Darcy Piceu’s plate is often overflowing. Today is no different. It’s 7:15 a.m. and Darcy is running around the house, cooking breakfast and preparing lunch for her daughter Sophia. The bus will be picking Sophia up for school in less than an hour.
“Being a mom is the only job I care about doing really well,” says Darcy, as she spreads hummus on a veggie sandwich and places it in a lunch bag. “It’s the most important job you can have. If I die and I’ve done OK by my daughter, then I’ve done a good thing,” she laughs.
After Darcy gets Sophia ready for school, she will spend her morning working with clients. As a certified therapist, she helps people during times of transition, whether it’s a professional athlete at the tail end of a career or a college student striving to gain life skills to become a fully functioning adult.
Early afternoon is stacked with meetings. Then there’s picking up Sophia from school, taking her to swim practice, making sure she does her homework, bringing her over to her father’s house, and giving a presentation at a local running store—that gets her to 7 p.m.
Oh, and somewhere in there, she’ll try to squeeze in a short run or a trip to the gym.
As a professional ultra-runner with a day job and a single mom to a 9-year-old, it’s challenging for Darcy to make time for herself. A moment to breathe. A second to reflect.
“I rely heavily on Google Calendar,” shares Darcy. “I would fall apart if I didn’t have that calendar. All of my to-do lists, everything is in there. There’s always something back to back.”
Darcy frequently finds herself living her life through hour by hour reminder alerts. Training happens whenever she can fit it in—inconsistent at best. It’s at night when Sophia is with her dad or early in the morning the following day. Sometimes it’s the time between when Sophia leaves for school and she heads to work.
If one thing is consistent, it’s the struggle to balance it all. For many of us, there’s a desire to want to do everything 100% and it’s impossible to do that. Darcy reminds us to be kind to ourselves.
Less important things take a backseat. “Maybe you’re going to have to leave the house and the beds aren’t made. Maybe there’s dirty dishes in the sink and you sometimes have to leave them there and not try and do everything to perfection—because that’s me. So really, I’m kind of talking to myself,” she laughs. “You are your own worst critic. No one else is judging you for those dirty dishes, but you.”
Darcy is adamant about not overtraining. She’s seen too many folks get into the sport, hammer themselves, and burn out really quickly. Also, her busy schedule simply doesn’t allow for constant training.
“Every time I go out there I think I’m screwed, but I’m not,” says Darcy. “I think that’s just our self-doubt, an example of how we’re so hard on our ourselves.”
She’s a firm believer that your body can do amazing things on race day. Your muscle memory kicks in; it’s our mentality that we battle. We often put so much weight on training instead of trusting that we’ve done enough.
By the time Darcy, a Smartwool athlete, had Sophia in 2008, she had been professionally running for a decade. Placing in 50-mile and 100-mile races around the country, she is a dominant force within the ultra-running community. She’s finished first for women at the Hardrock 100 three times, a 100-mile ultramarathon with 66,000 feet of elevation change at an average elevation of 11,000 feet. It’s an extreme test of endurance on steep terrain at high altitude. Mountaineering, wilderness survival and navigation skills are key to crossing the finish line.
Running is vital to Darcy’s sanity—but juggling races and training with raising a child and work obligations requires creativity and patience.
“When you make that shift and have a child, your world changes,” says Darcy. “You can’t leave town on a whim. All those things take planning and a lot of effort. It’s a balancing act and there’s a lot of guilt associated with it when you do have to leave.”
Darcy’s races have taken her all over the world. Sometimes Sophia spends those days with her dad. Other times, during school breaks, Sophia is able to join her mom.
Taking after her mom, Sophia is incredibly driven. She cares about how well she does in school and sports. She wants to place at state on swim team. She’s ski racing, on track to breeze past her mom on the slopes. She also has a thoughtfulness to her that you wouldn’t expect from someone her age.
“All around I feel so lucky in that way,” says Darcy. “I’m nervous for the teen years, but I’m just going to keep pushing sports and hope that goes well,” she laughs. “I strive to be a good role model, not just in running, in everything. How you treat people, your work ethic, just all of it.”
There is a natural resistance for parents to allow their kids to feel any upset or failure. It’s easy to find ourselves wanting to protect them from the realities of our 21st century world.
“Let them fail, let them be sad, let them feel what it’s like to have disappointment in their lives,” Darcy advises. “They’re going to have that. I think we’re in this place where a lot of parents are trying to fix it all, but it’s not doing them any service for later on. Those are the big issues I see happening that hopefully I don’t mess up on. It’s a learn as you go process. Every kid is different. You have to do what you feel in your gut is right for your child.”
Darcy recommends providing support and allowing them to work through those tougher moments in life, but also letting them be a kid. Playing in the dirt, swinging on the monkey bars, indulging in a candy bar or two, doing handstands on the beach. Whenever possible, share the curiosity and discovery of those moments together.
Darcy and Sophia find many of those moments outside. They cruise down runs at the local ski resort. They camp under the stars. They jump into lakes. If Sophia develops an interest in running, they’ll share that, too. For now, running remains just Darcy’s passion.
When Darcy gets that time outside to herself, every time she steps off the trail she comes back a better mom, a better friend, and a better partner. The mountains are her sacred space. She finds peace and inspiration running their rugged, winding paths.
“There’s this simplicity with running where you can put on your shoes and walk out the door and go,” shares Darcy. “It’s not like biking, skiing or climbing, where you need a lot of gear and you really have to prepare and think about it. I can just throw my shoes in the car. Obviously, I’m going to need shorts and a sports bra,” she laughs, “but the simplicity of it makes it easier, more accessible.”
But what drives someone to run that far, for that long? And to do it with more speed than anyone has done before?
“Well…” Darcy smiles, “I’m competitive. We’ll just put that out there. But better than getting the fastest known time for me is getting to explore trails that you wouldn’t be able to explore in a race.”
Last summer, Darcy achieved the women’s supported fastest known times (FKTs) on the Huayhuash circuit in Peru (85 miles and 25,000 feet of elevation in 29 hours and 15 minutes) and the John Muir Trail in California (222 miles and 47,000 feet of elevation in 3 days, 4 hours and 12 minutes). Because these remote places are in wilderness areas and national parks, they’re not something you can experience in an organized race. It’s on Darcy to organize, plan, and if possible, get the support that’s needed to run in these places.
“These are trails that I wanted to do for their beauty, their aesthetics, to explore them,” says Darcy. “And it just so happened, oh I can set an FKT there? OK, I’m going to try that.”
Darcy hopes to return to these breathtaking places to experience them in a new way—hiking them with her daughter.
Currently, their short backpacking trips involve Darcy carrying everything, putting Sophia’s pack on her front while carrying her own pack on her back.
“We need a couple more years for that to happen,” says Darcy. “But I’ll love experiencing these places with her.”
Until then, Darcy will continue to relish the moments where she gets to be a kid again—learning, laughing and sharing that boundless sense of wonder—alongside her daughter.
Want to see more from Darcy? Check out our video from the 2016 Hardrock 100 where we followed Darcy as she attempted to defend her title and win the women's field for the fourth time in a row.
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