Choosing to run through her loss made a national champion of Stacie Carrigan.
By Ryne Melcher
Deep in the heart of the Maloti Mountains in Lesotho’s Ts’ehlanyane National Park, Stacie Carrigan, of Kelowna, British Columbia, is cruising along the 10,000 foot plateau halfway through the inaugural 55km 2013 Lesotho Ultra Trail. After a stellar breakout season including setting a National Trail 50 mile record, representing Canada at the World Trail Championships in Wales and winning the 2013 National Trail 50K Championships, Carrigan received an elite invite to compete in Lesotho for the African Continents first-ever Sky Running Race.
The Lesotho Ultra Trail course was the mastermind of Andrew Booth, KZN Trail Running Director, and James Hallett of Go Trail and South Africa’s The North Face. The course features over 2,740 metres of elevation gain and equal descent. The lowest point of the course is 2,000 metres, and an 11-kilometre segment of the race is spent above the 3,000 metre mark . As with any race in remote mountain areas, competitors are at the mercy of Mother Nature. In the course safety briefings, mention was made of the possibility of needing helicopter evacuations in case of harsh weather or emergency. Carrigan looked at me and said, “Ryne, whatever happens, I can’t get in a helicopter. Send a donkey up, but I can’t get in a helicopter.”
Flashback to 2009 before Carrigan’s running career began. Eleven days after she married her financé Shawn Carrigan, she received the devastating news that he had been killed in a helicopter accident. Running became an outlet for the emotions and feelings Carrigan didn’t know how to deal with, and provided her a way to express herself. A concerned friend entered her into a local half-marathon, and the schedule of getting out to run on a daily basis aided in getting her out into the world and clearing her mind. “Running is a reminder of what it feels like to be alive. When I’m out there clearing my head, I am able to be free,” says Carrigan.
It soon became evident that Carrigan had a strong natural running ability in the distance running world. Her motivation to continue past that first half marathon was quite simple. “I can feel my heart beating, my breath filling my chest, my legs, body and arms moving in rhythm and in this moment, I am truly grateful,” smiles Carrigan.
Carrigan ended the Lesotho Ultra Trail in a stellar third place female finish. The trip to Africa, which included an opportunity to visit children in a local village just outside the Maliba Mountain Lodge, the host of the race, was the icing on the cake at the end of a long year of racing. “It’s races and moments like these that keep me going and make me happier with life,” remarked Carrigan.
Shawn was an only child, and Carrigan keeps quite close with her in-laws, who live just outside of Toronto. In fall 2013, at Run for the Toad 50K, host of the National Trail Running Championships, her in-laws were able to watch her compete for the first time. The Run for the Toad is a very spectator-friendly four-loop course in Pinehurst Conservation Area just outside of Paris, ON, so they had the opportunity to watch the race unfold and see Carrigan go to work with her passion for running.
Carrigan led from wire to wire and became the second female to break the four-hour barrier at the Toad, the other being ultra-running legend Ellie Greenwood. It was a special weekend for Carrigan to be crowned National Trail Running Champion with her late husband’s family cheering her on from the sidelines. “The hospitality and passion shown by George and Peggy Sarson at the Run for the Toad is exactly why I enjoy the trail and running community,” says Carrigan.
Advice from Carrigan for dealing with stress or grief and what got her through dark patches is simple: “Never give up and don’t hesitate to seek help or support. The running community is a great social and supportive community. I’ve found a vast network of people to share the trails and miles with everywhere I go.”
For 2014, Carrigan’s sights are set on expanding on her successes from 2013. The Run for the Toad is hosting the National Trail 50K Championships again this year and she’ll be there to defend her title. She’ll take a trip back to the beautiful trail of Lesotho in November to see about improving on her third place finish last year. Solidifying a qualifying spot to represent Canada again at the 2015 World Trail 50 Mile Championships in Annecy, France is also on the slate.
This summer marked five years since that tragic day that Shawn passed away. As time passes, normalcy in life gets easier and easier. A part of Shawn is always with Carrigan when she races and trains, and is an instrumental part of keeping her focused and driving her to new heights. “I like to take running one race, one training run at a time and enjoy the experience,” says Carrigan.
MORE: Listen to Stacie Carrigan on the August 17 iRun Podcast.