I met Darcy Piceu 4 years ago, shortly after I moved to Boulder, Colorado, but had heard of her long before. She was one of the top ultra trail runners in the sport, making the podium (usually in 1st) each time she toed the line. A few highlights: Darcy has raced the Hardrock 100 Endurance Run 7 times, taking 1st three times, she won the Rocky Mountain Grand Slam (Bighorn, Hardrock, Leadville, Wasatch Front), and has established multiple Fastest Know Time (FKT) routes. I couldn’t help but be a bit star struck during my first interaction with Darcy. I was invited to a girl’s run that occurred every Wednesday, and when Darcy showed, I immediately prepared myself for a potential work-out day…as I had no clue if I’d be able to keep up!
As we trotted up the north side trail on Mt. Sanitas, I had the chance to chat with Darcy. My anxiety level normalized as I realized that she was just another runner looking to have a blast out on the trails. By the time we had finished the run, I learned much more about Darcy, and how she was far more relatable than how I originally manifested.
I wanted to interview Darcy to provide people an inside view of her everyday life and background, instead of just knowing her as a professional ultra runner. Many people (myself included) see these studs at races and in the media, and put them in a “super hero” box of unreliability. We shouldn’t. There is much more to each and everyone of us, and for Darcy, being an athlete is just one part of who she is.
Gina: Who is Darcy Piceu and where is she from?
Darcy: I was born and raised in West Bloomfield, Michigan, north of Detroit. I also lived in Del Mar California during the last 2 years of high school. In addition, I spent a year abroad my Junior year in college, in New Zealand and Australia.
I now live in Boulder, CO with my 8 (almost 9) year old daughter (Sophia) and our dog, Maggie. Being a Mom is by far the most important thing in my life. My daughter is why I strive to be a better person every day. Being a role model for her (in all areas of my life) is crucial.
I work as a psychotherapist and therapeutic coach in Boulder. I have been working with teens and young adults for many years and am now also working with athletes, dealing with injury and other mental health issues.
Trail running and Ultrarunning are incredibly important to me because it takes me outside, in nature, where I can clear my head and take time to myself. Running helps me to be a more patient Mom, more focused at work, and hopefully a better friend and partner.
Gina: You grew up pretty active, but you didn’t start running until later in life. What made you want to try it out?
Darcy: I grew up on a lake as a swimmer in the summertime and a skier in the winter. I was always active and good at what I did, but never overly competitive in sports.
When I came to College in Colorado (mostly to ski and be in the mountains), I really found my love and connection with being in the mountains. I went to Colorado State University, where I studied Natural Resources/Recreation and Tourism (the major you did when you just wanted to play outdoors). In College, I skied A LOT in the Winter and became more comfortable and savvy in the backcountry. I learned to rock climb, mountain bike, and do all of the other sports Coloradans do.
It wasn’t until my Junior year in college (when I lived in New Zealand and Australia) that I started to run. I was living in New Zealand, partying WAY too much, and I decided that I needed to start taking better care of myself. Running was easy. I could slip on my shoes and run out the door and explore the backroads of Christchurch where I was going to school. This continued in Australia, where I lived in Adelaide, and would run from our apartment to the ocean in the mornings to enjoy the sunrise.
After I graduated, I spent a significant amount of time traveling all over the world. In my travels I realized that running had become the most interesting and efficient way of familiarizing myself with whatever town I had landed in. It had become a way of exploration.
Gina: You’ve traveled all over the world. What was the main reason for this? And do you have a favorite country/area?
Darcy: I have always had a wanderlust in me. When I graduated from college, I knew I wanted to explore the world in a non-traditional way. With my parent’s support, I bought an ‘around the world’ plane ticket and travelled solo for 4.5 months. I did not want to go the traditional route through Europe that a lot of friend’s were doing to at the time. I focused on all third world experiences, starting in South America, Africa, Thailand, Nepal, China, Japan, and back to the US. It was the most eye opening experience of my life.
