WeRunFar Profile: Ann Heaslett And Tim Yanacheck

WeRunFar Profile: Ann Heaslett And Tim Yanacheck

Ann Heaslett trained every year for one race: the IAU 100k World Cup. (The race is now called the IAU 100k World Championships.)

Her first year, she made the 100k team as an alternate, traveling to France in 2001. In 2002, the race took her to Belgium, to Taiwan in 2003, to the Netherlands in 2004, and finally, in 2005, she helped Team USA bring home a gold medal from Japan. At these different races in different countries, she contended with many variables–food, travel, the course, weather, and more. But there was one constant that she and Team USA didn’t leave home without, and that’s her husband, Tim Yanacheck.

Ann ran onto the ultra scene as a late bloomer, and it is Tim who lovingly and proudly takes credit for getting her there. “I started ultrarunning before Ann, but what I like to say is that she was nothing until she met me,” Tim claimed. “I take credit for introducing her to ultramarathoning and I have been with her at every ultra she has ever run.”

“Yes,” Ann confirmed, “you were there.”


Ann and Tim (‘Timo,’ as most refer to him) met during a weekly group run in Madison, Wisconsin, falling in love over the love of the miles. They recently celebrated 11-and-a-half years of marriage, him at age 69 and she at 52. Both participants in high-school and college competitive running, running fast is a commonality the two share.

Ann began running on the boys team at her high school in Green Bay, Wisconsin since there were never enough girls for their own team, she said. She went on to run for the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, majoring in pre-med. It was while attending medical school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison–running just for fun at this time–when she met Tim.

Tim was a young runner, beginning on the half-mile course his dad routed out for him to earn a Boy Scouts badge. He attended Carthage College as a Division III runner, before enlisting for two years in the U.S. Army. After, it was straight to Marquette Law School and on to practice civil law for the next 42 years. Tim retired in January of this year.


“I’ll brag about Ann, real quick,” Tim jutted in, the first of much bragging about Ann that he did during our interview. “She was inducted into the University of Wisconsin Wall of Fame, which is their version of a hall of fame.”

Ann went on to a career in state hospitals for psychiatry, working with adults and children who suffer from mental diseases.

When the two met, Tim had already figured out he was more of an ultrarunner breed, choosing Ice Age Trail 50 Mile as his first ultra. “I did have a great time,” he said of the first one. “I loved the trails and found I could keep up with the mid- and upper-pack. I wasn’t going anywhere in marathons. I had broken three hours twice but I was not close to the Olympic Marathon Trials or anything. It was just fun for me.” Ann, also a three-hour marathoner–“She ran 3:01 four times! You can’t run faster than that!” Tim injected again, affectionately–but like Tim, she found the trails more enjoyable. Plus, if she was going to run with Tim, it was trails or no run at all. “I just never put all my eggs in the road-running basket,” she said. “But then, I thought it was more fun to run trails and go longer.”


The Ice Age 50 Mile was also Ann’s first 50 miler and she has since completed it 10 times.

“Tim, I don’t know how many times you’ve done it?” she questioned.

“I don’t know either!” he exclaimed. “I’ve lost track.”

Race director Jeff Mallach cleared it up for them, saying Tim has finished the 50-mile race about six times and Ann 10 times, but that is just the 50-mile course. The pair also has a number of finishes in the event’s 50k and half-marathon distances. “Ann is a member of the Ice Age Trail 50 Mile 500-Mile Club (10 finishes),” Mallach said. “She won Ice Age in three consecutive years (2003 to 2005) and finished in the top three five other times.” She also won one of the 50k races and holds the masters record in the half marathon, he added.

Though the two didn’t race together over the next few years, they trained together and attended each other’s races as crew members and spectators. “I would crew Ann,” Tim said. “It is always a pleasure to crew Ann.” When Ann began running for a spot on Team USA to race the IAU 100k World Cup, Tim’s spectating position transformed into a much bigger role. “I am a good spectator,” he deemed. “I like to recognize people and see new people.”

Always accompanying Ann during the 100k race, Tim became the assistant manager of Team USA. He rented the car or bus, picked up the athletes, helped out at aid stations, and, perhaps most importantly, cheered on Ann and her teammates. “I love it. I don’t have to run and I get to enjoy the heck out of it,” he said of each trip. During the years Ann raced on Team USA, from 2001 to 2005, Tim said he loved watching every moment of her race.


“I was prouder than you can imagine, I still am.” Tim said. “The year she helped win the gold medal for the U.S. team, man, I was bawling my eyes out.”

Ann’s road to competing at an international level included winning the 2002 USATF 50-Mile Trail National Championships at the White River 50 Mile Endurance Run in Washington, running it in eight hours and 13 minutes, and the 2002 USATF 24-Hour National Championships during the Olander 24-Hour Relay and Endurance Challenge in Ohio, where she completed 128.55 miles.

At the 2002 IAU 100k World Cup in Belgium, Team USA finished third, and in 2005, in Japan, the team took first. During the four years Ann was on the team, she said the USA’s goal was to run together for as long as they could in the race. “We run slower and keep the pace steady for the first 50 to 80k, then we see what we had left,” she said. “I am not a strong finisher. I was always one of those Steady Eddys, finishing between third and fifth place on the team.” Ann raced alongside Nikki Kimball, Anne Lundblad, and Connie Gardner, among others, she said. The legendary Ann Trason was on the 100k teams before Ann, she added, though the two once ran a race together.

Over the years, one of the bigger changes they have witnessed is women from all over the world gaining more respect, not just because of faster finishing times, but overall as serious athletes. “Women are getting faster–men are too–but women are really getting faster,” Tim said. “Ann became the first woman ever, ever in the world, to run a 100-mile trail race in less than 16 hours, which has now been broken by several women. Women have come a long way in the sport. I’m a fan of that.”

National- and world-championship-level events are gaining in stature as well, Tim said, as more countries are joining and sending teams to compete. Races are being held in places most people would not travel to otherwise, he added. Qatar was unbelievably different, Gibraltar was so small the athletes slept on a cruise ship docked off the peninsula, and organizers in the Netherlands “really know how to put on a race,” Tim said.

Team USA is heading to Spain in late November for the 2016 IAU 100k World Championships. On the women’s team it’ll be Meghan Arbogast, Pam Smith, Sarah Bard, Camille Heron, and Traci Falbo. Team USA’s men are Zach Bitter, Matt Flaherty, Patrick Reagan, Nick Accardo, Joe Binder, Geoff Burns, Chikara Omine, and alternate Graham Peck. Due to injuries, the women’s team will compete with only five runners, Tim said.


The team does not have an official coach. It’s up to each runner to get ready for the world championships, which often times takes place on a route not publicized until quite close to the event. “You do whatever training that got you through the national championships and onto the team,” Ann said. For her, that included a lower weekly mileage, numerous races, and a few hours a week in the pool. “I run a lot better in a race than in practice,” she said. While competing in the championship races, they were Ann’s ‘A’ goals, she said.

“That was the focus, to do whatever I needed to be ready to make that team and then to make the world race,” she said. “My philosophy was not going all out in every other race, but there were times, you know how it is when you’re in a race, you go harder in a race. I think that has made me be a better and faster runner.”

Prone to injuries, Ann’s string of championship races came to an early end, but her competitive nature drove her on. From 2005 to 2009, Ann switched her main focus to Ironman racing since she was already a runner and a swimmer. “I thought I would use my strength as an ultrarunner,” she said. “You really learn how to manage hydration and nutrition and I thought that would come in handy in Ironmans and it did.” Instead of miles of running, she would spend a day training on 100-mile bike rides. “It was intense in a different way,” she said. “I really enjoyed it, though.”

Ann qualified for the Ironman World Championships twice and competed in the Ultraman World Championships in Hawaii in 2007.


During all these years, Ann continued to be a supporting member of the 100k championship team, along with Tim as one of the managers and helpers. In the 2006 race, held in North Korea, Team USA did not place well, according to Tim. So, over beers, Tim, the race manager, and doctor talked about a better way to keep the team more consistent. Their answer came in the idea of a qualifying race.

The doctor, Lion Caldwell, said he would donate $2,000 in prize money if Tim would put on the race. The race would be an annual, dependable, well-run championship course where runners could sign up to specifically earn a spot on the team and to run fast times. With the clinking of bottles, Tim and Caldwell agreed and the Mad City Ultras–100k, 50k solo, and 50k relay–began. The first one was run in 2007 and Tim has directed them ever since, welcoming fast and slower runners to Madison, Wisconsin every spring. The race is a certified 10k loop, wrapping around the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum and Lake Wingra.

A half-flat, half-slightly-hilly course, the race allows people to come aiming for a goal time. The 100k male and female winners automatically receive a spot on the national team. This year it was Falbo and Burns who received automatic entries. Burns set a new course record this year in 6 hours and 30 minutes.

Other racers travel to the course seeking age-group records, Tim said. “Two years ago someone came to set the record for 80 year olds, and he did,” Tim said. “And last year a man came to set the record for the 50-to-54-year-old group, and he did. There are very slow runners and very fast runners, and the 50k course is not a championship race, but people just want to see if they can do it.”

After the first spot is filled, the USATF selects the remaining Team USA spots based on top 100k times and other qualifying standards.


The course is set up for a fast race, with ample aid and great family access, Tim said. “It’s an ideal set-up for an ultra race for people in it for not just the scenery, but for the competition, just like the championship,” he said. “Not to say our course is not scenic; our course is beautiful. It is really pretty.” Starting up the race so quickly, and one with such caliber, was not a problem for Tim, who spent years helping out and years of race-directing experience already under his belt. In 2002, Tim took over the Kettle Moraine 100 Endurance Run, originally directed by Kevin and Kris Setnes. “At the time it was the only 100 miler in Wisconsin,” he said. “Everyone loved it so we [he and co-director Jason Dorgan] thought someone needed to keep it going.”

