In this series of articles, the American Trail Running Association recognizes and celebrates trail race volunteers and trail runners like Paulette Odenthal who have dedicated themselves as everyday athletes to grow trail running in their community. “View from the Pack” is supported by ATRA corporate member RaidLight.
Nominator Bob Rorke writes, “When I think of words to describe Paulette, I think of friend, motivator, coach, running partner, encourager, creative thinker, inspiration, and race director. It’s not so much that she has run almost 100 marathons or longer. It’s not so much that some of her trail races would be exciting articles in a travel magazine. What is more important to her is seeing other runners understand the joy of running. She shares in the excitement of runners of all ages setting and accomplishing their goals. Her sense of detail, and team-building skills have contributed to her excellence as a race director. She wants each runner – the beginner to the experienced – to have a satisfying experience on the course. Her personal passion as a runner is trails. Grand Canyon Rim to Rim (and back), Tahoe, the Rockies, and other adventures challenge her and inspire us. Personal bests and winning are not her goals anymore. Her photos from these trail races exude the joy and the friendships. Running is not an individual sport for her. It’s about the smiles, the challenges, inspiration, and friendships. One day the race times will be slower and the recovery times will be longer, but with running partners like Paulette Odenthal, the joy will always be there.”
Meet Paulette Odenthal
Hometown: Prior Lake, Minnesota
Years running on trails: 23 (first trail marathon in 1995)
Miles per week running on trails: 20-50 miles on trails per week
Number of trail races run each year: 4-6, completed 91 marathon/ultras as of June 2018 with goal of 100 by age 65
Longest trail race completed: 50 miles on Superior Hiking Trail in Minnesota, Voyageur 50 Mile Endurance Run in Minnesota and the Ice Age Trail 50 Mile in Wisconsin.
What got you into trail running?
I was a former cross country college runner and the experience left me with a distaste for off-road running because I thought it was only done by running as hard as you could. After being encouraged by various running friends to try a trail run I learned that trail running didn’t need to mean running so hard you almost vomited at the finish line! Finally, at age 39, I ran my first trail marathon in northern Minnesota, and was still surprised at the difference in road running versus trail running. It was a wonderful experience that hooked me into a slow transition from 90% road running and 10% trail running to now 10% road running and 90% trail running.
What motivates you to keep running?
The “free therapy” aspect is a prime motivator…it cleanses my soul.
Have you witnessed any differences between trail running and road running?
Without a doubt. The differences range from the feeling of “community” in trail running, to the type of aid stations, and the level of support given at various aid stations to help the runners reach their goal. I have met many wonderful people through the trail running community from around the country and for that I am grateful.
Trail running is a sport where you can line up at the start with some of the best trail runners in the world. Does this intimidate you, foster a sense of inclusion, or fall somewhere in between?
The best trail runners in the world are very serious and need to be as there is much intensity that comes with a “win.” The front line of any race has a different and understandable sense of purpose than that of the middle, or back of the pack. Most of the participants are there to reach that same common goal, which is the finish line, but with more emphasis on reaching a cut-off in time to make the finish line. That all said the sense of camaraderie is evident at any trail race I have ever attended.
What advice would you give to a fellow runner who may be hesitant about entering a trail race?
Just do it! Start with a shorter distance trail event to gain confidence for any longer distance that you may want to try. Research which type of trail running shoe will work best for your needs and train in that shoe over shorter distances before moving to a longer distance trail run. This will insure that you have selected the right shoe.
People often reward themselves after a hard trail race. What is your post-race indulgence?
A good quality chocolate bar. After that, I allow my appetite to dictate from there for the next two days.
Do you have a favorite motivational trail race story to share?
Though I have been fortunate to be in first place more than several times in my running career, I have also now been last place (DFLer), which happened for the first time last year at The Rut in Montana when I didn’t make the cutoff time. The lessons I learned by finishing last actually far outweigh any lessons I learned from winning. Winning is awesome, but it can also provide a false sense of security because no one ever gets to keep that level of fitness their whole life. Finishing last, or not making a cut-off in time, leads to an emotional battle of internal dialogue that takes place within. Thoughts like, “I’m not being good enough,” or, “I should quit the sport because I’m getting too old or too slow.” Facing the reality of not being what, “I used to be,” is an eye opener. The lesson comes in learning how to forge ahead in the face of combating the feeling of, “no longer being good enough.”
The take-away lesson for me is learning that although the finish line represents the final accomplishment of overcoming all of the internal challenges to get there, it is the start line that is the great equalizer. It requires training and hard work to even get there. To line up with everyone, each with a variety of reasons why they are there, be it to try and win, to place, or simply make a cut-off time, takes courage to just show up. That is a victory in itself.