Carol Seppilu completes three long runs for suicide prevention
Last weekend, Nome runner Carol Seppilu has completed the third of her long, long runs to raise awareness for suicide prevention. Saturday morning around nine o’clock she completed the 90-mile Kougarok Road run. It took her 22 hours 28 minutes and 41 seconds. During that time her mental state went from the sheer joy of running out in the Alaska wild to the darkest depths of depression and doom.
Friends and relatives came to support her and encourage her in her struggle to complete the distance. Mallory Conger rode the entire distance on her bicycle so Seppilu wouldn’t be alone. Just four days earlier she completed a 73-mile run from Council to Nome. Earlier this summer she ran from Teller to Nome, 72 miles.
“Earlier this spring I made the decision to run all of the three road systems of Nome with a friend to raise awareness for suicide prevention,” she said. “I am a survivor. I found running as a way to cope with my depression and I fell in love with the long distances.” Seppilu survived a suicide attempt when she was a teenager.
“We started the run at 10:30 a.m. from the Kougarok Bridge,” she said. “I kept a steady pace and enjoyed the beauty surrounding us. I thought of my ancestors and felt their presence as I prayed quietly. The wind stayed on our backs.” As she reeled in the miles, she became more excited. She was doing her best times ever from mile marker to mile marker. “But as night fell, I hit a low and became too nauseous to eat. I went from a steady pace to an all out effort just to move at a decent speed,” she said. A family of friends appeared with food and support, setting up and aid station every few miles. Their pancakes were all she could eat at that point. “More friends appeared and soon I had an entire army leading me to the finish.”
“I enjoyed running the miles and being out there,” she said. “But after the sun went down and it got dark I was starting to get sore. My entire body just started hurting. It felt like it was shutting down and I was going to this really deep dark place in my mind where everything is telling you to stop. I had to push myself on through that moment. I knew, it wasn’t going to last.” Carol knew deep down inside that later on she’d return to what she calls her happy place, that the depression would fade away. A difficult stretch came with eight miles to go to the finish. She came very close to giving up. Her body felt like it was shutting down and she came very close to calling it quits. “I told Max Romey, who was accompanying me, ‘I can’t go on anymore,’” she said. “My body feels like it’s shutting down. I don’t think I can keep going.” Calmly he told her “I know you can and I know you will.” She decided to sit down for a spell, something she rarely does. When she sits she gets stiff and it gets difficult to get moving once again. “So, I told myself I’ll just sit down for one minute and then get up again and try to make it to the finish. I sat down I think it was for maybe two minutes and I got back up and started walking again. It was really hard.”
With six miles to go she began to cry bitterly. Two supporters named Eve and Lenny were there with her and she told them she couldn’t keep going. But she was walking uphill when she said that and Eve told her “You’re doing it! You’re doing good!” Carol realized she was doing it and that gave her the strength she needed to continue.
Does she feel the running helps her with fighting depression? “Definitely,” she said. “All the training I do for these runs gets me outdoors and that helps a lot. I get my heart rate going, I get my body moving. It alleviates a lot of the depression I go through.”
To recover from her runs she stretches out and tries to do an ice bath immediately. She likes to spend 20 minutes submerged in the ice water. Sleep is usually too painful and her adrenaline is pumping from finishing and that keeps her awake.
Next she’ll try again to finish The Hitchcock Experience, a 100-mile race in Iowa. She’s run it three times. It’s a tough race held in December when the temperatures can plunge to levels cold for the Lower 48 but not so cold for Alaska. However, in 2017 Carol did get frostbite in the race. She and Max Romey will run the Susitna 100-miler in February.
People contact her to talk about suicide and share their battles with it. “People have reached out to me to thank me for running to raise awareness for suicide prevention,” she said. “They tell me very personal stories. That can be very hard to hear what they have to say.”