Tim, being a sub-24-hour finisher at the race, knew what it took to direct a successful race, but there was more to Tim’s personality that kept the race one of the top races in the Midwest. “Yes, it is very difficult,” Tim said of directing a yearly 100 miler. “But, I don’t see it like that. It is a sense of altruism, it’s a sense of giving, like donating blood.” He describes it as a public service, a thankless job in many ways. “Our race is an important opportunity for people and we realize how important it is every single year when people finish and how happy they are that someone gave them that opportunity,” he explained. “So that is my motivation.”

“Timo treats all his runners with respect,” Mallach said of his fellow Midwest race director. “It doesn’t matter if you win the Mad City 100k or are DFL at the Kettle 100 Mile, he’s there with a smile and a handshake. Timo and his co-director Dorgan are the reason many runners keep coming back to the Kettle 100 Mile.”

Ann’s current training consists of local half marathons, four to five weekly runs, and regular boot camp high-intensity workouts, she explained. Still working five days a week, leading two dogs to the dog walk, and running and working out, her life maintains its busy schedule. Tim, recently retired, keeps up with both races and has joined the local theater, singing and dancing. It was difficult the first few times that Ann accompanied the USA team as a spectator and not as a competitor, she said, but watching and cheering has gotten easier.


“Now, I enjoy working and volunteering,” she said of her niches of assisting at the championship races, other ultras, and at Tim’s races. “Ann and Timo are Ice Age volunteers,” Mallach added. “Welcoming and knowledgable, they are great ambassadors for Wisconsin ultrarunning, and ultrarunning in general.”

Tim’s love for watching people run, whether it is the fastest person on the course or while standing next to a group of volunteers in a foreign country, has brought him and Ann closer together. “Little Ann,” he calls her. “She is a beautiful runner, a toe runner, running on her forefoot. In marathons, she just puts down her head and runs as fast as she can. That’s the same kind of strength and character and determination she brings to ultramarathon running. I am proud to know her and I swell with pride when I see her run.”



HA: A Day on the Ice


Editor’s note: Reporter Jessica Campbell recently was invited to take part in ice rescue training with the La Porte Fire Department on Stone Lake in La Porte. This is a detailed description of the day, as told from Jessica’s point of view.

Growing up on Lake Michigan, you bet I took I advantage of it.

Every summer was buoy swimming and beach volleyball, kayaking, water skiing and watching the sunset devour Chicago’s skyline. Winter never stopped my “beach gang” either. New Year’s Day began with our type of polar bear swim or, for us, flying into the icy water, falling backward to make sure every inch of us would be red when we came out, and screaming toward the towels and parkas our laughing parents were holding out to us.

When I agreed recently to head out on Stone Lake and try the ice survival suits used by the La Porte Fire Department for ice rescues, I thought, “I’ve got this.”

And when it was over, I realized I didn’t feel the cold quite as much as those polar bear dunks in a swim suit, but the experience still left me shaken up.

These rescues are three to four minutes of cold temperatures, ice water and pure adrenaline.


Becoming buoyant

I was given the opportunity to accompany each La Porte fire station during their annual ice safety training.

On Monday afternoon, I was set to meet Assistant Fire Chief A.C. Pressler at Cummings Lodge. When I arrived, he was already standing in the lake, knee-deep with chunks of hard ice floating around him.

We went inside the lodge, where he helped me quickly don the yellow survival suit, something that looked more like a HAZMAT suit without the face mask.

Instead of hazardous material, however, this suit protected my body, as well as the clothes I was wearing, from the 32-degree-or-below lake water. The suit was fairly lightweight and Pressler said it weighed a little more than a life jacket at best. It is made of different layers and is pretty well padded and insulated.

“There is a waterproof barrier and an insulation barrier,” Pressler said as I slid into it by sitting down and sliding each foot in. “The insulation doubles as a flotation device. From the head to the toe is buoyant.”

The neck clasp was the most difficult part to wriggle up – and the most important. If it wasn’t snug, and squishing your face together, then that dryness inside would not last long.

The La Porte Fire Department has three of the yellow suits, and is trying to replace the older versions they still have. The older version, which my “victim” – a member of the fire department – wore throughout the training, looked more like a wetsuit used in triathlons and did not have the multilayer components. It also had a few holes in it, letting my victim come closer to the real thing than he would have liked.

Pressler said two suits were donated a few years ago and the department received a $4,000 grant which funded the purchase of another suit, as well as the large red safety sled firefighters will use in some cases.

“(With) the new, modern suits, the technology is just better,” Pressler said. “We were pretty fortunate with the grant. Our plan is to get a couple more to replace the old suits and have nothing but the good ones out there.”


Into the cold

When the firefighters had me wrapped securely in the suit, Pressler, the victim and I began our journey toward the middle of the lake. The first few steps were navigating around slippery, small chunks of ice until I could step onto the thicker ice.

I walked arm-in-arm with Pressler, thinking we were going out to a designated place on the ice where I could jump into the water.

While my body weight was enough to hold me on the ice, Pressler would have had to lay down on his stomach to distribute weight so as not to break the ice.

However, he didn’t do that.

With my arm trapped, he jumped up and threw his weight down onto the ice, breaking it beneath him and dragging me sideways down into the water.

It was a shock. It wasn’t the cold, but the shock of being in the water surrounded by ice – and I was fine.

I was dry and laughing.

Pressler had hooked me to the tether being held by a few firefighters standing on the shore. The signal to be pulled out was to tap my head, Pressler had told me. So once I tapped, I quickly slid back to shore on my stomach like a flat water slide.

That experience – walking and unexpectedly falling into the water – is what Pressler calls being able to rescue yourself.

“The first thing they teach you is a self rescue, because if you can’t rescue yourself, then you have no business going in after somebody else,” he told me.


Rescue procedures

The annual training the departments take part in allow each firefighter a chance to wear the suit and practice the techniques needed for a successful rescue. The firefighters will go out on various lakes and at different areas of those lakes, Pressler said.

After self rescues and learning how to quickly put the suit on, they move on to saving victims and using the sled.

“You learn other techniques: Rescuing with a tether, rescuing without a tether,” he said.

While it varies among departments, La Porte uses a system with two station engines and about five to seven firefighters on a rescue.

“There are two guys from Station 2 and one guy will go out and one guy will be ready to go out just in case something happens to him, so they both show up in suits,” Pressler explained. “The guy driving the truck will just be in turnout gear and will be one of the guys on shore. The engine from Station 1 will show up with at least one guy in a suit and at least two guys ready to stay on shore.”

Three to four firefighters are in suits and the rest are back-ups and pullers, he said.

The need for the sled depends on the ice and situation, but it is helpful when used, Pressler continued.

“You’re not going to pull a person out of the lake and they are going to walk to shore,” he said. “They’re zapped. They have no energy, and when they get out, their clothes freeze instantly. They are like the Tin Man.”

The sled gets a victim back to the shore without having to be dragged across the ice. It is safer for him, Pressler said, but when it comes down to it, the number one thing is getting the victim out as soon as possible.


‘Doing something right’

The three- to four-minutes between a call and the rescue is within the as-soon-as-possible timeframe. That was the amount of time needed to rescue a young man who fell through the ice four years ago.

Pressler said it was an odd situation because just a few hours before the man fell, the fire department had been on the lake practicing rescue techniques.

At 5:30 p.m. on really cold night – a Friday, Pressler remembered – a man left a friend’s house and walked across the lake to get home. His friends said they saw him, then he disappeared.

“The guys showed up, jumped out of the truck in the suits, had the gear, had the rope and ran out there and plucked him out of the water,” Pressler said. “He couldn’t do anything; couldn’t move and had trouble breathing. He had probably been in the water for about 10 minutes.”

The man survived, and Pressler said the quick response of the team that night was due to the constant training and practice in getting the gear on and getting out the door.

“Of course, knowing what to do when you get there is important too,” he said. “But that was proof we are doing something right.”

When it comes to land surrounded by lakes and ponds as La Porte is, Pressler said, residents are usually aware of the dangers associated with the ice and there are not many ice rescues. The last was the incident four years ago.

“People are pretty good and are pretty smart about staying off the ice,” he said. “We really don’t get the opportunity for ice rescues and I think it has a lot to do with the people being educated.”

Even so, members of the fire department are out on the lake every year, studying and practicing.


The rescue

When I finally reached my victim, who was actually firefighter James Snyder, I was instructed to jump in behind the struggling, cold individual and attach a tether to him so we could be pulled out by the men on shore. I then rescued him with the sled – with help from Pressler.

It was similar to lifeguard training: Approach from behind because the victim will grab you.

Though I fumbled with the tether and it took me a lot longer to drag the sled over the cracking ice than it would have one of the firefighters, I had fun learning the ropes.

I enjoyed the experience, and Pressler agreed it was fun to get out of the station or office from time to time.

Yet, throughout the rescue training, I could still hear the radios of the fire department as emergency calls continued to go out.

It was still business.

WeRunFar: Rich Benyo and Jan Seeley

WeRunFar Profile: Rich Benyo And Jan Seeley

Some were shocked, and some knew it was coming. When readers of the magazine, Marathon & Beyond, opened to the first page of the publication’s final edition, they read the editorial no one wants to read and no editor ever wants to write.

You hold in your hand the 114th issue of Marathon & Beyond. It is also the last issue of Marathon & Beyond.
Due to a steady decline in subscriptions over the past several years, the magazine is no longer able to sustain itself in a media environment that is rapidly—and inexorably—changing. –Rich Benyo, editor of Marathon & Beyond magazine

The announcement was made this past October. The esteemed magazine was being discontinued after almost 20 years of publication. Sure, it wasn’t of The New Yorker status, but to runners and ultrarunners it was the bi-monthly bible for the running community.