A favorite country or area…..it’s hard to say. It’s such a big world and there is so much I haven’t seen. Living in New Zealand in College, I really got to explore the country. I truly fell in love with it there. I would have moved there, but it’s too far from family.
Gina: What “life lesson” did you take away after visiting third world countries?
Darcy: It definitely made me grateful for all of the things we take for granted on a daily basis, like clean/running water and regular toilets. And… Less = More
Gina: You are a Mom to one terrific kiddo. Seem’s as though she is psyched to be at your events. Do you think she will be a runner like her mamma?
Darcy: 🙂 She is terrific. I really lucked out! For better or for worse, she has grown up coming with me to races, all over the world. She had not shown much interest in running until this past summer, where, for the first time ever, she said she wanted to run Hardrock some day. We shall see. I truly hope that at some point she can pace me in a race and/or I get to help her in one of her own races.
For the time being, she has chosen swimming as her sport, and she’s pretty darn talented!
Gina: When you aren’t playing Mom, you are a therapist. Why a therapist, what drove you to that profession? What is the most gratifying part of the gig?
Darcy: I suppose there are a lot of things that drove me to become a therapist. I think the biggest thing for me, was wanting to actually do something to help others. I wanted to work in a profession where I felt like I was making a difference in some way.
Another was in working for Outward Bound. In the field, I would have students who were really struggling with emotional issues. At the time I wasn’t very qualified to help them, but I knew that I wanted to. Most days, it’s not the most gratifying profession, but every so often, you will here from a client that you really made a difference in their life. And that makes it all worth while.
Gina: I think working mom’s would love to know how you balance your life, and still find time to train?
Darcy: Honestly, sometimes it doesn’t feel balanced at all and I am running around like a chicken with it’s head cut off, trying to get everything done…and that’s impossible. Especially as a mostly single parent. Some days I can’t train, and I have to find peace with that. And some days, I drag my daughter along on her bike while I run alongside her. Some mornings, after the bus pick up and before work, I can squeeze in a run. I want to be there for my daughter and, at times that means that I won’t get a run in.
I think the gist of it is making peace with the fact that we can’t do it all and that’s okay. For me, I get my runs and workouts in wherever I can. And there are days where things have to wait, like the dishes or the laundry.
Gina: What does a “normal” day look like for you?
Darcy: My work days vary. Typically, I try to wake up at 6am to meditate for 30 minutes before Sophia gets up. By 6:45 I am downstairs, preparing breakfast and packing Sophia’s lunch. We walk to the bus at 7:50. Some mornings (as long as I don’t have early meetings, I try to run from 8:15-9:15. Typically, I am at work by 9:45. I work until 3pm, go pick up my daughter, feed her a snack, and take her to swimming. Most days, I will then have one last meeting while she is at swim practice. The evenings consist of making dinner, helping Sophia do her homework, finishing my own work, and by 9pm, I am cooked.
Gina: When you do have free time, how do you spend it?
Darcy: When I have free time or when Sophia is with her Dad, I usually try to go have my own adventures (or else I am racing on my “free time”). Whether that’s going out of town for a weekend, or just running or biking long in Boulder. Typically my free time is spent outdoors. Sometimes I try to incorporate yoga if I can. I also really enjoy my time with friends. If I don’t have my daughter I will typically make plans to go to dinner with my girlfriends, or sometimes we go dancing 😉
Gina: You’ve got quite a few (a ton) accolades in the world of trail running…not to mention a house full of amazing and unique trophies. To have that success, you have to be strong physically and mentally. What drives you, mentally, to help you achieve that success?
Darcy: I think part of what drives me is knowing that running makes me feel better mentally and physically. As I said before, I am a more patient and present Mom after I am able to get out on the trails. Noticing that difference is enough to motivate me most days.
If I dig a little deeper, I can see that, as a child I did not have a lot of emotionally stable people around me. At a young age, I was going into ‘self preservation’ mode a lot. I think that is part of what drives me today.
Gina: Most recently, you set the Women’s Fastest Know Time (FKT) for the John Muir Trail (JMT), congrats! Why the JMT? How did you go about training and planning for this adventure?
