Abraham Lincoln once noted, “We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.” Lorelei Suehrstedt is clearly among the latter. The proud Trail Ambassador for the Cleveland (Ohio) MetroParks and happily married mother of two young adults (ages 14 and 21) exudes positive energy, so it’s no surprise she was named “Cleveland’s Happiest Runner” at this year’s Cleveland Marathon. And despite her tongue-in-cheek description of herself as a “50 Stater Run Hater,” she is in fact a bona fide run junkie on a tireless quest for new challenges that force her out of her comfort zone and beyond her perceived limits.
From her humbling first mile six years ago to her recent personal best of 71 miles at the NorthCoast 24-Hour Endurance Run, Lorelei talked to us about her evolution from bystander to bad-ass ultra runner — and how she does it all with a smile on her face.
RR: You have a funny story about how you started running that I’m sure a lot of runners, and especially parents, will appreciate. Would you mind sharing it?
LS: Oh boy! This is a great example of the crazy thoughts that go through my head. Six years ago, when my daughter was eight years old, the PTA had a 1-mile fun run as a fundraiser. My daughter came home with a slip of paper that turned out to be a registration form and asked, “Mom, can we do this? It’s for a good cause.” Having not run EVER, I commented, “That’s a whole mile!” She responded that it was “just a mile.” Back and forth we went about a whole mile vs. just a mile. Finally, she said that one word — you know the one. “Please….” Oh geez. Okay, we can do the run, I agreed.
So on the day of the run, which was four times around the football track at the local high school, I shot off the start line like a bullet because that’s what all the Olympians do on TV. One lap was tough. By the second lap, I was huffing and puffing. By the third lap, I was crawling and begging for mercy and probably looked like I was going to die. The parents spectating started to say encouraging things like “You can do it!” and “You’ve got this” and all those fantastic things cheerleaders say, except — and I did not know this about myself at the time — I despised hearing every nice thing they had to say. To me, it was like hearing “Better luck next time, heh heh heh”. When the fourth lap came along, I had my wind back and I ran like I had something to prove. Those words of encouragement were so mortifying to me that I vowed never to hear them again.
So I went home, got the C25K (Couch to 5K) app and set a goal for myself. I would learn how to run, and I would accomplish 12 races in 12 months. And I’m still good friends with everyone who helped me when I started this journey.
RR: You’re one of the most consistently positive people we know. How do you maintain that positivity, and what motivates you day in and day out?
LS: I know I’m going to sound like a Facebook meme, but I stay positive because I live with my heart and soul in constant gratitude. No matter what bad thing life can throw at me, I know that my blessings and my strength and the strength of my family always overcome. I know that every bad thing has a lesson behind it and so, in essence, is a gift. And life just seems to look better when you take a better look at it.
What motivates me day in and day out? That’s another great story. I once decided to run a 24-hour race having never run farther than a half marathon. I figured I had 24 hours to run 13.5 miles, making it the longest I’d ever run. How could I possibly fail, right? I got to 13.5 miles and decided to see if I could reach a full marathon and how long it would take me (I had already been accepted into the upcoming London Marathon, which would eventually become my first marathon). When I reached the full marathon distance, I decided to go for 30 miles. After all, what’s another 3.8 miles? I voiced that goal to a friend, and another runner heard me and said I couldn’t stop at 30 because 31 miles is 50K. Ooh, I was fired up! I ended my 13.5-mile goal run with 46 miles (44 official miles plus two miles of chasing our tent that had blown away!).
It was then that I realized I am more than what I think I’m capable of. I keep going because I want to find out what my limit is. I’m afraid I still have a long way to go. It’s motivating to me to know that my limits are way out there somewhere, and I don’t want to leave this world without having found them.
RR: Speaking of staying positive, do you have one positive and one not-so-positive (i.e. memorable for the wrong reasons) race experience that stand out in your mind? Anything goes!
LS: Oh, geez. The more challenging a race, the more I love it. I once signed up for a race just because it said bear spray was required! I see “not-so-positive” as a thing I must conquer and tame. So I have to dig deep on this one.
I guess the worst experience I had in a race was at the Cleveland (Half) Marathon in 2016. The weather was so bad, they offered us “I survived” shirts with icons of every weather type we experienced that day. In the time it takes to run a half marathon we had rain, sleet, snow, hail, thunder, sunshine, heat, freezing cold… you name it. It made national news! Having said that, my inner tiger comes out — grrrrr — and boasts “Yeah, I survived that.” I cannot say I’ve done a race that was so bad I’d never do it again.
As for a positive one, well I have hundreds of those! So I’ll pick one that always makes me smile and tear up a little when I reflect on it. It was the day I was accepted into the London Marathon. They actually phoned me and asked if I would run on behalf of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) — my daughter has Type 1 Diabetes and so this organization is important to us. They even offered up a spot for my husband. When we arrived in London, there was a special dinner for those running for JDRF. At the dinner, a Member of Parliament took my daughter aside and had a very long and encouraging conversation about her (and our) contribution to finding the cure for Type 1 Diabetes.
RR: As a road and trail runner who enjoys distances from 5K to over 110K, do you have a favorite race? Or if that’s like asking a parent to pick their favorite child, how about a top three?
LS: I have two favorites. Oddly enough, one is a road race (paved park trail) and one is a trail race. The first is NorthCoast 24 in Cleveland. It’s a 24-hour endurance race along beautiful Edgewater Beach. I love this race for many reasons. One, I outdo myself year after year and this is not about me; it’s about the staff, volunteers, runners and spectators who push and pull me along with their support — they all know the proper words to motivate me like, “You will go around another lap”. Two, there is nothing quite as emotional as the love and camaraderie that is felt there. For 24 hours, we live with each other at our best and at our worst. We laugh together. We cry together. We hold each other up. We celebrate every victory together, big or small.
My other favorite is Fuzzy Fandango in Mohican State Park, Ohio. It’s a 5K, 9-mile, 25K or 50K trail race. I signed up for this race because it was literally on my way to another race, and it supports a kids camp near and dear to my heart. I signed up for the 9 miler because, well, that’s easy peasy. Ha! Not at Fuzzy. Did you know Ohio has mountains?! I did not either until I ran this race. It ate me up and spit me out. I was crying. I was begging for mercy. By the time I reached the finish line, I was ready to sign up for next year. Sounds sick, huh? This is another race that feels like you’ve come home to family for Thanksgiving. Even if it’s your first time running it, the people make you feel like you’ve known each other forever. The scenery is incredible, and the challenges are hard. I loved it!
RR: What’s your single proudest accomplishment in the sport? Any big scary goals you’d still like to accomplish?
LS: My single proudest accomplishment was last year at NorthCoast 24. It’s a championship race, and elites from around the world come to compete and take home prize money. When I run with them, I run in awe of them because they are such powerful runners with great spirit and athleticism. Last year I was stunned to take home third place in my age group. It was such a surprise that I burst into tears. I gripped that medal for three days. For a brief, shining moment I found myself among the best of the best.
My big scary goal is to someday run 100 miles in a 24-hour period. The other ultra runners I run with make it seem so easy. A goal like this requires baby steps I think, so I am shooting for 80 next year. Grrrrr — do I sound like a tiger?
(Photo credits: Stuart Siegfried / 1 Day for the K.I.A.)
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