NICHOLE DIVER: Running as Medicine

I spoke with trail runner and mother Nichole Diver shortly after she ran her first fifty mile trail race: the Voyageur 50 mile.

Nichole first started running just after her second child was born, at a time when she was struggling with postpartum depression. While most of us run less when we have kids, Nichole’s running took off during this phase of life. Nichole ran the Superior 25k when she was 32 weeks pregnant with her third child Porter. She ran her first 50k when Porter only ten months old, and she ran her first 50 mile when Porter was only two years old.

In this interview, Nichole spoke with me about her very first 50 mile trail race and why running when her kids were young was so important to her.

Your husband and kids are at every race you run. What kind of support did your husband and kids provide as you trained for and raced the Voyageur 50 mile?

My family has been aware of the race for the past year. It was something that my husband and I discussed beforehand. I knew that he would need to be 100% on board throughout the entire process… and he was. All of them helped me prepare for Voyageur — my first 50 miler — right up until the day of. My husband helped me prepare for the race by getting my supplies ready. They gave encouraging words before my training runs, and my son Keith even helped me prep my drop bags.

My husband and my kids were a part of my crew. They showed up at each aid station and made sure that they had my drop bags at the specific aid stations I had requested.

Nichole’s family cheering for her during the Voyageur 50 mile.

Where did you see your family along the Voyageur 50 mile course?

They came to every aid station! It was amazing. They, along with my friends, surprised me with shirts they had made that read “Nichole’s 50kwe Crew.” I cried when I saw them.

Seeing them at each aid station was like a burst of new life. My two older kids, Keith and Kason, looked at me in awe with each passing mile. “You can do it mom!” they’d excitedly cheer. My daughter, Porter is two and doesn’t fully understand, but she’s catching on. “Mama wun!” was her cheer.

My husband was amazing. He knows exactly what my trouble spots are, and he checked in with me every time to see how I was doing.

What lessons and values do you hope to pass onto your kids through your trail running?

I hope to teach my children about perseverance, determination, the ability to feel every emotion — even the most uncomfortable ones, acceptance of others, and self-love.

It’s so much easier to stuff the uncomfortable feelings that life presents us with. You don’t get to do that when you’re running. You are forced to feel EVERYTHING: every breath, every twinge of pain, every discomfort… This is what has taught me to process through difficult emotions. When we are able to process through these is when we are really able to love ourselves fully.

Even if my kids aren’t runners, I am confident that I will be able to pass these lessons to my children.

So many people view running as just ‘exercise’ but for me running is medicine. Running helped me transform my entire life: physically, mentally and emotionally. It helped me become a better mom.

I see you have been getting your kids out running as well! Why is it important to you to get your kids running?

I view running as a gift. If I can pay that back by gifting someone else with all that it’s given me, then I feel like that’s the best thing I can do. So, when I combine two of the things that I love the most — my family and running — that is truly the best. My oldest, Keith has told me: “Mom, my favorite thing about you is that you never give up.” I truly feel like he sees this through my running.

Keith (age 9) has participated in nearly 30 5k’s. His longest distance race was the Park Point 5 miler when he was eight. He’s my runner. He’s got big goals for himself. These include the Superior Spring 12.5, the Garry Bjorklund ½ Marathon, and he says he’s eventually like to do some ultra marthons.

Kason (age 8) has also participated in numerous 5k’s, although biking is more his thing. Oftentimes, he’ll opt to bike beside me while I run. It gives us a chance to spend time together while we both do the things that we love. Kason is the sweetest; before Voyageur he told me: “It doesn’t matter mom, we’re always proud of you.”

Porter (age 2) has been my running buddy since the beginning. I ran throughout my entire pregnancy with her, literally up until 24 hours before her birth. I love pushing her in her stroller during my runs. Recently, I completed the Women’s Rock ½ Marathon in St. Paul with Porter. When we finished and she got out of her stroller, she said: “That’s fun! I wun!” For Porter, she will never know a life without running, and to me that’s beautiful.

