XTERRA Alabama trail runner Heather White used to hate to run.
“I actually despised running when I was young,” said White. “I quit soccer because there was too much running and I quit basketball because I didn’t want to run for summer conditioning. In the end, I played softball because we only had to run 40 yards.”
While many people think of distance running as a lonely sport, White actually turned to running because she was lonely.
“When I finished grad school in 2013, I moved to Gadsden, Alabama, where I didn’t know anyone,” said White. “I went to a local 5K with a friend and I saw a booth for the Gadsden Runner’s Club. I signed up because I thought it might be a way to meet some new people.”
The Gadsden Runner’s Club does a lot of trail running because of the amazing parks and single track in the region.
“My first real trail run was five miles and I thought I was going to die,” said White. “The hills felt so steep I couldn’t make it halfway up.”
White remembers the exact run they did, because today, that same run seems easy. While she didn’t immediately love running, she kept coming back for the people. And in the process, she got faster and stronger.
“When I started winning races and medals, running became a lot more fun,” said White, who began racing XTERRA in 2016. The following year she bought a fixer-upper house, which she redid mostly on her own with the help of friends. Together they stripped off the wallpaper, ripped up carpet, and resurfaced floors.
This year, with the house off to a good start, she returned to XTERRA with a bang by placing second in her 30-34 age group at the XTERRA Oak Mountain 20K in Pelham in May. This year she also won the overall women’s division at the XTERRA Guntersville Trail Run in November and the XTERRA Desoto Trail Run in December.
Yet, the first thing White sees is where she can improve.
“A lot of people tell me my weakness is between my ears because I don’t realize my capabilities,” White admits. “But I want to get better at pushing myself out of my comfort zone. Right now, I think I have too much self- doubt. Like if someone is ahead of me, rather than going for it, I think, oh, they can have it. I’m working on that this year because I want to push past and go beyond my limits.”
White, who also does obstacle course racing, revels in the mental challenges of trail running as well as the support she gives and gets from other runners.
“Most runners are so motivating and supportive,” said White. “I had a friend who ran a two-mile tempo run in under 14 minutes and I wanted to do that too, despite the fact that I have never even run one mile in seven-minute pace. So how am I going to do two? But she kept encouraging me and telling me I could do it.”
When White put herself to the test, she clocked 13:55.
In addition to tempo runs, White does a speed workout once a week and is focusing on endurance by building up to a 50K race this year. She also focuses on strength training at the gym. Most of her workouts take place at 5AM or after 5PM because of her busy job as an occupational therapist, her home remodel, and her two dogs.
For her workouts, White prefers the trails. While she will run on the roads for maintenance or convenience, she finds that she is so much happier on the trails that she runs faster.
“Road running is so boring to me,” said White. “I run so much faster on the trails. The roads are monotonous and boring but on the trails, I can really let loose.”
For the New Year, White plans on continuing with obstacle course racing as well as XTERRAs trail runs and triathlons.
“I have big goals and plans for the future, but for now I’m having fun with trail running and I’m curious to see where it takes me. I don’t plan on slowing down any time soon.”
Learn more about the XTERRA Alabama Trail Run Series