Trail Sisters Half Marathon & 10k

September 14th • Buena Vista, CO

Distance Doesn’t Define a Runner

Katelynn is a trail and ultra runner and ultra cyclist living in Ithaca, NY. She works at Cornell University and plays (runs) in the beautiful gorges of the Finger Lakes Region. She is a mother to a outdoor loving, messy haired little girl.

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In trail and ultra-running, there seems to be the ever persistent pressure to always push your limits, to always go further, and to always strive for that 100 mile buckle. Pushing your limits isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it can sometimes seem like you haven’t earned the right to call yourself a runner if you don’t have at least one of those buckles under your belt.

This is something that I struggled with for years as a trail and ultra-runner. Yes, I had completed 50k’s, adventure races, 50 milers, and spent almost every one of my training miles on trails. But none of those accomplishments made me feel like I was worthy of the title “ultra-runner.” I felt the increasing pressure to run a 100 mile race, even though my burnout for a 50 miler was so high I didn’t want to look at my running shoes for months after. I felt that if I didn’t run a 100 mile race then I must not be dedicated enough, tough enough, or love the sport enough. So I signed up for one. I drew up a training schedule and tried my best to follow it to a T. I worked hard and logged long miles, but the burn out started to set in and the sport that I love slowly turned into a chore that I hated even the thought of doing. Every single run felt like a burden and what once lifted my mental state was now dragging it down to low points I hadn’t experienced before. Not only was I not enjoying my time in the woods, I was missing important time with my 4 year daughter to be out there doing it. It took my first DNF in a race to kick on a light bulb for me.

Katelynn and Ashley DNF and express their feelings.

Laurel Highlands 70.5 mile ultra was on my training plan for the 100. I trained hard and toed the start line, but for various reasons, I missed a cutoff and earned my first DNF. I decided to take 2 weeks off from running after that race to gather myself. In that two weeks I spent more time with my daughter than I had been able to in months because of my training schedule. This helped me realize a healthy balance was what I had been missing. Running to the point that it consumes your life may work for some people, but it doesn’t for me. My daughter is only little once, and I want to enjoy it while it lasts.

Katelynn and her daughter Vera after V’s second 5k!

All that extra free time led to a lot of soul searching and meditation. I have finally realized that I am a trail runner whether I run 100 miles or 1 mile. I may not get the same “ohhs” and “ahhs” out of a 5 mile race as I do the 50 mile, but I’m not doing it for others to “ohh” and “ahh” at me. The simple act of tying my shoes and hitting a trail, no matter the distance that is covered, the love that I have for running without obligation is what makes me a trail runner. So what if a 50k is more my jam than a 100 miler? A 50k race is nothing to scoff at, and it doesn’t mean that I am not strong or don’t love the sport. It means that I have tested my limits and accept them. I choose to run the distance that adds joy to my life instead of taking it away.

So whether you’re new to the sport or a veteran, don’t ever feel like you have to accomplish that next distance to be good enough or earn the “trail runner” title. If you want to, that’s great! I, along with all your other Trail Sisters will be here to cheer you on along the way. If you try and fall short, or realize that it’s just not for you; that is also great! You tried and we will all be here to support you just the same. At the end of the day, this community that we are building isn’t about the distance that you cover. It’s about sharing our love for the trails in all its various forms. So whether you run 100 miles or hike 1 mile, you have so much to contribute to this community, and we are thrilled to have you in it.

About the Author

Katelynn is a trail and ultra runner and ultra cyclist living in Ithaca, NY. She works at Cornell University and plays (runs) in the beautiful gorges of the Finger Lakes Region. She is a mother to a outdoor loving, messy haired little girl.

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10 Responses

  1. Well said. This sums up so much of my feelings after running one 50K and deciding that doing more ultras is probably not for me.

  2. Hi Katelynn, I totally agree with your post! I’ve seen the same thing happen in our running community in Croatia and it’s incredible how fast people are going for the 50k, 100k and 100miles. And it really doesn’t make any sense to me either because it’s so important to stop wanting to be at some other “higher” level, but to enjoy the level which you are on now. No matter if that is 5k, 10k, 20k or 50k. At each point we’re getting the benefits and happiness of enjoying trail running and there is no need to rush things. This is a sport which we will hopefully enjoy throughout our lifetime and it’s not a catching game. 🙂 And I must admit that at times I also felt not good enough cause I was at the shorter distances, but this is completely something we need to deal with in our own heads. Especially us women who always feel like we need to prove ourselves with some amazing results before we can consider ourselves ultrarunners or even runners. But that’s a whole other story…

