Turning bad news into a good cause.

My heart skipped a beat when I heard the news: Run to the Pub was canceled. It was the first Bozeman-area race to fall at the hands of COVID-19, and murmers began to flow through the running community. Would other race organizers follow suit? How much notice will we have if our races get canceled? Will we get a refund? Should we keep training, or hang up our shoes?

For my part, I'd registered for the 52-mile Bighorn Trail Run, scheduled for June 20, in Sheridan, Wyoming. I’d spent the past several months on a rigorous training regimen. It was spring now; I'd made it through the cold, dark days of running against the dry winter wind. The days and runs were getting longer, and I was feeling ready not just to endure the race, but to enjoy every stride. Yet uncertainty rose as week after week, the races dropped like flies, leaving thousands of passionate runners stranded with heavy feet. I struggled to focus on my goal, worried that it could disappear at a moment's notice.

On the first of May, as I sipped coffee and reviewed my training route for the day, I received an email: my race was canceled. The Bighorn was more than a race to me. After going through a crass breakup on a cold December night, I channeled my energy toward this goal. I got back in the best shape of my life, but now I felt angry that I had wasted time training for nothing. I felt compassion for my fellow athletes who were suffering from a shared loss. I even felt a twisted, guilty tinge of relief—my hard days of training were over. Then I asked myself, "Are you done? Are you quitting?" I couldn't be done unless I'd achieved my goal or sustained an injury. I don't quit. So I set down my mug and laced up my shoes. A sly smile broke on my face as I stepped out the door and got back to training.

Physical Therapy
Training on May 1, the day my race was canceled

The idea floated into my head as I strode, more of a feeling than a concrete thought. While I ran, it began to take shape. Two hours later, back at home, I snatched up a pen, paper, and trail map of the Bozeman area. I didn’t need a race fee or bib to achieve my goal; I had everything I needed right in my backyard. I would design my own 52-mile run, starting and ending in downtown Bozeman, and taking me along some of the most beautiful sections of trail that our town has to offer. I would raise money for my favorite nonprofit organization, Warriors and Quiet Waters. My gracious pal, Carlye, recruited friends and family members to support my run and assigned them to personal aid stations throughout town, where I’d have no need to jostle with other runners over a cup of water and a snack.

My training continued; I was as dedicated as ever. And on June 20, the same day that the Bighorn Trail Run was scheduled for, I ran 52 miles—starting downtown, out to the Sourdough Creek bridge, up to the top of Triple Tree, back through town to the M, up Drinking Horse, down and back through Story Hills, and finally ending at home. I raised $5,200 for Warriors and Quiet Waters from 48 different donors. In addition to donations, my friends ran or biked portions of the route with me, offering encouragement and camaraderie. I was blown away by the support I’d received from my community—and uplifted by an accomplishment that I would not have achieved had the Bighorn taken place.

running ultra bozeman montana
Taking the long road

What else did I get out of my homemade ultra? I was reminded not to let unexpected circumstances derail my personal goals. Traversing town from one end to the other, quietly taking in the landscape under a bright blue sky, I fell back in love with my hometown of Bozeman. I ran the race that I was truly meant to run—and along the way, I achieved something positive for myself and others that were, and still are, struggling under the pandemic. This run solidified my belief that no matter what life throws at me, no matter how dark the nights become in the dead of winter, there will always be a spring around the corner, a season for change. It also reaffirmed my conviction that honest work combined with community support will always take me down the right trail.

Physical Therapy
Feelin' good post-race

To my fellow athletes in the Bozeman running community, who are also feeling adrift after canceled races: perhaps my experience can inspire you to train for and run your own personal race. Grab a few friends and run the Ridge together, or map out a route with a similar distance and elevation profile to the Rut. Overcoming obstacles takes determination, conviction, friendship, and help from others, but at the end of the day, all you need to do is lace up your damn shoes.

 Ali Ramirez (PT, DPT), a physical therapist at APRS Physical Therapy, is a Bozeman native, military veteran, and board member for Warriors and Quiet Waters.