Friday, June 29, 2012

Dirty Girl Profile: Meet Kathy Ruland

Hey Dirty Ladies! We're beginning a new series with the blog, and since we're a pretty darn cool group of ladies every few weeks we'll be profiling a different Dirty Girl. First up is Kathy Ruland, our visiting Dirty Girl from the East Coast. She is one tough mama and a grandmama too!

A Tough Mama!
A Beautiful Grandmama!
Last week, our visiting Dirty Girl Kathy Ruland took a bad spill on our trails into some downed barbed wire. As she was falling, she grabbed on to our Bonnie and in a heroic moment pushed her out of harms way. Erika Lowery patched Kathy's cheek with chapstick to stop the bleeding (go Erika), and back at the cars Julia Horner doctored her wounds with a first aid kit. Bloodied and battered, Kathy opted to keep on running, in true Dirty Girl form! Kathy hails from Williamsport, MD. She is here for a year to help her daughter and grand kids during her son-in-law's deployment to Afghanistan.  She arrived here at the beginning of April and began searching for running spots and resources in the Gig Harbor area.  She read about the Dirty Girls on the Route 16 running store website.  She admits, it took her a couple of weeks to work up the nerve to show up, but she's glad she finally did.  Her first run with the group was on June 8th, and while she has never run with a group or a partner before, she found the companionship and love of trail running very inviting. If you haven't met Kathy yet, you are missing out. Read on to find out why!

How would your closest friends and family describe you?
A little bit crazy, or maybe a lot crazy.  It depends on who you ask.  My oldest daughter, who is an avid backpacker and alpinist, would just say I'm normal for us.  We do crazy backpacking trips that look more like climbs than a relaxing vacation.  I think friends and family would call me tough but soft.  Tough on myself but soft with people.  My middle daughter once told me that my biggest flaw raising them was that I was too nice...oh well, too late to change now.  

Name five things we don't know about you.
1) I feel better now than I did in my 20's.
2) I love white cake with white icing.
3) It is difficult for me to sit still for very long.
4) My favorite dog is a pug.
5) I Am thankful everyday for my family and my health.
Name three things that have most influenced your life and how you live?
My daughter, Mary, and I contracted Lyme disease on a camping trip to Maine and went undiagnosed for months.  By the time doctors identified the illness she was confined to a wheel chair, unable to walk and in chronic pain.  The next four years were a blur of doctors and hospitals. The experience of getting up every day for years and overcoming my own illness as well as helping my daughter made me stronger emotionally.  There were times during the four years when I wanted to just give up, run away, you name it I thought it. In the end I'm a different person today because of that experience. I am more compassionate toward people who are in the midst of their own battle...whatever that may be and certainly more aware of what true happiness feels like. My second influence, and this is a big one, is the example my parents have been for me and their 58 years of commitment to one another.  I can't say their marriage was perfect, because my dad was an active alcoholic during my growing up, (like I said peaks and valleys!)   The fact that they worked through that, stuck it out and adore each other is the kind of work most couples aren't willing to do today.  The last influence comes from a woman I began visiting a year and a half ago when she was diagnosed with terminal stomach and uterus cancer.  She not only survived the surgeries, chemo and radiation,  but joined weight watchers and has lost 235 pounds.  She works out at a gym everyday, and I recently got her hiking poles (she ambulates with a walker) and she has begun walking on the C & O Canal a couple of times a week.  Her spirit and love of life kept her strong, even when the doctors gave her little hope.  She has taught me so much about attitude and how important it is to the healing process.

What makes you laugh?
I laugh when my girls and I get together and re-hash old crazy stuff I did with them.  Somehow I was under the impression, as a mom, that I was responsible for providing adventures for my children. I came up with some capers that are funny now, but at the time were definitely out there.  Like the time I put six kids in a blow up dingy (dressed like Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, and friends) and launched them into the French Creek near Valley Forge, PA and lost them.  Funny now.  Not so funny at the time.  We also spent six weeks living in a tent and hiking trails in 8 national parks throughout the west.  The stories about that trip still make me laugh.  My grand kids also make me laugh.  Their innocence is both touching and funny.

