A flame of red hair flies behind her and her toe shoes pound on the dirt. Enveloped by the silence of trees and the setting sun, she closes out her 15-mile run with a racing heart.
Palo Alto High School senior, avid runner and health advocate Jacki Seymour is training for a 200-kilometer (124.3-mile) race, to take place in Bhutan this coming May. She will be the youngest runner ever to compete in the race, which she is running with her father.
“Running gives me motivation to have a healthy lifestyle and do my best at school and be happy,” Jacki says. “When I’m stressed or have some sort of emotion and I go running and it just makes it all better.”
Jacki has been running since she was seven years old, when her father, Stephen Seymour, had a heart attack. The doctors attributed it to his excessive weight, so Jacki and her father began running weekly races together with their San Francisco running club, Dolphin South End.
“My quest to improve my health ended up providing us with a set schedule where we grew to be close and share more,” Stephen says. “I feel as though we understand one another better because we run together. Our relationship grew stronger and our interests more aligned through running.”
Now, Jacki runs a few miles in the mornings, but does most of her running at night. Her current training schedule for the race is to run 15 miles a day for two days in a row, then have a rest day. She has been running a marathon every other month since her first one when she was 15.
“During the last few years, Jacki has gone from running a few miles on Sundays to building a lifestyle around health and fitness,” Stephen says.
Her longest official race up to now was 50 kilometers, although she has run further independently. She ran on the Paly cross country team throughout high school, despite an injury through most of the season her senior year.
“Running is definitely going to be a long-term thing,” Jacki says. “It’s … definitely a part of me.”
According to Jacki, her father inspires her to persist with running.
“When we started running, I had a dream that one day she would beat her dad in a race,” Stephen says. “This dream was realized during a 30-kilometer run not long ago. She kept the determination growing to improve her running abilities. This determination is something she extends to many important areas of her life.”
The race in Bhutan is a stage race – a long-distance race split over a series of days. According to Jacki, she has always wanted to do a stage race, although she wanted a lasting experience beyond simply an extremely long race. After speaking with long-distance runners in her running club, she settled on the race in Bhutan.
“The options were through the desert or in Bhutan through the many different types of terrain,” Jacki says. “What really interested me was being able to experience another culture in such a unique way, doing what I love to do.”
Global Limits organizes the race through Bhutan, a land-locked country abundant in forests and mountains, which lies below Tibet.
To be accepted into the race, runners must undergo an application process, including an essay, age verifications – runners must be 18 – and confirmation of completion of previous long-distance races. According to Jacki, she is the youngest runner to qualify in the race’s history.
Aside from running, race participants will be stretching, eating and sleeping together, Jacki says. Sleeping situations are either camping or sleeping in monasteries.
“I’m sure that in Bhutan, all the people who run are going to be extremely interesting,” Jacki says, “because it’s not every day that you meet someone who’s willing to run such a long endurance race.”