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For nearly 17 years, until she was 37, Van Deren suffered from epilepsy, enduring hundreds of seizures, sometimes as often as two or three times in a week. With each seizure, she lost consciousness for about a minute. Usually, her body just went limp as she stared off into space. But there were also the two dozen or so grand mal seizures she suffered, when her muscles radically contracted and her legs and arms flailed uncontrollably. With each seizure came the distinct chance that she could die. Rather than risk death, she did the next best thing: She let doctors drill a hole into her skull.

In 1997, Van Deren underwent a partial right temporal lobectomy. Doctors removed a portion of her brain that was the focal point of her seizures. The surgery ended her epilepsy; Van Deren hasn't seized once since the operation. But the surgeon's work created a blind spot in the upper left part of her vision. And there is also the residual neural damage from the seizures. She cannot track time well; she is always running late, and she has almost no sense of direction. Her memory is weak—she can't recall where, exactly, she took her honeymoon—and when she's confronted with excessive sensory noise, as she is now, at this clamorous starting line, she gets weary and irritable. Sometimes Van Deren needs to lie down and nap for hours.

She is an ultramarathoner with extraordinary limitations. In races she must cover hundreds of miles, and yet often has no idea how long she has been running—or where she is going.
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