Rich Benyo and Jan Seeley were the backbone duo of the magazine. They took over the magazine, distributing it from their new headquarters in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois.

Jan always had ambitions to go into journalism and publishing, but a stint playing on the U.S. National Field Hockey team and teaching led her down several different paths before finding M&B.

Jan, 56, was born in Weymouth, Massachusetts, and after one year of cross country for her high school, Jan jumped into field hockey, making her way onto both her Yale University varsity team and the U.S national team. She was the first alternate to the 1980 Olympic Field Hockey squad.

Her teammates missed out on the Olympics when the U.S. boycotted in 1980. Two years later at her graduation from Yale, she had a decision to make: start her adult life or try to make the 1984 Olympic team.

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“1980 was the first year field hockey was an Olympic sport,” she said. “I was a baby! I was only 20, and all these other women were in their late twenties and thirties.”

She decided to not go for the 1984 Olympics and instead began teaching and coaching at a Connecticut prep school. After five years, she and her now late husband, Joe, a Yale classmate, moved to Illinois in 1987 to attend the University of Illinois for grad school, Jan in English, and Joe in computer science.

“I figured I would go right back into the classroom after grad school, and I just wanted to be a better English teacher,” she said.

Instead, she heard about an opening at Human Kinetics.

“It was the swing back to where and what I wanted to do while in high school,” she said, as she first stepped back into the journalism field.

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It was in that world, where she met Rich and the magazine, M&B, was born.

Rich, now 70, was born in Pennsylvania on the same day as Adolf Hitler, Mohammed, Napoleon, Harold Lloyd, and Johnny Tillotson, a fact he proudly likes to share. In 1968 he graduated from Bloomsberg University, where he majored in English literature, with a “smattering” of journalism, and ran cross country.

He started running as a kid as a way to beat the bullies, he told me.

“I had a stuttering problem from five years old when I woke up while having my tonsils taken out,” he said. “The older kids used to beat up on me, so I learned that if I got a few steps head start on them, I could outrun them.”

His running really took off while working at Runner’s World Magazine in 1977, but before that, from 1972 to 1977, he was the editor of Stock Car Racing Magazine in Alexandria, Virginia. At that time, Rich was following the NASCAR circuit and gaining a few unwanted pounds, he admitted.

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In August of 1977, he moved to California for the Runner’s World position, added miles, and dropped the pounds. The next year he ran eight marathons and entered the Cow Mountain 50 Mile, put on by Gordy Ainsleigh.

“Gordy drove to various spots on the course in his huge Cadillac setting up ‘aid stations,’ which consisted of him dropping off Body Punch (a version of Gatorade) into horse troughs,” he recalled. “We had to push the horse whiskers out of the way to dunk our water bottles in to get fluid.”

The water bottles were the plastic bears that honey comes in, he said.

In those days, ‘races’ were more like fun runs without race entry fees and prizes.

“I think what hooked everyone was the camaraderie,” he said. “In those days we were outlaws, an aberration, weirdos, so there was a viral and spiritual connection between runners.”

His connection to the running community grew while working at publications throughout the country and devoting any extra time book writing.

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Out of college, he began managing a local Pennsylvania newspaper, The Times News, and started co-directing a 10k race called the Switchback Scamper. Within a year he started freelancing, which led him to the Stock Car Racing position, and there, he met Hal Higdon who was writing articles about racing. Higdon later pitched Rich’s name to become the next Runner’s World vice president of publications, which led him to California in 1977.

Still with me? Well, there’s more.

1977 was the year of his first published book, Superspeedway, which chronicled the 1976 the NASCAR grand national season. He went on to write several running books while working at Runner’s World, Return to Running and Master of the Marathon, and he co-authored several books with his wife, Rhonda, including Indoor Exercise Book.

In 1984 he left Runner’s World to write the “Running and Fitness” column for the San Francisco Chronicle, co-wrote five more books with Elaine LaLanne and did two long pieces for The New Yorker.

In 1997, Human Kinetics published Rich’s books The Exercise Fix and The Running Encyclopedia. Later, in 2008, the University of Scranton Press published Jim Thorpe Never Slept Here (Rich’s childhood memoir). In 2009 they published his book of short stories, called Leap of Faith, and The South Street Gang Vs. the Coalcracker Cyclops in 2010, which is a kids’ book. Since then, Rich has published Mauch Chunk (an alternate world detective novel), Jim Thorpe Made Us All Olympians (Rich’s high-school memoir), The South Street Gang Goes Downhill-Fast!, and Roughing It, Too (a time-travel novel).

Coming in 2016, he’ll have The South Street Gang Vs. Felix the One-Arm Ghost and Pyramid.

“The whole concept of M&B was a phoenix of The Marathoner, a quarterly I launched at Runner’s World in 1978 to cover the burgeoning world of marathons and ultras,” he said. In the early years of the magazine, Joe Henderson, the Runner’s World editor, kept track of all race performances on 3X5 cards.

“As marathoning exploded, we had so much material for the January issue we had to break it into two parts and carry it in the January and February issues. It was too much, so I proposed a perfect-bound quarterly publication that would concentrate only on marathoning and ultras, hence The Marathoner.

The publication unfortunately only lasted five issues.

“I always lamented the loss of The Marathoner, because I thought it was the right magazine at the right time,” he said. “So, the proposal I put together was a revival of the concept of The Marathoner.

The proposal was submitted in 1996 and M&B started in 1997. M&B took on the 6X9 book format, published six times a year and in full color for the last six years. It grew from 128 pages to close to 200, and at its discontinuance of publication has published 114 issues.

“The articles were as good now as they were back then,” Jan said. “The content was timeless. Unique.”

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Human Kinetics published the journal until 1998, and then announced they had to fold it.

“Jan interceded, and we came up with a plan to take the magazine off their hands, paying them quite a few years, and we were suddenly owners,” Rich said.

Jan became the publisher and co-owner with Rich, who remained as editor. While he worked as the editorial editor, managing the articles, writers, and photographers, Jan was all production. She worked with the layout, budgeting, finances, and advertising.

“We both wore a lot of different hats,” she said.

Among those hats were the directors caps for races as well. Both Jan and Rich co-direct races in their hometowns.

Jan is the co-director of the annual Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon, which starts at the campus of the University of Illinois in Champaign and finishes at the 50-yard line of the school’s football stadium.

The race is held the last weekend of April, and Jan works around the clock managing a 70-person committee, 65 sponsors, and 20,000 racers.

She is responsible for the overall execution of the race.

“I love creating the experience for participants,” she said. “As soon as they step foot into our community they feel welcome and have a great time.”

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Jan makes it a priority to as answer every phone call and every question a runner may have. She listens to each person’s feedback.

“The hospitality of our community is at the top,” she said of her marathon. “The entire community supports the runners. They feel that love and that is not typically seen at large marathons.”

The Chicago Marathon has screaming fans around every corner, and The Boston Marathon is historically well-known, but this Champaign marathon treats every runner as if they were born right there on the Illinois streets.

Being a runner herself, Jan knows that feeling. After college, it was just logical to keep running to keep in shape, but the world sucked her in.

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After her husband passed away from leukemia, running became a more spiritual relationship between the sport and to his memory.

“Racing became a way to connect to his memory, and I really enjoy it,” she said. “Running is a way now to enjoy time with friends.”

Jan says she enters five or six races a year, usually between June and December after her work with the race is over.

Jan’s first marathon was in 1989, the Lake City Marathon in Waukegan, Illinois, which doesn’t exist anymore.

“I ran 3:27,” she said. “It is still my PR. I ran my fastest time in my first marathon, which I think a lot of people do.”

Overall, Jan has run 30 to 40 half marathons, eight marathons, one 50k, and one eight-hour ultra. She has also run the Pikes Peak Ascent three times. Her marathons include Big Sur, Paris, New York City Marathon, and a favorite, Grandma’s Marathon in Minnesota.

Even with the end of her M&B career, Jan remains in the running circle. At the time of these interviews, Jan and Rich were attending the 11th annual Running USA Conference for race directors in Los Angeles.

She and Rich met with over 750 directors from all over the country, listening to as many seminars on the logistics of race directing as could be packed into the hours before the attendees were able to get out and watch the Olympic Marathon Trials.

As co-race director with Dave Hill of the Napa Valley Marathon in California, Rich says the job is an accumulation of positive and negative issues.

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“Race directing continues to change year to year,” he said, adding he won’t bore the readers with the endless amount of paperwork and tasks. “Thirty years ago long-distance runners were pretty independent and self-sufficient. It’s a whole different world today.”

Now, and this is not across the board he confirms, runners are spoiled.

“Several years ago, and I am not making this up, we had four complaints because we started the race on time,” he said. “Fortunately, since our race is in the wine-famous Napa Valley, when we state that some runners are going to drive us to drink, we don’t have far to go.”

To combat the negative aspects he now sees in the running world, Rich tries to give back to the community by volunteering. As an example, he’s volunteered at the Red Star Ridge Western States aid station since 1991.

“Rhonda has worked as the medical captain for 10 of those many years,” he said. “It’s a great aid station to work at because it is at 16 miles, so we camp out there Friday night, get up really early, and by 10:00 a.m. we’re done and we can go into Foresthill to socialize with all of our ultra friends.”

Rich is one of those ultrarunners with an extensive resume not many can match.

While writing the running column in San Francisco, he heard about two Santa Rosa runners who became the fifth and sixth runners to compete the route from Badwater in Death Valley to the peak of Mount Whitney. He interviewed them, Mike Witwer and Tom Crawford, who become the two spark plugs for creating the Badwater race.

Over beers, Rich and Crawford talked about Badwater logistics, mentioning how it was impossible to drive back the 12 miles from the peak to the portal, so to run or walk that distance one is already making the return trip back.

“Why not keep going and do the out-and-back,” he said he told Crawford. Apparently he nodded his head in agreement. “’But nobody’s ever done it; in fact, nobody’s ever tried it. You’d die in the effort,’ Crawford said.”

