DRAPER — Elfi Ortenburger is no fan of the treadmill.
In fact, like most runners, she sees the "dreadmill" as an option of last resort.
So why would the 59-year-old Draper woman spend nearly five hours running 26.2 miles on the device the week before Christmas? Because, as she tells the runners she coaches, if you really want to do something, you will find a way.
Ortenburger didn't start running until her mid-40s. She owned a gym and was a body builder, who often resorted to running on a treadmill because it was the only way she could get cardio into her busy workday.
"When I got into my 40s, I didn't really like the way body building was going, so I started running with a friend," she said. She and her friend started to see just how far they could go each day. "The next thing I know we're training for the L.A. Marathon. I ran my first marathon when I was 45 years old."
And she did it, without knowing what she was doing, in four hours and 14 minutes. That fact, and a subsequent injury that kept her from running, motivated her to learn more about the sport and how to properly train. She became a running coach 14 years ago, and has enjoyed pushing herself and others in a sport for which she says, "I am not genetically gifted."
Four years ago, however, everything changed. She was coaching some runners during a track workout when she felt the world start spinning.
"I went to the hospital, and I thought it was a stroke or something," she said. "I was diagnosed with vertigo."
The cruel part of the diagnosis is that it comes and goes. One minute she's running a race, the next she's sitting on the side of the road, unable to control her body's movements.
"It causes me a lot of stress and anxiety because I'm out of control," she said, noting that she did manage two marathons with the vertigo. The treadmill, instead of a torture device, became her safe haven.
"I can run and have peace of mind that I'm not sitting out there on the side of the road," she said. If the vertigo, which was especially bad this last year, comes on, she just holds onto the handles and waits for it to pass.
Ortenburger did not, however, plan to run 26.2 miles on the treadmill until her vertigo made running the Berlin Marathon with her husband impossible. She's run at least one marathon a year since 2001 and wanted to keep her streak intact. So Elfi's marathon was born.
She had two friends and her husband run with her and when the treadmill shut off, which most do after 60 or 90 minutes depending on the brand, they wrote down her distance and times and let her know when she was three miles from the finish.
One friend and his children showed up with posters, and at the end, they presented her with a medal that said, "No glamour, no glory, no medals. Just 26.2 miles. First place overall."
She wasn't expecting the medal — or the signs — and said that while it turned out to be her slowest marathon ever, it is also one of the most special.
"If I didn't have to face my runners afterward, I don't know if I would have made that last hour," she said. "But I wanted to be an example. People respect you if you practice what you preach."
And, quite simply, she preaches that you can't have what you don't want to work for.
"It all boils down to, if you really want to do something bad enough, you do it," Ortenburger said. "You just make it work. I've worked hard all my life, and I didn't have a lot growing up, so I'm just kind of a grateful person. I just think, 'I'm so lucky to have a gym membership and a treadmill available.' I just make it a tool. You do the best you can, and I'm so grateful, even with the vertigo, that I can still do it."
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