Kathy With Kiddo!
What is your history with running and why do you run?
In Jr. high and high school I ran competitively and in college I ran for physical fitness.(I grew up in a home where Jack LaLane was my mom's hero.) Once I was married, and began to have children, it was much more challenging to fit a run into my day. Typically, if I wanted to run, it would occur between 4:30am and 5:30am.  At that time of the morning I'm not sure I'd say I "loved" running. Believe it or not, I did this early morning workout for 14 years!   It has only been the last 8 years that I have gotten in touch with my love of running and in particular, running trails. It may sound like an exaggeration to say that running saved my life, but it did.  After being diagnosed with Lyme disease and a form of Rheumatoid arthritis 15 years ago, and caring for a chronically ill child, I spent years watching my health slowly deteriorate. I decided I needed to fight back and I turned to running in desperation.  Lucky for me it worked.  Running not only helped me to regain my health, but also provided me with a daily sense of connection both mentally and physically to the natural world.  That connection had always been important in my life and I had somehow let it slip away.Running trails was a natural off shoot of my love of hiking.  I raised my girls to love the outdoors and our family vacations revolved around hiking trails and camping all over the U.S.   When I began to seriously run again I took advantage of my proximity to the C & O Canal National Park.  My home in MD is less than a mile from the park which is a  trail along the Potomac River that is approximately 187 miles in length.  I also do a lot of hiking and trail running on the Appalachian Trail.  There is a trail head to access the AT 10 minutes from my home.  Four years ago I came to WA and worked two seasons in Olympic NP.  It was there I fell in love with running trails in a temperate rain forest, in particular, trails in and around the Hoh Rainforest were some of my favorite.

What's the scariest thing that has ever happened to you while on a run?
I was doing about an 8 mile run on some logging roads near Lake Ozette in Olympic NP at about 5:45am.  It was a beautiful clear morning and the view of Mt. Olympus, from the highest point of the run, was spectacular.  I was on my way back into the park, and perhaps a little distracted by the view, when I came around a corner and standing in the middle of the road, up on his two back legs, was a very large black bear.  It was obvious by his stance and the fact that his nose was up in the air sniffing, that he had come down to check out whoever had been running on his road.  I did keep my wits about me because we were actually standing pretty close.  I came to a dead stop, uttered something profound, "uh oh," and began walking slowly backwards.  As soon as we no longer were making eye contact and I was out of sight, he charged up into the forest.  All I saw was a very big bear ass!  While my heart rate was certainly elevated from my instinctual fear reaction, I also found the encounter quite a thrill to have gotten so close to such a wild animal. 

Just Another Day in the Life Of Kathy
What qualities do you think make for a good running companions?
Someone who is punctual AND shows up when they say they will.   A person who makes you feel comfortable about your own goals for running and that enjoys trails as much as you do.  It wouldn't be too bad if your partner pushed you in some ways and also let you push them...but never jealous or judgmental.  A companion who wants to have a terrific run and is excited about a run, rain or shine!

What's it like running trails in Williamsport, MD?The biggest difference is that the trail I run most frequently has no elevation or roots to deal with so it is much easier for me to do an 11-12 mi run in a reasonable amount of time.  At least once a year I might have some flooding to contend with or in the winter some substantial snow accumulation and very cold temperatures.   I wear Yak Traks or micro spikes if snow turns to ice and I layer up if the temps drop into the single digits.  The biggest contrast of trail running between the east and west is the issue of dogs. So far my dog bite tally is Pacific NW-4, East Coast-0. Dogs are definitely more entitled here.

 What do you enjoy doing when you're not running?
Ilove to hike and backpack whenever I get the chance.  In the past several years I have driven across country alone four times.  I love exploring towns, finding new places to run and getting a feel for different communities all across America.  I also enjoy doing flower design and have worked on and off for florists for many years.

What something you've accomplished in life that once seemed impossible?

This goes back to my diagnosis with Lyme disease. There were years when I would have never imagined being in decent health again, let alone being able to run for several hours or hike for days and feel terrific.  Last year I succeeded in climbing my first mountain. With the help of my oldest daughter, Stacy, we summitted Mt. Hinman in the Cascades.  That was a huge accomplishment for me, one that I never thought I would accomplish.

What was the toughest time in your life and what got you through it?

There have been a number of difficult periods in my life, my daughter's Lyme disease, a four year separation from my husband,  and my own battle with health.  I would have to say that attitude and perseverance got me through them all.  If you allow the bad day or bad year define you then that will be your story.  I was and am determined for my story to be a good one. With only one shot at this life it is up to me to make that happen today.

What is something you haven't done that you dream of doing someday? What will it take to make this happen?

I'm hoping to hike the John Muir Trail in CA before I turn 60!  Although, If I don't make it by that birthday I'm certainly willing to extend my deadline.  The plan is to hike the entire length with my daughter, Stacy.  To accomplish this I need to continue to make  fitness a priority and read and learn as much as possible about logistics of hiking this trail.

Do you have a personal code that you live by? 
“To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don’t need to be accepted by others. You need to accept yourself.”

Thank you Kathy for a beautiful interview, and for sharing of yourself, your life, and all of your amazing insight and wisdom! We look forward to many more runs with you, great conversations, and hopefully no more barbed wire or bear encounters!