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With another beer in hand, Rich replied, “But that’s the beauty of it.”

Crawford agreed and said if Rich will try it, then he would try it with him.

The next day, after the beer-induced talk wore off, Crawford called Rich asking if the two really did make a pact to be the first two idiots to try to the out-and-back?

“Yes, we did,” Rich confirmed.

The two completed the adventure in 1989, and Rich returned to the valley two more times in 1991 and 1992, but it was on the third try that changed his running career forever.

“There was really ungodly weather,” he said. “It got up to 128 degrees [Fahrenheit] in the shade, although there is no shade, and I really broke myself down and opened myself to a viral infection in my heart.”

It took several years to figure out that the infection was more serious than it seemed to be, and years of pharmaceutical medications have transformed his running ever since.

His Badwater adventure with Crawford inducted the both of them into the Badwater Hall of Fame in 2004. He was then honored into the Running USA Hall of Champions in 2005 for his work with the Napa Valley Marathon and founding M&B.

Jan and Rich will always be remembered for their work with M&B, and they will continue to remember their time.

When the team announced the decision to end the magazine, the loyal readers were bereft, Jan said.

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Jan spent two to three hours a day consoling readers on the phone when they first announced, and still listens to saddened customers, now three months later. Rich said there is a stack of emails as thick as a book printed out in the office from readers wishing the two well.

The magazine was always different than other sports-related publications. They never had the huge band of followers, but printed each issue for a group of truly loyal readers.

“The magazine was always meant to mirror the demographics of the marathoning and ultra crowd, the highly educated who gather a lot of knowledge from reading, have long-term goals, a long attention span, and more,” Rich said.

The magazine was long-form writing: stuff that you wouldn’t find in other magazines because it was way too long, too in-depth, too “completely complete” as Bob Anderson, founder of Runner’s World used to call it, said Rich.

According to Rich though, the decline of readership and eventual cause of the end of the magazine was the end of the runners’ attention spans and disinterest in the history of running.

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Circulation was dropping and not making enough revenue to keep it going, Jan said. The decision was thought about and decided in the late summer of 2015, and the two announced to the public that it was time to close the magazine’s covers for good.

“When we announced the decision, we sold thousands of back issues,” Jan said. “We have readers who really, really like the magazine, there just aren’t enough of them.”

Rich said he will never forget opening the never-ending manuscripts submitted and never knowing what he would find. He will miss working with the wonderful writers and artists, and the vast array of eccentrics brought up in the world of running a running magazine.

“We’ll always have the greatest affection for those wonderful people who made it possible to keep the magazine going for 19 years,” he said. “We love ‘em dearly.”

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WeRunFar: Nancy Hobbs

WeRunFar Profile: Nancy Hobbs

Sometime in 1995, Nancy Hobbs sat in a meeting as a representative of a small running company based in Colorado. At the time, Nancy had been working at the company as the administrator in charge of bib numbers, timing, and public-relations issues. The meeting was a focus group, bringing together members of the running world: media personnel from publications like Runner’s World Magazine, tech gurus and sales reps from brands like Adidas, and race directors from all over the country.

“While we were meeting, we talked about an article that had come out in USA Today about trail running and the association they had quoted was the American Hiking Association,” she said. “We all agreed that our sport needed a voice.”

In a nutshell, she said, that voice became the American Trail Running Association. In 1996, the organization, nicknamed ATRA, took on a simple mission: to represent and promote trail running. Since then, Nancy’s aimed to make the organization a voice for both the trail running community and for her.

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Nancy began running in a time where hiking and running were intermixed, and women were passed by men without acknowledgment. In the 1980s, women’s trail and ultrarunning was still a new thing, with the percentage of women racers well under 10 percent at big-name events. According to Nancy, the problem was not the lack of women, but more the lack of support for women by the men.

“We ran with men, we were mentored by men,” she said. “But, at the same time, in races, men would not always be supportive and would often pass us on the trail just to get in front and then make it difficult for us to pass them back.”

Though this situation may not be too, too common, women have mentioned in online messages and within the book Daughters of Distance by Vanessa Runs that there are some men who still use the phrase ‘getting chicked’ in a negative way.

“I think there are still men who don’t want to get chicked, but more importantly ‘people’ don’t want to lose to anyone, male or female,” she said. “It depends on how competitive someone is.”

The community we see now, the one where people are drawn in for the friendliness, support, helpfulness (the list goes on and on), was not the same one Nancy felt years ago. For one, Nancy believes that men are more supportive, and the negativity expressed when a woman passes a man is no longer felt. However, some women didn’t even support other women getting into the sport, she admitted. Was it more competitive? She cannot say, but Nancy says you can look around during races and see that is not the landscape anymore.

Nancy may have experienced the negativity, but never took it personally. She saw the lack of women and low levels of confidence as a major problem in the sport’s growth. A problem she set out to resolve.

Nancy was originally born in Bloomington, Indiana but traveled frequently as a child since her father was a professor of accounting and finance who taught in many different schools. She lived in Pennsylvania from the age of six to 18, then moved to New Zealand for nine months while her father was on sabbatical.

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Now, at 55 years old, living in Colorado and traveling often for her job as the executive director of ATRA, she has visited over 30 countries, including many European destinations, Australia, and her favorite place to return to, New Zealand. She has spent time on the East Coast graduating from college with a degree in Sociology and returning to Pennsylvania for a Masters in Public Administration, but eventually fell in love with the Colorado Springs lifestyle.

Before running came into her life, the barely-five-foot tall, 100-pound college junior was invited to be the University of New Hampshire’s coxswain for the crew team. While dryland training with the team, her coach asked if she was interested in running a 10k race. “I said, ‘If I could do an eight-minute pace, then I’ll do it,’” she said. “I don’t remember the time, but it was under eight minutes!” Eight months later and still running, Nancy realized she was “bitten by the bug.” Her first marathon was in Denver in 1989, in which she ran seven minutes under her goal of four hours.

Since, she has run about six marathons. Her longest run ever has been 28 miles, a number she has no desire to increase. “I have crewed ultras but I am not 100 percent sure my body will allow me to run over a marathon, especially now,” she said. “I toyed with it, of course, but I really have not thought about it.”

Instead, Nancy sticks to shorter distances and every year makes it her goal to compete at the World Masters Mountain Running Championships. The race is usually between an eight and 10k and changes location every year. This year, it will be held in Italy and includes what Nancy specializes in, uphill terrain. “I ran 32 races in 2015 and hope to run at least that many in 2016,” she said. She has competed in this race for the last six years, coming in second place in 2015 after having a strong training year. “The girls in the race are super strong,” she said. “I knew I had to go out hard. It was good and I felt fulfilled. It’s nice when you put in the work and get the results you want.”

This year, her training will again focus on hills, and with her 13-month old puppy, Crimson, speedily running next to her, speed workouts will be taken care of. She strives to cover 35 to 40 miles a week, with speedwork twice a week and lots of massage and core sessions. She also pool runs often, admitting, “Yes, it is monotonous, but extremely beneficial.”

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Nancy is among the speedy masters women, a group that has risen to the top of the sport after years of battling to be acknowledged and accepted as athletes. For the last 17 years, Nancy has been the chairperson of USATF’s Mountain/Ultra/Trail Sport Council and has been on the World Mountain Running Association (WRMA) Council for the last 16 years. During her time with the USATF, Nancy helped form the women’s U.S. Mountain Running Team. “When we started the program, there were only a few of us–women–but I just happened to be one of the outspoken women of the time and ready to take on a challenge,” she said.

Nancy said she stepped up and began dipping her toes in the political waters. Though tiny, Nancy said she could be forceful when expressing her goals. “I have never been one to let my size limit my ability to get noticed,” she said. “I say what I feel, but have learned to fight battles worth fighting. I truly believe that when you are passionate about something and stand by your beliefs and messages, you can make great strides.”

I asked Nancy what it’s going to take to make more progress with women’s trail running. Women just being present, she said, is a way to help advance the sport. Being the voice needed in the boards, the committees, the meetings. Being the one to lead the running group on the weekend and invite new members.

Nancy’s goal has always been to draw more attention to the sport of trail running, and with that, helping more and more women feel comfortable on the trails. Thanks, in part, to her, women’s trail running continues to progress.

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The first women appearing in the sport were running great performances, she said. Women such as Ann Trason and Danielle Ballengee stood out as marquee names, but their results were often overlooked unless mind-blowingly stellar. She remembered how women were never “invited” to European races as the men were, and claiming any sort of race coverage was rare. “Performances came and went unnoticed, and every once in awhile an outstanding achievement did get coverage,” she said. “But you have to remember, social media was absolutely nonexistent and there were not as many trail and mountain races.”

The shift came when more opportunities were present for both men and women. More trail races began popping up and companies began acknowledging women’s bodies and preferences toward gear. Because social media and photos of women’s running groups were still unavailable to introduce more women to the sport, Nancy said the number of women just reaching out to others was a bigger help than it seemed like. That fashion changed, getting rid of the unisex clothes and allowing women runners to “run like girls” and still look like girls, she said, was a huge thing. “It was no longer an all-boys network welcoming a few ‘tomboys’ into the sport, and girls could get dirty, get bruises, could have mud on their legs, and could look good and powerful and strong while doing it,” she said.

Representing powerful women is a knack of hers, especially since she considers herself within the category. As a very driven and competitive person and athlete, Nancy is constantly on the go, whether for work-related events or trying out snowshoe racing for the first time, which she was doing the weekend I called her. (A spur-of-the-moment thing she found challenging and fun, and of course, it involved being on top of a mountain.)

