Photos by Pete Schreiner of Schreiner Trail Photography
It was sort of a freak accident—20 miles into the 106-mile race, ultrarunner Liz Canty tore the anterior tibial tendon in her shin. Canty was running the 2021 Cruel Jewel 100, which takes participants on 95 miles of trails, 11 miles of mountain roads, and a staggering 33,000 feet of elevation gain and loss through Chattahoochee National Forest of the north Georgia mountains.
She kept running despite the injury. But after talking with her support team, Canty made the hard decision to quit at mile 70. “I could have done 30 more miles and walked very slow and been out there for 48 hours,” she said. “I absolutely could have done that. But we were looking at how much damage I would do to my leg. You could look at six months of no running.”
Luckily, Canty said she managed to heal from the injury in about six weeks, instead of the expected 12 to 14.
So as the 2022 race approached in May, Canty was ready for redemption, and the 30-year-old ultrarunner came back with a vengeance, finishing in 26:34:53 to beat the previous female course record by 45 minutes. She came in first among women and fifth overall, qualifying her for the 2023 Hardrock 100 race lottery in Colorado.
Since she started ultrarunning in 2016, Canty has become of the sport’s top athletes. She has consistently secured podiums across dozens of races and has also set multiple fastest known times, including one for the Smokies Challenge Adventure Run.
Canty moved from Alabama to Colorado about eight months ago and has plans to continue racing in her new home state while traveling for future races. BRO caught up with Canty to discuss the race and her ultrarunning career.
BRO: How did it feel to finish in first place among women in fifth overall in the Cruel Jewel
Canty: Oh, it hurt, I can say that much. No, it felt great.
I went back, ready to go. And I didn’t want to have to do it a third time, so I had to do well.
BRO: How did last year’s DNF motivate you in this year’s race?
Canty: I was sort of stressed about it that I would hurt myself during this race again… it wasn’t probably ‘til the last 20 miles that I was like, oh, I’m gonna finish this. No matter what, even if I do fall right now and hurt myself, I can absolutely make it 20 miles. It was super encouraging.
BRO: How is the Cruel Jewel different from the other races?
Canty: It’s probably one of the (most) humid races I’ve done.
And not only is it super hard—there are hard races all over the world—but I think it’s mentally tough in a whole other way to just be hot and sweaty, for as long as it takes you, and really not get some grand mountain vista. You’re just sort of chugging through the woods and you really got to have your mental game on.
BRO: Tell me about what your training was like for the race.
Canty: I actually was training for the Boston Marathon as a big part of my Cruel Jewel training cycle.
I run trails six or seven days a week. As much as I was trail running, I was still having to make sure that I did speed work on the road and still doing long runs on the road.
I probably had a really different training cycle than a lot of people, who were out here (Colorado) training for the same race and doing a ton of hill work and just hiking, really getting fit for the hills. I took a different approach—I got really fit for the Boston Marathon and it worked out.
BRO: What’s the biggest lesson that ultrarunning has taught you?
Canty: To not take anything too seriously. To not take running too seriously, or work or life or
It is not important if you win or lose, but it’s fun. And it’s 30 hours worth of it.
BRO: What’s your favorite thing about ultrarunning?
Canty: Snacks in the woods. Ultrarunning is a lot more of eating while you’re running. It’s the fact that you can be in the middle of nowhere in the Blue Ridge Mountains and happen upon someone cooking you quesadillas and handing you a beer if you’d like one at mile 80 is kind of incredible.
BRO: What’s next in your running career?
Canty: The race calendar is about full for the year. I’ve got a race out here, a 19-hour race in a month–the first week of July–and then the big deal is there’s a race series in Europe called Ultra- Trail [du] Mont-Blanc.
That’s coming up at the end of August. My husband and I will go out there, and that’s 66 miles around Mont Blanc mountain in Chamonix, France. So, that’s next!