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Ultramarathon founder, director looking to pass baton

August 13, 2013

Declared by her race colleagues as “simply the best,” Marie Boyd takes a photo-op break at the Buttermilk Road aid station during the 2006 Bishop High Sierra Ultramarathon, the first and only BHS Ultra Boyd had the opportunity to run during her 20-year tenure as the Ultra’s race director. Photo courtesy Marie Boyd

After 20 years of service as race director for the annual Bishop High Sierra Ultramarathon, Marie Boyd has stepped down with regret and relief, leaving a vacancy that will be difficult to fill.
The race director job, now open to interested qualified applicants, is pivotal to the BHS Ultra, which is Northern Inyo Hospital Foundation’s biggest fundraiser. “The ultra has raised more than $120,000 over the last 18 years,” Boyd said, bringing in more than $15,000 this year alone.
That money furthers the foundation’s mission to “support the hospital’s healing and life-saving efforts,” Foundation Board President Maggie Egan said, adding that the race also brings revenue to Bishop, as most entrants are out-of-towners who bring family and friends along, who shop, dine and require accommodations.
Boyd is largely responsible for transforming what started 20 years ago as a race with 47 runners loping through six inches of snow in  “unseasonably cold temperatures” into the 300-runner ultra held this past May 18, Egan said. Entrants come from all over the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, Canada, United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Japan and Switzerland, Boyd added.
Boyd said she gave three years notice of her plans to retire as race director and put out the word again before this last race. Egan has recently sent requests for proposals to several possible candidates.
“Marie has a lot invested in her brainchild.” Egan said. “Finding someone with her hospital connections, community spirit and experience as a participant, that’s tough. And since it’s a fundraiser, the person has to be pretty altruistic. We are not closing the door on any options,” from an individual director to a committee of directors.
“It is our fondest desire to honor Marie,” Egan said, “We are devoted to doing everything we can to make sure the Ultra happens in 2014.” Boyd has provided a detailed outline of her system and said that she will facilitate the transition to new directorship in anyway she can.
Egan added, “Without the spirit of the community and hundreds of hospital staff, we wouldn’t even be able to hold the race, let alone produce the quality event Marie has directed.”
Rural Health Clinic Medical Director and ultra runner Dr. Stacey Brown said, “Marie really put Bishop on the map (worldwide) as far as ultras go.” Brown’s wife, Ceal “Jen” Klingler, also an ultra runner, added that Boyd has inspired several generations of ultra runners. “She has left an incredible legacy and we’ll be sorry to see her go but this will give her a lot of opportunities to do what she loves,” Brown said.
Boyd did get the chance to run in the BHS Ultra for the first and only time in 2006 when Brown, Klinger and the “usual cadre of volunteers” co-opted Boyd’s race day duties, Brown said. It took quite a while to finish the course, however, because at each of the 12 aid stations, people celebrated Boyd. “She came across the finish line in a boa, wearing a tiara and carrying a wand,” Egan said.
BHS Ultra race director is a year-round responsibility, beginning in August with booking venues and race officials; contacting sponsors; and renewing myriad permits to name just a few crucial tasks, Boyd explained. She rounds up 100-150 volunteers to man ham radio, trail marking, aid station and other crews.
After the registration deadline, believe it or not, Boyd said, “ordering the right number of T-shirts is one of the toughest jobs.” There are also committee meetings, runner inquires and daily details to attend to. “It’s not unlike putting on a large wedding.”
Also like weddings, the ultras are full of interesting memories. Boyd recalled a few. Once, “a runner started the 20-mile event late because he had rolled his car off Tioga Pass on the way to race start. One runner was cautioned by another to put down the baby rattlesnake he was holding.” Boyd once relayed, via ham radio, a patient-treatment conversation between an ER doctor and a race trail sweep on horseback who was also a doctor.
The most rewarding aspect of being race director is “knowing that our volunteers and I have presented a world-class event to thousands of runners and have contributed funds to the NIH Foundation’s project to build the Healing Garden,” Boyd said.
When asked what 30-year veteran runner Boyd personally takes from racing, she said, “I’d like to lead by example, showing women of my age who are still running these events, and younger women, that they can still be competitive and finish the event.” In fact, last November Boyd ran 191 miles in the Texas UltraCentric 72-hour ultra. Boyd, an Australian-native, set eight Australian women’s 60-64 age-group records – in the six-hour, 12-hour, 24-hour and 48-hour and 50- and 100-mile and 100K and 200K categories. “Ultra Running Magazine voted it one of the best performances for the 72-hour event in the U.S.”
Ironically, Boyd started running due to chronic asthma. In 1980, she took a local class, instructed by Olympic runner Tracy Smith, where she learned proper running form and breathing. “Good cardio-vascular conditioning is excellent for asthmatics,” Boyd explained, and running is very calming. “The mind switches off and wanders a little. You can unload” the cares of the day. Unless training, Boyd now runs three or four times a week, does cross fit and takes plenty of recovery time.
As to Boyd’s earlier life, she grew up on a farm in Griffith, New South Wales, Australia. Fulfilling her childhood wish to be a nurse, she graduated from St. Vincent’s Hospital in Sidney in 1969. That same year, she met husband Andy Boyd and moved to Bishop. Among other race accomplishments, Andy has finished the BHS Ultra 50-mile event 10 times and sons Andrew and Bill, two of four Boyd children, have also run the Ultra.
Fifteen years ago, Boyd became an operating room nurse and she said the skills used in the OR and as race director are in some ways similar. “When something unexpected happens, people galvanize into action. You learn to work as a team, how to lead a team, how to quickly manage situations, people and equipment.”
Boyd has a pastime that is as low-key as one might expect. “About 10 years ago, (NIH surgeon Dr. Scott Clark) was fishing around for rally car co-drivers. Someone volunteered me,” she said, smile wide and eyes gleaming. Boyd loves navigating the street-legal, roll-cage-outfitted rally cars five or six times a year in races on closed four-wheel drive roads.
What motivates this OR nurse/rally car co-driver/life-long runner to keep going? “I can do it,” she said. “I have the opportunity, the desire and the ability and if a person has those things, it would be a shame to waste them.” Boyd’s life philosophy matches the advice she gives runners: “If you get discouraged, look back at how far you’ve come instead of how far you have to go.”
Anyone interested in the BHS Ultra race director position, or interested in helping with the event in any way, can contact Egan at (760) 873-2136 or Maggie.egan@nih.org.

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