Ultra Runner, Leslie Zednai, Plans to Just Keep Going

In February 2011 Leslie Zednai, 38, from Penticton, BC began training for her first Ultramarathon.  The desire to become an ultrarunner and secure world-reknown trainer Ray Zahab came upon by pure accident. Alix Shutello from Endurance Racing Magazine caught up with Leslie, who just recently became recognized as a Difference Maker and Medal-Bearer for The Rick Hansen 25th Anniversary Relay for her contributions in women’s advocacy and ultra distance accomplishments.

Those that have the honor of carrying the Rick Hansen Medal will have demonstrated Rick’s values of courage, determination and teamwork. All of the Medal-Bearers will be Difference Makers in our communities, our country and our world.

ERM: What is your running history like?

UMH 2010, Photo Credit, Rick Kent

Leslie: I hated running as a kid, but it turns out I have exercise induced asthma which wasn’t diagnosed until my early 20’s. As a result I was never able to run farther than six or so kilometers. Therefore I only ever ran one 10K race, the Vancouver Sun Run, back in 1995. Looking back, that must have been a mental block when you consider what I’m doing now.

ERM: What brought you back to running in the last year?

Leslie: I returned to running in the early summer of 2010. Well… I just started running again and found I could run farther than I thought. I signed up and ran the Scorched Sole Ultra 50K.  So up until last February, I had only one race on my resume – a 10K!

ERM: Surely something had to have turned you back on to running?

Leslie: I never thought I’d get back involved with athletics and would have laughed out loud if someone suggested it would be Ultras.  After several years break from exercising and in healing from a devastating series of events and other life changing decisions I met the race director of the Ultraman Canada in the spring of 2009, while volunteering for a half marathon.  The Ultraman Canada is a three-day, three-stage triathlon, and at these big events, some athletes bring crew, but others ask the race director to provide folks from the local community. Jason Lester, who is the race director the EPICMAN Triple Iron in Hawaii, was looking for crew members and since I was a local, the race director asked me to crew for him.

UMH 2010, Photo Credit, Julie Vernon

After reading Jasons’s personal history I agreed to pace with him in the running stage of the race.  He had overcome great obstacles and I found him very inspirational for his story stuck a chord with me on many levels.  Upon Jason’s arrival in Penticton I’d learned that he had just won an ESPY, was writing a book, and raising funds for his foundation.  With absolutely no training preparation and healing a broken toe, I paced for about 20K that day, replete with asthma induced attacks and all.  The entire weekend made a large impact on me and increased my confidence but that race was the only athletic endeavor I accomplished that year.

ERM: So you didn’t run at all after the Ultraman experience?

Leslie: No. It wasn’t until nine months later in May of 2010 I dusted off my running shoes just for fun but I was out of shape and could barely squeak out 10 kilometers once a week.  I joined a local trail running group that was really more for socializing.  I wasn’t looking for any serious running groups; in fact, I was adamant in avoiding them.  However, I was asked to crew for the Ultraman Canada race again so I requested to crew for another inspirational athlete. I was assigned to Toni Barstis, cancer survivor and so much more than that, an AMAZING woman.

ERM:So how far did you get in your training for you only had three months to prepare for Ultraman Canada 2010!

UMH 2010, Photo Credit, Julie Vernon

Leslie: The longest “training” distance I ran before Ultraman was 16K but during the race, I paced Toni for over 32K.  How I did that? I have no idea!

ERM: So it sounds like you were really finding you “pace” in these races.

Leslie: I was stunned but elated! I was asked to crew again, but this time it was for the Ultraman World Championships (UMWC) in Hawaii in November of 2010.  I agreed to be the crew captain for Adam Peruta who was working with athlete Jason Sissel of Endure to Cure (E2C). E2C raises awareness and funds for Pediatric Cancer Research.

ERM: So what do you mean by “training,” as opposed to training?

Leslie: I say “training” when I refer to how I “prepared” for these races because I had no idea what I was doing.  “Training” to me was putting on my shoes and drinking Gatorade.  I was interested to see what I may be able to do in Hawaii but I didn’t invest time or money in any sort of program. I just ran.  When I got to Hawaii, however, I had a goal of a running a marathon distance and dreamed of running through those lava fields along the Queen K.  My longest “training” run by November 2010 was 29K in the freezing cold of Canada.  When I went out for a 30-minute test run after arriving in Hawaii I thought I would die in the heat and humidity, so I let go of any and all expectations and just focused on crewing.

