BEND, Ore. (AP) — Lisa Nasr, in some ways, kind of fell into running.
In fact, says the 34-year-old Bend resident, she still struggles to identify herself as a runner, even though she has been running for more than a decade.
"Because I still see it as the adventure of getting from Point A to Point B," Nasr says. "That's why I think ultras are so much fun."
But when you have run in a number of races of half-marathon distance or longer, you are a runner. When you have run ultramarathons — as Nasr has done — which are far longer than most runners ever run at one time, it is probably OK to call yourself a runner.
Nasr's running career started later than many. She did not take up the sport until her college years at Oregon State University. Nasr — then Lisa Hatley — grew up in the tiny town of Monument (about 120 residents, she says) in remote northeastern Oregon. She attended Monument High School, which combined with not-so-nearby Dayville School for sports.
For girls, the school's only sports offerings at that time were volleyball and basketball, Nasr recalls, and she played both.
She did not run high school cross-country or track, where many teenagers are introduced to running. In fact, other than when she was actually playing or practicing in the gym, she did only a minimal amount of running.
"The concept of running one mile before volleyball practice was just torture," she says. "And it's funny now, because I've run races that are 50 miles long, and the idea of running one mile — it's still hard."
But from small beginnings, Nasr, a petite, mild-mannered young woman, has led a pretty big life.
She met her husband, Basim Nasr, through a blog she started while she was in college. The two were wed in Australia in June 2009 but have spent much of their marriage apart. Basim has been in Kuwait working as a contractor for the State Department while Lisa has been raising their now 2-year-old daughter, Sayla, in Bend. Mother and daughter travel to Kuwait for visits several times per year, although that schedule will be changing because Basim is due to return to the United States in the next couple weeks to reside in Central Oregon.
And then there is Lisa Nasr's running.
In her second year at Oregon State, Nasr took up running on a treadmill. She found the activity "effective for fighting the college 15 (pounds)," she says.
Going into her junior year, she set her sights on running a half marathon in Eastern Oregon near her hometown the following spring. Able to run four or five miles by that point, she signed up for a 10-kilometer training class. Still, her knowledge of running was fairly limited. She had never run with a group before, and she did not understand the concept of splits — the times a runner hits at intermediate points during a training run or a race.
That first half marathon did not go well. Nasr finished nearly last among about 75 participants. After that first competition, Nasr was off and on with her running, and she did not race again for several years.
"People knew I ran, but it was more like take my dog into the forest and quietly go about it," says Nasr, who is currently a stay-at-home mom to Sayla.
Then, when she was 26 or 27, a friend persuaded her to go run a mile with him.
"I ran a mile, and it took me 11 minutes, and it was torturous," Nasr says. "And it hurt so bad, and I was like, 'I never want to be in this position again.' And so, basically, you tell yourself, 'If you keep running, you'll never feel that first mile.' "
And so Nasr has. A couple months after that challenging mile with a friend, she entered a small-town 10K race — and won.
"It was just such a good feeling to come in first after coming in ... almost last," she says, referring to her previous half marathon.
Then, Nasr tackled a couple more half marathons. She started running up to 60 miles a week and took up road cycling. To date, she has finished ultramarathons — races longer than the standard 26.2-mile marathon distance — as long as 50 miles. This past fall, she started heading up a weekly Tuesday morning running group for moms based out of the Bend running-shoe store FootZone.
Nasr's most recent ultramarathon was her second McDonald Forest 50K, staged earlier this month in Corvallis. Her time was more than 31 minutes faster than her 2011 mark in the same race.
"It's interesting, just how your body and your mind goes through an adventure, because then, all of a sudden, you get like four hours into it, and you're like, 'Wow, that's what four hours felt like?' " Nasr explains of running ultramarathons.
She plans to run two events in Bend in the coming weeks — her second Happy Girls Half Marathon this Sunday and then the Dirty Half (half marathon) in early June. For Happy Girls, in which she expects to join 900-plus other women at the starting line at Riverbend Park, Nasr thinks she can run faster than her 2:02:23 mark from a year ago, when she ran in an oversized tutu. Among Nasr's other plans for this year are return trips to two races she ran in 2011, the Vashon Island 50K in Washington and the Mt. Hood PCT 50-miler. She also has her eye on participating in a 100-mile race.
That's a long way to go from a single, agonizing mile.
"You pretty much feel exhilarated that you've accomplished something, and that you went through it and it was so hard," Nasr reflects. "But you come out on the other side first having more friends, knowing more runners, and having been through just a fun experience."
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press