. I’ve been working in human rights. I’m a lawyer. For about the last 15 years. And now I’ve just taken, a few months ago, I took a new job working in the Middle East, so helping Palestinian refugees, working across Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, West Bank, and Gaza.
iRunFar: Are you allowed to say where you’re based or where you actually work?
Case: Yeah, for this summer, I’ve been based in Amman in Jordan, but doing a lot of travel around the region, particularly because I’m new. So, traveling quite a bit, but as soon as Hardrock is over, I basically move all my stuff to Jerusalem.
iRunFar: With like grand total altitudes of about 100 meters above sea level is that?
Case: Yeah well, I joked, you know, everyone told me I needed to practice running at extreme altitude and I just accidentally went the wrong way because I was at the Dead Sea like a month ago.
iRunFar: [laughs] Below sea level?
Case: It was like -400 meters. So messed that one up, but yeah.
iRunFar: [laughs] You said the other way. You also help operate a nonprofit called Free to Run. I mean, you’re not a busy lady at all.
Stephanie Case: Yeah, I started Free to Run about eight years ago in Afghanistan. It’s currently operating in Iraq. And we’re still exploring ways to keep a foothold, or toehold shall we say, in Afghanistan.
iRunFar: I see what you did there.
Case: Yeah. After the Taliban took over the country last August we really had to shift towards evacuating our team, but Free to Run is all about using outdoor sports and adventure to create female leaders in areas of conflict because we believe, and I strongly believe, that when women and girls are seen outdoors, when they’re visible, that changes the ideas and the views that people have in the community about the roles that they should be playing in society.
iRunFar: People, women coming to occupy more space in different spaces.
Case: Yeah, and reclaiming public space that they’ve been pushed out of. And, you know, that exists in a very extreme form in Afghanistan, or in some other places of conflict. But, you know, I think we need a lot more visibility of women, on the mountains, on the trails, even in places like the US or Canada or Europe.
iRunFar: Speaking of Canada, I hear the residual accent. It’s in there. You are Canadian. Did you find running and sports, like when you were a kid or yeah, somewhere in your international like work, or how have you become a runner? Of like big mountain trails, too?
Case: Yeah. You know, when I was a kid, I was just a school geek really? I didn’t. I didn’t have …
iRunFar: That’s fine. We all were.
Case: No like, seriously, I remember I actually made a complaint against my math teacher to the guidance counselor because he hadn’t given me extracurricular homework. It was, anyway, moving on.
iRunFar: Self-identify, here we are.
Case: We’re moving on. So I was not a sport person. Yeah, I mean, I can remember riding around the streets, running around the neighborhood, just feeling this complete freedom. But I did one race, I think in grade five. And I was so embarrassed about how like, my face turned red, and I was so stressed about, you know, just competing against other people that that was, you know, the only race I really did. So, I didn’t pick up sports until later. I joined. Well, I was a sailor, kind of in high school. Yeah, I taught sailing. So yeah, kicking and screaming.
iRunFar: That will be useful here. [laughs]
Case: My dad brought me into sailing lessons kicking and screaming, and I hated it until I found a very, very hot instructor. [laughs]
iRunFar: We are getting full honesty here.
Case: So, that’s how I became a runner. No. [laughs] Then I became a varsity rower.
iRunFar: This is amazing.
Case: This is awful. [laughs] University Reverend College, and then you know in law school I just wanted to try a marathon and I thought that that would be the biggest challenge that I’d ever done. And I watched all these YouTube videos of people trying to finish marathons and you know, Ironman, in the ’80s. Did Ironman exist in the ’80s? Anyway, this is my memory.
iRunFar: I mean, the glasses did so I think maybe early ’90s.
Case: Yeah. And you know, crawling across the finish line. And I was like, so excited to experience that, that level of challenge and it just …
iRunFar: Putting yourself entirely out there.
Case: Yeah. And, and it just, you know, wasn’t. I didn’t do a great marathon, but I finished it and, you know, the thought of kind of training for another year, another couple of years, to bring my marathon time down by 10 minutes or 20 minutes just seemed like pure insanity to me. I mean, I don’t take away from anyone who does that. But I was quite interested in the distance aspect of it. And you know, how much further can I go to make that a challenge? And that’s just kind of what’s kept me going in ultrarunning I guess.
iRunFar: And you’ve taken that to like kind of an extreme. I mean, you’ve done Tor des Géants, which is over 200 miles. Tor des Glaciers, which is 300 and how many miles?
Case: So, 450k. I think that’s 287 miles. Yeah.
iRunFar: Okay. Just shy of 300.
iRunFar: I mean, like, you’ve just taken that distance thing and run with it. Sorry, pun, pardon me.
