73. My Love for Ultrarunning

73. My Love for Ultrarunning

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Runners

My Love for Ultrarunning

Do or do not. There is no “try.”
 ~Jedi Master Yoda

I was only three years old when my dad (Doug Malewicki) took me on my first overnight backpacking trip to San Gorgonio Mountain. I can still remember hiking up the Vivian Creek Trail carrying my bright orange backpack filled with a jacket and a stuffed animal. One trip, that’s all it took for the mountains to get in my blood.

Every summer, my dad and I took weeklong backpacking trips to Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park. I loved every aspect of hiking different trails and living outside in nature.

Fast forward three decades later. I continued the tradition that my dad began. It was August 2002 and my daughter Sierra, who I named after my favorite mountain range, was two and a half years old. My dad and I took Sierra on her first backpacking trip to the Minarets in Mammoth, California. Every summer since, Sierra, my dad and I have gone on hiking trips together. We have hiked the John Muir Trail and all over Tuolumne Meadows. It is one of my dreams to run the 211-mile John Muir trail.

I was drawn to trail running after my daughter Sierra was born a decade ago. My dad bought me a jogging stroller. I used it every day until the tires were completely bald. My dad encouraged me to sign up for a Winter Trail Running Series. The WTRS consists of trail races every other Saturday in the Cleveland National Forest. The race series starts with a 12K in January and culminates with the 50K in March. The San Juan Trail 50K was my first ultra in March of 2003. I was immediately hooked on the ultramarathon distance.

In December 2004, I had a minor setback when I broke my left ankle (fibula) on a 22-mile training run. After being in a hard cast and crutches for two months I was ready to get back to running and training. I became friends with Dean Karnazes that year. Dean’s book Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner inspired me like nothing else. I wanted to get faster, train harder and do my best at races. I started incorporating mountain biking and swimming into my training regime. Crosstraining is my secret weapon for helping me recover from racing and winning ultras on back to back weekends for over a month straight.

From 2000 until 2010, I have accumulated forty ultramarathon wins and more than a dozen trail marathon wins and even a handful of half-marathon and 10K wins. I won more ultramarathons than any man or woman in 2007. I broke five course records over a six-week time period. My course record streak in 2007 consisted of four 50Ks and one 50-miler. The one week in between that I did not race, I ran 75 miles over Memorial Day weekend with Gordy Ainsleigh, the founder of the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run. The Western States trail is one of my most favorite trails in the world. It is so beautiful. Thanks to Gordy Ainsleigh, who was the first person to ever run the Western States 100-mile race in 1974, we are able to experience running 100 miles from Squaw Valley to Auburn on the Western States trail. The amazing Winged God, Gordy is one of my best friends. I paced him at the Western States 100 in 2006 and 2007 and plan to do so again in 2010.

My dad got me interested in trail running and in return I got my dad interested in running ultramarathons. My dad has run many 50K races. My dad even ran 70 miles to celebrate his 70th birthday. His motto for the three-day event was that famous quote from Jedi Master Yoda in Star Wars, “Do or do not. There is no ‘try.’”

On January 23, 2010, three generations of my family toed the line at the Winter Trail Running Series 15K race. Sierra, age ten, finished the 9.2-mile trail race with over 3,500 feet of vertical ascent in 1:54. She won first place for all male and female competitors under age nineteen. She even beat her grandpa by 12 minutes.

I can picture our ancestors looking down on us and wondering why modern day humans would choose to run 30, 50, 100 or more miles just for the pleasure and pure challenge. I am grateful to use my mind and body to run trails and feel free like a wild horse roaming, racing and exploring beautiful trails with forests, meadows, peaks and valleys.

You are a rich person if you experience trail running. Different trails have different personas. Some are nasty and rocky and steep. Some are sweet and smooth as sugar. Races can keep things exciting and new. There are so many trails to explore and so many new races to run to keep the sport exciting.

Ultrarunning makes you truly live in the moment, one step at a time. It takes you down to the basics. Drink, eat and perpetual forward motion. You experience the highest highs, the lowest lows and everything in between. The people, the pain, the challenge, the struggle and the achievement makes it all worth it.

The bond that develops between runners is unmatched in most human endeavors. In the longer events we sometimes suffer together. I truly consider my ultra friends part of my family.

My best trail running moment was a few years ago when I won the Javelina Jundred 100-mile race in 19 hours and 42 minutes. Everything clicked and it was magic! In 2006 and 2007 I won the Orange Curtain 100K, the Twin Peaks 50K, and the Orange Curtain 50K and I beat ALL the GUYS at all three events! That was AWESOME!! The ultrarunning guys don’t seem to mind getting “chicked” by me.

The greatest advice I have to give to someone who wants to start running ultras is to never stop believing in yourself. Remain tough, stay strong, and prove the naysayers wrong. Since I started running ultramarathons in 2003, I am more confident that I have ever been. I can run 100 miles in under twenty hours, and therefore I feel that I am capable of doing anything that I set my mind to, if I want it bad enough.

~Michelle Barton

More stories from our partners