Explicit or not, I have always derived my motivation in the outdoors from curiosity and connection. Even before I started running as a daily discipline in February 1995 (I have the training logs to prove it), I dutifully conducted extensive exploration of the ridges and ravines on my family’s 640-acre farm above the Missouri River in northeastern Nebraska—I was continually building huts, blazing woodland paths, and hunting for fossils.

My parents encouraged such behavior by modeling a lifestyle that emphasized a pragmatic appreciation for and connection to the natural world, which most auspiciously presented itself in the form of a now almost old-fashioned rural self-reliance. For me, this ethic was first projected beyond our Nebraska homestead during annual summer camping and hiking trips to the American West’s National Parks.

Ultimately, as a result of those summer excursions, I was irresistibly drawn to the West’s more dramatic landscapes and deliberately moved to Colorado for college. Today, everything I continue to do in the mountains is simply a more systematic and evolved extension of what I was doing as a youth in Nebraska—indulging my curiosity and creating a meaningful connection to place through deliberate, direct experience.

The challenge of endurance has always appealed to me—I ran my first marathon when I was only 12—but despite much passion and desire, my efforts on the traditional racing oval and cross-country course were almost always disappointing to me, and usually compromised by injury.

Running at the NCAA Division III level at Colorado College in Colorado Springs, however, did directly introduce me to the arena of mountain running and racing, as our cross-country team would do weekly long runs on the extensive trail systems surrounding Pikes Peak. During my first semester of college I ran to the summit of Pikes Peak for the first time and found friends to teach me the basics of rock climbing in the Garden of the Gods.

My first summit of Pikes Peak—in running shoes and shorts in November, without water or calories—was an epiphany. After yet another disappointing cross-country season filled with twice-weekly speed workouts and desultory races, that initial 4hr48min effort up and down the mountain seemed to enliven and energize me rather than break me down. The altitude and snow provided a challenge for which I felt naturally suited, unlike the inevitable frustration that always seemed to result from trying to run fast on a golf course or rubberized track.

Finishing my first marathon in 1996 and racing XC for Colorado College in 2002.

Despite this frustration, I continued with the cross-country and track pursuits all through college—doing nothing notable beyond experimenting with some extended periods of 200+ miles per week training volume—but when I graduated in the spring of 2006 I resolved to see what I could do in the mountains.

That summer I ran my first ultra, winning the Leadville 100 in the then-2nd fastest time ever (and only three weeks after my first 50 mile run). My commitment to the sport was cemented the following year when I returned to the Leadville 100 for another win and a 47min improvement on my debut time.

With my pacer Alex Nichols, at mile 94 of the Leadville 100, 2006.

It is a boring platitude, but there is no denying that those first 100 mile races completely changed my life. My initial success was a bit of a personal revelation—finally, here was a pursuit that seemed to award my love for the mountains and my often obsessive and compulsive training. Though I signed up simply looking to satisfy a familiar curiosity—just how difficult is it to run for that long? can I do that?—after my first 100 mile finish, suddenly so many other adventures and objectives seemed doable.

In the following years, I have come to appreciate ultramarathon races for the community of like-minded individuals that surrounds them and the competitive outlet they provide. However, my core motivations continue to be expressed in my more non-competitive pursuits—connecting with a place through diligent practice and exhaustive exploration.

My most valued award from racing in the mountains is that it enforces a lifestyle that emphasizes time outside, moving in sync with the natural rhythms of the land. As the 5th generation in a family of homesteaders, my roots are inextricably tied to the land, so that lifestyle is something that I will always prioritize and be devoted to, even when my most competitive days are over.

Dad on our farm above the Missouri River in northeastern Nebraska.