At age 50, Dawn Lisenby is embarking on her longest run yet on July 19.
Dawn Lisenby is about to brave Death Valley in California to run from the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere — Badwater Basin, which sits at 282 feet below sea level — to the tallest summit in the contiguous lower 48 states — Mount Whitney, with an elevation of 14,505 feet.
At age 50, the Flagler Beach resident has been training specifically to run this 146-mile crewed solo endeavor since February, but it’s been on her mind for the last five years.
“Everything I have done has led to this,” Lisenby said.
While Lisenby played competitive soccer in college and after school, she didn’t get into running recreationally until 2002 when she moved to Flagler Beach, and then competitively with ultramarathons since 2007.
She said the waves inspire her to keep going, as her normal route begins at the pier.
“I think that stretch motivates me to get out the door because I always get to see this beautiful ocean,” Lisenby said. “I am completely motivated by that.”
In the last decade, she has run over 30 races, most of which were ultra runs ranging from 50K to 100-milers.
But she didn’t become a long-distance runner overnight.
“I literally started with one minute run, one minute walk; and I just loved it,” she said.
Running has been a staple of her adult life, but in 2009, that all could have come to a crashing halt.
Lisenby was on mile 20 in a New York City marathon — her third marathon ever — when she felt pain on her right side.
She had always been so careful; she had worked with a running trainer to correct and improve her form. How did this happen?
“I was so upset because I wanted to qualify for Boston (marathon) and get back there again,” Lisenby said. “I spent 2010 basically rehabbing back from that. Luckily, I had a very good doctor. I had one doctor tell me if I didn’t get surgery on my hip, I wouldn’t simply be able to walk around Disney with my kids — let alone run. And then I had another doctor tell me ... he said, ‘Dawn, you know how to get your body strong. You need to stay really strong in order to keep all the muscles in that area strong, because if I do surgery, you’ll never run like you want to run.’”
Eventually, through chiropractic therapy, strength training and acupuncture, her hip healed enough to where she feels confident running again.
As a mother of two sons, age 9 and 13, they’re her top priority. She’ll take her first strides in Death Valley on July 19, weather permitting. She said she’s not worried about meeting a certain time; she just wants to finish safely, without injury.
“It’s hard enough to achieve; I don’t want to put pressure on times,” Lisenby said. “I just want to have the adventure and get it done. But everything I go into, I want to do my best at, so I strive to do my best, and I think, if all goes well, I’ll do a really good time because my training has gone great.”
She said living in Flagler Beach has given her an environment conducive to running, as well as a community that supports her. Several local businesses even sponsor her with running gear and skin care products.
“When I got injured, I wanted to understand why I got injured,” she said. “So now, it’s part of why I do my clinics. I love working with runners and helping them figure out how to overcome their injuries. ... So, I try to give back to the community through that (and) through my races. I am a volunteer coach for the Police Athletic League. I coach the kid’s track program there and have for three years.”
As a certified running coach, Lisenby hopes to help others meet their physical goals. She’s organized three races locally, including the Jacks 10K/30K/50K, which gives a yearly scholarship in honor of her brother, Carl Jack Forman III, who died in 1997.
“He inspired me to begin running and putting on my races,” she said. “And continues to inspire me to dream big.”