Rebekah Trittipoe: Ultramarathon Runner
By Yuhan Xu
Rebekah Trittipoe vividly remembers the 160-mile Brazil Jungle Marathon back in 2003: Six days of racing alone in the hot and humid Amazon made the veteran runner stronger, both physically and mentally.
“It was an amazing experience,” said 56-year-old Trittipoe. “That was really a big step for me. I would love to do it again.”
BRAZIL JUNGLE MARATHON
Different from other ultramarathons she has run in the past 10 years, the six-stage Brazil Jungle Marathon was self-supported, and Trittipoe had no idea what to expect or how to prepare for it; the only thing she knew was that she wanted to do it. “I was very excited, because I’d been looking for something people would call crazy and stupid,” said Trittipoe.
After saying goodbye to her husband and children, Trittipoe was on her way to another hemisphere with a back- pack filled with food packages, two pairs of socks, and some clothes.
Armed with only the backpack, a map and some water, Trittipoe began the adventure with another 40 athletes from all over the world. “Even though it was called marathon, it’s really hard to run because you carry all your supplies; I felt like I was a turtle with all the things on my back,” she recalled.
In the pungent 100-degree jungle, Trittipoe got wet by hiking through swampy areas. Some people developed funky skin rashes on their legs. “Every time you went through a swamp, you thought, ‘Oh my goodness, what’s in there? Would it eat me?’ ” she said.
At one point, Trittipoe found herself lost in the jungle when the red ribbons tied along the not-so-established trail disappeared, and the map was not really helpful. “I had no idea where to go,” she said. “It was really frustrating. I was yelling, ‘God! I need some help!’ ” Luckily, a man heard Trittipoe and got her back on track.
At another point, she was the helper: Trittipoe shared water with a woman from England who had completely run out. Trittipoe herself was dehydrated and exhausted, which made it even harder to race. “One of the things I learned from the Brazil race is that you have to be very, very flexible, because what you might expect to happen doesn’t always happen,” she said. “Sometimes you just have to suck it up and deal with the cards you’re handed and do what you can.”
Trittipoe and the other runners camped near water every night. She cleaned herself and washed the clothes she was wearing and hung them up. Darkness came quickly in the jungle; there was nothing to do other than organize stuff for the next day and chat with fellow athletes, then try to get to sleep in the noisy outdoors. “You would think the jungle is quiet, but it’s not. It’s very loud. You get used to it,” said Trittipoe. In the morning, they woke up early and retrieved their not-quite-dried items and put them back in their packs. A new day began again.
“You certainly went through phases you hated, because it was so difficult and you were suffering. I just could not allow myself to come that far, flying all the way from a different continent, to quit. I had to finish it,” said Trittipoe.
Six days later, Trittipoe got to the finish line. She was the first American to finish the race, and second overall. “All I wanted was an ice-cold Coke,” she said. “The world became wonderful again. I finally could get a shower. It’s wonderful to have a clean bed to sleep in and a room with air conditioning.”
RUNNING CAREER AND LIFE
Trittipoe had been an athlete since high school, where she played hockey, volleyball, and tennis. And yet she never thought of running long distance until she was 36, and challenged by well-known ultrarunner David Horton that she would not be able to run 50 miles. “I thought ‘Fine, I’ll show you.’ That’s when I started running and training for long distance,” recalled Trittipoe. Her first race was the 1994 Catoctin Trail 50K—and she won.
Trittipoe suffered multiple injuries on her feet and ankles for the first five years. After going through the hardships, she adjusted her training and hasn’t been injured since. “There’s always difficulty,” she said. “I had to train in a way that is good for me. I can’t do 80, 90, or 100 miles per week. And you also have to figure out what suits your life situation. My highly stressful medical career was really demanding on my time. I had to readjust my priorities to make sure I keep everything in balance.”
Trittipoe is a mother of two sons and lives with her husband in Bedford, Va. She doesn’t race as much as she did before, but she still runs ultras and trains three days a week. Once a cardiovascular perfusionist, she often found herself swamped with medical cases. She is now coaching a high school cross-country team and also teaching biology.
“Yesterday I took the cross-country team on a one-night running trip. These kids can run 17 miles now. Most of them didn’t run that much before. They embrace the idea of going out to the woods and running long miles and climbing mountains. It’s very rewarding to see them go from the impossible to the possible. I want them not just to be athletes, but to be stronger,” said Trittipoe.
She has run more than 80 ultramarathons over the years, including Catoctin 50K, Mountain Masochist 50 miler, JFK 50 Miler, The Groundhog Classic 50 Miler, Rattlesnake 50K, and the Uwharrie 40 Mile Mountain Run. She was one of six women to complete The BEAST ultramarathoning race series; was the women’s record-holder on West Virginia’s 302-mile long Allegheny Trail (7 days, 6 hours); and was the tri-holder of the women’s record on the South Beyond 6000, a nearly 300-mile long run across 5 mountain ranges with the summit of 40 peaks in excess of 6000ft. elevation (6 days, 13 hours, 31 minutes).
“I like running because I like the place it takes me,” said Trittipoe. “There are so many beautiful landscapes that can only be seen from the top of the mountain. Do I love running every day? No, I don’t. Sometimes I hate it, because you feel like crap. But you have to take the step, you have to get through those days.”
Rebekah Trittipoe is also a writer who has published four books: “Best Season Yet: 12 Weeks to Train,” “Pace Yourself,” “Under an Equatorial Sky,” and “A Quest for Adventure.” For more information, visit http://rebekahtrit- tipoe.blogspot.com/