The 500 Ultra Man

Nobody can say Rob Apple hasn’t gone the extra mile. This fall the Tennessee ultra runner finished his 500th ultra marathon at the Great Eastern Endurance Run 100K, just outside of Charlottesville, Va. The 46-year-old Apple has been running ultras for 25 years, starting when the sport was basically unknown to the rest of the world. Although never one to break speed records, Apple has continued with a persistence that is unheard of in the sport. 


BRO: How did you find ultra running? 


RA: My first ultra marathon was a 50 miler in Fort Wayne, Indiana, in 1982. I had only run a half marathon before that. The course was a 2.5-mile road loop. It was cold and rainy, and we had to dodge semi-trailers all day. But the feeling I had after finishing was unlike anything I had experienced before. I was hooked. I had never pushed my mind or body that far. 


BRO: How many ultras do you run a year? 


RA: 40 or more a year. In the old days, you were lucky to find six ultras a year—with a lot of airplane flights. Now the sport has grown to the point that I feel lucky to have so many races to run close to home. The growth of races in the Southeast recently has been incredible, and we have so many trails that are largely unexplored. 


BRO: What’s your favorite race?


RA: Howl at the Moon 8-Hour Run in Danville, Illinois. I’ve been running the race since the early 90s. It also has one of the best post race parties I’ve attended.


BRO: Most bizarre ultra moment? 


RA: Seeing a Grizzly Bear at Western States 100 miler in 2005. I was almost last, and I heard a tremendous crashing up the hill from me. I stopped dead in the trail, and a few moments later, the bear came crashing out of the woods at breakneck speed. I remember the wind blowing its fur back and the incredible speed. It crossed the trail about 50 yards ahead of me, and then crashed into more brush on the other side of the trail. It was so big, and the whole thing happened so quickly that I wondered what would have happened if I’d been in it’s path. The whole thing left me breathless, but energized. 


BRO: Best ultra accomplishment? 


RA: Running my 500th ultra marathon. Great Eastern 100K made it the perfect place to finish number 500. The course is challenging with plenty of scenic views. I also had the pleasure to finish with two close friends, Susan Donnelly and Wesley Fenton. To be able to share the moment with those two only heightened the magnitude of such a feat. 


BRO: Worst experience at an ultra? 


RA: I had my flashlight go dark in 1994 at the Kettle Moraine 100 Mile. It rained during the entire race, then turned cold unexpectedly. Somehow I got turned around on the course going backwards. I was in last place, so the hope of another runner coming up from behind wasn’t an option, and there weren’t any course sweeps. By the time Search and Rescue found me, I’d missed the cut off time. 


BRO: How many more ultras do you hope to run? 


RA: I have no quanititaive goals, only to continue exploring ultra running at a pace that provides the most entertainment. I’m very fortunate that I know what I enjoy, and I’ve been fortunate to enjoy it 500 times.

Rob Apple’s Favorites


Race Food: Peppermint Candy


Shoes: Nike Kyotees


Local Trail: Big Creek Trail, Great Smoky Mountains National Park


Local Ultra: Great Eastern Endurance Run


Hours Training Per Week: 15