Real Talk: Faith and Ultrarunning

I am a Christian woman.

Born and raised deep in the South, I may not be exactly who you are picturing. I own no pearl necklaces or pastel pant suits. I have never attended a potluck dinner. I haven’t set foot in a Sunday School room since I was 12, and the word “revival” still makes me nervous. 

Furthermore, just to make this a bit clearer for you, my first name is Ashley, and it begins with a giant red A. I know exactly what a really bad trip feels like. I’ve been high and left for dead on more than one occasion, and to this day, I would generally consider myself a certified screw up. I have no business claiming to know someone called Jesus Christ. But, nevertheless, I do…  I do openly, and proudly, make that very claim. And I have nothing but grace to thank for that.

About 7 years ago, while outrunning some pesky demons in my life, I stumbled into this ridiculous “sport” of running yourself into the ground called ultrarunning. And though it’s nearly killed me more than once, I would just keep coming back for more. Like a scraggly stray cat feeding out of a dumpster. Hooked.

But, why? If my body is consistently obliterated from such senseless acts of self mutilation, why would I instinctively return to do it again? 

I would ask myself this all the time. I couldn’t really figure it out. What was it about the insane feat of running a hundred miles that pulled me back like a bug to light? Was it the time alone? Was it the scenery? Was it the accomplishment? All of that was good and dandy, but none of it was fulfilling enough to make me want to do it again.

I shot the breeze about  the topic on more than one occasion. I eventually came to the conclusion that my life simply wasn’t tough enough, and I needed to be challenged more. In other words, the struggle wasn’t happening on its own, so I forced it upon myself. I’ve stated more than once that humans were made to struggle and to overcome. I mean, hey, life’s good, who wants to go run a hundred miles over mountains?.. Right?  

And for the most part, I believe that my theory is pretty spot on. At least in my case. I found that I’m genuinely fulfilled inside while I’m struggling. But, why? How? How does struggling even make me feel so complete? Makes no sense, dangitt.  Ah… but does it make sense? I dug deeper… I always dig deeper.

Perhaps the logic has nothing to do with the act of actually running for an entire day. Maybe it isn’t a physical thing at all, but more so a spiritual one? In that sense, I think I know exactly why struggling hard appeals to me: It brings me closer to God.

And when I say closer, I mean closer.

Trudging up a mountain in the pitch black of night, alone, in the pouring rain, with 80 miles on my feet, begging God to help me stay upright, kind of closer.

I mean training alone in the wilderness for hours on end, out of cell service, and praying continuously that I don’t twist an ankle, step on a rattler, or stumble upon a mama bear, kind of closer.

I’m talkin’ being forced to face who I am in the raw, completely unfiltered, and at my worst, and praying to God Am I worthy of being loved for who I am?.. kind of closer.

I’m saying real one-on-one here. Just Him, me, and the towering trees, and nothing in between.

THAT kind of closer.

I think before I experienced running alone in the wild and tackling ultras, my prayers were less intense. Less raw, maybe. I mean, I prayed for things I needed. I asked for safety for my kids, and for help and understanding through some seriously tough situations in life. But it wasn’t often that I was praying for my own life. Praying to live to see my kids again. That kind of stuff changes you. It leaves a mark, and there’s no turning back from it. God became more real to me than He’d ever been before. No longer just an Americanized perception of this Great being in the sky. He became my everything.

I’ve been through so much now in running, and through each mile, God and I have become so close. I can’t imagine running far without Him. Can’t imagine life without Him. I’ve felt Him gently take that discipline and time spent in the woods with Him to my daily life. Every single morning, I wake up craving to learn more. I want to read my Bible. I want to know more. I want to understand better. I want to BE better.

I’ve seen His realness firsthand. If God can pull me out of a coma during a 100, and if He can help me keep moving up and over mountains when I have no business being in them, then of course He can be here for the other trivial things. And so I’ve learned to bring ALL of life to God in prayer. Everything. Anything. You name it. It’s no longer just God please don’t let me die! It’s also God please help me to truly live.

And to be straight up, I openly admit that I suck in many ways. I really do. This is not some “holier than thou” post. It’s just honesty. I have such a screwed up past, and even as a professing Christian, I’m the first to admit that I’ve done things I am very ashamed of…. In other words, there is a lot for me to pray about, but that doesn’t stop me from growing.

When I get out there on the trails and hit those miles, it all just seems so clear. Everything I stress over, all the baggage I try to carry, it just fades away, and I’m reminded that it’s all so simple. God loves me for me, and only He can give me the strength to be who I’m supposed to be. And with that thought, I feel so free. So dang liberated. ...it’s cool, Ash, He’s got it. 

