The AT50: Ultrarunner Diane Van Deren (#48)

When faced with epilepsy and radical brain surgery, she just kept running
Staff Writer

Tim Kemple/The North Face

Age: 53
Sports: Ultra-running
Highlights: World record time on the 1,000-mile Mountain-to-Sea Trail (22 days, 5 hours, 3 minutes); 1st in the women's division of the 2009 Yukon Arctic Ultra 430-mile; 1st overall in the 2008 Yukon Arctic Ultra 300-mile; climbed Argentina's 22,834-foot Aconcagua; completed the Iditarod Trail Invitational in Alaska on a fractured ankle
Quote: "The mountains became my safe spot and I’d never have a seizure while I was running up there. That’s when my ultrarunning took off, because I was trying to run away from having a seizure."
Fact: After college, Van Deren was a pro tennis player.
AT50 Point Total: 29

When Diane Van Deren was pregnant with her third child, she was diagnosed with epilepsy. Despite the debilitating condition, Van Deren continued to pursue her athletic passions and found relief while running mountain trails.

After 10 years of seizures, however, the athlete made the hard decision to have part of her right temporal lobe removed in a radical brain surgery. Although it stopped the seizures, the procedure had side effects. In particular, it limited Van Deren’s ability to process the passage of time. Little did she know that this setback would give her a psychological advantage in ultrarunning. Now Van Deren can run—literally—for days on end with no sleep and no concept of how far she’s gone. If a trail is not clear, however, she has to mark the route or rely on her team to keep her on track.

Van Deren has gone on to rock the world of ultrarunning. In 2012, she set the world record for fastest time on North Carolina's 1,000-mile Mountain-to-Sea Trail (22 days, 5 hours, 3 minutes). She called it her "last epic," and it topped off a series of amazing accomplishments. In 2008, she won the Yukon Arctic Ultra 300—a foot race across the frozen Canadian wilderness. The next year she returned to the Yukon to place first in the women's division of the 430-mile race. On a fractured ankle, Van Deren also finished the Iditarod Trail Invitational in Alaska which required her to pull a 50-pound sled for 250 miles in below-freezing weather. She has competed in numerous other 100- and 300-mile runs and climbed South America’s highest peak—Aconcagua—in 2010.
—Jessica Khorsandi

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