The following is a growing collection of stories shared by runners about their relationship with the strange, demanding, and awesome sport of trail and ultrarunning. These brief tales offer insight into the experience of being human and reveal new layers of identity and community. The intention behind this project is to illuminate the incredible power we all hold as people and to inspire one another. If you would like to contribute, please submit your own story (200 words or less) to firstname.lastname@example.org
In the long run, the people we meet and the people we become matters the most:
“Running can be giving. Running can be forgiving. Running can be unforgiving. Running is all of those things and more. It comes with feelings of frustration, angst, and pain, but also feelings of exhilaration, wonder, and amazement. Entire identities can be created from it, overtaking anything and everything else. Either it has carved me into what I am today, or I carved myself to what I have become.
Rarely do we see or care beyond the people we know as runners; all they do is run, and that’s all you know. It is both a blessing and a curse; it is both easy and hard to find like-minded people who also run, but alienating from people that don’t associate you with anything else. It is fortunate and crazy that it is both the easiest and hardest activity to do. The community is huge and welcoming, yet to me it remains difficult to find people that care enough to reach beyond running.
Just like this essay, my running has been a smorgasbord of anything and everything. I’ve gone through ups and downs mentally like I have on the trail and road, slow and fast. But this is what running is – it’s everything. All the feelings, all the experiences. Everyone has a story, but only if you’re willing to listen. For me, I would not be alive without it.”
Written by Max Kam
“From the time I was introduced to sports in grade school I could tell I was different. I didn’t look or act like the other boys and I was definitely not an athlete—no matter how hard I tried. But moreover I felt completely separate, even inhuman.
In my youth being transgender or non-binary was unheard of. You were either a boy or a girl, and if you were in an Indian household being anything but the best and brightest boy meant failure. The girl inside me didn’t know how to be seen, heard, or understood. And I stayed in that lonely place for decades.
Running and doing ultras helped combat that by giving me an avenue to set my own goals, and push myself without overwhelming outside pressure to be the very best. I am intersex and transgender, and running for hours or days at a time allows me the space to be my authentic self. Where I can flourish without hearing criticism from others. Having found a community of people who want to see me become a better runner, regardless of how I identify, has led to a happier and more productive me.”
Written by Su Mittra
“December 2014, I was overweight but I was in denial, started running in 2017 – family was against the ideal initially, claiming we got ‘bad knees in the family’ and that ‘I shouldn’t gamble with that’ but stubbornness is a great thing when it comes to ultrarunning, ended with signing up for my first ever 50K Ultra on October 2018 AKA Barclay’s MoonTrekker.
It was my longest run ever back then, elevation gain was noticeable (2000m) and me tripping 5 times during, bleeding from both elbows and knees could have been my excuse to stop, but I didn’t, I crossed that finish line with a time of 9 hours 51min, at the finish line, I was happy but broken, combination of both physically and mentally, but came with vengeance in 2019 and finished the same course without tripping even once with a time of 8 hours 35min and Covid didn’t allow the same even to take place in 2020 nor 2021.
But lots of water passed under the river since, where I’ve completed to date X4 100K X2 50 Miles X2 70K and X12 50K runs, with the aim for my first 100 miles in 2022.
Running is great, you got it !”
Written by Moran Zukerman
“I can’t be the only one who relives the last trip and fall. Who then overthinks the next, determined to avoid it, somehow, some way. Those jutting rocks and slippery roots won’t take me down again! Yeah, just be more mindful (isn’t that all the rage now?). Pick up those feet! Nimble dancing along the trail. No way I will EVER fall again! Hurts too much anyway. And isn’t there a law of nature that forbids violence against those of us who love nature? Why would she want to hurt me? I mean, all I do is enjoy the scenery while I get my endorphin fix. And then BAM! Down I go. And you know before you hit; it’s amazing how fast your brain calculates you’re a goner. To top it off you tweak your hamstring attempting to avoid the inevitable. Never mind what damage you incur with impact. With a bad one, I just sit there a bit to recover and assess. First thing is to look for the culprit and, no lie, it’s ALWAYS some small stone or root. It’s never the obvious. Slowly get up and going again. Swearing it’s the LAST TIME I FALL! And, hey, I can add this to my repertoire of war stories! Silver lining!”