ERM: There were quite a lot of ups and downs in that race weren’t there?

Leslie: Yeah, the first two days are the swim and bike so you are largely crewing from a vehicle.  It was along Stage 2  of UMWC I punctured the bottom of my foot twice by broken glass penetrating my flip flops while handing off nutrition to the athlete on the bike.  But things turned around in Stage three – the double marathon where, while I was still fulfilling my role as crew captain, I ran a total of 49K that day.  Considering I’d only been running for 6 months, that blew my mind!!

ERM: So that was the stepping stone to move you onward and upward so to speak.

UMH 2010, Photo Credit, Julie Vernon

Leslie: Running 49K in one day!?  I couldn’t connect with it, but I knew something was happening.  It was time to start doing my own events and exploring these capabilities that I had.

ERM: So now you have quite a nice starter resume to show off.

Leslie: HA!  Well I don’t really think about it like that but in June of 2011 I ran the Scorched Sole 50km trail race, located in Kelowna, BC, and the Whistler 50-Miler in November 2011, located in Whistler, BC.

ERM: And it looks like your “training” has turning into TRAINING….I understand you are actually working with internationally-recognized coach, Ray Zahab to prepare you for your next race goals – a 100K and 100-miler!

Leslie:  I met Ray at one of his speaking events, we hit it off. He’s been very supportive of my running and as of late he and I have been talking about training.  Before meeting Ray, as I mentioned, my training could only be described as “winging it.”  I had found a website through suggestions from some of my ultra athlete friends to provide a training schedule for my 2011 events.  I asked a few questions on nutrition and the rest I just figured out along the way.  Not the smartest thing, but I was adamant didn’t want to get analytical about my training.

So in 2011, I largely trained on my own and wanted to keep my training simple so I could really be focused on listening to my body and its needs.  I wanted to fall into a natural rhythm and to listen to those aches and pains and figure out what they mean.  When necessary I asked questions of friends.

In 2012 the two events I do want to complete a 100km and a 100 miler.  I am keeping Badwater in the back of my mind as well, but for now I just want to see what I can do with these two races.

ERM: It takes a certain mental fortitude to do this sport. What drives you and keeps you sustained during competition?

Leslie: What drives me is simply the love of running.  When I run I am in the present moment.  It’s best described as a state of being.  An experience.  I am aware of my surroundings, distance, time, nutrition, feelings, and thoughts though there is no attachment to any of it.  There are no expectations or demands, just me and my feet… moving.  There are days when my legs just fall into a pace and my job is to stay over top of them.  On those days I feel like I’m flying.  And for some reason I can just keep going.  I seriously don’t process what the distances mean.  I’d rather leave it as some sort of mental mystery.

ERM:Many endurance athletes budget for races each year – usually when they know what races they want to work toward. Any comments there?

UMH 2010, Photo Credit, Rick Kent

Leslie: For 2011 I didn’t create a budget because it was my first year and I selected events quite serendipitously.  For 2012 I planned for my two races, one in the the summer and the next in the fall.  

ERM: In terms of injury, anything slowing you down?

Leslie: My ITBand didn’t start bothering me until during the Whistler 50-miler event in November 2011 and my Achilles heel is speaking to me currently.  Right now I am aqua running, until ready to hit the pavement again with a much better training schedule which will include cross training, strength and stretches!   Along with exercise induced asthma I also have border-line scoliosis so I have to take those things into consideration when I train, but they certainly aren’t stopping me.

ERM: Any other goals with your running for 2012?

Leslie: I am currently formulating a philanthropic project that will be directly associated with my ultrarunning.  I’m really excited about it though fleshing out the concept at the moment…more to come on that in the near future!


Leslie’s Favorite Things

Shoes: trail shoes are Salomon’s, and road shoes are Brooks.  I just love the Brooks Ravena’s!

Clothing: I love anything that makes me feel like I’m still a woman.

Nutrition: Gatorade, Carbo-pro, Endurolytes, and largely real food.  I do bust out the odd gel in long distance.  When I do, it’s Gu.


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