Welcome to a new series on NF Style called Rider Goals in which equestrians give insight into their competitive, athletic endeavors outside of riding to ultimately help achieve their ambitions both in and out of horse sport.

Heather Caristo-Williams is a familiar name at the international, grand prix level for show jumping. But it’s not only in riding that she excels—she’s also a long distance runner, competing regularly in marathons.

Heather’s won her age group at the Long Island Marathon and has qualified for, then subsequently ran, the Boston Marathon. Most recently, she’s completed her 16th marathon.

Although her life remains completely dedicated to horses and horse sport, she’s found that running helps to center her and translates positively into her riding. “It’s awesome to set a different kind of goal instead of just what class I want to do well in [at a horse show],” she said.

To learn more about how running works into her riding life, we caught up with Heather to ask her about her (second) competitive outlet.

 NF Style: How did you get into long distance running?

Heather Caristo-Williams: I used to run with my sisters at our local track just for fun. That’s how I originally started. But I decided I wanted to do a marathon when one of my childhood friends was diagnosed with cancer. It was awful and I didn’t really know what I could do to help, and I thought, some people raise money for charities by running marathons and I like to run so I’m going to run marathons for you. I haven’t looked back since.

How do you incorporate your race schedule into your horse show schedule?

If I’m going to pick a race, I try to pick one that allows for me to train during a time when there aren’t a lot of horse shows. The last one I chose was around Thanksgiving, and we didn’t have a lot of shows in the two months leading up to it so it was easier to figure out a training schedule. It can be difficult, though, and my training can be lacking—but I’ll just do it even if I know I won’t record a good time.

I often run before a big class, like before a big night class at WEF or a grand prix if I only have one horse in it. Those are more just runs to get the nerves out. Those aren’t necessarily training runs for a race.

When do you fit in your runs on a normal day at home?

It depends where I am. In Florida, it’s easier to get them done in the morning. In New York, we get done at an earlier hour so I run in the afternoon with a friend of mine—we’ve competed in a few marathons together.

How does your running help your riding?

I would say it translates into riding. It helps me on course because I’ve built up a good aerobic background so I don’t come out of the ring out of breath. I love it because it’s translated into my own riding and how I train my horses based on speed work one day, a relaxing day another day, then an endurance ride the next. So the riding training mimics my own running schedule.

I’m guilty for not doing enough upper body work. I could run all day. I do try to get in some push ups and crunches to keep my upper body and core strong to help my riding.

Also, running releases endorphins. I might be in a bad mood before, but I’m definitely not in one after the run. So it helps me stay positive and allows me time to think about other things while out running on the roads. That time allows space to think and sort through thoughts like my horses’ training programs or changing bits.

Additionally, running helps me get through rough days at the shows. It allows me to clear my mind and focus on how to better the next day’s classes and to not dwell on the things that went wrong that day.

What advice would you give others thinking about running marathons?

It starts with the first step. Even for me, if I wait until the end of the day, I have to push myself. Try to get out there, even if it’s just one time around the block to start. Then each time, do a little bit more. It’s important to make small goals like a 5k. You don’t want to become overwhelmed and make it be a defeat before you even start.

What’s your favorite running gear?

I run in Saucony shoes and in a sport kilt, which has a pocket in front to keep my energy boosts in it and my chapstick.

And how has running helped in your overall plan with achieving your goals?

Overall, it’s always about the horses and for me to stay in shape for them so I like the goal of running marathons to help with that. I know I can dig deep at miles 22-26 in a marathon to get it done, which gives me confidence that I can dig deep when it really matters in a jump off. I also am an Ironman triathlete just because I wanted to prove to myself that I can do the distance.

I like to push myself, set a goal, and achieve it. And plus, it’s good for me to have the confidence in myself from running long distanes to then go into the grand prix ring with the top riders in the world. Running is my form of mediation and is important for my mental strength.

All photos courtesy of Heather Caristo-Williams