I try to stay smooth on my run this morning. I skip rhythmically across the rocks and attempt a controlled slide across the cascades that have frozen into a sheet of ice along the trail. My body is protesting, still feeling the effects of the previous day’s track workout. But a smile comes to my face as I enjoy the sights, smells, and sounds of winter in the mountains. Soon, my mind wanders, and I recall the words of some of the most inspiring runners with whom I’ve had the pleasure to share the trails. Their thoughts on running have seeped into my own, and they’re with me on this and every run.

Doug Blackford
Boone, North Carolina

At 67 years young, Doug Blackford from Boone, N.C. has been running for 17 years. He starting running in order to help his son, Henry, keep up with his summer cross country miles; Doug would cover a couple of miles which he recalled “would about kill me”. After running a 5K with coaches and parents of competing cross country teams, in which his goal was to not walk, Doug got a taste of the competitive bug. He realized that with a little bit of extra training he might be able to beat some of the regular runners. He’s now completed 60 ultramarathons (including three 100-milers), and numerous marathons.

What inspires you?

The spirit of adventure! In an ultra, I don’t know what demons I am going to face out there, and I try to prepare for unknown troubles.

What gets you out the door?

It really feels good to be in good shape, maybe the best shape of my life, at my age. So to stay in shape, I have to keep getting out there. It’s just a lot of fun to get out with a good group on a long run. I always like beautiful scenery, but I also like it when the weather turns nasty.

What do you think about when you run?

I think about where I am going to put my next foot. I think about whatever conversation I am having at the time, the beauty of the trail, and what it’s going to take to survive whatever conditions I am encountering.

Favorite trail or running spot?

Probably Roan Highlands, or it could be Dupont State Forest.

Favorite race and/or fun run?

Mount Mitchell Challenge—it was my first ultra run, and I have done it every year since (Doug will be competing in his 13th this month). My favorite course is the Terrapin 50K in Virginia because it seems to have everything an ultra can offer: technical trails, forest roads, steep climbs, beautiful views, and river crossings.

Greatest accomplishment or moment?

I have finished three 100-milers, and I had to really dig deep, so they have felt like my greatest accomplishments. My greatest running moment might be the double crossing of the Grand Canyon (R2R2R). It was a great group and gorgeous scenery and it felt special to get out of the bus and see that Canyon for the first time and just start running. Three of us stayed together the whole time and took pictures and had fun. It was a truly memorable experience.

Running advice?

Keep it fun and find some adventures.

Favorite running workout?

A good long run on a beautiful trail. I don’t do speed work or workouts except if I am trying to keep up with someone faster than me.

Cross-train? What methods?

I bike some and swim some.

Running hero or mentor?

Gary Knipling, because he is three years older than me, and he still does three 100-milers per year. So when I start feeling like I am too old for this crap, I look at him and figure I better have at least three more years.

Do you give back to the running community in any way?

I volunteer at races when I can.

Something quirky, weird, or unusual about you that most folks don’t know?

I play duplicate bridge. I am usually about the oldest one in a group of runners and the youngest in a group of bridge players.

Denise Davis 2_FIX

Denise Davis
Franklin, North carolina

Denise Davis fell in love with running through the woods as a young girl, and fondly remembers running alongside her local river during high school cross country practices. After a hiatus from running in her twenties, she came back with a vengeance in an attempt to get back in shape for a South Beyond 6,000 adventure in 2001. She skipped from 5Ks to 50Ks and never looked back; she’s completed most of the Southeast’s best races and toughest adventure runs.

What inspires you?

That feeling you get now and then when the run is perfect. When everything feels right, the running is smooth and fast, I breathe easily and it is beautiful all around me. I am inspired to try to recapture that feeling every day.

What gets you out the door?

If I feel good and am in a good mood, I don’t need motivation to head outside. If not, I know running will help fix most anything.

What do you think about when you run?

I think about pretty much anything and everything, but I always spend time just being thankful. I am so lucky to live in this part of the world and have the ability to go run on all these great trails, just minutes from my front door.

Favorite trail or running spot?

That’s like trying to pick your favorite child. I love the northern half of the Appalachian Trail through the Smokies. The North Carolina section of Bartram Trail is a special place for me. I have been drawn to the Shining Rock area since I was a teenager. It was the last place I went before I had ACL surgery and knew running and hiking would be out of the picture for a while, and it was the first place I went when I got off crutches.

Favorite race and/or fun run?

Old Dominion 100.

Greatest accomplishment or moment?

The best moment of my running career was being late to get on the shuttle van to the start of the inaugural Hellgate 100K. There wasn’t much room left, but a nice guy gave me the front seat and squeezed into the back. When we got out at the start line, I handed him his pack that he had left on the floorboard, which started a conversation that has lasted for over a decade. We married the next year! My biggest accomplishment was being the first to thru-run the 110 miles of the Bartram trail. Not because I was the first, but because of what I learned I was able to endure to do it. I had been sick for two weeks and almost quit time and time again. Also, running 94 miles one year to the day of my ACL surgery was a physical, mental and emotional victory.

Running advice?

Have fun. Don’t ever take for granted your ability to get out there and do it. I was playing Ultimate Frisbee with my cross country team, took a hit and a fall, and completely tore my ACL. Nine months of no running and three years later, still trying to get back to where I was, makes me so very grateful every time I step out the door.

Favorite running workout?

My favorite is a workout I do with my cross country team. We strap tires of varying sizes to us and run up the mountain as far as we can go. It’s a great physical and mental workout.

Cross-train? What methods?