  3. But….. sometimes it does. Not as in oh look at me, look what i did. Sometimes the distance takes you to places inside your self you never knew existed. I recently just came to a so called end to a very long, slow, back of the pack runner, never getting the “respect” i crazily thought i somehow deserved. But that respect was always reserved for the fast and young runners. It took me awhile to remove myself from most of those self defeating races, with all the pressure and insecurties, expensive entries etc. It was then i truly began running for me. And motivating others to feel the freedom , the sanity and peace that long solo distance running can bring. I then started to use my ability to run slow but far for other reasons than even myself. And that is when i truly discovered the amazing gift i was given. When i first read the caption to this post I imediately felt like are you kidding? Now when i accomplish the most insanely, crazy distance run of my whole life , they are saying it doesnt really matter? It took me a minute, but letting go of my own ego i understand her meaning and thoughts but to me i needed that crazy distance, i needed it for the cause i was running it for, but most importantly i needed it for me, i needed that distance to meet the woman who could ignore all kinds of pain and discomfort to reach a place inside herself that was buried so deep, that only a distance of a thousand miles could find her. In that moment, standing on top of Mt.Whitney after all those years of being a total nobody in the ultra world, after all those years of being the chubby runner girl, all those years of being invisible in a ultra world full of immense egos. I am still a nobody:) in their eyes, except now it doesnt matter one bit. I feel complete, fullfilled and so very proud that at 61 years old I rose above all the bullshit, and just let it happen, so distance does matter, but it is relative, to me it is about the push, the discovery of those parts of yourself that require an extra ordinary effort from just an ordinary woman or man. It is never necessary to push that hard, and life does get in the way, but every once in a lifetime or two it is an amazing gift to see just what our own bodies are truly capable of. With love and respect for every single 5k,10k, half, full marathon etc. Keep running for you. Because you can.

  4. This is an important and timely piece of writing, so . . . thanks from another trail runner who also tries to NOT let distance define me.

    I especially LOVE this idea toward the end of your piece: “The simple act of tying my shoes and hitting a trail, no matter the distance that is covered, the love that I have for running without obligation is what makes me a trail runner” (except for one small detail . . . in my case, I don’t even have to tie my shoes, cause I hit the trails with nothing on my feet when I run for fun & love 🙂 ) Happy “Running-without-obligation”Trails!

  5. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU! I’ve struggled for years with trying to run even a 20K without injury, but it’s always happened no matter what I do. I’m now accepting that my body just isn’t built for longer distances and didn’t feel like a part of that trail community anymore. Thanks for the confirmation that that’s not true. Also, I’ve been trying to psych myself up for all the 5k trial races in my area and your words are super helpful. 🙂

  6. Thanks. I love running and in particular trail running. My longest race? Half Marathon! I’m 61. In all my years of running I have never had the desire to run longer. Partly due to the fact I am injured frequently and know I would not make it. When I was in better shape, in my 40’s. I had young children and was single and working full time -Hard enough to get time away for 5 miles. At the time I ran with a group who all trained for marathons. They couldn’t understand how I could not want to run a marathon. You are not a real runner I would be told. I enjoy my running,I love to be out doors -the distance isn’t the always the goal. That said I am getting in shape for my first trail half marathon. No expectations just to have fun and accomplish the distance for myself. Also get to go to Colorado!!! This is where running takes me. New places new running friends. No Ultra needed. I will always cheer on and admire those who go the distance but understand I enjoy my 10 miler on Saturday just as much.

  7. I love this article, and I love the comments. One of the strengths that I see in you all is that you are defining your boundaries. If the meager distance of 100k doesn’t define you, or even if it does, your choices to prioritize for family, age, ability, or
    something else is precisely why you’re strong–running is just a symptom of your strength. Thank you for knowing yourselves.

  8. I REALLY REALLY needed to hear this. I’m signed up for a 50M in the fall that I don’t want to do because I want more time for life after a big summer training cycle. I’ve only done one 50M and often feel I ‘need’ to do more to be…good enough? I can’t explain it but your article resonates with me. Thank you for sharing!

  9. I struggle with this a lot since my husbands favorite distances are 100 & 200 miles. I’ve gone to 100k 2x & done many 50ks & 50m races but I have felt/feel like I have to do 100 miles at least once & maybe one day I will but that’s still to be determined. You have to want to run 100 miles, it’s not a distance most people can just get by on minimal training & finish.

    And to everyone who is crushing those super long distances, that’s amazing! I’m super happy for you, but that being said we are all on our own journey & 100 miles, or even an ultra might not be on that journey & that’s ok too.

  10. Well said and so very true. Thank you for sharing this article! I think it’s a good reminder for us all to remember why we love the sport and that we are all trail runners supporting each other regardless of the distance.

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Sept. 14th 2024

Buena Vista, Colorado

Half-Marathon & 10k

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