From Couch to Ultra Runner

Molly Badwater 2009 (1)Molly Sheridan was told “she was too old” to run. Since then, she’s completed 50 ultras, including a 138-mile run in the Himalayans that no woman had previously finished.

By Henry Howard

A friend called Molly Sheridan, inviting her​ to run the Marine Corps Marathon, her first attempt at 26.2 miles. It would be fun, the friend advised.

At the time, Sheridan was 48, had a full-time job and was raising three kids. She had a lot on her plate. What she didn’t have was an athletic background. Growing up in California, she swam at the beach and as an adult did some running/walking 5Ks but nothing serious.

She told her friend, “No, it sounds awful. What is that? Twenty miles or something?” Sheridan recalls, adding that she said “no” about 10 times. Then something happened that would change her life. “I was haunted all night, tossing and turning, punching my pillow. Then I thought what have I been doing for exercise?”

And, thus, the quest began. “The first mile out the door was awful. I thought I was going to have a heart attack,” the Las Vegas resident says.

From Couch to Ultra

Five weeks into training Sheridan was not amused.

An ankle injury threatened to keep her from the marathon goal. Even worse, the doctor told her that she was “too old to be a runner.” He advised her to do nothing for six weeks. No running. No exercise. Nothing.

Now, she was pissed.

Sheridan rehabbed her injury by pool running, continued to train hard and finished the 26.2 miles. She found the race fun, laughing all the way with her friend.

As for the doctor, Sheridan didn’t forget. She sent him a photo of her crossing the finish line.

“I was really horrified that he was telling other people (the same advice), even other women, and that people would listen to him. The whole idea of that just freaked me out.”

But Sheridan’s story goes well beyond the finish line in Washington, D.C. “After I finished, a little voice inside my head asked, ‘How far can I go?’ “

Now, she was determined.

“The first marathon did so much for me,” Sheridan says. “I never tested myself. I never was in a position to be in sports or excel in sports. It blew my mind that when I finished it. I actually had a good time. So I signed up for a 50k.”

She didn’t tell anyone about the 50k training because she didn’t want to hear anything negative. Not only did Sheridan finish the race several months later, she won second place in her age group.

So she signed up for a 50-miler.

“I love the adventure,” says Sheridan, who will try to attempt to qualify for Western States in a couple of weeks. “I love the challenge. Every event I undertake I always learn something about myself. I think ultra running is the best sport on the planet. I think whatever the distance — 50k, 50 mile, 100 mile, whatever — they’re grand adventures. I hope I am doing them well into my 80s.”

Molly’s Advice

Sheridan believes that “anybody can do what I do.” For those who want to finish an ultra, Sheridan offers this advice:

  1. First step for those already running: Look out six months and pick a race.
  2. Download or buy a training program, or hire a coach.
  3. Focus on the back-to-back runs. “The most important part of ultra running is doing back-to-back distances, Saturday and Sunday.”
  4. Focus on nutrition. “Experiment on those long-distance runs to see what works for your body best.”
  5. During training, listen to your aches and pains.
  6. During the race, just focus on getting to the next aid station.

She says aspiring ultra runners,

Just need to get out there and make it happen. Find a buddy that maybe you can train with. It takes so much less than they think. It seems like a huge undertaking until you start realizing the benefits far outweigh the time commitment. You get so much more than you ever imagine. Only running a few miles a day or a few times a week, you see how much your body gets stronger, you feel more spiritual, you grow mentally stronger, your self-confidence grows. You feel good about everything in life.

And once you feel that good you can move mountains, or in her case, run them.

A Humanly Impossible Race

After Sheridan completed the Badwater Ultramarathon, she was contacted by a man in India putting together a unique event. It’s a race so challenging that the Indian government issued a letter saying it was “humanly impossible” to finish.

“I said count me in,” she recalls. “I had no idea it had never been attempted. I had no idea we were going on the only road in the Himalayas that’s only open two months of the year. It’s the highest pass, starting at 14,000 feet and going to 18,000 feet.”

In 2010, Sheridan became the first American woman to finish the race.

“I hit a snowstorm on the second peak. I was running behind and it was really tough. Going up that second peak was absolutely the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my whole entire life. The distance. The altitude. It was just really difficult. When I crossed the finish line, I felt like there is nothing I cannot do.”

Nine years after being told she shouldn’t be running, clearly there is nothing that Sheridan cannot do. So, what challenges could possibly be left for her?

Her long-range goal is to run 100 miles in the Antarctic. “It would be super cool. It would be a great place to go.”

Speed drill

Hometown: Las Vegas
Number of years running: Nine years​
Point of pride: My claim to fame is being the first American woman to finish 138 miles in the Himalayas in La Ultra The High race at 18,000 feet.
Favorite race distance: 100 miles​
Favorite pre-race or training food/drink: Isagenix shakes​
Favorite or inspirational song to run to: Running Down a Dream by Tom Petty​
Favorite or inspirational mantra or saying: Run light, Run strong​
Where can other runners connect or follow you:

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2 Responses to From Couch to Ultra Runner

  1. Trev October 31, 2014 at 2:34 pm #

    Good stuff! BTW she has a book out called Running Past Midnight. 🙂

  2. Angie Spencer November 4, 2014 at 8:55 am #

    This woman is inspiring. I definitely want to read her book!

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