I should. But I love to run, so that’s what I do.

Running hero or mentor?

Anyone who does something that they “shouldn’t” be able to do. People who finish last but don’t quit. Bill Irwin, the blind hiker, who fell repeatedly, but kept getting back up to finish thru-hiking the Appalachian Trial. Bill Keane is 70 and still kicking ass in the ultra world. Amy Palmiero-Winters, who I passed at Vermont 100 only because she had stopped to shake rocks out of her prosthetic blade. She caught back up.

Do you give back to the running community in any way?

I have been coaching our girls cross country team for twelve years and also coached our first full indoor track team. I have mentored students in directing races and I continue to direct a memorial scholarship race one of my runners started ten years ago. I have volunteered at different races and runs, organized small fun runs, and tried to spread the love for the trails in our little corner of the world.

Something quirky, weird, or unusual about you that most folks don’t know?

I have a Massanutten dimple. In my first 100, the Massanutten, I took a really hard spill, face down, on the infamous Massanutten rocks and ended up with a chipped cheekbone and a black eye. So now, a decade later, when I smile, I have a prominent dimple on my left cheekbone.

Beth Minnick_FIX

Beth Minnick
Abingdon, VIRGINIA

Due to the persistence of a running neighbor, Beth Minnick decided to finally give running a try. Realizing that she struggled to even run one mile in high school, she shocked herself in October of 2005 by running 6 miles on the Virginia Creeper Trail on her first outing. A month later, during a 16-mile trail run in Kentucky, she was hooked. After dabbling in road marathons, including Knoxville and Boston, she started running trails and has been turning in inspiring performances ever since.

What inspires you?

The regional running community. They’re like family to me. We’ve spent a lot of time together over the years, we’ve traveled together, laughed and cried together, shared our triumphs and defeats. I see them putting in the miles, the desire, the joy, the struggles, and I want be a part of that.

What gets you out the door?

Nature! I want to be out there exploring, hearing my feet hit the ground, feeling the wind, rain, snow, and sun hit my face. I want to see the sunrise, find a waterfall, take a dip in a creek, run by the light of the moon, see a bear! I love the way the different seasons completely transform the trail, the newness of spring, the long days of summer, forest ablaze with fall colors, and the magic found in snow-covered woods. I want to be out there experiencing that constant change.

What do you think about when you run?

A lot of the time I’m chatting it up about whatever comes to mind: books, movies, races, current events. When I’m racing it’s more of a flow state of mind, being present and letting the constant stream of thoughts just quickly come and go. It’s a delicate balance, managing the effort and fuel, staying focused, and pushing out any negative thoughts that might get in the way.

Favorite trail or running spot?

Grayson Highlands/Appalachian Trail: From Elk Garden to the Summit of Mount Rogers, especially in the snow. Visiting the wild ponies, soaking in some amazing views, and being enveloped by the spruce-fir forest (their scent is heavenly) at the top.

Favorite race and/or fun run?

Terrapin Mountain 50K will always be a favorite race of mine, and the Sultan 50K will always be a favorite fun run—I love wearing crowns and eating cake.

Greatest accomplishment or moment?

Completing and competing in the Lynchburg Ultra Series with one of my best friends and running buddies, Beth Frye. The moment we realized we had both finished in the top 10 at Mountain Masochist 50 Miler (the last race in the series) and had also finished 1st overall and 1st masters female in the series with only 2:02 separating our overall times. In a sport where there is so much emphasis on “I”, it was refreshing to feel like part of a team and feel proud of what “we” had accomplished together.

Running advice?

Sometimes less is more. Listen to your body, not everyone can log 80-100 miles a week. If you’re tired, rest. You may have logged a billion miles, but if your body is broken and you’re exhausted it’s not going to matter.

Favorite running workout?

DAM8—it’s a figure 8 route linking the Appalachian Trail and Iron Mountain Trail out of Damascus, Virginia. It’s got a good long climb to warm you up, 4 miles of sweet downhill, a nice view, enough rocks to sharpen your technical skills, and a half mile sprint finish on the creeper.

Cross-train? What methods?

Yes! I enjoy a lot of different activities and think it’s important to mix things up, use different muscle groups, and avoid risking burnout. Do something active during lunch break: walk on the creeper, attend yoga classes, play tennis, or play a round of Frisbee golf. I live on the Virginia Creeper trail so some days I bike commute to and from work.

Running hero or mentor?

Rick and Tammy Gray of Johnson City, Tenn. Rick and Tammy took me under their wing in my early trail running days, and their guidance and support has been invaluable. Rick has inspired and brought more people to ultrarunning than anyone I know. With over 100 ultras under his belt, his knowledge of all things running is book worthy! You won’t go to a race in this region where someone won’t come up to Tammy and thank her for that time she yelled at them to get out of an aid station, gave them just the right pep talk, thawed their frozen shoelaces, and took care of their extra gear so they wouldn’t have to carry it for the next 30 miles.

Do you give back to the running community in any way?

I love volunteering for local races. I feel it’s the perfect way to give back and support others, plus it’s a ton of fun. For years now I’ve volunteered at the Virginia Creeper Marathon (I can walk to my aid station from my house), and the Iron Mountain Trail Run. I also love organizing group runs on the Iron Mountain Trail Runners’ Facebook page.

Something quirky, weird, or unusual about you that most folks don’t know?

I have crazy feet. When I’m seated, my foot measures a women’s size 9, when I stand up it jumps to an 11 ¼. I just have to find middle ground and wear a 10.5 running shoe.

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