No room for self doubt – Lisa’s Journey

Lisa’s perspective about racing and the benefits of positive self talk is a lesson for everyone. Her discipline and attitude about running is remarkable and I’m honored to share her journey this week. Her story resonated because personally I think that for the average runner (the non-professional athlete) DNFing an ultra – or any race for that matter – isn’t as big a deal as folks make it out to be (and I know this from my first-hand DNF experience last Fall). Choosing not to register for a race because of the fear of not finishing isn’t a mindset I agree with. So enjoy reading about Lisa’s wonderful attitude and helpful ultra racing advice.

Lisa Morris, West Suburbs of Chicago, IL

The biggest lesson trail running has taught me is not to limit myself. I am stronger than I give myself credit for.

Lisa Morris

How long have you been a trail runner?

I started trail running two years ago after running several road races. I find running trails allows me to free my mind and enjoy nature.

What are your top trail running accomplishments?

My top trail running accomplishments include running my first 50K (The North Face Endurance Challenge) in 2018. This was my first ever trail race. Three weeks later I attempted my first 50 miler at the Des Plaines River Trail Race. I didn’t finish the race due to an issue with my knee. I completed 39 of the 50 miles, which I still took as a small victory. I didn’t beat myself up about it because I knew I had given it my best, and I believe that’s all you can do – give your best. Don’t get me wrong, I was disappointed and sad when I didn’t complete the 50, but I took the moment as a learning experience. Plus I’m alive and healthy. There’ll be more opportunities in the future and I’ll use what I know from prior experiences to crush my goal. 

What’s the biggest lessons you’ve learned as a result of trail running?

Five or six years ago I couldn’t run one block. For a long time, I limited myself because I kept focusing on the past or stayed stuck in the present. I was my worst enemy. It was all in my mind. I limited and underestimated myself because of my thinking. I started to speak more positively to myself about my running, started setting small goals, and began going after these goals. Of course I trained to ensure I was physically fit to meet the task, but it was my mind that I had to conquer. So the biggest lesson trail running has taught me is not to limit myself. I am stronger than I give myself credit for.

What’s the best advice you received while preparing for your first ultra race?

While training for that first 50K, I was told to relax and prepare as if I was training for a marathon (26.2 miles). I was also told to enjoy the experience.

What advice did you wish you received prior to completing your first ultra?

It rained a couple days before my first 50 miler and a portion of the trail was flooded. I wish I had known about waterproof socks. I ran the entire time in wet socks, lol! Also, I didn’t know much about drop bags. I thought that since there would be support on the route, I didn’t need a drop bag. I was so wrong! The temperature dropped significantly, and I didn’t have an additional layer available. So, in addition to running with wet feet, I was freezing. 

Fortunately, I had enough hydration and nutrition and there were plenty of refueling items at the support stations. However, I would’ve included additional items in a drop bag such as  gloves, extra socks (waterproof), light thermal clothes to wear under my jacket, and an external charger for my Garmin and phone. 

Do you ever doubt whether or not you can cover a certain distance or finish a race? If so, how do you overcome self-doubt either prior to or during a race?

When I think about or decide to run a certain distance or race, I don’t really give thought to whether or not I can finish. In my mind, I will finish. I just focus on how to best prepare – rest, hydration, nutrition, etc.

What’s the hardest aspect of your training?

Rest is one of the hardest parts of my fitness journey because I like to stay busy. My family and friends fuss at me all the time to “get somewhere and sit down”. So it’s definitely something I struggle with, but I intentionally incorporate it into my life because it’s healthy for me. Rest helps me physically because it helps to ease my sore muscles and speeds up recovery from injuries. It also helps mentally to relax, focus and just enjoy life. 

How do you balance a full-time job with your running?

I get up at 4:30 a.m. to run.  I usually run 5 to 6 miles, 3 days a week before work and a long run on Saturdays. I’ve been working from home due to COVID-19, and this has allowed a little more flexibility. My schedule is as follows:

Tuesday – speed work

Wednesday – hill work

Thursday – stamina/tempo run

Saturdays – long runs

I also include 30 minutes of cross training/circuit work 3 days per week.