Written by Ken Hurst
“I’d like to share with you about a strong and beautiful woman. Many who knew this woman were not blessed to witness her strength as I did being her caregiver.
When I met Mary we were strangers. She could walk with a walker. Over time ALS took her ability to move, but I moved for Mary she was my biggest cheerleader.
Taking care of Mary limited my training. I started Snowdrop 100 physically untrained, but I had the BEST coach who taught me to have a strong mind, and I crossed that finish line with time to spare.
Did it hurt? Yes. I learned from Mary to be strong. To give my best, and smile while doing it. Taking care of Mary taught me to never say ” I only did so many miles”. The gift of movement is a blessing no matter how far or how fast. As I continue my miles I hope Mary is smiling down proud of me. Each step I take in God’s playground I appreciate and am thankful for ❤️
Always in my heart,
Miles For Mary”
Written by Michelle Sanchez
“I recently ran my first 100 miler and the amount of preparation for drop bags, timing charts, nutrition/hydration plans, and the like was astounding. Additionally, I made the decision to have pacers. I sent my pacers their routes, asked them to study, and advised them of their “duties” (as many of them had never paced an ultra before). I believe it was the pacer decision that separated me, a mediocre runner, from fellow runners who are better than me, but had to DNF. As I encountered my pacers, I was happy to see them; we talked and laughed the miles away. Even during the dark and cold hours we laughed at how much it sucked and how not-normal I was. They kept me focused, eating, drinking, and moving. If it weren’t for my pacers, there’s a good chance I would have justified not eating in one of my “I HATE GU” rages, which would have been a waterfall plunge from the pain cave to the grave yard, in terms of finishing the race. I believe my competitive advantage was those that I surrounded myself with. My family and friends are the ones that brought me across the finish line.”
Written by Jesse Miller
“I’ve never really been a great…well…anything. My life has always been a comfortable mediocre, a fly-under-the-radar kind of existence. It wasn’t because I was unambitious, I just lacked the talent that my peers enjoyed and I had accepted my perceived fate of just “being ok”. I went to the gym and ran on occasion, but it wasn’t until a friend convinced me to run a trail half-marathon race with her that I realized I had something exceptional. My friend finished 15 minutes ahead of me, as I continued to trudge along with pink cheeks, a muddy butt, and a heart rate rivaling a scared mouse. It was the hardest thing I’d attempted but I felt strong and almost new, as though I’d stepped into a different body. I was so excited to finish that challenge that my next race was a 50k and I finished in 8.5 hours. My pace didn’t matter because I had found that I could persist in something most people wouldn’t dream of doing. My talent was my mental strength and appreciation for the effort. I’m not mediocre after all.”
Written by an anonymous runner
“The feeling at the start line is excitement and nervous combined. When you cross that finish line of your first 50K, 100K, 100M and beyond it’s the highest high–it brings you to tears, tears of joy. A memory that lasts a lifetime. The time you spend training you find out who your friends are; they put in the hours, the miles, the blood sweat and tears with you. The dedication is beyond belief, but the magic happens in training; you find out so much about yourself, about how far you can go, about how strong you are, about how much grit you have. Endurance running is like nothing else. It saved my life, it showed me who I was, and it taught me to always believe in myself to always keep going–never give up. You want to find out how amazing you are, become an ultra runner.”
Written by Janice Harris
“It always starts off slow. Though I’ve always been the type to approach life with gusto, charging—often impulsively—at whatever I set my sights on, my body has rarely cooperated with such vigor.
The first mile is spent plodding—not even a shuffle—bidding gravity to lay off just a little until all systems come online. It’s an active wait; no one can accuse me of being idle or indecisive. I know the crankiness of discomfort is but an annoying gateway to progress. But I’m impatient. I threaten to discard the day’s workout at every tenth mile.
I convince myself I won’t share it on Strava; no one needs to know the work involved in warming up this old engine. It’s slow, and I’d really be okay with it if it weren’t for the anxiety that someone might see me in this state. It’s personal. It’s like running naked, the flaws of myself on display without the story to make them beautiful.
But I plan ahead: I rehearse the lie of how many miles I’ve already covered in case someone asks. I’m mindful of exaggerating too much, so I settle for 18. That’s about how long the first mile feels anyway.”
Written by Tanya Stahler