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Whether she is running, skiing, or even just managing everyday activities, with her, and what spawned the nickname, The GU-tarian, is the constant presence of a GU energy gel. When running the Pikes Peak Marathon in both 1993 and again in 2005, she had problems eating due to stomach issues. As a matter of fact, during any run or race, the attempt at eating anything never went well, she said. Then, about 10 years ago, she discovered it: GU. “GU was the thing,” she explained. “I’ll pull one out on the plane or when I get hungry during a board meeting.” After a short pause she exclaimed, “I had one today while in the car!”

She has even admitted her obsession to GU Director of Research and Product Development, Magda Boulet, telling her how she uses the gel packets not just for training, but within her daily routine. A GU obsession? Sounds great, as I think about how Salted Caramel GU is a huge motivator in my own races. Yet, Nancy prefers just two flavors: Vanilla Bean and Tastefully Nude. “These are my staples,” she said. “I always have some about me.” The mix of carbs and sugars propel Nancy during a day of meetings, phone calls, and travel for her roles in ATRA, USATF, and WRMA.

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Within these roles, she was never driven by the prospect of having a job, but as a way to fulfill her desire to volunteer and help out the sport and community she loved. “I have always been a hard worker, an overachiever, a multitasker,” she said. “I see a need, and my passion is to help others. Running has been a key focus of my life from avocation to vocation, and has been the biggest influence in my life beyond family and friends,” she said.

As an overachiever, Nancy, of course, has her eyes set on big things for 2016. Her resolutions for ATRA include gaining more visibility at events, such as Western States and outdoor-retail shows and conventions. She plans on expanding the accumulated 400 memberships, which inducts members into a group where they receive magazine subscriptions, discounts on races, and chances to win free race entries. There are individual, club, and corporate memberships including running groups and race directors. The most popular feature of the organization’s website is calendar which points out over 6,000 race dates. In the future, she wants to partner and support more races, attract more memberships, and navigate the changing world of the sport.

A few weeks ago she attended a meeting with the United States Anti-Doping Agency to talk about the issue. “It is a big thing now that we have never had before,” she said. “Also, there is more money in the sport, more participation, and a lot is related to the growth of the sport. It is all positive, but with that comes more responsibility and sustainability. We will continue to grow and evolve, which will result in different ways of interpreting what’s important.”

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In terms of support for women’s running, Nancy believes that improvements have been made and are still being made every day. Yet, equalization among women and men and among elites and the midpack is still an issue to be addressed. Nancy, again ignoring her small stature and embracing her outgoing personality, demands that everyone needs to make a noise. Nancy wants people to step up and ask, “What can I do? How can I help? What solutions or ideas do I have? What can I realistically accomplish? Who do I need to talk to? Where do I voice my concerns?” She says, “Talking about it, complaining about it without providing solutions or really getting involved is a dead end.” Nancy wants voice and action accompanying each other.

Nancy also believes that knowing the history of the sport is the key, and is something that hinders some women from taking on the task. “Women don’t know the trials before them and look at what they personally see as an affront in an instant because, in their minds, there is inequality and there is not enough being done to address their needs,” she said. It is a big topic, Nancy said. Equality stretches from prize money to recognition of top runners from first place to 10th in both genders.

“First there needs to be a discussion about where women feel inequality and we can go from there,” she said. But where to start? Women should be on boards and decision-making bodies, she said. If women want to see changes, they need to identify the solutions, find out who to talk to, and decide which battles to fight for.

And, historically speaking, women should know when events occurred, such as Ann Trason’s achievements. Who holds the world’s fastest 100-mile time for women? When? What course? Who won the female 2015 IAU 50k World Championships? Who else ran? And, in the future? Who will be toeing the line for this Western States? Will you be able to accurately guess the top-10 female finishers in the iRunFar prediction contest?

“Women should know the growth of the sport, where did opportunities start for women, what are the advancements, what are the barriers still?” she added. It is one thing to be involved in the movement of the sport, she exclaimed, but another to be a lifelong devotee and be able to back up claims. Is there a right answer to what needs to be done? Probably not, but keeping updated, through blogs, social media, running magazines, and even watching race coverage online or up close are all ways women can develop their knowledge of the sport.

Nancy epitomizes what it means to be a lifelong devotee of running, not just physically moving her own legs through the trails, but by working within the sport’s politics.

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Nancy stays busy, throwing herself in 100 percent, no matter the project. One example is partnering with Adam Chase again in publishing another set of Ultimate Guide to Trail Running books. Chase functions as the President of ATRA. The first book he and Nancy co-wrote was published in 2001, and the future plan is to publish another series of ultimate guides for specific cities. The first one will be out in May, called The Ultimate Guide to Trail Running: Boulder, Colorado. It will include the best trails in the Boulder and Denver areas. From there, they will focus on Seattle, Portland, Oregon, San Francisco, and trails within the New England area. “It is a pretty aggressive schedule,” she said. “It is great to continue working with Adam in this role.”

Adding the book publications to the list of her responsibilities, it does not seem like there is much time for anything else. Sure, popping open gel packets saves the time spent on cooking, but what about free time? “I love doing crossword puzzles, especially the Sunday NY Times and LA Times editions, and I am always working on a jigsaw puzzle, the 2,000 piece puzzles,” she said. When not using her brain, she keeps up with Days of Our Lives, the soap-opera drama she has been a junkie to since 1973. But, she admits once more, she is an overachiever type, however, her “work” is not really working. It is still giving back to the community.

“I love giving back and I always have high hopes for others,” she said.

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WeRunFar: Bob Hayes

WeRunFar Profile: Bob Hayes

The first time I tried calling, I hung up the phone after 10 or so rings. I could have stayed on the line longer, but I was told that, if he didn’t answer the phone, the man I was trying to reach would probably be somewhere outside, roaming the Montana mountain that butts up to his house or working somewhere on his acres of property. I’d have to try again later.

From what I had heard, Bob Hayes was 88 years old (89–he corrected me when I finally spoke with him) and did not have an email address or any other way to electronically contact him.

From what I had Googled, I learned a good deal more. My search brought up articles from Montana newspapers, blog posts from other runners, and an article from Trail Runner Magazine, stories largely about a man defying aging to run lots of miles and work the land in traditional style.

Well, thanks, Meghan [Hicks], I thought to myself of my editor’s assignment to write about Bob. This guy is already a well-known runner! What more can I say about him?

I spent an hour on the phone with Bob last Tuesday night. Listening to him, I found myself laughing at his abundance of running stories and nodding along to the synopsis of the current book he is reading. Okay, Meghan. You’re right. In just that short time I had learned, This guy is cool and there is more to his story than we will ever know.

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According to Tom Hayes, one of Bob’s children, the best window to call his father is between 5 and 7 p.m. on a weekday. Tom said I might catch him then, if he’s not walking the dogs or making dinner.

I gave it another shot. After a few rings, he answered. “Yeah?”

Apparently the answering machine had not been working, and I was lucky and reached Bob just before he took out his two 14-year-old Cairn Terriers, Poni and Jack. I dove into the questions, and he fired right back with his answers, all stories about his journey to where he is now: an 89-year-old runner who enjoys each day on the trails and mountains.

Bob hasn’t always been a runner. In fact, he became one less than 30 years ago. One might say that there were more pressing life matters to tackle first. He was born in Vermont in 1926. After high school, he enlisted and served in World War II. In 1953, he graduated from the Forestry Department at the University of Montana, and for the next 40 or so years, he worked outside, “cruising timber” for lumber companies. Timber cruising meant hiking through a forest, examining and measuring trees. Cruising up and down mountains every day, Bob said, kept him in pretty good shape.

The Evaro Community Center, located where Bob lives in Evaro, Montana, a short drive north of Missoula, was to be transformed from an old town schoolhouse into a local community center and needed renovations to preserve the structure. So, a bunch of community members decided to put on a race, the Evaro Mountain Challenge, to raise money. “In 1981, maybe ’86, was when we put on the [first] race,” he told me. Bob and the rest of the leaders had no idea who or how many people would come, so he decided to run the entire race himself. “I liked it so well, I just kept running,” he said.

When Bob became a runner at that race, which was actually held in 1987, he had already entered the seventh decade of his life. After it, Bob stuck with racing 5k’s and 10k’s for about the next decade.

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His first ultramarathon was in 1995, when he was 68 years old, the Bighorn Mountain Wild and Scenic 50 Mile Trail Run in Wyoming. For a few years after that, 50ks and 50 milers were interspersed in his running calendar, but every fall he read in the paper about the same guy winning a 100k in Helena. “I thought to myself, I wonder if I could do that?” he said. It was the extra distance that Bob was curious about. “I signed up and began training.”

His wife, Ann, was not as positive about his crazy idea. At first. “She said I was out of my mind,” he laughed. “She said I would never be able to finish, and she didn’t want to see me in an ambulance.” He trained for three months, decided he felt okay, and headed to the race. Ann tagged along, he said, saying she couldn’t stand not seeing how this was going to go. In Bob’s words, he did okay and finished in a decent time.

The year was 2000. Bob was on the cusp of his 74th birthday. His 100k finish time was 14 hours and 11 minutes. He was classed into the “Super Duper Masters” category. It seems like he ran just a bit better than “okay.”

In the coming years, that race was renamed the HURL Elkhorn Endurance Runs, and 50-mile, 50k, and 23k races were offered instead of a 100k. The race is now a popular part of the Montana trail running calendar. Bob went on to complete either HURL’s 50-mile or 50k distances six more times. Bob also continued running marathons, half-marathons, and local shorter-distance races. And other 50ks, 50 milers, and 100ks. More of everything running.

By then, Ann was on board with the whole running thing, and the two trained and raced together up until she fell sick in 2006. He and Ann were told by the doctors she only had about six months to live before she would have an aortic aneurysm burst in her chest. “[The doctor] told me she would have the aneurysm and then would die within a few minutes,” Bob said. Bob took care of his wife until the day came when he watched Ann pass away without being able to do anything to help her.