Tell me about your cross-training routine? Many long-distance runners struggle with finding the time to fit this into their schedules so what keep you motivated to cross train?

I cross train 3 days a week focusing on upper body, lower body, and abs. Cross training is essential in keeping my body strong and prepared to handle long miles. I did not finish (DNF) my 50-miler in 2018 due to knee issues which was caused by weak leg muscles. As a result, I make sure to incorporate cross training in my fitness routine.

What is your next trail running adventure?

I’m scheduled to run the Chi Waukee trail with friends next month and the Kettle Moraine 50K in September but this all depends on the COVID-19 situation.

What is your favorite trail and why?

My favorite trail is the IL Prairie Path. The trail is 61 miles and extends throughout the western suburbs. There’s a variety of terrain – some road, some rock, and dirt and gravel the further west you go. This is my favorite trail because it was the first trail I ran on.

Team, Discipline and a Plan B – Aisha’s Journey

Aisha is the jolt of energy we all need. Her smile, energy, and enthusiasm for running are infectious. I’m often asked how I balance long distance running with motherhood. Although I don’t think it’s as hard for me as others think it is, I can understand the curiosity. Aisha offers some great insights into how to balance running with motherhood. She also shares the lessons her daughters are learning by seeing her achieve some pretty remarkable running goals.

Aisha, Fayetteville, GA

Running allows me to be free – free in mind, body, and spirit.  I think clearer, breathe easier, and I have an overall positive sentiment on life.


Why did you start trail running?  

I started trail running because I love nature and being in an atmosphere at its purest state.  Nature has a way of centering me and allows me to be present in my thoughts and body.  With trail running, I’m able to escape the concrete jungle and the technology driven world.  I feel more connected with myself and nature when I run on the trails – it’s so peaceful. I’m very passionate about running, it gives me a sense of freedom and of course the “runner’s high” is amazing!   

You’ve said that running makes you a better wife and mother. Why?

Running allows me to be free – free in mind, body, and spirit.  I think clearer, breathe easier, and I have an overall positive sentiment on life. For instance, I’m easily able to discover solutions to problems while running.  So, I’m not anxious or preoccupied because my mind is free from that issue. So, with these particular qualities, I am able to love, communicate, show patience and understanding at my best and highest level.  I believe that is what makes me a better wife to my husband and mother to our girls.    

Can you share your ultrarunning journey and some of your favorite races?

I began my trail running journey in 2015 in Georgia at the Cubihatcha Earth Day Challenge.  Since then, I‘ve participated in 9 ultramarathons – four 50k’s, one 50 miler, one 100k, two 100 milers and one virtual 110 miler.  

My first Ultra Marathon was a 50K in Jupiter Florida called The DTR (Down to Run) Challenge.   I was so nervous.  The route was exceptionally difficult because of the tough sand dunes and little, to no shade.  But it was one of the most beautiful races I’ve ever run.  It was incredibly peaceful.  

My first 100 miler was the Wildcat 100 in Pensacola, Florida.  I was emotional when I finished.  The sense of accomplishment was absolutely unreal. This too was a life changing experience.  I’ve never felt so alive, so present, so appreciative of life, my family, even strangers.

Aisha at the end of her first 100 mile race – Wildcat 100

I’m in awe that you recently did a 110-mile virtual race?  What was that like and how did you keep motivated during the race? How did you handle aid/food?

It was the Summertime Binge 110 Miler in June 2020. It was organized by the same people that direct Javelina Jundred in Arizona.  I placed first female but the race wasn’t blissful.  I pushed myself too hard and didn’t feel well through most of it. The recovery was also hard.  

I ran all 110 miles in my neighborhood and didn’t venture off too far from my home where my aid station was set up. The kitchen table looked like a regular aid station – bowls of M&M’s, pickles, peanut butter, etc.  My husband cooked some cubed potatoes and baked cookies. He also left a very sweet note about how I inspire our daughters.  That filled my heart with love and motivation.  I’m always very motivated during the day, however, I lack motivation during the night portion of the ultra-races.  So, in this case, I talked on the phone with a few running buddies of mine that pushed me with their words of knowledge and inspiration, or we talked about life in general.  That helped tremendously.  

