Why Ultra Trail Running?

by Meg Mottola

Ultra trail running: it’s quite the feat. Most people look at my with bug eyes when I tell them I enjoy this type of running. I love pushing myself and finding my edge and pushing a little more until there’s nothing left. I like challenges, both mentally and physically.

From ages 15–25 I had only ran on roads or the track. It was the only kind of running I knew. I grew up a sprinter but something in me had a longing for long distances. In the summer of 2017, I had spent the summer in Des Moines, Iowa. I started running longer distances and I began to fall in love. I was still running roads but they were what I consider ‘road trails.” Basically these are runner/biker only roadways with a lot of trees surrounding it. Running those had left me feeling more connected than just running on a road.

I had never imagined I would want to run ultras or love this sport. It’s actually kind of funny how I came to love the sport though.

I returned home that August from Iowa. On the flight home I had randomly downloaded a book called Eat & Run by Scott Jurek. I listened to the audiobook for 8 hours and was in awe. Scott Jurek is an ultra-runner, and I had never heard of that before. But after listening to this book, I thought “Wow! How cool would that be to do?!” But I thought it was just a typical old “day dreamer Meg thought.” So I let it go. The next morning I went to the local high school to run the track. I was just doing my own thing when the high school coach came up to me and said, “You’ve been looping so much! What’re you training for?” Just to preface, I was not training for anything. But I was caught so off guard and I had just finished Scott Jurek’s book and I responded with a huge smile “an ultra marathon!” The rest is history.

I began to spend more time on trails and quickly realized how in tune I felt out there. This was what I had wanted to feel with running for so long. I could just unplug and go for hours. It was a way to connect to myself, and everything around me.

Nature never judged me. Nature just was. And trail running taught me to just be. It still does, and it always will.

I had the opportunity to run the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim. This run changed everything for me. It opened my world and allowed me to see things from an entirely new perspective. When you’re out there for hours, in crazy elevations, running on almost empty, with no cell service: just you and nature’s playground, it adds a whole new vividness to life that is unexplainable. It’s one of those “you have to experience it for yourself” kinds of moments.

Ultra trail running has challenged me in ways I didn’t know I could be challenged. It has made me face truths I didn’t want to face. It’s made me appreciate what I already have instead of wishing for things I didn’t have. I run because I already love my body, not so I can learn to love it. However, it has given me the appreciation for my body in ways I never thought of before. It’s allowed me to develop a sense of gratitude that is way beyond myself. It has allowed me to be more myself than anything else.

Ultra trail running is all about finding your edge and having that breakthrough; nothing in life can even come close to doing that the way that this sport does. Life is about challenging yourself and getting outside of your comfort zone. For me that means being with myself and tapping into my thoughts. It’s helped to shift my thinking; and let me tell you when you’re on a trail for over 4 hours you have a lot of time to think. You’re forced to ask yourself “Do I want to spend the next X amount of hours belittling myself and allowing doubt/fear to take over? or do I want ease, grace, and compassion?” The storyline you carry with you in life really matters and it wasn’t until I started running long distances that I truly understood how that storyline impacts us. You have to be comfortable with being uncomfortable and in the process of that you have to continue pushing through and in the process of that you’re continuously finding your edge. Suddenly you see life in this whole new way. Things that were once blurry become clear. Things that were once black and white become colorful. You have your highest of highs and lowest of lows, but despite it all it continues to prove anything is possible. It’s filled with doubts at times but also joy. There are tears, anxieties, fear, smiles, connections, and a true sense of being. It’s passion at its finest. It’s like a calm chaotic magical experience and I would not change any of it for the world. My time running out on trails is my time to play. It’s recess time on nature’s playground and it’s never a dull moment!

I’ll leave you with a quote by Billy Yang from a short documentary he did called “The Why: Running 100 Miles”

Why do you run?

“So many highs and lows. One minute you’re contemplating quitting, the next minute you’re climbing back up the mountain and running back down the other side with renewed vigor and enthusiasm; with a singular focus of getting to that finish…. you can certainly go at it alone but I really believe that life is best when it’s shared…. when it’s your time is the goal to leave a well preserved body or do you really want to use it? A body with stories that says you’ve pushed it and at times suffered and you sought its potential…. how we spend our future is entirely up to us, each mile, each step: a new page written. What do you want the remaining chapters of your life to be about?”

Get out. Explore nature’s playground. Embrace every step. Show gratitude for this earth.

Happy trails, y’all!

— Meg

About the Author:

Meg Mottola, 26, is an east coaster but a traveler at heart. After graduating from college, Meg is now obtaining her yoga teacher certification where she hopes to one day give back and share the power of yoga with others in her life. She is an advocate for mental health awareness, as she is in recovery from a 9+ year battle with Anorexia. Aside from writing for the foundation, Meg enjoys running, yoga, jamming on the guitar, and photography. She believes the key to joy in life is to surround yourself with positivity and to love unconditionally. You can follow her Instagram, @megmotts!