Darcy: It felt like everything in my running carrier had brought me to the John Muir Trail. A trail that long, all in Wilderness, no roads….it was a trail that epitomized exactly why I fell in love with Ultrarunning. I had no idea if I could actually run 222 miles, especially since the longest I had run was 120 miles the year before. However, I knew I had a lot of experience, and I knew that I could get through most anything. I had been out to the Sierra a few times before and really fell in love with those Mountains. They are (to me) almost more beautiful in some ways, than the Rocky Mountains.
The planning….I had planned for a solo effort two years prior, so I already had my maps and checkpoints laid out. For support, I tried to find people who were local to the area. Our crew came together very last minute and ended up being some of the best people I could have EVER asked for.
Training…..I didn’t do anything different in my training than I normally do. I also ran the JMT at the end of a fairly long season, so I felt relatively prepared. It was only about a month after Hardrock, so I was pretty comfortable not adding any more JMT specific training. And, I don’t train for sleep deprivation.
Gina: Elephant in the room, there was a bit of controversy with a accidental mix up in the last mile of the course. Obviously your record stands, as it should. I’m curious about how you felt when being questioned about your integrity, and thoughts on the mix up. What was going through your mind when receiving emails/texts about the attempt?
Darcy: Initially I was so out of it that I did not even know what had happened. Once I realized what the deviation from the trail was, I felt….well, a lot of emotions. I was confused, I was sad, I was angry, etc…. Angry that strangers were questioning my integrity when I couldn’t have been more transparent. Sad, because it sucked the joy out of a truly incredible and memorable experience, and confused at why such a nuance was such a big deal. In the end, I left it up to the powers that be to decide. I took responsibility for taking the Mist Trail, period.
I think it’s sad, really. The numbers and graphs and science that some people use to pull every detail and nuance apart, is so far from what draws me to this sport.
I found that I was defending myself and arguing personal points back and forth with one individual and soon realized that I didn’t want to do that anymore. It’s not why I am in this sport at all. And the most important thing for me was remembering what a great experience the JMT was. The FKT was secondary.
Gina: You have proven to be a force of nature, and don’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon. What adventures do you have planned for next year?
Darcy: Whoa…..it’s early to talk about next season. So far I am signed up for the HURT 100 in January, AC 100 in August, hopefully Hardrock again, and then maybe a trip to Europe for Lavaredo and/or Rhonda Del Sims. TBD….
Gina: I think many trail runners (especially, in the know) would agree that you’ve been a pretty powerful force in the sport for women. What advice can you give to women looking to start trail running?
Darcy: -HAVE FUN!
-Don’t get caught up in how many miles you’re running.
-Leave your watch at home and run a new trail just because you want to explore a new area.
-Listen to your body and rest when you need to.
-Run with friends for motivation.
Gina: Now for a few fun ones! As a pescatarian, what is your favorite pre-race meal?
Darcy: Pre race morning: oatmeal and banana. AND coffee!
Post race meal: veggie burrito or fish tacos (depends on where you are) PLUS lots of chips and guac!
Gina: What is your most embarrassing moment on the trails?
Darcy: Running the Huayuash circuit in Peru when I was with one guy, I got my period at mile 30 of an 85 mile run….in the middle of the Huayuash. I had NOTHING with me, so I had to ask my friend Jared if he had any tampons in his first aid kit. He didn’t. So, we ran to the next campsite and asked one of the male leaders if there were any women in his group. He politely says yes, but she’s 70 years old. So, the only hope was to ask Jared for all of the gauze in the first aid kit. It kinda worked for the next 50 miles. It kinda had to.
Gina: Favorite artist to listen to while racing?
Darcy: I love so many artists and I love listening to music while I am running. To name just one is hard. If I can only choose one I think it would be Bob Marley.
Gina: Do you have any weird hobbies? There has to be something…
Darcy: Weird hobbies? I have some guilty pleasures….like watching the Bachelor when it’s on, and getting pedicures when I can. I don’t have time for many hobbies really. Meditation, and exercise are what I do when I have a free moment during the day.