“I didn’t know what I was going to do then,” he said of his new life alone. “They say the survivor of a spouse who dies would only live two to three years later,” he said. “So, I was reconciled with the fact I would live not much longer.” New Years Eve of that year, 2007, changed his mindset. Bob went to a party for the holiday at the University of Montana where he watched a group of square dancers perform in the school’s ballroom. The woman who had been teaching Bob calligraphy lessons was one of the dancers, and she convinced him to be her dance partner.

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She told him about the local Missoula town dances that were held twice a month. There, they do more contra-dancing style, which is still similar to square dancing. It was during a dance when he met Georgia Cobbs, who is now in her fifties and a professor at the University of Montana. Georgia quickly changed from being his dance buddy to trail-running partner.

“She saw the t-shirts I would wear after coming back from a race, and said, ‘Why don’t I meet you and do a trail run?’” he said. “We went up a really steep hill and I thought she would surely stop, but she didn’t.” Georgia had no water or food when the two reached the top, so Bob shared his goods and then told her they were running back down the other side. “She seemed to enjoy it so I told her there was a race that weekend in Missoula,” he said.

On the weekend, if there is a local race, Bob is usually there running. And, he’s usually the oldest one with a race bib on. He normally sticks to races within a reasonable distance of home, yet there are instances in which he leaves the West to run in new places. He ran the Across the Bay 10k in Chesapeake Bay. While warming up, a newspaper reporter jogged up to the stretching runner and said. “You’re Bob Hayes, right?” The reporter continued, “There are 17,500 runners and you are the oldest runner, did you know that?” Bob gave him the truth. “No I didn’t.” Before the race even began, Bob answered the reporter’s questions about ever being in Baltimore. “’Yes, I was here for WWII,’” he responded. “’We left for Italy from here.’”

After the race, instead of a boat to Italy, he hopped back on the plane and headed back to his retired life in Montana. “I tell everyone that I went down, put my running clothes on in Baltimore, ran the race, came back at midnight, and took my clothes off,” he laughed.

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Because he races so frequently, Bob’s pile of race shirts is enormous and constantly growing. “I [race] every weekend,” he confirmed. “I ran 30 races last year.” “He only wears race shirts,” Georgia claimed. “When he ‘dresses’ up, it means a clean race shirt.” Bob reads the list of the local races coming once a week in the town newspaper. This year, he said that his number of races would be lower due to a recent injury. Lower, as in 20 to 25, not 30.

It was going to be his 15th race of this year at the 50k in Bighorn, but a problem with his bladder left him having to drop and spend the last few months recuperating. That was in June, and since then he has only run two to three races, he said.

Bob’s raced something like 30 50 milers, about 10 100k’s, and an unknown tally of 50k’s. You could probably only figure the actual number by counting race shirts in his collection.

“The Boy,” as he calls his oldest son, Tom, signed him up for first 100 miler, one in the steep mountains of Utah. They both started the race. For Bob, darkness hit around 45 miles in, while at an aid station where he was able to see his wife for the first time. “I really wish you would stop and start again in the morning,” she had told him.

Already not feeling great, he heeded her advice to stop and he when returned in the morning, it was not to finish his own race–he DNFed that–but to instead help Tom finish the last 25 miles of his race. “[Tom] wanted to drop out, but I said, ‘Stop and sleep and then finish,’” he said. “He did finish and he did okay.” Bob never looked at the distance of 100 miles again. “Yeah, I started only one and don’t plan on doing it again.”

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The Bighorn races in Wyoming are a regular tradition for Bob. He and a buddy, he said, make it more than just an annual race. “On the way back, we stop at the George Armstrong Custer Battlefield,” he said. The park is called the Little Bighorn Battlefield [and it’s] located off the Little Bighorn River in Montana Territory. “It looks the same as when [Custer] fought there. There is a museum we go to, visit the markers, and tour the field. Then we come home. It is always a nice trip.”

The runner’s routine over the years remains near constant. The trail behind his house runs along a steep mountain, and loops back around for a nice seven miler. He meets up with Georgia several times a week to jump on their usual course of eight miles.

In snow, rain, or way, way below what I would consider cold temperatures, Bob heads out in a few layers and the same pair of running shoes he’s had for, he claims, the last five years. “Georgia will tell me she will run the next day only if it is not raining or snowing,” he told me. “Even if it is, I still drive down to her house, and we head out.” That’s true, Georgia said. “I left a message that I couldn’t run one morning,” she said, “and he showed up because he never checked his messages.”

I also had to confirm with Georgia one other thing while I had her on the phone. “Okay, I have to ask,” I said. “The shoes, are they really five years old?” “Oh easily,” she responded, laughing a little. “He is so frugal. One time he showed up to run in blue jeans and I asked him, ‘Bob, why are you wearing blue jeans?’” “My tights are in the wash,” he told her.

Including whatever race might be happening on the weekend, Bob runs between 40 and 50 miles in an average week. “It depends on if I am training for a 50k or marathon,” he said. “I start out with 30 or 40 miles, then will work up.”

He will go out one day and run 50 miles with Georgia or on his own, then won’t go out again for the next 10 days to recover. “Those younger athletes can run 40 miles a day, but when you get older you have to recover and rest,” he said.

Retired and living with two dogs, Bob said it could get lonely. The dogs and his other son and his wife, who have the neighboring house, definitely help combat that. And then there is the incomparable local running community.

“Racing is very social,” he said. “You know all these runners and have seen them sign up before, so you socialize with them.” Bob doesn’t have a T.V. or internet or any of the modern means most people use to keep in touch these days, so he and other local runners know each other, almost exclusively, through these in-person meetings at races. Yet Bob remains a focal point of his local running world, maybe a testament to the power that our sport has to create real-life connections.

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For the majority of runners, aging and running are mutually exclusive entities. More like, the former usually precludes the latter. In part because Bob’s progression is atypical, he has received a fairly heavy dose of recent inquiries from the media, from Trail Runner Magazine, iRunFar.com, someone else who is writing another piece on him, and students from the University of Montana School of Journalism who are making a documentary about him called ‘The Hard Way.’ When asked about this attention, he chuckles and says, “People tell stories about you, and you never know if they’re true, right?”

During the day, Bob rarely sits inside. Instead he works through his 180 acres of fields, timberland, and pasture, processing firewood, raising a few animals, and laying out hay. “There is always something to be doing,” he reminded me. When finally indoors, the house stays quiet, except for cooking meals and turning the pages on the latest history novel he’s picked up. While he read about a rebellion in Canada on the day we talked, outside the weather dropped three to four inches of snow and the temperature to around 20 degrees Fahrenheit.

In the morning, despite the fall storm, he has plans to meet Georgia and the four-legged partners for a few miles. This weekend may not have a race scheduled, but Bob doesn’t mind. He will run, work outside, read, and spend time with his dogs and family.

Bob Hayes 7

Looking ahead, this time he doesn’t need the local paper to know his next race. On Thanksgiving every year, he travels to Bozeman, about 250 miles from Missoula. He runs hard with the other 3,000 or so people signed up for the 5k or 10k distances at Huffing for Stuffing. Then, like many will do that day, he will pig out on dinner with friends in the area.

In talking with Bob, I’ve realized that he has a story for each of his races and runs, and that each one is worth hearing. But you’ll only find a small selection of them remotely available, in articles like this. And, like me, you’d probably also have poor luck in catching him at a moment where he’s inside and free to answer the phone. So, to hear one of Bob’s stories, it’s probably best for you to don your running clothes and meet him at a race.

“I just like running,” he stated.

He is the icon of Missoula running, Georgia claimed. “He runs to live or lives to run,” she said. “When he stops, he will be dead. I hope that is well into his hundreds, for me and for the community.”


WeRunFar: Tia Bodington

WeRunFar Profile: Tia Bodington

Tia Bodington knew she needed to make a change. With a previous mindset that anything above a 5k was too long, Tia decided to plunge into her first ultra. The year was 2000 and Tia was going to run the Miwok 100k Trail Race. She prepared for 62 miles of contemplations on her two daughters, her school classes, and her job. Instead, six hours into the race she realized: “I was completely in the present moment. No past and no future, just the present.” Her brain was off. Mist wet her face and flowers crunched under her feet with each step.

“I let everything go,” Tia said. “It was the most relaxing day of my life.”

Zen? Flow? She still doesn’t know exactly what happened out there, but while sitting among the finishers afterward, she knew she had to go back.

Tia recently celebrated her 59th birthday. She technically lives in Ashland, Oregon, but from traveling for school, work, running, and visiting her two grown daughters who live in Texas and Colorado, let’s just say that Tia spends most of her time ‘out West.’ A change she indeed has had, Tia now keeps distance running close to her heart and near the forefront of her life.

Growing up in California, north of the Golden Gate Bridge, Tia had what she called “firm walking only” parents. “For years I walked to school every day, and in high school the school was three miles away,” she said. “You would think when I got older I would hate walking and exercise, but I still love it!”

Tia Bodington 1

After she was unsuccessful at making the the gymnastics team, someone politely suggested she might be better at track. She agreed to try it, and ended up attending the girls state track meet for the 80-yard hurdles event. That year, 1974, was the first year girls were even allowed to compete in a state meet and to race the one-mile distance following the 1974 passage of Title IX.

In college at UCLA, Tia walked onto the hurdles team, and after two years she transferred to UC Berkeley and joined the track team there. During her senior year, the track team had very little money and coaching, but it was the year, according to Tia, that Title IX was finally adopted on Berkeley’s campus.

“Senior year we had a new track put in, and the first meet of the year was going to be for the men’s team. They ignored the women,” she said. “So, three of us marched into the athletic director’s office and demanded to be able to run. It was the start of women showing they wanted to be involved and wanted to be athletes.”

Tia graduated college with a French degree and became a French translator for a bank in California.

