Aside from being the mother of a 4 1/2-year-old daughter, Darcy Africa, 38, of Boulder, Colo., is one of the country’s most accomplished ultrarunners. She’s gearing up to run the Hardrock 100 on July 12-13 in Silverton, Colo., a race she won last year in 29 hours and 29 minutes.
What do you like most about running trails in the mountains?
I like running in the mountains because it takes me to beautiful places, and I get to enjoy the scenery and kind of quiet my mind. We live in a time where things can be pretty fast-paced and hectic. Trail running in the mountains allows me to go to that place where things are quiet. It’s a meditation in some ways for me.
How would you describe ultrarunning to someone new to the sport?
Ultrarunning is different from other types of running because it represents the rollercoaster of life. You have really high highs and really low lows. And pulling out of the low lows can make or break your day or your race. Obviously, proper nutrition and hydration play a big role, but it’s also about not letting your mind go there. It can go that way really easily, so you have to train yourself to focus on the present moment, and that’s a great lesson for everyday life, too. Sometimes that’s easier said than done, though, both in an ultra race or in life.
What does it take to run a 100-mile race?
Running 100 miles is very challenging, and I think it really shows you what your body can do. I think a lot of times we underestimate what we can do and what our bodies can do. They can do a lot more than we think they can.
And what does that come down to exactly?
It requires a lot of physical strength and training but it’s sometimes more than that. At some point in a race, it requires a lot of mental strength. It’s really easy to convince yourself not to keep running. Training your mind and your body to move beyond that is a big part of it.
Why is an extreme race like the Hardrock 100 so special to you?
The course goes through the San Juan Mountains and some of the most rugged terrain I’ve ever run. It’s about the terrain, but it really boils down to the wonderful community that is part of it, the people running it, the people organizing it and the people supporting it.
This interview first appeared in the July 2013 issue of Competitor magazine.