Telling Trail Stories
by Kirby Russell
The one thing everyone knows about me is that I love to run and I love to tell stories about it. I have been accused of talking too much about it. I was recently asked what my favorite race has been, when I started running, and how I would describe my running background over the years. It didn't take long to answer that question. It’s been one big, fun adventure filled with many different challenges and a lot of great people who have become lifelong friends.
Although I had been running road races and marathons for several years, my first trail race was on a hot Friday evening in August! It was the KTC Haw Ridge race and I was hooked! Within a few days I signed up for my first ultra trail race, the Stump Jump 50k. When I set out to run my first 50k—or any of the other ultras I ran early on—I had no idea what was going to happen but I wasn't going to let my fears keep me from finding out. Stump Jump 50k went well even though I had no clue what I was doing out there! It was around this time that I met someone who introduced me to the Knoxville running community. I’d met Terry Cash while running my greenway, and for several months he had invited me to the Tuesday night Haw Ridge run. I finally went and have never been the same! There I met Shane Hege, Hiram Rogers and The Quick Chicks. That was the beginning of the fun filled running adventures!
After several trail marathons and 50ks, I found I had the urge to push myself to further distances. I still had no idea what I would be capable of, but again had no fear of finding out. Fast forward a couple years and I was ready to give my first 100 mile trail race a go. I spent the next several months training and gathering information about this distance. Whiile on a training run one weekend with friends Tony Owens, Kathy Smith and Leah Jones, I mentioned I wanted to run the Pinhoti 100 in November. Tony quickly said he would run it with me. That turned out to be perfect; we ended up running the entire race together! I remember years earlier, after completing my first road marathon, hurting so bad that I told my son to never let me do that again. Yet that wasn't the case after my first 100 miler! Yes, I hurt. Yes, I slowed to a crawl at times. Yes, I hallucinated, but there was something about all this that I connected with and wanted more of!! Within a few weeks I was looking for another to run, and the following March ran my second 100 mile trail race, the Double Top 100. This turned out to be a slug fest with the North Georgia mountains and took nearly 31 hours to complete. This one hurt even more, the hallucinations more frequent, the weather cold and windy through the night, but again, once it was over I couldn't stop looking for another to run. Apparently I enjoy suffering!
By 2015 I had several ultras under my belt, as well as a hand full of 100 mile races, and was still continuing to look for races to run! So much so that my calendar filled with races for the entire year. I'm now finding myself doing what I love the most! Long training runs in the mountains, traveling to other parts of the country to race—as well as running the local KTC trail races—pacing, crewing and volunteering, and making new friends everywhere I go on the trails! I started 2015 by running the Pistol 100 in January and followed it up with the Delirium 24 hour in February. A couple 50ks followed in April, then the Cruel Jewel 100 in May.
Remember how I said I was always looking to push myself further? It was at that point I signed up for something I had never done before. Tarheel Ultra is a 367 mile multi-day event on the outer banks of North Carolina with 8 days to complete. I had followed a couple friends, Bo Millwood and Karen Jackson, Tarheel run in previous years, and of course I asked myself if this was something I could do. After several more ultras and a couple more 100 mile races, I was ready to find out. I wish I could give all the details about my time running down the coast but it would just take too long. If you ever see Terry Cash, he can provide all the details as he graciously volunteered to go and crew me for the week. I finished Tarheel Ultra in 6 days and two hours. I still consider this one of the most fun events I have ever been a part of and have a special bond with my Tarheel Ultra family.
Now that Tarheel Ultra was under my belt and successful I wasn’t really sure what to do. What should I look to run now? Then something happened that I never dreamed would: A condolence letter saying I had been accepted to participate in The Barkley Marathons! This obviously was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life! It also was one of my favorite as I spent much of my time in Frozen Head with my mentor Hiram Rogers. Since Barkley I've run several more ultras and a couple more 100 mile races. I found myself a bit burned out and injured some, also.
The great thing is I still love to show up at the events to pace, crew, and volunteer, and most of all tell my stories!! I hope the one thing everyone takes from this is it’s not about me and what I've done. I could not have done any of this without support from my running family. It’s about the greatest community I have ever been a part of. The Knoxville running community is the best and I am proud to be a part of it!!
You ask what’s next? I don't know the answer to that, but I can tell you I am still looking!!