Linda Quirk will turn 62 two weeks after embarking on the longest event of her career: the Brazil 135+, which is actually 175 miles on the Caminho da Fe, or Walk of Faith, in Sao Paolo, all in under 60 hours.
That’s about three miles per hour.
However, factor in scheduled rest times and you’re looking at more miles than most could run in one hour. Then tack on 59 more hours (or less), you get the gist.
This will be Quirk’s second ultra on the Caminho da Fe, and though she will be the oldest female competitor, the Jacksonville, FL mother of three and grandmother of five in no way sees age as a limitation. “Personally it’s an accomplishment that I can continue to train my body to do this. I’ve embraced getting older. It means I have more time, more ways to tackle challenges and maybe even more freedom because there aren’t the time and family constraints I had when I was younger.”
Quirk is the founder of Runwell, an organization with a mission to fund addiction treatment scholarships by raising money through running events such as marathons and half marathons and working to break down the negative stigmas society associates with the disease of addiction.
She is an elite athlete and has fundraised and competed in countless distance events, literally uncounted by Quirk, “I don’t count them! I am just not a numbers person. I choose what excites and challenges me, and choose what’s going to take me somewhere. I love traveling and visiting new places–if I did 100 ultras, it isn’t any better than someone who did 20.”
At the peak of training, Quirk puts in 90-100 miles a week. A day usually consists of a 10-mile run in the morning, then about an hour rest at home before heading back out midday for a 16-mile run/speed walk, rest for an hour, then an 18-mile run/speed walk mid-afternoon. Days vary though, and as with any race training, there are cross-training days interspersed throughout the month.
She graciously credits her running and nutrition coach of five years, Bob Seebohar for being creative throughout the training process, “Bob truly understands working with someone older, and my training isn’t just about what I do on the ground, he factors in nutrition. Clean eating has become a way of life for me. By eating mostly lean proteins and complex carbohydrates, you can go for longer periods of time before you hit a wall and have to add sugars, which we typically don’t need to do.”
Seebohar is a nationally known, board certified specialist in sports dietetics, a strength and conditioning specialist and a Level III USA Triathlon Certified Elite Coach. He currently owns eNRG Performance (formerly Fuel4Mance LLC), a sports nutrition consulting and coaching company in Littleton, Colorado, which provides endurance-coaching services to athletes of all ages and abilities.
“Nutrition will make or break the preparation for an event like Brazil,” says Seebohar. “It is crucial to teach the body to become more metabolically efficient and enhance its fat burning ability to withstand the long hours of running throughout the day and night.”
With her family on both coasts, northern and southern, and a vacation home in Montana, Quirk has to train in all kinds of climates under myriad circumstances. “I definitely get creative with her travel schedule,” says Seebohar, “but more importantly, her recovery. Because of her advanced age, I must methodically plan her recovery, which includes rest, the use of compression, e-stim and nutrition, to support the high amount of training for the Brazil 135+.”
Quirk has over 25 years of experience on long-distance running circuit, including the Badwater Ultra in Death Valley, one of the world’s toughest races in sweltering heat. However, Seebohar said training for this event had to be different from past ultra training. “Pacing will be structured more conservatively to ensure we manage her fatigue levels during the latter part of the race. Nutrition usually doesn’t need to be too special since she is metabolically efficient but I will plan on having different taste opportunities when she grows tired of a particular taste or flavor of food. We will have three of us on the crew: myself, a nurse and an interpreter who is also an avid runner. He and I will take shifts pacing Linda and being her sherpa for anything she needs. Our nurse will be primarily focused on navigation and assisting us with Linda’s needs.”
Always active as a teen, Quirk didn’t start running until she was 35, when her brother asked if she wanted to run a marathon with him. She took on the challenge with no formal training and was immediately hooked. She moved on to Ironman triathlons for about eight years before a near-fatal bike accident that fractured almost every bone in her skull, shattered her occipital bones and threatened her ability to ever compete again.
Three days in ICU and months unable to perform any physical activity, even read or watch TV due to a severe disruption in her equilibrium, Quirk had a lot of time to just think. She realized her purpose was to give back, and that is when her focus for competing changed, her calling was to help others. She had witnessed her daughter, now in recovery 10+ years, struggle through the despair of methamphetamine addiction, and despite the advice of her neurologist and her family’s wishes, she got back in the saddle, this time with the purpose of raising money for addiction treatment.
She raised $50,000 for Caron Treatment Centers before her final Ironman competition in Kona, Hawaii before making the decision to transition back to running, a lower-risk option for Quirk after her accident.
She went on to run seven marathons on seven continents in one year (Run7on7) before establishing Runwell, “You can find meaning in every pitfall if you look. I know the reason Runwell exists is because of my bike accident, I knew I needed to find a way to help and that God meant for me to do this. I needed to find something that would build the awareness for the giving back component, which is where I came up with running a marathon on every continent, and it evolved from there.”
