By Jack McNeel
The mountains of the west and the open spaces were the lure for Nancy Schmidt when she moved from Pittsburgh ten years ago and accepted a job with Kaniksu Health Services in Sandpoint. She has been contracted to the school district since the district lost funding for counselors at the elementary school level. “We help under-insured and uninsured people and others who have fallen through the cracks with health care,” she explains.
For more than two decades prior to her move, Nancy had been running marathons – including some of the big ones like Boston, New York, Chicago, Big Sur, Paris, and Stockholm. “It was sort of my way of vacationing,” she explains. “I’d do a marathon every couple of months. I set a goal to do 50 and ended up doing two additional ones.” And how she has taken to the mountains and open spaces! The move didn’t slow her down; it just changed her running a bit.
“I never stopped running,” she says laughing and explaining that previously she ran marathons on streets and highways. But Nancy got into trail running two years ago and has continued to run as much as ever after ending her marathon years.“ But I’m not training as hard as I was. I’m not young anymore either,” she says wryly, although at 57 she’s not that old either and some of these trail runs are 50K, longer than a marathon, which is about 42K.
When she first moved to Sandpoint Nancy started hiking with a local group and some folks from western Montana. Then she met Mike Ehredt who’s a long distance runner and trains runners.
“I started training for some of these more grueling alpine runs,” Nancy explains. “There’s a group of us called the 7B runners (7B is the license plate for Bonner County) and Mike teaches us how to be able to run for 30 or 40 miles.”
She has now run two 50K trail runs plus a couple of 25K runs. “They’re much more difficult than a marathon because you’re including elevation and running on boulders and trails that people hike. Sometimes it’s so steep you have to use your hands and legs to get over boulders. Some can be pretty technical.”
Several organizations put on these races, mentioning the Big Sky Ski Area in Montana, which holds a race she did last year called “The Rut” – one of the toughest in the country.
“You run to the top of Lone Peak, which is about 11,000 feet elevation. I’ve also done Pikes Peak in Colorado where you start at about 6,000 feet and go to 14,000 feet. We’re doing one next summer in Elk Valley, near Kelowna, B.C.”
Much of the training takes place at Schweitzer Ski area just north of Sandpoint. Some training also takes place at Goat Hill on the south end of Pend Oreille Lake. “Farragut State Park has added some trails and we get some running in there and there’s a nice little trail called the Pend Oreille Trail along the waterway here in Sandpoint.” In addition, they have also trained on some of the trails to alpine lakes in the Cabinet Peaks northwest of Sandpoint.
“I’ve been involved in almost every sport imaginable at some point in my life but running has been my saving grace. It’s my meditation. It’s the thing that allows me some quiet time, and my dog as well. I have a running dog.” “I’m an avid tennis player, and I play a lot of squash. I also do a lot of bike rides and some races.” Nancy also plays pickle ball, which is similar to tennis but played on a smaller court with a lower net, small lightweight paddles and a whiffle ball. It appeals to older players, as it doesn’t require as much running and is thus easier on the knees. “It’s the fastest growing sport in North American because of the aging population,” she adds. Courts have been added at the Sandpoint West Athletic Club and another a few miles away in Hope where people gather on Sundays to play.
Her free time is filled with such sports plus backpacking, hiking, and even some fishing. “The only thing that gets in the way is work,” Nancy laughs. “I would be really happy to play all day.”
When she lived in Pittsburgh, she did a lot of fishing but laughingly explains, “It’s ironic that I haven’t done more fishing here since this is the fishing capital of the world.”
Her boss also guides on the Clearwater River and she’s hoping to get out with him next summer. “I want him to reintroduce me to fly fishing. That’s what I like; it’s a little more active.”
Regarding how her move to Idaho has been Nancy says, “The northwest is a great place. When I moved here, I never looked back. I’m enjoying the beauty of this area, plan on staying, and want to get more mountain runs in while I’m still able!”