My Path to Ultra Running

I have been an athlete and physically active my entire life. However, I was not exposed to distance running until later in my adult life. Endurance sports and running have become a part of my identity and they continue to push me in ways that are unparalleled.

I was born and raised in Winston Salem, NC. My father served in the Marine Corps and introduced me to the outdoors at a young age; his passion is waterfowl hunting, and as kids he taught us how to setup decoys and use a duck call. My earliest memory of the outdoors was during our time living in Slidell, Louisiana. My dad built a treehouse where my brother and I would spend majority of our time. We would often role play as different action figures and sneak our father’s uniforms for further effect. This was pivotal for my development and sparked my interest into military service and a lust for the outdoors.

From an early age I was interested in sports. I began playing little league football once I turned eight and continued playing until graduating from high school. During my high school years, I was a two-sport athlete participating in football and track in the offseason to stay in shape. I was a sprinter and at the time, I was not interested in any events past 400 meters. Little did I know how that would change in adulthood.

A man in running gear posing with his hands on his hips Image via Arthur Blue

I always knew a part of my life would be spent in the military, so I decided to attend The Citadel Military College in Charleston, SC. After graduating from college, I spent time in airborne and special operations units, but it was not until my last overseas assignment in South Korea where I fell in love with endurance races. I was looking for a unique challenge that would push me out of my comfort zone. Fortunately for me, the South Korean Special Forces were gearing up for a biannual event and invited me to participate.

The event was five-day escape and evade through the mountains of Korea where we covered a total of 250 miles. The goal of the exercise was to simulate retreating to base after completing the mission. Each day I joined a different detachment of Soldiers. The detachments resembled that of the US Army and consisted of one officer, a senior noncommissioned officer and between eight and ten junior soldiers. Further, each detachment has its own identity and personality. Since the trek was self-supported and at your own pace, this made every day different for me. Some detachments were more competitive with other units and pushed to be the first to camp, while others took a more laid back, steady approach. We travelled through the night and hiked to a different base camp each day. The trek started in Mungyeong, South Korea and ended in Iksan, South Korea.

The entire route was mountainous and required strong focus and mental toughness. We carried all our essential items in our pack and pushed to the built-in checkpoints along the way. To make matters more interesting I was without a translator and my Korean was nonexistent. On the last day of the trek we made the final push, covering over 60 miles back to base where we were greeted by the families of the Soldiers and the senior leaders of the unit. It was a surreal moment and the soldiers, and their families embraced me as one of their own. Once I made the three-hour trip back to my base and settled into my apartment, I began to reflect. As the stiffness set in, I grabbed my laptop and searched for “endurance events” and learned about ultramarathons.

Time to Race

After leaving the Army in 2020 I took a job in Texas. During my time in the military, the pandemic did not initially change much of my day-to-day life.  However, once I was separated from the service, I began to experience the same isolation the rest of the world was feeling. During this time, I began to drink heavily and was feeling as if I made a mistake for leaving the Army. I went from being extremely active to working from home and trying to fit into a brand-new culture through Zoom. Even though I was still exercising and physically active, I consumed alcohol daily. I needed a major shakeup and decided to register for a 24hr race in Fort Worth, TX.

The race took place on a private ranch and consisted of a 1.25-mile loop mixed with gravel, road and grass. The race took place in August, one of the hottest months in Texas and started at 6:00pm on Friday night. The race started with 30 runners, but as the Saturday morning temperatures started to climb, only two of us were still in the race at the 3:00 hour mark. On Saturday evening at 5:00pm I was the last remaining participant and won my first endurance challenge. During my final lap, while in pain and trying to focus on not tripping over the gravel, I knew I wanted to continue pushing myself and find other events like this. If I could run for 24 hours in the Texas heat, while still being a novice in the sport, how far could I really push myself?

In 2023 I was selected to be a part of Ultra Expeditions race team and will be running in the Border to Badland 50 miler in Seminole Canyon state park and Southwest 100 in Fort Davis. These two races are important for me given the historical significance. Seminole Canyon was where the Black Seminole scouts of the US Army were stationed during the American Frontier Wars and Fort Davis served as the post for the Buffalo Soldiers. The Buffalo Soldiers were former slaves that volunteered to fight for a country that once enslaved them. They served with Army Colonel and future President Roosevelt as Rough Riders in the Battle of San Juan Hill. They were tremendous athletes and helped introduce the bicycle as a means of transportation and rode from Fort Missoula, Montana to St. Louis Missouri covering over 1,900 miles. These Soldiers continued to serve post war and were some of the first park rangers at Yosemite and Sequoia. These men overcame unfathomable hardships and endured despite the adversity of the times.

I will also be running the Juneteenth ultramarathon and Leadville 100. Aside from racing in these events, I work a full-time job Monday through Friday and have a supportive wife and daughter that make it all possible. I wake up and train early before work and again in the evening. I coordinate with my wife for my weekend training to make sure I do not interfere with things she has planned. I have learned the hard way that communication is key. I am most looking forward to continuing to push myself and evolve as husband, father and man. Additionally, I am excited to support my wife with her community hikes as she defines her long-term goals. Introducing my kids to the outdoors and letting them participate by being part of the race crew is very rewarding. Even if they do not choose to run hundreds of miles, I am okay with that as long as they are getting outside. I can be found on Instagram at: @arthur.blue3(Opens in a new window)

Featured image via Katie Polansky(Opens in a new window)