I know my faith is not perfect. I know it is nontraditional. Sure, maybe I miss church on Sundays every now and then. And yeah, maybe my language isn’t always that wholesome.. my Dad keeps telling me “pissed” is a swear word, but I refuse to believe it. Ha…. And no, I still don’t want to join your Sunday School class, sorry. I’ll never be that “perfectly polished Christian woman”. I just wasn’t made to be her, and I’m okay with that. I know now that God is after the real me anyway– the one with not just scraped knees, but deeply hidden scars and bruises. Through all these years of running, I’ve learned that is exactly how it’s meant to be.

Imperfectly perfect.

I know now that all I need to be is authentically me for God. I will sing hymns quietly alone on a mountain top. I will marvel in His creation while running through trees. I will tell Him all of my thoughts in the wilderness. I will beg him to pull me through the last few miles of an ultra. I won’t hide this reason behind my joy, and I will wake up in the mornings better and hungry for more of it.

When I sign up for my next ultra, I am fully aware of what I’m really doing. I’m throwing myself into the pit. I’m saying “Hey, God, we need a heart to heart.” My soul just craves to battle it out. I want to feel that raw need. I want to be in so much pain and do nothing but beg God to pull me through. I like to see Him in action. Right in front of my face. I like to be reminded that I am only human, and that only He can fill the void in me.

I have finally come to accept that this is my journey through life. This is my passion. This is my faith. God himself has given me all of it, and has cultivated it to what it is now. I am thankful. And with it all, I plan to move many mountains.

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22 thoughts on “Real Talk: Faith and Ultrarunning

  1. thedancingrunner says:

    Beautifully said and you have such a wonderful testimony, friend. I am no seasoned ultra runner but I can say that just the simple act of getting outside and moving my body on a run, whether it be 5 miles or 25, makes me a better person and being one with nature helps me meditate and connect with God on a different level. It’s a beautiful thing.

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  2. David Nowaczewski says:

    What a beautiful piece. You are right where God wants you (blessed are the poor in spirit!!). I pray that you will respond to His love with great generosity each and every day.

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    • AshRuns100s says:

      Hi David, thanks for reading and leaving feedback! Not a week goes by without joyful tears from overwhelming gratitude. I am loved, and I am so thankful for that. Have a great week!

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  3. Stephen Black says:

    I was saved in May 2013 and started running in February 2014. I completed my first marathon this May and run my second in 10 days time. I related to every word of your blog. I feel at my closest to God when running. I started my own running blog recently and hope to talk about my faith on it as I grow in experience and confidence. Please feel free to check it out sometime. I look forward to following your story. God Bless

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  4. proactiveoutside1 says:

    Haven’t run an ultra, but there have been many runs (trails and pavement) and hikes/climbs where I’ve done some business with God. There is a place where I run called “Rock City” (it’s just a real bouldery place off the side of a less-traveled trail) that is a perfect place to stop, be quiet and pray.

    Running is meditative by nature, and it sure is a good way to get alone with God. All that said, I’m not surprised that this is something you do!

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  5. rebecca says:

    I resonate with this so much. Thank you for putting your feelings into words; people like me need to read them. I am the same way, friend. I just didn’t know how to word it properly. You just did. I’m saving this post to read often. I love following your journey. (@ultrabec on IG)

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  6. Jess says:

    Wow this post is so inspirational. I totally understand where your coming from. I too really feel a connection between running, nature and god. I dont run ultras but when i do run i feel a deep love for gods creation and my connection with him. 🙂 keep it up ash!!!!

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    • AshRuns100s says:

      Thanks for reading, Jess! I think a lot more people relate than I thought would. That is good to know! I think tuning the world out for a bit and focusing on what matters helps grow the connection!

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  7. Jessie says:

    Ash. I LOVE this post. And this line: “I’m saying real one-on-one here. Just Him, me, and the towering trees, and nothing in between.”

    This is so true. I so often crave running alone just to be with Him in the mountains or in my desert. I haven’t done 100’s (hehe) but I can relate to the experience of spending one on one time with Him, exploring his creation. Running to me is…childlike – i feel like I’m playing or dancing with God and just enjoying Him. And it’s usually only during a run that I have that kind of experience with Him. It always makes me wonder why more people don’t run 😀

    I love your words and your unashamed profession of Christ.

    -Jessie

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    • AshRuns100s says:

      Hey, Jessie! Thanks so much for reading, and for your sweet comment. I’m glad you connected with my post. That is really encouraging. I ask myself the same thing about why more people don’t run. It’s so liberating and I couldn’t imagine life without it! God’s used running in soooo many ways for me, and I’m so grateful for that! Thanks again for stopping by! 🙂

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  8. Tricia@MissSippiPiddlin.com says:

    Such a moving post! I’m so glad I stumbled upon it! I completely agree through faith God can and will move mountains in your life!. I’m a Southern girl myself, born and raised in the church, I’ve been through lots, I don’t always do and act the way that I should but God is still there and lets me frolic around and when I get too far he reels me back in. Running has taught me all kinds of lessons, but I do know I could not do it without God!.

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