In it for the long haul

March 10, 2014
By Chris Horn  

For Anna Battiata, long-distance running is more than a passion. It’s a sport that took her on a two-year journey of nonstop training and inspired the focus of her current graduate studies.

And the odyssey isn’t close to being finished. Battiata placed second among female runners in the Feb. 22 Mount Mitchell Challenge, a 40-mile ultra marathon that traverses the highest peak east of the Mississippi.

“I’ve been running with a group at Harbison Forest, and a lot of them do ultra marathons and encouraged me to try it,” said Battiata, who earned a bachelor’s in biology at the University of South Carolina in 2011, then devoted two years to train with the U.S. national triathlon team. She returned to the university this past fall to pursue a master’s degree. “Even though I’m back in school, I still need that outlet of running."

It was running — or rather too much of it — that brought Battiata back to Carolina. During her two-year stint preparing for the 2016 Olympics, Battiata found it difficult to find a balance in the rigor of constant training.

“For me, there was no way to turn that off. I was channeling every aspect of my life into qualifying and eventually realized that what I really needed was more of a balance,” she said. “I felt like I was missing out on a lot of other things that I really enjoyed, and after some soul-searching decided it was time to start graduate school and pursue my academic goals.”

Running along the Appalachian Trail during those long days of training, Battiata noticed that certain tree species at particular altitudes were dying off. She learned that the tree die-off was related to climate change, which further kindled an interest in conservation biology, the focus of her current graduate studies in the College of Arts and Sciences.

“Some of the tree species are shifting to higher altitudes and some are becoming extinct in some areas,” she said.

Now that Battiata has found a happy medium in splitting time between academics and running, she wants to cultivate a love for long-distance running among her peers. She is interested in forming a distance/trail running club on campus, and she’s approached the physical education department about offering an ultra-running elective in the fall. The course would draw from her national team experience and include topics on training, nutrition, recovery and injury prevention.

The only prerequisite for the elective would be a comfort level with running distances of about eight miles “with no time requirement,” Battiata said. The course would likely include a night run, a trail run and perhaps a final “project” of running in an ultra marathon of 30 miles.

“But you wouldn’t be a failure if you couldn’t do it,” she said, smiling.