Quirk feels compelled to keep challenging herself and to keep building awareness so she can continue on her altruistic path, “I wouldn’t have as much of a desire to do all of this if it were just for myself, it can’t be. I think that’s what helps me be better and go longer and farther, it isn’t just for me. I’d be remiss in saying part of it isn’t for me, but the bigger picture is the giving back.”
The Brazil 135+ will be a record length event in her career, and also will be a pinnacle sentimental experience for Quirk. She personally fundraises for each of her events, and will dedicate the funds raised for Brazil to Justice for Vets in the wake of her father’s recent passing on January 4.
One of five siblings, Quirk has fond memories of camping, fishing and hiking with her father and brother as a child and feels his sense of adventure is what has resonated within her most.
“My dad was a man’s man, both army and navy, he was strong and adventurous, he bestowed upon me a lust for life and always encouraged me to overcome and achieve, he’s been there for everything.”
On the Caminho da Fe, runners will pass through several small towns and usually at the top or highest point will be a church before heading back onto the trail. As a way to reflect and set intentions for her journey, Quirk plans to light a candle at each in remembrance of her father, and also for the individuals struggling to overcome the disease of addiction, “It is The Walk of Faith–I want to utilize this journey to help me to overcome the grief of losing my dad. This is life at its peak,we lose someone we love and we have to deal with it in our own way. I leave for Brazil the day after his funeral and it was hard to tell my family I was still going, but I know he would have wanted me to go. Each candle will represent an aspect of my father, his life, or individuals who are struggling with addiction, to give them courage to seek out help, the thoughts and prayers will be spontaneous in the moment, but that’s how I’m planning to approach it.”
A common reaction Quirk hears from other is, “You have to be a little bit crazy to run that far! On no sleep! What on earth makes you keep going?”
For her, finding out what she’s capable of as she ages is one thing, but there’s that ‘never give up’ component that she possesses that really keeps her going. Never give up changing perceptions about addiction, never give up being an example for others who think they’re not capable, never give up trying another way if one doesn’t work. She could barely run a quarter mile when she started running in her 30s, but serious determination to help others has her running ultramarathons in her 60s so others can have a chance to receive treatment from their disease. In life, in sport and in business, she’s experienced setbacks and accomplishments alike, but has always kept going.
“I do this to show people that they are capable of achieving things they never thought possible, running a marathon or recovering from addiction. In life, you hit roadblocks and taking the steps to correct them is a matter of putting one foot in front of the other, such as going through rehab for an addiction. Running events like this, you have lows, you consider giving up, but once you allow yourself to embrace those feelings, you break through with a renewed sense of energy, similar to the emotions one might feel going through addiction treatment. If you give yourself the power to try, you will see that you have the potential to do what you want to do.”
While she’s an inspiration to many, she finds inspiration in those around her that are truly genuine and kind, especially her husband and children. Quirk, her husband and children have lived through the good and the bad of what Runwell stands for with a child that suffered through years of addiction and remains in recovery years after treatment. She is inspired by her firsthand experience and she is inspired by the individuals Runwell helps. “There are times when I reach my lows, when I question what we’re doing as an organization, and somehow there’s always a message, someone approaches me or sends an email saying, ‘I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for Runwell,’ that’s one thing that keeps me going.”
Despite being defined as a “primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry,” by the American Society of Addiction Medicine, and by the Institute on Drug Abuse as a “chronic, relapsing brain disease,” addiction still carries with it a negative association. This stigma of addiction wraps itself around these individuals and tightens the chokehold of the addiction itself.
In general, society views addiction opposite its definition by credible sources, they see it as a choice, a moral failing, a character flaw. “You’re going to get that, and it’s their perception, which is exactly what we work so hard to change. I don’t argue, but will question their viewpoint to say ‘Why would someone choose this? Did they take the first drink or hit–yes– but did they choose to set out to do it to the point of ruining their life? No. That’s the brain component of addiction.’ We’re not going to change everyone’s negative perception, but it doesn’t mean we’re going to stop trying to get information out there.”
Quirk’s hopes are rather simple when you break them down. Hate the disease, not the individual. Accept that someone who’s dealing with the disease of addiction is a patient while they’re in treatment, just as any patient of any doctor with any disease. And when they leave they’re not “cured” but they go back into society just as someone that battled cancer and were able to fight enough to come out on the other side, in recovery, or remission, from their disease. “Why does society have to label someone struggling with addiction as ‘less than?’ How do we as a society give addicts the same encouragement to fight, to rise above their disease instead of making them feel shame?”
Quirk’s conviction to push herself to run 175 miles in 60 hours or less is the same persistence with which she confronts society’s negative stigmas toward addiction. She won’t back down or give up, and if she doesn’t succeed one way, you better believe she’s going to try another approach.
Check out Linda's blog from her first Brazil 135 Ultramarathon here.