Case: Yeah, I mean, I haven’t yet found that distance that’s, that’s too long. And you know, I think we’re all the same where, you know, your brain is just set for whatever distance you tell it it should be set for. And so, you know, the moment that I crossed the finish line at Tor des Glaciers, and took off my shoes, I couldn’t walk a single step. I mean, it’s …
iRunFar: The bottom line, no.
Case: It didn’t, like there was no way that I could even put my foot down on the ground. I had to be carried around for the next 24 hours to and from the bars, literally. [laughs]
Case: So yeah, I’m quite … I’m quite interested, you know, to see how much further that can be pushed. I’m not fast. I’m never going to be fast, and it doesn’t excite me to try to run faster. But to try to just keep going further for longer in a very sleep deprived state, I just find incredible.
iRunFar: So, here at Hardrock, it’s just 102.5 miles this year, but there are some other extenuating circumstances that are probably going to help you find a limit of some sort. [thunder booms] Like that. [points at sky]
Case: Yeah, I think the altitude for sure is going to be the hardest for me. It’s, I’m just really tired. And you know, I’ve tried all of these things. I bought this altitude machine and, you know, went through the military and the police and you know, all of these other officials to try to get it to Jordan, and then, you know, in my last month, I actually got approval to come out and train in Chamonix.
So my machine is back in Jordan. And I wasn’t able to use it that much when I was there. So yeah, I mean, the effort has been there, it’s just the execution is probably not great. But you know, I think everyone’s going to be in the same boat a little bit. Other than all of the, you know, all the runners who are based in Colorado, or who’ve had a chance to be in Colorado. I don’t know.
I mean, I don’t know what else will bite me. I think it’s a different, you know, the climbs are massive. I’ve done those types of climbs before. I’ve done the distance before, but it’s all, every race is, every race is new. And it’s just kind of throwing a bunch of things into a bag and shaking it up and seeing what you pull out. Yeah, yeah.
iRunFar: On that newness and that differentness aspect, what gets you excited about Hardrock? Like when you’re laying in bed at night? What are you like, “I’m really stoked about this”?
Case: For me, it’s going to be just the rawness of the mountains. The scenery, you know, I like to just disappear as much as I can. I don’t like big races. I don’t like a lot of people around. I like to just disappear into the wilderness and experience whatever the elements are throwing out. And I’m really excited this year that there’s 27 women.
That for me, it’s something that we all need to celebrate and we need to, yeah, really need to highlight. Certainly, I’d want to see way more women in this race, but I think it’s important to highlight the number of women that are there and I hope I’ll get to see some of them.
iRunFar: We’re going to be looking at ponytails this year instead of just like, dude hats.
Case: Yeah, I mean, some of the dudes do have ponytails.
iRunFar: Sorry, I didn’t mean to overgeneralize that; just excited about bouncing ponytails, okay? [laughs]
Case: [laughs] Man buns. Well, I do like to be alone. I love getting to …
iRunFar: Okay I won’t talk to you during the race. [laughs]
Case: [laughs] What I was going to say was, I love interacting with other women on the trail. And most of the races I do, there’s so few women, you just don’t have that chance. And so, with 27 women, you know, maybe there’s a chance that I’ll get to chat, not with you know, you [iRunFar’s Meghan Hicks is also racing] or Maggie [Guterl] or any of the other tough ones. Maybe there’s someone else, you know, around where I’m sitting in the race that I’ll get to share a few miles with, which I just think will be really cool. Yeah.
iRunFar: Well, I look forward to watching you make your first lap around the San Juan Mountains and I love the idea of like, disappearing yourself for a day or two.
Case: Yeah, me too. It’s just this is my break from work stress where I can just disconnect, you know. The last race I did, the Tor des Glaciers, it was right after we had just evacuated women and girls from Afghanistan, and I was still getting pinged, you know, on a daily basis. And so that race for me, I really had to give myself permission to disappear, but it was tied in with a lot of guilt. And there was also a film going on, which is showing tonight.
iRunFar: In just a couple of hours.
Case: Yeah, but you know, there’s stress involved in that as well because then you have drones, and shooters, and it’s quite hard to get that completely immersive experience. And I’ve got nothing to prove here. And I have no guilt with shutting off my phone this time, so.
iRunFar: I love it. Shut ‘er down.
Case: Yeah, it’s going off.
iRunFar: And good luck with your lap around the mountains.
Case: Thank you! You, too! Get a beer for me at the end. [laughs]
iRunFar: Get a beer for me at the end.