Lisa Cao while running the 2014 TCS New York City marathon. (Photo: Amy Cao)
Like lots of other girls and boys, when Lisa Cao was a kid, she used to watch the Olympics with wide-eyed awe.
“I always wanted to be good at a sport,”the New York City resident tells Yahoo Health.But no sport stuck, so she took up piano lessons. Then, at age 15, she decided to drop the lessons and put her latent athletic potential to the test — with running. At age 18, Cao ran her first-ever marathon in New York City. And now, the 27-year-old has a whopping 54 marathons (26.2 miles) and ultramarathons (100 miles) under her belt.
What does it take to be an ultramarathoner? A lot of dedication, even when obstacles pop up. “Making time for running is really hard when life is so busy,”she says. “There’s a big work-life balance that I have to maintain. I have to wake up earlier on the weekends, when I want to sleep in — but I simply think of it as segmenting time to run.”
And oh, the potential for excuses! With NYC’s wild winters as of late, it’s tempting to blame the weather, roll over in bed and put off a solid run. “I have a fix for this, though,”she says. “Cute clothes. With the horrible weather, I bought cute clothes as motivation to run and actually wear them.”
While she’s training during low season in the winter, Cao tries to run a “base”of 20 to 30 miles per week to stay primed. During high season in the spring and summer, she’ll run around 30 to 40 miles, but she also gets a ton of quality miles from her races. Diet-wise, she loads up on carbs and key nutrients — and is also a pasta queen and big fan of pad thai.
Lisa after winning third place in her age group at the Dirty German 50-mile race in Philadelphia. (Photo: Shane Skowron)
“I really do need a lot fuel,”she explains. “One of the reasons people don’t finish races is because they don’t fuel appropriately. I love eating. I love carbs, and handmade Japanese noodle bowls are my go-to; noodles with a salty broth are surprisingly good for racing. But I also love a good salad. Everything in moderation.”
During races, she’s constantly hydrating — but anything longer than 30 miles, and she’ll add solid foods to her run. “Sometimes I’ll eat PB&J, or sometimes I’ll opt for potatoes.”
While running definitely keeps Cao in shape, it’s not the reason she loves it and has stuck with the intense training for so many years. There are many facets to its appeal, especially fundraising — which she’s just beginning to embrace in full-force. She’s raised $4,000 so far for various charities, and intends to do even more in the future.
Lisa running the Knickerbocker 60K race in 2010. (Photo: Richard Chung/OhSnapper Photography)
In NYC specifically, Cao also loves the “community factor”found among her fellow runners. “There are about 50 to 100 of us ultramarathoners who tend to run the same races,”says Cao. “We’re actually a really close-knit group.”
She credits two friends with her continued successes. Cao says runner Hideki Kinoshita inspired her to switch from marathons to “ultras”and start fundraising for causes like the Navy SEAL Foundation and Back on My Feet, an organization that helps the homeless gain self-sufficiency. Another friend, Jacqueline Choi, has consistently helped pace Cao’s runs — because “she regularly runs 100 miles like it’s nothing,”she says.
Lisa (right) and friend Jackie Choi at the 2014 TCS NYC Marathon. (Photo courtesy of Lisa Cao)
How long will she keep up the manic pace? She’s already thrown her hat in the ring for several more races, including the Rock ‘n’ Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon and the Rock 'n’ Roll Brooklyn Half Marathon in October. Cao will also pace the 5:00 hour group for the TCS New York City Marathon in November.
“I’d like to continue running for as long as possible, for my health,”she says. “My goal is to run a race in all 50 states.”So far, she’s at 19 states, as well as four countries besides the U.S., in Britain, Canada, Japan, and Spain.
Perhaps beyond physical health, Cao has also found a place of personal peace in her runs. She describes how her worries seem to melt away she winds her way through scenic New York.
“It’s a big outlet for me,”she says. “I find it therapeutic; I have a relative with mental illness, which can be hard. I use running to help me cope.
“I love the solitude, just being by myself,”Cao says. “I feel so light. I bring so little with me.”
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