Most people go to Florida for the sun, warmth, and luxurious beaches. Gracie Cole is going for the beaches too—but she certainly won’t be lounging around on them. She just wants to know they are there as she runs by. This April, Gracie will be running hundreds of miles across Florida. Why? Because she can. Because it’s challenging. Because she hasn’t done it—yet. Sponsored by Panama Jack and KEEN footwear, Gracie is dedicating her Florida adventure run to raising awareness of skin cancer and ways to help prevent it.
“I’m fair skinned, but I love playing in the sun,” Gracie explained. “So let’s enjoy playing in the outdoors—but let’s do it smart.” Gracie was honest with me in stating that although she very much supports the fight against cancer, she is also doing this run for herself. “If you’re doing something just for ‘the cause’, you’re going to burn out really quickly. It takes a delicate balance of wanting to do something for yourself as well as something larger to reach goals of this size.”
The idea to run across Florida hatched gradually. Gracie admitted she has started dreaming about huge runs across other continents but wants to first see if this type of adventure truly appeals to her. Upon returning from her annual contract work in Antarctica, Gracie determined a test run project in a warm climate would be fun. Florida seemed like a natural choice. “I figured that if I hate it, I’ll still be at the beach,” Gracie laughed.
Gracie’s run will cover approximately 475 miles. “We’ll start at the boarder near Pensacola and stay as close to the beach as possible for as long as possible. We’ll eventually cut over to Daytona Beach,” Gracie explained. When I inquired how she planned to carry all the supplies she will need for her Florida run, my jaw actually dropped when she nonchalantly said, “I have a baby jogger stroller in my garage…” To alleviate some of the strain, however, Gracie will have a little help from her ‘biggest fan’, her husband, Kevin Cole. He plans to either run or cycle beside Gracie throughout the entire run, taking turns hauling their supplies. Gracie stated that Kevin is a large reason why she is able to do the adventures she does in life, as he not only accepts her desire to go big in everything she does, but he supports, cherishes, and encourages it.
“When we met, I warned my husband,” Gracie said. “This is how I am. These are the sorts of things I pursue. That’s something that he loved about me–there’s these big goals and I make them happen… He knows that I can face hardships and huge challenges and endure it to see the other side. That’s important when deciding to marry someone.”
As an ultra runner myself, perhaps what surprised me most about Gracie is that she’s only been running for a little over four years. Before running, she was busy cycling and becoming the first woman to unicycle across the United States as well as along the continental divide from Canada to Mexico. Together, these adventures covered more than 6,000 miles. When you’ve accomplished feats like that, what else is there to do but take a new sport head on and own it? Gracie didn’t start running the way most people do. There was no initial 5k and gradual build up to a marathon. Gracie started in 2010 with an Ironman.
“I just jump into the deep end with stuff,” she told me. “In the process of training for the running portion of the Ironman, I started to really enjoy it – enjoy the way I felt, the runner’s high, and all the aspects that runners experience. Once I checked the Ironman off, I realized I’d fallen in love with distance running and running became my front-burner activity. I wanted to experience the country the way I had cycling, but now on my feet.”
Last year Gracie ran her first Ultra marathon. And her second. And her third. Now, she’s about to embark on her own ultra run covering hundreds of miles of Florida coastline, because…why not?
“When people ask about what I’ve already done and say they ‘can’t believe it’, all I can say is ‘I can’t either,’” Gracie explained to me. “I’m a really point A to point B type of person in terms of being a do-er to get there. These massive endeavors require me to break things down into bite-size chunks. It’s just choosing to go forward every day. You just string smaller sections or goals together and… you get somewhere. I can’t fully wrap my head around running 475 miles, but I know what it’s like to run a mile, so I choose to start there, then do it again and again.”
We wish Gracie the best of luck as she finishes her training and preparation for her latest big goal. We can’t wait to hear her reports from the road.
By: Audra Rundle