Ildi Gaal profile by Lucas Beyer
Have you ever had a dream that sounded so crazy you were embarrassed to tell people? Ildi Gaal has. Ildi fantasized about making the USA World 50K team. Although she has been thinking about the idea for some years now, she has kept the vision to herself and her family.
The Heartbreaker began running marathons in 2013 before learning about the 50K worlds race. This past winter while completing her last clinical rotation, she began logging countless miles until she found a message in her inbox advertising the Madison, WI 50K race. She knew someone from Boulder, CO who made the world team a while back and this planted the seed in her mind.
After previous marathons, she would finish and not feel sore. She tells me “it’s not that I didn’t feel tired, but I knew I had more.” Ironically, after the 50K she did not feel sore. In fact the week after, she competed in a marathon in Eugene, OR. The reason being, she had already arranged everything for the marathon, and unexpectedly signed up to run the 50K the day before. She didn’t tell anyone she was racing the 50K, brought no team with her, and went under the radar. This is characteristic of Ildi because she thrives in a low-stress environment. Coming in, she knew it would be a big venture flying out, renting a car, and staying in a hotel. The less people that knew, the less pressure.
Another woman from Colorado was racing and Ildi knew she was going for the auto-qualifier (AQ). For the women’s AQ, the runner needed to win, and run under 3 hours 30 minutes. On paper her opponent was faster than her and had just run very well weeks prior at the Cherry Blossom 10k. The team USA runner stepped onto the line wearing the Nike Air Zoom Alphafly NEXT% which was fresh out of the box. She did not put any supplies in the fueling stations, so her pockets bulged with gels and bottles. The course was five 10K loops with variable hills on a hot day. Off the line, her competitor went out quickly and Ildi had been sick the week prior. Ildi recalls her thoughts “I’m just going to do me and not worry about the competition. If nothing else, this is a fun experience being here.”
By the third lap, Ildi was in 2nd place for women. Coming into the final loop, David Melly, Boston area runner & friend of Heartbreak, tells her “1st place is only 40 seconds ahead of you!” And Ildi remembers thinking “okay I either look terrible and David is trying to keep me going, or he’s serious and I actually have a chance.” Either way, she kept pushing. Sure enough with roughly four miles to go the leader appeared in the distance. Gaal then past the leader who had been 1st for 27 miles. Three miles to go. As she ran past spectators, they began cheering “go runner” instead of the plural. This was the only indicator that Ildi was pulling away because she “definitely didn’t want to look back.”
Crossing the line in flying colors, she couldn’t believe it. “I had to ask the race director if I really won because I was in disbelief.” Gaal secured the AQ with the win in 3 hours 28 minutes. World Championships will be next May (2023) in which she will be wearing the Team USA uniform. Gaal flew out to Madison, WI with no crew, simply a far-fetched goal in mind - then she did it. Heartbreaker, Doctor of Physical Therapy, and 50K dreamer turned Champ. Congratulations, Idli!
Ildiko ("Ildi") Gaal is a member of our Heartbreaker Flyer Team.
Lucas Beyer is a Love Squad team member for spring 2022