Have you run other solo races?

Yes, I also did a solo 100 miler called Run Like a Ninja in early May 2020 and felt amazing afterwards.  

Tell me about the ultra runs you do for fun that aren’t structured races?

I run ultra distances on my own without races attached to it.  For instance, on my 38th birthday, I ran 38 miles to celebrate. I did the same for my 39th and 40th birthdays.  For the 40miler for my 40th birthday, I ran along the Atlanta BeltLine that’s full of street art which I love because it makes the run extra beautiful. Sometimes I’ll run long distances just to clear my mind.  I don’t need a race or special occasion attached to it. 

What advice do you have for someone who wants to train for their first ultra? 

Educate yourself on the ultra’s terrain and the weather.  With knowledge of the terrain, you can train accordingly.  For instance, if your race is on sand, you should train as much as you can on sand or something comparable to it such as small rocks.  If you are unable to do that, train on hills so that you can have stronger legs.   

When you educate yourself on the weather, you’ll be prepared with apparel, gear, and how to train. For example, if your race is in Florida and you live in Montana, it may be difficult to train in hot weather.  But you can assimilate your body by spending time in a sauna during your training.  Just training to run is not enough, if you are ill prepared you may drop from the race. 

How do you balance your running with all the responsibilities that comes with parenting and what advice do you have for other moms who are trying to strike the right balance?

Balance can be very difficult at times.  My girls take drum lessons, intense dance classes, and they’re also in weekend academic activities. I work long hours, so I have to wake up super early to get my run in before taking the girls to school and going to work.  I have very little wiggle room after work because I’m usually exhausted so I go to bed early so that I can wake up to run.   

I live by the acronym TDP – Team, Discipline, and Plan B.  

The “Team,” my husband and I, take turns with the girls’ pick-ups and drops offs.

The “Discipline” is setting up a schedule and sticking with it.  

“Plan B” is a back-up schedule so that in case life happens and you’re unable to stick to your original training plan, you still can get a few runs in and not panic.

What lessons do you think your girls are learning as a result of your running?  

The girls are learning the importance of health, discipline, and how you can achieve anything you set your mind to.  When my girls were younger, they liked to run with me.  Now, that they’re in their early teen years, they have absolutely no interest.  I wont push them, but I’m willing to bet they’ll run later in life. They also get to witness my husband being incredibly supportive of my running.  So, even though I’m the only person running, I don’t feel alone because the family shows me lots of love and support. 

I know your family means the world to you. How have they motivated you, particularly during running events?

At end of my solo 100 miler in May, I ran the last mile in front of our house. I was speed-walking/running – I was so exhausted. My husband and two girls came out on the steps of our house and they were singing and cheering for me. They even had a special cheer for me. It really pushed me. It was such a good feeling when I was finished. After I gave everyone hugs and kisses they handed me a warm plate of food. I was so exhausted I sat on the stairs and just ate.

My most memorable experience was probably at the finish line at Wildcat 100 miler. I was really depleted of energy. I was so tired. I had a shuffle where I was looking at the ground and I was barely moving my arms – I was really struggling.  I heard my youngest daughter yell my name and I was jolted with so much energy when I heard her voice.  I heard her say “C’mon Mommy you can do it.” I couldn’t see her because it was dark, but hearing her was amazing! All of a sudden I started running as fast as I could. That’s a moment I’ll never ever forget. When I think about it, it still makes me teary-eyed.

What were some of your favorite races?

My favorite was the Tortoise and the Hare Half Marathon in the Georgia Mountains.  That was an EPIC and BEAUTIFUL race.  The air alone was so crisp and clean.  I didn’t even mind the incredibly treacherous red mud slides. It was all a part of the magical journey. 

Aisha at Tortoise and the Hare Half Marathon

Do you have any races/running events on your bucket list?

A bucket list race for me is the The Two Oceans Ultra Marathon. It’s a 56 km/35-miler held annually in Cape Town, South Africa.  The route looks absolutely beautiful.