The three-time Hardrock 100 champ uses running as a ‘mode of exploration’ in the midst of her busy schedule.
Darcy Piceu had just returned from taking her 10-year-old daughter, Sophia, to Costa Rica for spring break. The two had spent the week in Nosara, which is known as a yoga destination and year-round surfing town. It’s not as well-traveled as other parts of Costa Rica because of its largely unpaved, bumpy roads, but Piceu, 44, has always preferred trails over pavement anyway.
Her love of ultrarunning started more than two decades ago, when she was a junior in college studying abroad in Australia and New Zealand. “It was just one of those moments, in my early 20s, where I felt like I needed to start actually doing some exercise and taking care of myself,” she says.
A swimmer and skier growing up, Piceu, who now lives in Boulder, Colorado, found that throwing on a pair of running shoes and heading out the door was the simplest way to stay healthy, but she found it was also a way to see new places. “I did a bunch of traveling in college and after college,” she says, “and you’d see these different places in a new sort of light, so running was almost like a mode of exploration.”
She started racing ultras after graduation, and she’s racked up a long list of impressive results, including three Hardrock 100 wins and several FKTs (fastest known time). “I was really drawn in by the ultras that were solely run on trails, and typically these mountainous, technical races.”
Outside of Hardrock, she typically doesn’t repeat races. “I love finding new races on different terrain and different areas in different countries,” she says.
As her pro running career has progressed, so has her day job. Trained as a psychotherapist, Piceu worked for years in middle and high schools as an intervention specialist. She then worked with college students at CU Boulder before venturing into her own private practice, through which her worlds are now coming together, as she’s started to work with a lot of athletes. “That’s really fun for me because I like working with other likeminded individuals,” she says. “I’m doing a lot of work on mindfulness and teaching people how to train their minds for races and for training,” and she even sometimes uses nature-based, talk therapy on the trails.
When it comes to fitting in her training, Piceu is (refreshingly) nonchalant about it. “In a perfect world, I guess it happens after school drop-off,” she says. “But that doesn’t always happen.” She gets in her long runs more like every other weekend, and when she’s struggling to be consistent with training, she will race to fitness, she says, using an event (and taking advantage of its aid stations) as her long training run that weekend.
While she doesn’t travel as much as she used to, because her daughter now has her own full schedule of activities, she does plan for big races every year. Last year she did the Ronda dels Cims race in Andorra, a 106-mile race course in the Pyrenees Mountains, and this year she plans to race the Tor de Geánts, a 200-plus-mile race in the mountains of Italy. “I’m starting to explore some of the more epic, challenging ‘out there’ races,” she says.
And though her racing goals are adventurous, in the end she wants to leave more of an impact on the sport than her finishing times. “If there was one goal, it would be about trying to do whatever I can for the women in our sport,” Piceu says. “ … And just make the sport more accessible to women,”
“I’ve been in it for a long time, and I’ve always had that sense that I want all of this to really mean something in the end.”