Built on a foundation of community

For Diana Fitzpatrick, running 100 miles is as much about the camaraderie she feels out on the trails as it is about those moments when she struggles with her limits alone. How she balances the two may be the key to her success.

“Ultramarathons are more about being out on the trails, being with people, enjoying nature, and long days,” she says of her sport. “People seem to support each other in a different way.”

She is also quick to add:

But when you get to the race itself, that’s really a very personal experience. For me, it was always super rewarding to see how far you can push yourself. How deep you can go into that pain cave and still make it to the finish without hurting yourself.

At 65, Diana holds an impressive record, both on and off the trail. She’s run the Western States 100-mile Endurance Race five times and became the oldest woman to break 24 hours in 2018 with a time of 23:52.

Diana was recently featured in 26.2 to Life, a 2024 documentary about the San Quentin Prison Marathon, a race for inmates consisting of 105 laps around a crowded prison yard. Diana and other elite runners regularly volunteer to coach inmates, many serving life sentences, to train for the race.

Her love for the ultrarunning community prompted her to also join Western States’ board of directors in 2012. She became the organization’s first female president in 2019 and shepherded the race through the pandemic.

Additionally, she’s a two-time winner of the Dipsea Race and has run the country’s oldest cross-country trail contest 21 times. She’s also qualified for the Olympic marathon trials three times.

Diana has achieved an impressive list of accomplishments, but she’ll be the first to tell you that she struggles — every day — just getting her running shoes on.

That to me can be the hardest thing, just getting out the door,” she says, before adding, “But I never regret going out on a run.

For Diana, scheduling regular runs with friends is what gets her out the door. Community is everything because it’s what motivates her to pursue her goals.

Diana was 40 when she discovered ultrarunning. Up until then, she was a road runner who preferred marathons and 10-mile distances. Shortly after moving to San Francisco, Diana joined the Impala Racing Team, a women’s running club that regularly sends members to Olympic trials.

“Right away, having that support of an all-woman running club and the access to all that coaching kept it interesting and fun,” Diana says.

A move north to Marin County with her ultrarunning husband opened up a treasure trove of golden trails and hills. Diana quickly developed her love for ultrarunning and the grind of 100-mile races.

“You kind of look forward to that push, that hard part in an odd way,” she says. “When you finish and you get that reward and that feeling that in the middle of it everything was telling you to stop and yet you keep going. It’s that sort of weird reward that ultrarunners know.”

As she approached her 60s, Diana maintained “a very open mindset for what I could expect for myself.” When she decided to run Western States in 2018 after a four-year hiatus, she didn’t expect to break 24 hours.

“I decided that I was going to listen to my body and let it unfold,” she says of the race. “I had to give myself that space to realize that at 60 it would be very different from all of the aging up until then.”

A retired attorney, Diana’s training approach has shifted over the years. Having gone years without stretching before a run, she now cross-trains with yoga three days a week. She has also embraced the benefits of rest days.

“I never used to take a day off, and now I purposefully take time off,” she says. “Time off can be so valuable, and I think a lot of people are scared to do that.”

Today, Diana is training for her return to the California International Marathon, which she ran last year in 3:17. “I don’t hold onto times from the past,” she says. “You need to be realistic and happy with it.”

She continues to draw strength and give back to the ultrarunning community, which has supported her and provided the foundation to her many accomplishments.

The support of community and relationships can have a surprising impact on health and happiness, according to Harvard University researchers. A longitudinal study launched in 1938 found that the health of one’s relationships at age 50 was a better indicator of their physical health at age 80 than genetics.

This is why relationships and outlook are two of the 11 health systems BellSant analyzes for clients. Tending to relationships is a form of self-care that can help us live longer.

One thing I’ve learned through my time on the board is how powerful and lasting an impact the experience of Western States has on people,” she says. “There are people who have run the race once and years later are still showing up to help at an aid station or crew a runner. Everyone can be part of it and remain part of it for as long as they want.

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