Nichole with her daughter and husband at the finish line of her first 50k.

It looks, from the outside, like you have not let having children slow you down one bit. If anything, you have been increasing the amount you run while having young kids.

I actually didn’t start running until Kason was nine months old. I experienced pretty severe postpartum depression in that first year, and one day my friend Chally asked if I wanted to go for a run over our lunch break. I resisted at first, but she asked again and eventually I said yes. Suddenly, I was running one mile… then three miles… then ten… and so on. Through this, the feelings that PPD had supplied began to decrease, and I began to feel alive again. PPD stole over a year of my life, and running was giving it back.

This was also about the time I met others from the Kwe Pack. Most of the Kwe Pack were moms like me. They helped keep my newfound love for running alive.

I went through a huge weight loss transformation and lost 120 pounds. Running was helping transform my entire life: physically, mentally and emotionally. It has helped me become a better mom. I feel like so many people view running as just “exercise” but for me running is medicine.

You ran the Superior 25k pregnant!

Yep! I was fortunate to have been able to run throughout my entire pregnancy. I ran the Superior 25k at 32 weeks pregnant with Porter. She was ten months old when I completed the Superior 50k and had just turned two years old when I ran the Voyageur 50 mile.

What is motivating you to run these races when your kids are little?

My family motivates me. Both my husband and I strive to create a healthy normalcy. I know that as my children grow older they’ll see running and healthy activities to be a part of life. When they hear about people running 100 miles, they’ll know this to be not only true but something that is attainable.

It is especially important to me as a mother to two boys that I model for them that women are not only equal but we’re strong as hell too. When my boys were little, they thought any vehicle we saw with a mileage sticker on the back window was 1) my friend and 2) a woman.

I grew up, and still live, on the Fond du Lac Reservation. Growing up, seeing sickness and disparity was common. My hope is that creating a healthier today will help contribute to a healthier tomorrow.

Nichole’s son waiting for her at the finish line of her first 50k.

What have you gained from running ultras that you don’t get from work or from raising kids?

Running is my medicine. It helps keep my mental health in a healthy state. I love signing up for races. These are mine. They keep that piece of me that’s not a mom, not a wife… the piece that is just me alive and kicking. Running ultras allows me to carve out that time that is just for me. They remind me that yes, I am a mom, I am a wife, but I am still me too. I am still the person I was before I had kids and that person still matters too.

What is the biggest challenge when training for ultras when your kids are young?

Time management has been most challenging. We are a busy family. My boys are in sports year round. So, I plan my training runs around our family activities. Sometimes, this means running at 5am. (Shout out Aurora LeMay for always being willing to make those early runs.)

Porter was only five months old when I started training for my first 50k. She was breastfed until she turned two. So, I’d have to make sure I was pumping enough so that she could have bottles while I was gone, or I’d have to time my runs just right so I could run between feedings. After I ran the 50k and Grandma’s Marathon in 2018, I got my medal and then I sat my butt down and nursed Porter!

For the most part, it works. I get my runs in early enough where my kids barely even notice that I’m gone. Often times, they’ll still be sleeping when I get home. I feel an odd sense of victory on those days.

Again, I am so appreciative for my husband’s never ending support. My husband and I have been together since I was fifteen years old. He is my best friend and my number one fan. He told me when we first had kids: “Find something that is just for you and I will support you 100%.” Running 50 mile races may not have been quite what he’d imagined, but he has stayed true to his word.

My husband comes to my races; he helps me prepare for my long runs; and he holds down the fort while I’m running… sometimes for hours. He understands that I need these runs not just for training but to help fill my cup. He sees the positive effects it’s had on, not only my life, but our entire family.

Why do you run ultras despite the challenges?

Because I deserve to. It is challenging to train to be an ultra-runner with three kids at home, but this is our life and it’s pretty damn beautiful.


What role is running playing in your life today?

Running is helping to create normalcy in my life. With the current pandemic nothing seems to be normal. But running is my constant. It’s my stress reliever. It’s allowing me to create memories with my family and to help keep my mental health strong.

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