The Ultrarunning Rabbit Hole


Our Campbell store's Merchandising Lead, Isabel Alvarez is telling us all about her journey from taking the road less traveled to start running Ultramarathons!

I first heard about ultrarunning back in 2018 when I started working at Sports Basement and it absolutely changed my life and my priorities. I went from occasionally running road half marathons to training for my first 50 miler in Colorado. I’m not a fast runner. I’ve never won a race, and I probably never will. But when I learned about the slower pace of ultras, I knew that I could probably keep up (keyword: probably)!

From the moment I heard about 50 milers, I just knew that I wanted to run that distance. When I started trail running I quickly realized how bad I was at running up hills. I walked a lot initially. Like I mentioned before, I’m definitely not a gifted runner. Most ultras are run on trails, so I knew that if I wanted to race I’d have to get very comfortable with hills, technical terrain, mud and more. 

Isabel running up a hill.

I remember going down an “ultrarunning rabbit hole” reading books, watching documentaries and absorbed all the information I could. A line from “Eat and Run” from Scott Jurek really stuck with me:

“Running efficiently demands good technique, and running efficiently for 100 miles  demands great technique. But the wonderful paradox of running is that getting started requires no technique. None at all. If you want to become a runner, get onto a trail, into the woods, or on a sidewalk or street and run. Go 50 yards if that’s all you can handle. Tomorrow, you can go farther.”

After reading that book I was inspired to put my grittiness to the test and I set eyes on Run Rabbit Run (RRR) 50 in Steamboat Springs. There are many reasons why I run (health, accessibility, friends etc.) but I know that deep down I started running ultras because they’re hard. And running 50 miles genuinely terrified me. I wanted a challenge and this was definitely the biggest challenge I had yet to partake in.

When RRR 50 came around I had a panic attack the day before the race. At the pre-race meeting I stuck out like a sore thumb and I kept saying to myself “you’re crazy, you haven’t trained enough, you don’t belong.” But it was time to sink or swim. During the race I had plenty of highs and lows, but I specifically remember being at the mile 43 aid station in utter disbelief. I had just had my first moose encounter a few miles back. The aid station was filled with runners sitting on chairs and some runners were arriving and dropping from the race. I was nauseous and in pain but for the first time I truly believed that I could finish the race. I felt strong. The last miles of that race were the most emotional and painful miles of my life, and I could barely wrap my head around it. 

I’m still relatively new to this sport but I’ve completed two 50 milers so far. My first being RRR 50 and my last being the American River Virtual 50 during shelter in place. I’m absolutely hooked on ultrarunning, so much so that now I’ve got my heart set on running my first 100 next year (even if it’s virtual). If there’s any part of you that wants to run an ultra I say do it! Never let anyone tell you different or make you feel like you don’t belong. Because trust me if I can run 50 miles, so can you.

Isabel running on a trail towards the camera.

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