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DISTANCE RUNNER RHIANNON HULL
DAVID EPSTEIN
March 12, 2012
WAS ALWAYS EAGER TO PUSH THE LIMITS OF HER ENDURANCE. THEN THE PACIFIC OCEAN PUT HER TO THE ULTIMATE TEST
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March 12, 2012

Distance Runner Rhiannon Hull

WAS ALWAYS EAGER TO PUSH THE LIMITS OF HER ENDURANCE. THEN THE PACIFIC OCEAN PUT HER TO THE ULTIMATE TEST

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But Rhiannon kept Tracktown's cultish fanaticism at a remove. Running was what she did, not who she was. As a redshirt junior she met Norm at a campus bar. He still remembers being transfixed by the ropes of back muscle poking from her top and by her glacier-blue eyes and wraparound smile. "Who are you?" was the best opening line he could muster. She told him, but she had no interest in discussing split times and personal bests at the bar, even one that happened to be named Joggers.

"She got sick of talking about running," Norm says. That was fine by him. They started dating immediately.

Besides going out with Norm, a mocha-skinned 6'4" glassblower and artist from Cleveland who was not an Oregon student, Rhiannon made plenty of friends away from track. She threw herself into her psychology classes, absorbed the counterculture vibe of her hometown and became, as her father puts it, "very eco-minded." Consumed by fitness and training but unwilling to give up life's indulgences, she was borderline obsessed with inventing the "healthy cookie," says Crabb-Waterman. Never mind that you're more likely to harness cold fusion than to devise a decent-tasting cookie without using butter—Rhiannon spent innumerable hours trying.

On the Oregon team she acquitted herself well, twice competing at the NCAA championships in cross-country, but her results never quite lived up to her ferocious training. "She wasn't that fast, but she was strong," says Crabb-Waterman, invoking a track term for a runner who can simply last.

During her junior year abroad in Seville, suddenly untethered from the strictures of the U of O program, Rhiannon increased her training volume, replacing 500-meter intervals with 1,000-meter intervals. When Coffman traveled to Sicily with her, Rhiannon rented her a bike so she could accompany Rhiannon on runs. ("It was the only way I could keep up," Coffman says.) In Seville, Rhiannon fell in with a running team called Grupo 10 and started winning prize money at local 10K road races and half marathons. "In Spain she blossomed as a runner," says Crabb-Waterman. "She found that she could hold her speed for a really long time. The longer the better."

Back in Eugene for her senior year, Rhiannon was riding her bike when she was blindsided by a car door. The accident left her with lingering back pain, which exacted a price on her running. She remained on the Ducks team but immersed herself in yoga. Core strength was already one of her core strengths, and soon she was doing handstand push-ups and splits against the wall and gaining an even more intimate knowledge of her own body.

In 2002, a year after graduating from Oregon, she married Norm. In '03, eight months pregnant with their first child, Rhiannon was still running daily. Concerned neighbors cautioned her as she smiled and zipped by. She delivered Gianni without drugs. Asked by friends how she managed that, she responded, "It's just like running: You know you can do it, so you just do it." Within weeks she was back to piling up the miles, insisting to friends that something about pregnancy—perhaps the increase in blood volume required to nurture the baby—had made her faster.

Two years later, after the Hulls had moved to Springfield, Ore., Julian was born. The delivery by midwife doubled as an impromptu social gathering, the sort of thing that only a woman who was supremely comfortable in her own body would allow. Norm's best friend shot video, and a dozen other friends gathered in their home, some waiting to watch the grand finale of "the wild birth," as they called it, during which Norm helped lift his wife to get an assist from gravity. "It was," recalls Norm, "pretty dramatic."

Now a mother of two, Rhiannon began to think even more about the world around her. When Norm took her to visit his relatives in Chicago's tough Englewood neighborhood—a pocket where Bill Clinton once discussed areas of America "untouched by our prosperity"—she was appalled that she had to drive 45 minutes to find a store with fresh fruit. Galvanized by that trip, she started a blog, "The Eco Family: your cost effective guide to being a green parent," under the nom de Web Eco-Mama. She'd also grown interested in Rudolf Steiner's Waldorf educational philosophy, which emphasizes storytelling and the outdoors and seeks to shield kids from the influence of pop culture (no TV) and corporate promotions (no Mickey Mouse T-shirts) until their personalities are more fully developed.

In 2008 the Hulls moved to Healdsburg, a Zinfandel boomtown in Sonoma County in Northern California, so that Rhiannon could begin the four-year training course at the Summerfield Waldorf School & Farm. At the same time she was homeschooling her own kids. Running (often twice a day) served a new purpose: giving her alone time. There were days when she would run from home to the center of town to teach a yoga class, then run back home and run again in the evening if she needed a break from a three-quarters-male household.

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