Tia Bodington 2

Over her early adulthood years, she traveled with her husband (they are no longer together) and her two daughters and competed in fast 5k races. In 2000, she did her first distance race, the Death Valley Marathon. She had a blast, she said, and blazed through the finish line in third place. Two months later, with just one 20-mile training run to prepare, she found herself on the trails of the Miwok 100k, her first ultra. Then, she won the Tamalpa Headlands 50k in August.

Wow, okay, maybe this is my sport, she said to herself back then.

In 2001, Tia was accepted into Western States and finished it, despite having serious kidney problems. It was not her best race, she said, but it was her first 100-mile experience and it has eventually led to her to now being on the board of the race.

A year later, the movie “Running on the Sun: The Badwater 135” was just so insane and extreme enough that it inspired Tia to sign up. She ran the race on a stress fracture that resulted in a six-month break after the race. “I learned how to swim and earned my teaching credentials for teaching a second language,” she said. “I went from the hospital straight to the building to sign up for the class.”

Wallowing is never an option for Tia. “You get 24 hours to wallow, then you have to move on,” she said. “After 24 hours you work out what’s next.”

Tia Bodington 3

In 2004, Tia was a single parent, running a few ultras, and teaching on the side. It was also around this time Tia became the race director of her first beloved ultra, the Miwok 100k. By then she had run the race a few times and knew the then race director, John Medinger, and his wife pretty well. Since then, the race has changed Tia, becoming a regular part of her almost-daily life, and she has also changed the race some, too.

Recycling and decreasing trash production at trail races is something Tia is passionate about, and Tia has worked to lessen the environmental impact of Miwok a little bit every year. So influential was the concept of low-impact trail racing on Tia that she’s pursuing additional education in it. Two and half years ago, Tia decided to obtain her MBA to learn more about business. At this time Tia was spending 60 hours a week as one of the editors of UltraRunning Magazine, in addition to fulfilling her duties as race director and single mother. When she decided to take on the MBA, she had to drop her position as editor in hopes of working with races on sustainability issues. “What I want to do is work with races to reduce their footprint,” she said.

She is currently enrolled in Southern Oregon University and will earn her degree in March of 2016. Since beginning her charge on reducing the impact ultras leave have on the environment, she has decreased the amount of garbage collected at Miwok each year from a 10-yard-long dumpster to a two-yard box.

Tia Bodington 4

She speaks on sustainability to conferences, after having used her own race as a guinea pig. “One of the things I talk about is going cupless,” she said. Whatever sustainability option someone chooses, Tia says, it must work for the runners. As both a runner and race director, Tia thinks runners have one job: to get to the finish. “They should not have to ask where they should put a banana peel.”

During Miwok, Tia has one main volunteer at each of her aid stations, called the waste manager, and they are in charge of the trash and recycling. “The volunteer takes all trash from the runner to the correct bin so that the runner doesn’t have to worry about it at mile 58,” she said.

Tia says she owes a lot to her volunteer brigade. “It has helped me do more directing and not thinking about everything,” she said. Her team of helpers, Ana Braga-Levaggi, Ken Preston, Stan Jensen, and Jim Richards, are her details people. “They make the decisions for what is best for the runners, and they are usually right!”

Jensen, who we profiled in last month’s WeRunFar article, is one of Tia’s regular volunteers. “Tia is extremely well organized and always appears unstressed,” he said. “On race day, she’s always chatting with runners before the start and trying to greet all the finishers, too. Her volunteers know they’re appreciated and know what they need to do for the runners.”

Tia Bodington 5

Her relationships with volunteers are some of the strongest ties she has with people. Some people have been helping out the race for 20 years, just helping not racing, she told me. One of Tia’s happiest race-directing memories is about a couple who met while volunteering at Miwok. Aid-station chief Fred Liebes and volunteer Charlene Bayles met while helping out at the race, and recently were married on the trail. “The volunteers have so much dedication for the race,” she said. “They are my focus for creating an experience for them and the runners.”

The hardest part about directing, which she says most race directors will agree on, is dealing with permits and negotiating the park administrations. The race intertwines through multiple park systems, is quite long, and has runners out in the dark, which all add complexity to the permitting process.

Negotiating permits begins months before the May race and last-minute problems, like weather, force Tia to make adjustments to the race. In previous years, the start and finish locales have changed and one year due to a forest fire, the entire race had to be rerouted and shortened.

Yet, each problem and delay is worth getting to hug each finisher at the finish line, she said. Hugging each finisher after their 62 miles makes the stress and long hours of readying an ultra worth it, according to Tia. “Every year I end up with poison oak all over my neck from the hugging,” she laughed. “Crossing the line after finishing is a huge accomplishment and I get to see it in their eyes.”

Tia strives for between 450 and 500 runners each year on the trails. “I always check with the mid-packers and ask, ‘Did you have time to yourself?’” she says. “If they say yes, then I know that was a good number of people.”

Tia Bodington 6

One goal each year is to make the race internationally welcoming. “It is fun to see how other cultures do this sport and being on the trails with different types of runners,” she said. “We all have a core value of running in nature. I have a team from Panama who always comes and a few women from Japan.”

International races such as Marathon des Sables in Morocco, which she ran in 2010, and the Gore-Tex Transalpine-Run in Germany, which she ran in 2013, are the type of races that feed Tia’s personal love of tough adventures.

Over the last few months, prioritizing training and racing has not been at the top of her list. Classes and her daughter’s Austin, Texas wedding have kept the busy runner off the trails. “I can go for a run or I can hem my daughter’s wedding dress,” she said. “What do you think I’m going to do?” A DNF at this year’s Western States and the Pine to Palm 100-Mile Endurance Run additionally reminded Tia that her 50-some-odd-year-old limbs need more training than what she used to be able to get away with. But they were also fuel to get her going again, and in 2016 she already has several races planned.

Ironman Houston in May of 2016 is her next race, and a good change to the constant running miles needed for an ultra. The Courmayeur-Champex-Chamonix (CCC), the 100k distance of the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc race series, and some stage races are also on her to-be-run list.

Planning these bucket-list races revolves around the status of Miwok, which will always be a top priority in Tia’s life. Right now it is October, when people are thinking about pumpkins, fall marathons, and dreading pulling out their winter running clothes.

Tia Bodington 7

Tia’s mind is focused on May 7, 2016, Miwok race day. Inside her brain are things like: the race’s new Salomon sponsorship, taking care of poison oak, and the race’s new website. “I am already working on permits,” she said. “The lottery is in December, so I have many hours and meetings negotiating permits with the parks.”

In January through May, she will spend about 20 hours a week on volunteers, race details, course markings, and a million other jobs. And June is full with follow-ups and clean-ups.

By August, the runner, mother, and race director is ready for a Miwok break. “Anything to do with Miwok will have to wait,” she said, once August hits and free time returns to her schedule. Reading, cooking, and gardening substitute the ultra world for a bit, but will never replace it.

When looking at Tia’s UltraSignup profile, one’s eyes scroll among races all over the West, of all different distances, and of different reputations. One thing stands out among her list of races run: diversity. For someone who has been running ultras since 2000, repeats are common, but Tia is loves new experiences. “Every race I’ve run, I’ve enjoyed,” she said. “But I like having new experiences, so I don’t tend to go back.”

While the Miwok 100k may take place every year and within the same place in California, directing 62 miles with over 500 dedicated runners and a passel of volunteers with the changing conditions of the trail won’t ever offer Tia the same experience twice.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Have you run Miwok since it’s been under Tia’s direction? Can you share a story about Tia and her race?
  • Have you shared the trails with Tia in another race? What do you remember about your time with her?

Tia Bodington 8

WeRunFar: Billy Simpson

WeRunFar Profile: Billy Simpson

I spent Friday afternoon two weekends ago stuck in beach-destined traffic somewhere past New Buffalo, Michigan. The sun was shining, birds whisked ahead, and music blared out of the cars idling by, each one with its own colored kayak on top.

All of this, we ignored. Even our own thoughts on our upcoming 50k the next day were pushed away. Our focus was instead on the tweets scrolling down the phone, as my mom and I, both passionate ultrarunners, were sucked into iRunFar’s live coverage of the Hardrock Hundred Mile Endurance Run in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado.

News of Anna Frost, Kilian Jornet, other top runners, and, of course, the iRunFar power couple, Meghan Hicks and Bryon Powell, were constantly being refreshed. For me, though, one runner out there, who was not on the lead-runner radar, accomplished more than just a finishing time.

In 37 hours, 19 minutes, and 57 seconds, Billy Simpson kissed the Hardrock in 44th place overall. It was his 10th finish on the Hardrock course, and by far his hardest journey through the San Juans yet.

Billy Simpson 1 - Kissing the 2015 Hardrock

Billy, age 60 and from Memphis, Tennessee, began his endurance-running career a little late in the game, but has been running for years. A jogging class during his years at the University of Memphis turned him toward the sport. He walked onto a team with guys who were recruited from Great Britain, became confident and extremely competitive in the sport, and never stopped.

It wasn’t until 2000 when Billy literally stumbled upon the ultra world. On a backpacking trip with his son, the first of his four children, he saw a sign on a door in Leadville, Colorado that read, “Home of the Leadville Trail 100 Mile Run.”

“I said, ‘Ben, this is a wild deal. We have to go in.’” The small office was filled with pictures and awards of the original Montrail team: Scott Jurek, Karl Meltzer and others. “It was far out.”

“That was the beginning,” he said. “That sign on the door.”

With just two local 50ks to prepare, Billy signed up for his first 100, Leadville, in 2001.

Back in the early 2000s, there were not many Tennessee locals with endurance-running experience. Sure, there were those who dabbled in 50ks, Billy said, but no one who had finished something like Leadville.

“I was so frightened,” Billy admitted. “I didn’t have anyone to bounce anything off of.”

It took him 28 hours, including walking the last 30 miles, but crossing that finish line was huge.

