By Henry Howard
When Judith Dahl first sipped alcohol she knew it would be a problem.
For many years, she was able to contain her drinking to weekends.
“But eventually, it got to be a daily thing,” says Dahl, of Norway. “The last two years it really escalated, I did not manage to hide it from my kids and my extended family any longer. I have always worked, but it was getting hard to keep up. I began to have trouble attending and when I did, I was sick big parts of the day.”
She hit rock bottom, separating from her husband and feeling depressed. But fortunately she reached out to get help through her doctor, who connected Dahl with someone who could help.
“He signed me up with a counselor, who I went to for almost two years,” Dahl recalls. “But the job was mine to do, I had an amazing family who wanted me back. That was my motivation.”
As drinking moved out of the picture, running moved in.
Putting the bottle down, lifting her running spirits up
“When the closing time for the beer-sales approached in the evening, I got anxious and the mind games began,” says Dahl, who played football (American soccer) and volleyball while in school. “My strategy was to get out and run or walk/run in the beginning. I made sure I didn’t carry any money, and go far enough that the beer-sale was closed when I got back.”
It was a struggle at first.
“One day at a time, I did the same thing and kept myself occupied,” she says. “It was so hard in the beginning. I cried. I raged. I sobbed and I screamed during my runs. Eventually I started visualizing where I would be a year from now, if I kept clean and kept the running going. I started smiling at some of the runs, and slowly I enjoyed the running itself, and forgot why I really was out there, and eventually I actually smiled at every run.”
Journaling helped, too.
“I wrote down every run I had, how I felt, pace, length and so on — this was a big help the first year,” Dahl says. “My husband and I got back together again, and now we are happier than ever.”
‘It lit a fire in me’
Eventually she built toward and finished her first half marathon.
“It lit a fire in me,” she says. “I was so proud that I actually had run a half marathon, I could not believe it. Something happened within me, and since that race I never looked back.”
Dahl completed a few more half marathons and then tested herself with her first full. In December 2015, she learned she got into the following year’s Berlin Marathon.
“That meant I had a whole year to train,” she says. “I contacted a known female runner in Norway, Ingrid Kristiansen, and got a program with her, and started to build a base. Longer and longer runs, and more and more kilometers a week. Ended up doing my first marathon in Norway in May 2016, a mountain marathon with 1,500 hm in elevation in snow and rain and about 2 degrees, and I loved it. It was amazing!”
Goals and challenges
Dahl finished the Berlin Marathon, even though she was suffering from anemia.
“It was not optimal, and I did not feel great,” she admits. “There was not enough time to fix the anemia before the race, and a whole year of training did not give the results I think it might if I was feeling better. When I came home from Berlin, I got sicker. In December 2016, I got diagnosed with Graves disease. I could not run for many weeks. Now, a year later, I have just gone off the medicine, and hopefully it has burned out.”
It’s a continuing struggle as Dahl still takes supplements daily and gets regular blood tests. But that doesn’t stop her from a challenging race calendar that includes a return to Berlin, as well as the Barcelona Marathon in March, and her first two ultras, the KrsUltra 60K in April and the Ecotrail 50K in Oslo.
“This is my first ultra,” she says about the KrsUltra. “And I am told it is quite a challenging one. I have run four marathons, and I need another challenge! I want to know what new things my body and mind can do. I want to be a part of the ultra community and I want to push myself further than I have ever thought I could. Running makes me feel alive, it makes me feel present, and in a strange way I actually like the pain. This will be my ultimate challenge so far.”
Norway’s winter weather presents another challenge for runners.
“Like now, we have had snow and icy roads for several weeks,” she says. “Clothing is not a problem, actually not the weather either, but the feet have a hard time when the only two choices are to run on spikes or on the treadmill. Trail running can also get a bit challenging, with a lot of snow, it is almost impossible to run. Summer in Norway is rarely problematic for runners, we have some warm days, but the conditions are mainly good from April to October. We are used to weather and rapid changes, so that is just part of the charm of living here. It is much worse for me to run in Spain on holiday than in the winter here.”
Engaged with the MTA community
According to Dahl, the running community is growing in Norway.
“We do have quite a lot of active running communities here,” she says. “More and more people are running half marathons and marathons. We have lots of different races through the country, both smaller races and the bigger marathons. The ultra community is also big in Norway, and has grown the last few years.”
Still, Dahl was looking for a community that fit her needs, even if it was virtual.
“I personally didn’t know any runners, at least not when I started, so Marathon Training Academy was a huge help for me,” she says. “Finally I had someone to ask all the stupid questions, and to understand what training for a marathon actually means. I listened to almost every MTA podcast that has been made. I still learn a lot, both from the Facebook community and from the podcast episodes.”
Dahl credits the MTA community with helping her running journey.
“In the beginning I had questions about every single thing, and needed reassurance from other runners that what I was doing was OK,” Dahl recalls. “It is inspiring to hear others’ stories, and what they have had to overcome in their life or running journey. People run in extreme conditions all the time, and amazing races all over the world. The podcast has also taught me so much about running. But what I love the most about MTA, is that there is a place for everybody. The fast ones, but just as much, those of us who don’t run speedy times. I did not think I was a runner because I don’t run very fast, but MTA has taught me that I am!”
Since May 2017, Dahl has been working with MTA coach Steven Waldon, who is now guiding her toward her first ultra.
“He took my running to the next level, and pushed me further than I thought I could do,” she says. “At the same time, he was flexible when I needed to back off a bit or had a crazy schedule. During the coaching period with him, I hit a personal best in every distance: 5K, 10K, 15K, half marathon and marathon! But I have to admit; I was tired, and all the training was hard. So I suggest that you are really committed before you get help from a coach. But the results will come!”
Dahl has come a long way on her running journey. But she still needs motivation from time to time. And it’s easy to find in the running community.
“Other people overcome struggles in their day-to-day lives,” she says, explaining her inspirations. “They still make it happen! They get the runs in, and the thought of getting up at 4 in the morning to go out for a run, is beyond my understanding. That shows some hard commitment and mental strength.
“I also get motivated by being a good role model to my children, and to show others that you can change your life around! If they only knew! I’d like to inspire one person to try to get out of a dark place. It isn’t easy, but it will get easy, and the best and funniest time of your life awaits.”
Name: Judith Dahl
Hometown: Rissa, Noway
Number of years running: 2.5
How many kilometers a week do you typically run: 50 to 70 (roughly 31 to 43 miles)
Point of pride: My first half marathon
Favorite race distance: Half marathon
Favorite pre-race or training food/drink: Eggs and juice and coffee
Favorite piece of gear: My Garmin
Favorite or inspirational song to run to: “I am just a sucker for pain.”
Favorite or inspirational mantra/phrase: You can do this! This is nothing!
Where can other runners connect or follow you: On Instagram as @judithdahl and on Strava under Judith Dahl.
Great job to put yourself out there
Very inspiring, and like Karen mentioned, to put yourself out there to share your story for everyone is so selfless. Super inspiring to hear your journey of overcoming many of life’s challenges! All my best to you and much continued success in your running!