Kelly Teeselink is an enthusiastic and accomplished trail and ultrarunner and the Executive Director of Girls on the Run Eastern Iowa — an organization that introduces girls to distance running. Kelly has run numerous trail and ultra races, including five 100 mile races and culminating with a win at this past year’s Superior 100 mile. She was slated to run the Western States 100 this June. However, when her race plans were cancelled, Kelly set a new goal for herself: run every single street in her hometown of Iowa City, Iowa.
I spoke with Kelly about her Every Single Street Iowa City project. I also spoke with her about the value of getting girls involved in distance running and asked her to share her thoughts on how we can increase the diversity of the ultrarunning community.
What is Girls on the Run?
At its core, Girls on the Run is a social and emotional learning program for girls in third through eighth grade. Our ten-week after-school program is designed to inspire girls of all abilities to recognize and embrace their inner strength. Lessons emphasize the important connection between physical and emotional health.
At the end of the program, girls participate in a 5K, which provides a tangible sense of accomplishment, setting a confident and goal-oriented mindset into motion. In addition to our after school program for elementary age girls (Girls on the Run) and middle school age girls (Heart & Sole), we also have a summer program called Camp GOTR.
When you look at running as a whole, there are more women who run than men. So, why a running program aimed at girls?
Based on my previous answer, you may have guessed that Girls on the Run isn’t really about running. But, to answer the question: why Girls on the Run? Girls are faced with age-old gender stereotypes and ongoing societal obstacles. Girls self-confidence begins to drop at age nine. As girls age, they drop out of sports at a much higher rate than boys.
Girls on the Run gives girls the tools to navigate the unique situations girls and women face, while strengthening their sense of confidence and fostering care and compassion for self and others. Girls in our program are inspired to understand and accept others, while standing up for what they believe. Our hope is that girls will use these lessons and skills in their everyday life — not just in elementary and middle school, but in high school, college, and beyond.
If you are a runner or athlete, you know the power of movement and accomplishment. Over our ten-week program, girls train for a 5k and, at the end of the season, complete a 5k. They gain self confidence through achievement and pride in their body for what it can DO, not what it looks like. Girls on the Run 5ks are non-competitive, and we celebrate every girl who crosses that finish line.
As someone whose job it is to entice girls to try long distance running for the first time, what do you see as the main barriers to getting more girls of color and Native Americans into long-distance running? What opportunities are there to increase the diversity of trail and ultra running fields?
Representation matters. If girls who are BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) can’t see themselves in the running and ultrarunning community, they are likely to think they don’t belong or that the sport is not for them.
While I don’t have all the answers, I believe the trail and ultrarunning community at the local level should take a proactive approach to inviting and welcoming BIPOC to join us on the trails. For myself — as one of the leaders of the local chapter of Trail Sisters – rather than leaving it up to BIPOC to find and join our group, I could do specific outreach to BIPOC communities in my city to invite them to a Trail Sisters run. If national and local trail and ultrarunning leaders and communities can all commit to targeted, consistent outreach, perhaps we’ll see diversity increase in our sport.
What have you personally gained from being an ultrarunner?
This is a long list, but the two that rise to the top are confidence and community. I’ve written about my struggle with an eating disorder and body shame and how running helped me shift how I viewed my body — from placing value on the way it looked and the number on the scale to appreciating my body for its accomplishments (see link below). Trail and ultrarunning make me feel strong as hell, resulting in increased confidence in myself and letting go of societal pressures on how I look or what a woman should or shouldn’t do.
I also can’t talk about ultrarunning without talking about the community. I’ve deepened my connections with others on the trail, met people I wouldn’t otherwise at races, and felt gratitude for strangers volunteering at ultras. And while we are part of a larger ultrarunning community, I really value and appreciate the “micro” communities, like what you find at Superior.
What is your favorite distance to run, and why?
It’s a toss up between the 50-mile and 100-mile, but I think I’d have to choose the 100-mile. The 100-mile is another level — physically, mentally, and emotionally. I like the challenge of responding to those low spots (although at the time I really question my choices) and digging deep within myself to keep going. I also experience an insane amount of gratitude for those who support 100-mile runners: volunteers, race directors, crew, pacers, folks cheering on the course, etc. It’s an opportunity that lets you feel the support of others and experience deep appreciation.
Kelly, you had gotten into Western States this year!! How did you feel when you heard that Western States was cancelled?
Honestly, I was anticipating the decision, so it didn’t elicit a strong emotional response. While I was bummed, I’ve also realized that not many people know 15 months in advance they’re going to be running Western States, so I’m trying to do everything I can to use that advantage. Obviously, I’m not going to train for Western States for 12 months, but I’ll use this time to build a stronger foundation and plan out running adventures that will help my Midwestern legs train for the net downhill.
With group runs and races canceled, I’m running solo a lot more than I usually do and missing general connections and interactions with my community. Doing Every Single Street brings a sense of connection with my community.
What have you been up to instead of gearing up for Western States? Please, tell us about your Every Single Street project!
I started Every Single Street Iowa City in April and am having a blast! With group runs and races canceled, I’m running solo a lot more than I usually do and missing general connections and interactions with my community (trail and otherwise). Doing Every Single Street brings a sense of connection with my community. It let’s my brain focus on something else while running, besides work and the general negativity of our current situation.
I’ve lived in Iowa City for 15 years, and I am running streets and in neighborhoods I’ve never set foot in! It’s a different kind of exploration than we get on the trails. It is helping me cope with being at home so much during the pandemic.
I’m enjoying the logistical side of it, too. I hesitated to start because it felt like such a big undertaking, but I don’t have a timeline or anything like that so that helps. On my easy days, I run Every Single Street. I am still doing workouts and long runs on the trails. It’s been fun, and I highly recommend it!
Any tips for others interested in undertaking their own every single street project?
Just have fun with it! The first time I tried routing an Every Single Street run, I gave up pretty quickly because it seemed too challenging. Then, I realized I was trying way too hard. Talk to people. Smile at everyone. Do the hop scotches.
You can follow Kelly’s Every Single Street Iowa City project on Instagram (@kellyteese) or Strava (Kelly Teeselink).
You can read Kelly’s Trail Sister‘s article about the value of distance running for helping her improve her body image here: Tracking Calories to Tracking Miles.