A Lawrence massage therapist/legal secretary tackles 100-mile courses.
Marge Adelman never set out to be a role model.
All she wanted to do -- in the beginning, at least -- was shed a few pounds.
But now, 13 years later, Adelman finds herself as one of the top women's ultra-runners in the country, and suddenly there's a surge of interest in the sport and a whole new generation of ultra-runners, and darned if they don't look up to Adelman.
"I try to be a role model," said Adelman, a 47-year-old Pittsburgh, Pa., native who has lived in Lawrence the past two years. "It seems like women, more than men, need to be encouraged more. Women have too many excuses. You can't be intimidated if there's some young, slender, slim chick next to you. Women are too self-conscious. They can go a lot farther than they think they can."
Adelman knows of what she speaks. Her sport of choice is ultra-running, and her competition of choice is the grueling 100-mile run. That's right, 100 miles. At one time. More than 20 or so hours. All day and through the night. One hundred miles.
"I've run every major 100-mile race in the country," Adelman said. "There are four races that make up the grand slam of ultra-running. I was one of the first women to run them all. In 1989, I ran a 100-mile race every month from June to October."
It wasn't always this way. Back in 1979, Adelman lived in Denver, and one day she took a look at herself and didn't like what she saw.
"I was never very athletic," Adelman said. "Like most people who start exercising, I felt fat. I was a little bit overweight. I felt plumpy and pudgy."
A friend introduced Adelman to racquetball, and before long Adelman was touring the state playing A-class tournaments.
Not long after, Adelman took up running, and she finished her first marathon in 1983. A friend suggested she try a 50-mile run, and Adelman did so well she decided to give her first 100-miler a go.
The year was 1984.
"I never would have dreamed I'd be doing this," Adelman said. "But I also wouldn't trade it for anything."
Aside from the distance, ultra-running is far from a leisurely jog in the park. Ultra-runners race on hiking trails -- narrow, winding paths that cover rock fields and occasionally require river crossings.
The competitors carry flashlights, food and water, and if they don't make it to the every-10-mile checkpoints in time, they're disqualified.
"It's really a neat experience," Adelman said. "I've seen wild turkeys, deer. The scenery's just beautiful."
Like last weekend's Kettle Moraine 100-mile race in Eagle, Wis., which wound through the Kettle Moraine State Park.
Of the 98 runners who started, 54 finished.
Adelman finished the 100 miles in 21 hours, 12 minutes, 25 seconds -- a relatively pedestrian time for Adelman, but a women's course record for Kettle Moraine by more than 30 minutes.
"I'm really kind of surprised I did that well," Adelman said. "I didn't get in as many miles as I had hoped this winter, and I used this race to see where I stood. As it turned out, I'm farther along than I thought."
Now, don't get the wrong idea about Adelman. Sure, she runs like a fiend. Though she saves her 100-mile runs for competition, she considers a good, long workout run to last eight hours. She trains six days a week, and she'll compete in two 100-mile runs this season: the Kettle Moraine, and the Leadville (Colo.) Race Across the Sky in August, a race she's completed 10 times and won twice.
"People always ask, 'What are you running from?' Adelman said. "I'm not running from anything. A lot of people try to read into it. 'What's wrong with you?' And I always say, 'What's wrong with you that you have to judge me?' I enjoy it. Hey, life's too short. I love life, and I want to make the best of it."
Adelman works part-time as a massage therapist and part-time as a legal secretary for her fiance, Michael Hickman, who also competes in ultra-running.
"That part is good," Adelman said. "Being with Michael helps, because he carries more of the load. He's a good guy. It's nice to have a companion who likes the same sports you do. He's always there for me. I have two failed marriages because they couldn't accept what I do. This is what I am. This is what I do. My real identity is a runner."