Billy Simpson 2 - Training in Colorado

“I didn’t know anyone who had done that before,” he said. “It was life changing.”

And, it only took him two years to wrap his head around another 100-mile event.

This time he found the Hardrock Hundred, and again his life was changed.

“I found my home in Silverton,” he professed. “This place is just… authentic.”

The list of praises did not stop there.

To Billy, Hardrock is one of a kind. Beautiful. Special. No hoopla. Home to the most beautiful mountain range in America. Sticks to core values. Makes you appreciate what you have.

“It just changes you,” he said. “In this day and age you get so much pressure to change for the bigger, better, and faster. Hardrock starts on a dirt road in a small mountain town; that is hard to find these days.”

I nod my head yes as I try to picture this genuine world he is describing, while scribbling down the words pouring from my iPhone and refreshing the screen on my Mac laptop.

Then Billy comes at me as if he knows I am straining to envision his descriptions.

“Go. Right now. Name five things that are truly authentic today.”

I couldn’t.

Billy Simpson 3- Out on town

At first, when I called Billy, a couple weeks before the 2015 Hardrock Hundred, I thought I was making a phone call to a runner who lived in Utah or Colorado all year thanks to an UltraSignup resume of mountain races. Instead, I learned Billy was camped out early in Silverton, training for the big day. He drives up from Memphis weeks early to train on the Hardrock course. The morning of the interview I spent my time watching the live feeds and Twitter coverage of this year’s Western States. And Billy, well, he was running through the mountains away from cell service and the “hoopla” of the WS100 event.

We finished our interview with me summarizing those Twitter updates: “Rob Krar was still grouped with the other runners, and the women were leap-frogging for first.”

“I have no desire to go Squaw for Western States,” he admitted. “I would like to run to see how fast I can go on the course, but the prestige of the race does nothing for me.”

“I totally respect Western but it is just not my cup of tea.”

His tea is better served overlooking the San Juan Mountains. Now with 10 finishes on the course, Billy claims each one was unique and special, mostly due to inconsistent and unpredictable weather.

2011 brought the most ice, water, and snow, making the water crossings pretty intense. Last year held harsh thunderstorms. This year Billy battled stomach issues more than the grueling trail conditions.

Yet, according to Billy, you can never have a bad experience in the San Juans.

“You can’t look up and see what you’re doing, see the wildflowers up to your shoulders, see the mountains, and have a bad time,” he said. “Yeah, it is hard and difficult. There is no payback. But, it is not about that.”

It is about the experience.

“There is a time at 12 or 1 a.m. in the morning where you are out there and you can hear a pin drop,” he described. “You can see and hear the wind, see the stars across the sky, see the long line of headlamps coming up the mountainside. And you ask, ‘How can this be happening to me?’”

Billy Simpson 4 - 2015 Hardrock Green Mountain

After five successful battles with the Silverton course, Billy, like others who have achieved the same, was considered a veteran of the race. His first race in 2004, he got in race morning off of the waitlist. Leading up to the 2008 run, his foot was packed into a walking boot, yet he still ran and hiked his way through to the last mile. He’s only had to run through a second night twice, and has even had his share of missing out in the lottery.

In the years Billy has been a Hardrock disciple, the race directors have only added about 30 openings to the public, while demand has jumped “1,000 percent,” Billy told me.

“It is incredible and kudos to them for trying to keep the race a small, authentic run,” Billy exclaimed. “Races can become a zoo when they succumb to the pressure, but the board of directors here doesn’t care.”

The small atmosphere allows the runners to become a part of the Hardrock environment. For Billy that means arriving weeks early and climbing mountains every day. The bulk of his training lasts from January until the race, including a couple of 50ks for speed and a few 100-mile weeks for endurance. There is no cross training and rest days are spent binge watching Netflix shows.

Days leading up to the race, he focuses on acclimating to the Colorado landscape and practicing the ascents and descents he meets on the Hardrock course. He sports an Ultimate Direction prototype vest that was a given to him by the designers back in 2009, and stashes bottles of Ensure shakes in his drop bags for the long miles out on the trail. On his feet are the up-and-coming Skechers GOrun Ultra 2.

“They are an incredible shoe, I’m not kiddin’ you,” he said, after I laughed a little. “They shouldn’t be a good shoe because they’re Skechers, but they are.”

With his veteran status, he knows that hundreds of great training miles will not guarantee anything out there.

Billy Simpson 5 - Hardrock training run with friends

“Walking from the hotel to the start of the race, it kind of hits me,” he said. “You have to brace yourself, give yourself a pep talk. After nine [Hardrocks,] you have seen everything, and you know what not to do, but it is still easy to fuck up here.”

And, after nine years of doing this type of thing, you know when something is off.

“This year was by far the hardest of all 10 races,” Billy said. “Walking to the gym is supposed to be fun, getting ready in the quiet, but something was wrong. I don’t know what it was. I just knew something was not right.”

Stomach issues set in early, causing him to sit and force down calories. Though he felt trained and prepared, Billy said the miles were not clicking off at the pace they should be.

I asked, already sensing the answer, if quitting crossed his mind.

“No,” he stated. “I never considered dropping. I knew I was not looking forward to the long night of running and not feeling well, but I knew I would finish.”

Remember when Billy said there are no bad experiences during Hardrock? Even with 100 miles of stomach troubles he was able to look up and enjoy the mountainous land, and share another Hardrock experience with his son.

Max came out and paced me,” Billy said. “It was his fourth time pacing me and he gets it. He gets how difficult it was and knew what to say and what I needed. The last 10 miles were hard but with him out there, I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything.”

Max is only 18 years old and has more good memories of the Hardrock course than most seasoned ultrarunners, came to the race to pace the last miles with Billy.

“It was a bad day for sure, but neither of us had any doubt that he was not going to finish,” he said.

Max, used to seeing his role model come in within the top 20 at Hardrock, was taken aback by Billy’s struggles.

“Yeah, I found out that my dad is actually human,” he admitted. “But very few people could go through what he went through and not DNF. I mean, the guy’s a freak. He has started Hardrock 10 times and finished Hardrock 10 times.”

Billy Simpson 6 - Max and 10 Hardrock finishes

When watching this guy trek through the trail, you would never guess he was 60 years old with 10 Hardrock finishes on his feet.

“Age is great to accumulate experiences and help you navigate life,” he said. “But age itself is just a number. It has never stopped me from doing anything.”

“Your body is a machine, just like a car,” he said. “It wears out. You have to listen to your body.”

When you have been running all your life, it may be hard to notice these signs, and listen to them. And, it is even harder when the signs aren’t even there. In Billy’s situation, an addiction to drinking was that problem, and one that would take years to overcome.

He started drinking when he was 14 years old, and is now three and a half years sober.

It was a life of running hard and drinking hard. And it was fun, he said. “Alcohol never interfered with my performance.” Until it finally did.

Once Billy decided to change, he joined Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and got the help he needed. But it was running that really helped him fill the void of alcohol.

It is like the quote by Krissy Moehl, he told me. “There aren’t many issues in life that a long run can’t solve.”

“Running gave me something to do,” he said. “I would go and get the demons out.”

It is the “live fast and die young,” “fuck everything” mentality that influenced Billy’s addiction.

“Yeah, it reads good on paper, but at the end of the day there were a lot of bad, lonely nights,” Billy admitted. “When you face a problem like alcohol, you have to look at yourself and see why you’re doing this. Having an addiction doesn’t make you a bad person or less of a human being, it just makes you have a crazy life.”

Just like having a bad race doesn’t make you any less of a runner. Billy was able to solve this problem with help from friends and family, some of them the loyal souls who meet in that small mining town every summer.

“I don’t mind talking about the drinking because it may help someone,” he said. “I think there are some people in our sport who can relate to a problem like this.”

Billy Simpson 7 - Training with Anna Frost

The Hardrock family is one of the strongest bonds I’ve heard about from reading running articles and listening to these dedicated followers talk about their Hardrock bonds.

“That’s why you come back to this race,” Billy said. “The family.”

The camaraderie of Hardrock is the inspiration for a film being created by Matt Trappe of Matt Trappe Photo & Film. Just entering the editing phase and to be released next year, the film will feature Billy as one of the prominent figures within the Hardrock circle.

The Hardrock congregation includes many ultra legends such as Deb and Steve Pero, and the newest couple on the Silverton block, Meghan and Bryon.

The training trio of Meghan, Bryon, and Billy was the inspiration for this profile. Meghan recommended the Tennessee native after training with him in the San Juans and absorbing some of the love he has for this race.

Described Meghan, “Billy and the Hardrock family, they won’t coddle or cuddle you. That’s not how these people work. Billy opened the door to me, welcomed me across the threshold, showed me the most efficient steps inside, and the left things up to me to get through the door and become a Hardrock finisher. Billy showed me just what I needed to know to do the work for myself, and he made me feel welcome as I did it.”

Billy Simpson 8 - Training with Drew Gunn

Maybe the racer and crewmember will switch soon, allowing Max to follow in his father’s footsteps and join the Hardrock clan.

“As an ultrarunner, I think my dad is really wise and I look up to him a lot,” Max said. “I really want to do Hardrock one day. It is a great place with so many great people, from the young fast guys like Kilian to the older guys like my dad. He’s 60 years old finishing in the top 40, and is one of the oldest guys out there. It’s crazy.”

I talked to Billy again while he was driving the long road back to Memphis. With a head cold and a boring drive ahead of him the idea of another Hardrock was not looking that appetizing, he told me. (Yes, we’ve heard that one before.) But the idea of other adventures may be enough to fill that Hardrock hole.

Hiking the John Muir or Appalachian Trail? Competing against those tough European guys?

“I still have that competitive edge,” he said. “It adds value to your life. Age has nothing do with it. It is all about the experience, and there’s so much out there.”

Billy Simpson feature