Katie Visco is trying to become the youngest female runner to cross the United States. As the 23-year-old tackles the 3,200-mile route she says she’s taking it step by step, emphasizing healthy tactics and looking forward to her next meal.

Katie Visco during New York break

(WOMENSENEWS)–Katie Visco began her cross-country run on March 29 and by the time you read this she will have already put around 300 miles under her sneakers and still face 2, 900 miles of remaining U.S. landscape.

At 23, Visco, a 2007 economics graduate from Carleton College in Minnesota, is attempting to join the elite ranks of women–an unofficial count lists a total of 11–who have run across the United States.

She hopes to cover her route through 16 major cities–starting in Boston and ending in San Diego, Calif–in nine months.

A comprehensive list of transcontinental runners has been compiled by John Wallace, a runner who completed the same journey in January 2005. Wallace has tried to document all the runners who have finished the route since 1909. He says that of the 193 cross-country attempts, only 11 were made by women.

Wallace’s list indicates that if Visco completes the transcontinental journey, she would be the youngest woman to do so. Elena Helmerick was 24 when she finished the 3,200-mile route last year. The next youngest in the club is Lorna Michael, who finished the run in 1993 at the age of 34.

"Some people call this crazy and taking it to the extreme," Visco said in an April 20 interview. She spoke to Women’s eNews during a five-day rest stop in New York City where press agents had lined up publicity interviews with several TV, radio, newspaper and digital media outlets.

Visco says her nutritionist estimates she will be burning 4, 500 calories in a typical day, but she doesn’t want anyone to get the idea that she’s promoting extreme exercise and weight loss.

Instead, she wants to emphasize her healthy day-by-day routine of stretching, taking her time to run, eating well and minding her mental and physical health.

Visco’s family and friends are taking turns driving an escort van and providing pep support along the way. The credentials for a driver? Someone who "truly understands why on earth I’m doing this," she said.

Sending a Healthy Message

Health promotion is one of Visco’s reasons for spending the next eight months on the run.

Throughout her journey, she plans to speak at schools and some of the 150 chapters of Girls on the Run, a nonprofit in the United States and Canada, with headquarters in Charlotte, N.C. The organization promotes running as a way for girls to gain confidence, health and life preparation.

"Running for women can be a source of inspiration, empowerment and transformation," said Molly Barker, founder and head of Girls on the Run. "Katie’s emphasis on these components of the running experience will surely create an interesting shift in the minds of those who have only considered the cardiovascular benefits of running."

Barker says that Visco’s message is also important for girls living in urban areas, who might not have much access to sports facilities. Encouraging girls to get out and run with a partner in safe areas is invaluable.

"Many urban areas lack the green space necessary these days to play ball, play games and participate in team activities . . . but running can be done almost anywhere and anytime," said Barker, who adds that the benefits are numerous for girls anywhere. "There is something that ‘fills us up’ when we can get outside, breathe in the air and feel the wind in our hair."

Visco began running when she was in Hadley Middle School in Glen Ellyn, Ill. Initially she doubted she had the strength to run a single mile. "But I did it, and I distinctly remember, at the end of that mile, I felt so alive," she said.

Running on the track team throughout middle school, right up until college, Visco says she was inspired by her teammates and the goals they realized individually and together as a team.

Visco credits running with helping her to set and reach goals, work in a team and support others. "Sport helped me have a rock in my life. This is a common thread amongst women runners . . . It provides a level of stability and confidence to young women, even outside of the actual sport."

Visco is maintaining a Web site, Pave Your Lane, with photos and journal entries that keep tabs on various aspects of her effort, from naps and breaks to soak her inflamed feet in cold streams to her media coverage.

Visco first got the idea for an inspirational run during college. She was encouraged to take action when she participated in City Year, a Boston service program that pairs role models with local high school students.

‘This is About Inspiration’

"This is not about me. This is about people who can possibly be inspired by this. That’s all I want," Visco said.

Visco hopes her run will motivate anyone–not just runners or athletes–having trouble putting a passion into action.

While looking forward to some of the natural beauty that lies ahead on the course–in the Appalachian Mountains and the plains of New Mexico and Arizona–Visco is also girding herself for challenging inclines, thin air and extreme heat. "I’m anticipating all kinds of rocks thrown into the road, but that’s when it’s mind over matter. That’s when I’ll look to the people who have supported me and the people that I want to inspire."

Visco says that while she runs she is thinking about how to transmit her message. She also thinks of how scared she is of dogs. She ponders which side of the road is safest to run on.

Often she thinks about her next meal and sometimes she longs for a giant steak.

Occasionally she uses her rests for sightseeing, but mainly she says her breaks revolve around meals. "I’m basically running to and from food," she laughs.

Jackie Bischof is enrolled in Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism in New York. She has written for The Citizen, Journalism.co.za (SA), Editor’s Weblog (Europe), The Huffington Post and Black Star News (U.S.). She blogs regularly on http://jaxbischof.wordpress.com

Women’s eNews welcomes your comments. E-mail us at [email protected]

For more information:

Pave Your Lane

Girls on the Run

Crossing the United States of America One Step at a Time.

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