As I sit back and watch my Facebook feed fill up with all sorts of crazy posts…people celebrating, complaining, and everything in between – I began to realize how lucky I am to have so many amazing people in my life. Most bloggers write about themselves. Well, as most of my friends know, I’ve never been afraid to go against the grain. So I’m going to write a few posts about the amazing people in my life.
Chapter One – Sandra Villines
When I met this woman, who soon became like a big sister to me, I had no idea what her story was. In fact, I knew her for over a year before I REALLY got to know her.
2015 – I was asked to be on a support crew for three runners at the Badwater Salton Sea. Rodney, Kelly, and Sandra. These three met on Facebook to form a team, as the format of the Salton Sea race was only teams of two or three athletes could enter. Having been around type-A triathletes for so long, all I remember was how laid back and easy-going Sandra was from the very beginning (and she still is!!). At the end of the race, Sandra was the last man, or in the case, last woman standing from the team. The other two had to drop out due to GI distress getting the best of them. Sandra trucked on like a trooper. Picking up the pace and picking people off one by one as she ran up the roads past Ranchita, CA all the way up to Palomar Mountain. What a beast!!!!
2016 – Sandra and Rodney decided to race Badwater Salton Sea again and wanted me back on their support crew. How could I refuse? This time around, she had everything laid out exactly how she wanted it and when she wanted it. Again, she ended up being the last woman standing from the team and maintained a blistering pace all the way to the finish. This was the year she was going to go for the ultimate race in the Badwater Series – the Badwater 135 Ultramarathon.
As if running 135 miles wasn’t hard enough, imagine starting at the lowest and one of the hottest points in North America (Badwater Basin – 282ft below sea level) and finishing at the beginning of the trailhead of the highest point in North America (Mt Whitney Portal – elevation 8,360 ft). Sandra did just that. She started her race at 9pm. It was 119 F with the winds blowing over 20 mph. Hot, dry wind blasting with no where to hide. Our support vehicle basically played leap frog for the next 36 some odd hours for the next 135 miles. Stopping every 1-1.5 miles ahead of her. Not once did she ever show signs of wanting to give up. Even the times that I “paced” her, walking some of the hilly sections through the desert, I had a hard time keeping up with her. The last 13 miles of the race went from right outside the race hotel in Lone Pine up to the Whitney Portal with an elevation gain of over 4,000 ft. She blazed right up that last part. A woman on a mission. Sandra ended up finishing in 36 hours and 35 minutes, 8th woman overall. Astonishing.
The next day, she was up walking and moving around as if nothing much had happened. In fact, she had the urge to go back up to the Whitney Portal from our hotel. Insane. She wasn’t the only one who had this crazy idea. Other Badwater 135 finishers too were out, heading up the road leading to the Whitney Portal. Sandra and I “hiked” for the better of 4 hours, and in that time I learned how truly amazing this woman is.
Unlike most of her fellow competitors, Sandra did not come into the world of ultrarunning as an elite athlete with a resume full of podium finishes. Looking at her now, you’d never know that she was an overweight child who battled with her weight all the way into adulthood. One day she was helping her daughter (5 years old at the time) get dressed for school. She poked her in the gut and asked “mommy, what is that?” That was a big wake up call for her. Feeling tired with no energy, she thought long and hard “is this the way my life is going to be? What kind of mom and role model can I be, being 60 pounds overweight and unhealthy?” She wanted something better for her daughter, and getting out of breath just from squatting down to help her get dressed was not acceptable.
Sandra set things into motion by joining a gym. She hated running, but knew it was what she needed to do to make a change. Her commitment, 1 hour of running every day on the treadmill. The first session she found extremely daunting and struggled just to complete just under 4 miles in that hour. Eventually the days turned into weeks, and months, and she was able to run and enjoy it. Then she explored spin classes and fell in love immediately. Alternating cycling and running weekly, she found that cycling had a huge impact on her running fitness. Not only did she grow to like running, but also lost 50 pounds in about 6 months.
The endurance bug bit Sandra pretty hard as you can imagine. With each milestone, she searched for the next big challenge, in true Sandra-fashion. She stumbled upon a local half marathon. The Dean Karnazes Silicon Valley Half Marathon. Intrigued, she wanted to know who this Dean person was so she googled him and that’s how she learned about ultrarunning. She was intrigued and mesmerized by the fact that people ran for hours, into the night and sometimes for days! She was so inspired and motivated by his story that spent her free time reading his books, YouTube video she could find on Badwater and ultrarunning. Learning that Dean would be at the runner check in and expo, Sandra was so excited to meet him!
Over the course of the next few years from 2010-2014 Sandra completed 36 half marathons and 5 full marathons. She decided it was time to venture into the ultra world. Still being a self trained runner, there was a lot she didn’t know and being a single mom, hiring a coach was not an option. She posted on Dean’s Facebook page for advice and will always remember what he said, even to this day “do it Sandra, you have it in you.” Just like that, she signed up for her first 50 mile race and never looked back.
So over the course of 4 hours “hiking” up to the Whitney Portal with Sandra, I got to know this side of her that I never knew existed. This woman is crazy special, one of a kind. Fast-forward one year later, bummed I had to decline her invite to serve on her support crew, I stalked her social media feed as she raced Badwater 135 for a second time. Not only did she finish two hours faster than the previous year, she was the women’s overall winner!!! Knowing her journey of weight-loss, being a single mom, working full-time, supporting herself and her family as she went back to school to get her bachelor’s and master’s degrees…damn, I couldn’t be more proud to know her. She’s the girl next door, a mom, a sister, a friend, a daughter (her mom makes the best tuna pickle sandwiches!), someone who does amazing things with such focus and grace. I’ve been so lucky and blessed to be part of her amazing journey. Not only have I witnessed her badassery, I’ve also gained a big sister and adopted mom and dad through her parents.
So, now you probably think she’s a pretty badass mama? Badass doesn’t even begin to describe how ridiculously awesome she is. On September 11, 2017, Sandra will set off from San Francisco to take down the world record for the fastest ever crossing of the United States by a woman. The current record is 68 days. A few days ago, another ultrarunner, Mimi Anderson of Great Britain, embarked on her transcontinental run from Los Angeles – taking the southern route. So essentially, Sandra is going to “race” Mimi – to see who of the two can get to New York the fastest. Insane.
Less than a year ago, I was approached to be on her support crew, but as you all know my time of funemployment came to an end so I’ll be support her from afar and hopefully drive out to see her when she comes through Colorado. Nonetheless, Sandra has an amazing support crew behind her to include the race director of the Badwater 135 Ultramarathon and Badwater Series, Chris Kostman. You know you’ve arrived when Chris Kostman is on your support crew!!!
In a world where social media has become a vehicle for people to parade their accomplishments, I can tell you that Sandra’s intentions are absolutely pure. Her dream is to inspire others and make her running something meaningful to those around her. She strives to empower the women in her life to believe and achieve their hopes and dreams. She’s learned there is something deep inside all of us and if you can dig deep enough to find it, work though it, embrace the pain you may suffer, that anything is possible. She hopes that by completing the transcontinental run, it would not only be a life changing event for her, but give her the ability to contribute to changing the lives of many. “I want my daughter and others to look at me and say because of you I didn’t give up.”
Love you my dear big sis! Run like the wind…Sandra, the Beast, Vi.
If you want to follow Sandra and help her efforts, please visit her website.