Why Ultra?: Art Loeb Edition

Ever since I started running ultra distances, I’ve been asked a lot of the same questions. The first and most common is: “Why?”

It’s oddly one of the more difficult questions to answer; maybe because I think too hard about it. I try to look into my psyche and find the real thing – the deep answer about what makes me want to run farther and farther.

But, really – I don’t have to dig deep to find the true answer.


Several years ago, I embarked on a backpacking trip with a group of students from the university where I work. This was going to be my longest backpacking trip, and we were going to the mountains of Pisgah National Forest to hike the 30-mile Art Loeb Trail. This was before I ever dreamed of running, let alone trail running.

To make a long story incredibly short, things didn’t go super well that week. The entire trip was a lot harder than anyone anticipated. To top it all off, we finished on the wrong side of the mountain.

While things didn’t go terribly smoothly, the trip did leave me with the desire to go back and get it right.


One year later, I went back. This time, it was with Ashley and a friend. We caught a ride from someone to take us to the trailhead. While we were in the car, that person told us about a “group of crazy people” that comes out to the Art Loeb every December and runs the entire length of it in a single day.

“What? How is that even possible? How do they carry food, water…how do they make it up the mountains….etc., etc.”

I had just run my first half marathon a few weeks earlier, so the idea of going 30 miles in the mountains in one go was unfathomable. And, as as we tried to figure out the logistics of such an undertaking, it just became more difficult to wrap my head around it. But at the same time…something stirred inside me.

I want to run the Art Loeb Trail.

March 2017

For several years, I’ve had that trail in the back of my mind with every ultra I run. Every time I finish a 50k, I try to imagine what it would have been like to cover that distance on the switchbacks up Pilot Mountain, climbing up to Black Balsam Knob and Tennent Mountain, and traversing the Shining Rock Wilderness and the Narrows – all major points along the Art Loeb, if you haven’t guessed that already.

So imagine how it felt when earlier this year, I learned that my running coach (Doug Hay) was planning to run the Loeb in March 2017. Imagine again how it felt when he asked “Want to join?”

On Saturday, Doug and I ran the Art Loeb Trail – an actual dream come true for me. I’ll write a post about the trip and the conditions and challenges we met with along the way later. But first, I want this sentiment to stand alone:

I run ultras because it feels so good to follow a dream from its infancy to its completion. It feels so good to say “yes” to the adventures that at first seem impossible or crazy. It really seems crazy and impossible are the most appealing to me.

On top of Pilot Mountain (thanks to Doug for the picture!)



4 thoughts on “Why Ultra?: Art Loeb Edition

  1. rockcreekrunner March 20, 2017 / 8:31 am

    Thanks for sharing some of your history with the trail, both while we were out there and in this post! I had a fantastic day, and could be more grateful you were sharing those miles. Thanks for accepting the offer!

    I look forward to reading the full recap!

    • A Carter March 21, 2017 / 9:21 am

      You bet! I’m glad we didn’t get irreparably lost. It was good to end on the correct side of the mountain! Full recap as soon as I figure out which combination of Garmin/Suunto/Strava stats makes the run sound most impressive 😉

  2. runninginisrael March 28, 2017 / 3:15 pm

    When I got to the line “told us about a group of crazy people” I laughed — I knew where that sentence was going. Once while traveling in France I had a similar experience, and it was also before I got into running. It reflects an inner balance that you have such a clear understanding of what drives you. I say “drives” and not “motivates” because I think what you describe isn’t a goal you consciously defined and are pursuing but rather a basic and deeper impulse that pushes you to go out and run.

    • A Carter March 28, 2017 / 3:29 pm

      You’re exactly right about drive vs. motivate. Well said! It seems to be an impulse that only other runners – ultrarunners specifically – can really understand. Thanks for reading!

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