Multiview 6: Danica Novgorodoff

20 Mar

Photo Credit: Oana Marian

Danica and I work together at a camp in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. She comes out to wrangle horses. Danica is about 5’2”. As you probably know, horses are a lot bigger. Last summer, one of our geldings jumped a fence and headed for the hills. Danica chased him down on foot all by herself. Everyone who meets Danica ends up with a crush on her. Men, women, young and old; none are immune to her enigmatic charm. She wakes with the sun, exercises religiously, goes through about a dozen pints of Ben and Jerry’s a week and enjoys a glass of whisky every now and again. She’s a wicked artist, a great writer, and is the reason I got into triathlon. Here is Danica’s story:

Name: Danica Novgorodoff
Hometown: Louisville, KY
Current Town: Brooklyn, NY
Sport(s) of Choice: Triathlons, and mostly running
Longest Distance Covered and on what (feet/bike/skis/snowshoes/etc…): 56 miles on a bike
30 on a horse
26.2 on my feet.
Occupation: Graphic novelist.

Gimme a brief history of Danica in sports. What did you do as a kid? Have you always been athletic? How did you get into running and triathlon?

I started running when I was a little kid; I’d take my dog for long runs or walks. I played softball until high school, and was a competitive horse rider (eventing: jumping and dressage) from 9 years old till 18. I was never exceptionally athletic or competitive. I was on the swim team when I was about 12 and kind of hated it. I always loved just being outdoors.

You ran your first marathon last year after declaring you had no interest in doing one. What made you change your mind? Are you happy you did? Any there others in your future?

I was running on a mountain in Colorado one morning last summer. I just kept going up and up. The air smelled like woodsmoke and there were wildflowers all up the slope and the light was exquisite and I felt so much gratitude—I just felt like I could run forever. So I thought, why not try it? Outside of that moment, I was feeling sort of emotionally stressed out and thought maybe I could run through it. Run myself to a point of clarity, or just run myself to death. Well, that’s a little dramatic, but I think it worked. By the way, I soon discovered that I could not, in fact, run forever.

I’m happy I did the marathon (in the Hamptons, NY last September), but it was really hard. I sat down on a curb after the finish line and swore it was my first and last marathon. But I’m signed up for the New York marathon next fall.

FYI, this is a picture of Danica after the marathon:

You registered for your first half-Ironman triathlon in October after declaring you had no interest in doing one. What made you change your mind? How are you preparing for it?

My friend signed me up for it! I still don’t know if I want to do it. I haven’t started preparing for it yet—it’s the off season right now. I’m carbo-loading on cookies and hibernating.

Do you think endurance athletes are driven by a masochistic impulse to punish themselves with longer and longer distances? What’s the mind-changing all about do you think?

For me it’s not about masochism. I personally prefer pleasure to pain. It’s more about doing something new, having an adventure, just to see what it’s like. It’s also a social thing—I have a hard time saying no when my friends suggest some crazy race. Plus, it’s just exciting to try to do something—some distance or challenge—that you don’t quite know if you can do. Uncharted territory. I’m always looking for ways to surprise myself.

Describe your typical training schedule.

I don’t really have one—I’ve never been able to follow a strict schedule. I do what I feel like doing on any particular day. I use a legit training plan as a reference guide, but then follow it very loosely. Sometimes I do more than it calls for, sometimes less. Triathlon schedules often instruct you to, say, swim in the morning and run at night. I don’t have time for two workouts a day!  So I just do one longer one. I’m still learning a lot about training, and was amazed to discover that you can actually get faster by doing speed training, which I’d never really liked in the past. Right now I’m doing a lot of long, slow runs. In general I just try to exercise once a day, 6 days a week.

What do you normally eat?

I mostly cook for myself. I’m vegetarian. I eat real food, organic when possible, and plenty of ice cream.

Can you recall a particularly challenging moment in training or racing? How did you deal with it?

I did the Chicago triathlon a couple years ago in humid, 93-degree weather. Having just spent the summer in cool, dry Colorado, the heat was killing me. I was on the run and toward the end there were more people walking than running. There was an ambulance picking someone up. I started hallucinating and getting chills. I thought, I’ll just detach my mind from my body to stop the pain. But then I thought, that’s a terrible idea, because my body could be on the pavement before my mind realizes what’s happening. So I just let it hurt, and slowed way down, and said to myself, “You’re still moving, you’re still moving; it doesn’t matter how slow you go as long as you’re still moving.” In that way I was able to run the whole way and though it felt like an interminable run, I actually finished with an OK time.

Any interesting/fun/inspiring stories you want to share from training?

I was planning to do my first 18-mile run in training for the marathon. I asked Hannah Williams, a fast, experienced, and beautiful ultra marathon runner, to suggest a route in Steamboat. She gave me a map of “The Mountain”—the winter ski slopes—and its many trails. Is it very steep? I asked. (What kind of question is that? It’s called “The Mountain” in a town situated in the High Rockies.) No, she said, it’s not too bad.

It was vertical. Really vertical. It was about a 3,000 foot climb, I think. My pace was slower than a stroll. I was cursing Hannah after one mile. It took me forever to get to the top, and no one was up there except a tough German mountain biker who looked at me skeptically and asked if I had enough water. The view of the valley was incredible—I took a photograph at the summit. It started a tradition of taking a picture at the farthest point of each long run—each one being the farthest I’d ever run in my life. I got back down to town an hour late for lunch with my friends. I drank a bloody Mary and I’ve been hooked ever since. There’s nothing like some salt and vodka after the hardest run of your life.

Talk to me about equipment/product. What do you wear? What do you ride? What gels do you like?

I wear Brooks running shoes, or Newtons. I have 4 bikes: a 1-speed rusty Schwinn Breeze (it’s a classic), a 10-speed Giant hybrid that I ride around New York almost every day (I love that bike), a Lemond Reno road bike that I use for most of my training (I really love that bike a lot), and a Giant time trial bike that I race on (it’s a beautiful machine!).

I prefer GU vanilla gels if I really HAVE to eat them, but I’d go for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich first if I can.

Any advice for the “noobs” out there?

Just do what you love. Keep moving. If you’re out there moving, no matter how fast, whether you’re racing to win or just getting out to see the scenery, you’ve already beat the guy on the couch. Find a sport you’re passionate about. Don’t forget to rest sometimes.

Can you tell us a little about the book you’re working on at the MacDowell colony right now?

It’s a graphic novel set in China: a love story, a ghost story, an adventure and sort of a western. It’s based on an ancient Chinese tradition of ghost marriages, and is about a young man who has to find a wife for his dead brother. It’s called The Undertaking of Lily Chen. I’ve been working on it for about 4 years and it’s past 300 pages now. It’s sort of its own endurance sport.

Check out a preview of The Undertaking of Lily Chen, along with more of Danica’s amazing art, on her website: www.danicanovgorodoff.com

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3 Responses to “Multiview 6: Danica Novgorodoff”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Multiview 11: Hannah Williams « mymultipersonality - March 27, 2012

    […] handwritten note with directions to that evening’s meeting place. I never actually went (Danica did. All the time), partially out of fear of being left in the dust and partially due to work […]

  2. Page not found « mymultipersonality - April 15, 2012

    […] Multiview 6: Danica Novgorodoff […]

  3. Fires, Rides and Races, Oh My! « mymultipersonality - June 30, 2012

    […] with this race is that there are only three aid stations the whole distance. So I will be borrowing Danica‘s Nathan Intensity Hydration vest. I’m not a big drinker during races but considering […]

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