High Country Running: A determined Galerakis against the Arizona Trail

High Country Running: A determined Galerakis against the Arizona Trail

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“Can I go to sleep now?” That’s what Helen Galerakis most wanted, after running the final stretch to the Mexico border.

I was with Helen on that mild afternoon in early November, along with Rob Krar, her ultra-running coach. Bright sunshine and puffy clouds graced the Sonoran high desert landscape. She had just set the record for a Supported Fastest Known Time for females on the 800-mile Arizona Trail: 17 days, 11 hours, 3 minutes.

Helen said, “I expected the finish to feel spectacular somehow.” But when she reached her hand through the barbed wire fence and touched the international border monument, she was characteristically smiling and laughing — and exhausted beyond comprehension.

An ultra runner living in Flagstaff, Helen was looking for her next big challenge last year. She decided that running across her adopted home state and attempting a Fastest Known Time would celebrate the community she found when she made Flagstaff her home several years ago.

Helen began her Arizona Trail adventure on Oct. 17. Not surprisingly, very little went according to plan. A knee injury on day two made running impossible, forcing her to hike for the next seven days. To meet her intended mileage each day, Helen said, “I was hiking in the dark, when I didn’t want to be hiking in the dark. From day one I had to switch the negative thoughts to positive thoughts constantly.”

When the unexplained knee issue had miraculously resolved by day eight, Helen was behind schedule and began running nearly around the clock. Her sleep dwindled to two to four hours a night.

Helen continued to have a great attitude, even with the massive physical effort, lack of sleep and other challenges. Mental strength carried her as exhaustion became the norm. Mile after mile, day after day, she was smiling, laughing, joking with her friends — and never losing sight of her goal.

Helen says mental fortitude was the biggest factor in her ability to reach the finish. “I’ve never needed it to such an extent. I would have never gotten to the end, even if my body was capable, without the mental strength. I hadn’t quite realized how powerful the mental aspect is.”

There were many highlights for Helen during her Arizona Trail experience. She savored the time outside, moving through nature, and her favorite — being out there for sunrise every morning. Helen feels immense gratitude for the crew that made this experience possible.

“People amazed me with their love and support, taking time out of their lives to help me achieve this goal. Everyone in the crew was always happy and positive, which was amazing, because I know how tired they were, doing things that they found uncomfortable and that they’re not used to.”

What can we learn from Helen’s accomplishment of a Fastest Known Time on the Arizona Trail? “It’s amazing what can be done when people come together,” Helen told me. “Don’t be frightened to reach out. People love to give, and it’s a gift to let them help you.”

Anne McGuffey, who completed a thru-hike of the Arizona Trail in 2016, was with Helen’s crew for the final week of her Fastest Known Time adventure. Follow Helen Galerakis at “LiveHappyRunFree” (blog and Instagram).

Do you have a column, tip or idea for High Country Running? Send it to coordinating editor Julie Hammonds at runner@juliehammonds.com.


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