Keira Henninger is the race director of ultra-marathons all across California and is also a competitive ultra-marathon runner herself ranking in the top 20 women in the United States. Keira strongly believes in the positive mental benefits of running, as it has played an important part on her own emotional healing through life. In this article, Keira tells us how she discovered running and how it has helped her through challenging times. Her philosophy to life certainly isn’t one that avoids obstacles and she takes any challenge head-on.
Keira was raised in a house that backed onto a large reserve, with miles of trails. But it was also an extremely abusive household. “Both physically and mentally it was never a peaceful place growing up,” she explains, “Given that the house was a scary place to be, myself and my siblings spent all day on weekends playing outside on the trails. I was a huge tomboy, and started running cross country in middle school.” By the time she had reached high school she had tried every sport she could get to, but it was always running that she was most talented at. “I cannot imagine living and not running,” she continues,
“I just have to play outdoors! To me, the Sun is God’s medicine, and you would have to shoot me before you would catch me in the gym or on a treadmill.”
But it wasn’t just running that got Keira through the hard times, “I quickly learned to mentally separate myself from the situation, and pray. Most would think that God was never answering my prayers by letting the abuse always happen, but I believe the total opposite: If it wasn’t for God I would have never made it out of my childhood alive; He was my saving grace as a child, and my strength and rock today; He answers every single prayer I ask of him. Do not ever be afraid to pray bold prayers.” Perhaps there is a parallel between the meditative, focused escape of running and that of prayer to take yourself away from a situation. And maybe that is the basis for Keira’s phenomenal mental focus that helped her become the athlete and professional she is today.
But Keira knows that you can’t be great by yourself, “I truly believe we are the average of the five people we hang out with the most,” she says, “My friends are my second family, and some of the most loyal, driven, and kind people you could ever meet; If I am the average of them I am doing great!”
“We are exactly what we surround ourselves with. If you’re an athlete, surround yourself with athletes. Do not let toxic people in your life as that will only destroy you.”
Keira became used to making responsible decisions from an early age. At 19 she had a baby, but was determined to not let that shape the course of her life. “We are the choices we make,” she says, “It’s OK to make mistakes as they are learning tools, but it’s not OK to continually make the same mistakes. Learn from your bad days, and move on. Forgive, forget, and just move on. Hard work coupled with consistency and determination will only lead to success.” Keira has overcome challenges and experiences that would give many people an excuse for failure. But in Keira’s case, they have only made her more straightforward.
“I am a fighter,” she says bluntly, “You punch me, I will punch back. You will always know what’s on my mind and what I am thinking.”
Integrity and self-respect are values that come up time and again in conversation with Keira, a particular poignant quality given her start in life. “I am big on integrity,” she confirms, “And really meaning what you say to people. Do not say things you cannot back up, as it will only end up hurting you in the end. I think it’s important to love the heck out of yourself. Be your own biggest fan: so many people destroy their own success by cutting themselves down everyday.
There is nothing wrong with showing yourself some love! Just by trial and error I started going out of my way to compliment myself everyday. I made it a point to catch myself whenever I said anything negative, and would replace it with positive words. I try and just remind myself that I am a great mom, strong, kind, fit, and am capable of anything I set my mind to.”
And whilst many would view that start in life as a something that might have held her back or left her scarred, Keira has done something truly inspirational: made it a positive event. “I always remind myself if I made it through my childhood I can make it through anything. Always look at the worst you have been through, and then think about how bad the situation is now you are in.”
Keira faced her challenges by developing her confidence and self-belief, something she believes is entirely learnable. And it is this message she wants to share with the world.
Keira first learned this at through extra-curricular programs at school. “I was lucky enough to follow a friend into the Student Body/Leadership course in Junior high. By the time I hit high school I was 100% involved in it. I spent all four years of high school in leadership, and thrived off the conferences, organizing huge school events. It became another outlet for all the toxicity that was going on at home. “By college I was the queen bee of organizing any social event I could get my hands on, and I believe that’s why I have ended up as a Race Director.”
Keira first started running marathons back in 2005, just for fun, but always had the desire to run a little farther than her running partners. She spent her time training for marathons running on trails in California, which naturally progressed to doing a Trail Race, after meeting Michelle Barton while out on the Trails. Since then, Keira has been competing in, and then organizing Ultras (races longer than a Marathon, preferably 100 miles).
“I absolutely love Trail Running, and competing in Ultra’s. It’s hard to explain to someone who does not run Ultra’s what is so great about the sport. Nothing could ever compare to an eight hour day spent in the wilderness running on Trails with a group of friends; the sport brings you closer to people than you ever thought possible and humbles you to the core.
I always say, “Going for a run clears your mind, but running 100 miles clears your soul”.
In the last three years I have worked tirelessly to compete at a high level in Ultra running. It takes extreme dedication, discipline, and total determination. One of the best things of all about my sport is that we actually race and compete against the men along with the women. I always say it’s never a bad day when you can beat 95% of the competition and most are men!”
Keira Henninger is an accomplished trail runner and ultra-marathon competitor. She is the director of Leona Valley Trail Races, a series of races that go from 30k, 50k, and 50 miles. This year the races are on April 30th, 2011. She is based in Southern California, and runs her races along the Pacific Crest Trail.