Runners Breaking the Mold: Ultra Runner Catra Corbett
Most runners use the New Year as an opportunity to set ambitious race goals. They declare their intention to run a sub-two hour half marathon, compete in their first triathlon, or spend a weekend participating in a relay race, among other goals.
Catra Corbett is not most people. As an ultra marathon runner, she is the first American woman to run 100 and 200 miles in the Ohlone Wilderness, and also holds the fastest known double time for the 425-miles long John Muir Trail. To many of us, she is the “Dirt Diva,” and her New Year’s Resolution stands out like the tattoos covering her arms and legs.
“My New Years Resolution is to never run a six-day race again.”
You said this at the beginning of 2019, referring to the Across the Years race you ran at the end of 2018? What made you say that you will never run a six-day race again?
Aravaipa Running’s Across the Years six-day race is a multi-day running event in celebration of the New Year! We were given 24, 48, 72 hours, or six days to run the most distance we possibly could. We were allowed to stop, eat, sleep, and walk whenever we needed to, but the timing clock never stopped running. As if that wasn’t grueling enough, the course is an even one-mile circle. I started Across the Years a mere eight days after doing a 54-hour run to celebrate my 54th birthday. By day four of the race, I realized that this was going to be more of a learning experience than I bargained for. When I finished, I had no interest in returning, but that didn’t last long! I thought about the old timers that I had seen out there, like Don Winkley. He just broke the 17-year-old six-day world record for Men 80 to 84 with over 303 miles!
So now I am inspired to go back, and this time I will be mentally stronger! And this time I will still celebrate my birthday by running for 55 hours straight, but I will run that a few days before my birthday to have more time to recover before Across the Years!
How does a recovering addict get into ultra running and transform her life so dramatically?
After I was arrested in 1994, I got clean and sober and decided to become a vegan in the process. In 1996, I started walking a three-mile route in my neighborhood. Eventually, I became bored with walking and decided to run that route. I saw a flier in Barnes & Noble promoting a 10k, so two weeks after that first run, I ran the 10k race. I jumped straight to the marathon from there, using the training plan in a book I picked up at Barnes & Noble. It was a six-month training plan, but I skipped the first half of the plan because I had my eye on the San Francisco Marathon. Exactly three months after running my first 10k I finished that marathon! That was 20 years ago, and I’ve been an ultra runner ever since! November 9, 2018, marked year six of my running streak actually. I’ve run at least two miles every day for over six years now!
Many runners may want to build up to the marathon though, and then train for ultras from there, since that many miles so soon may not work for some people. Hey, things that worked for me before may not work five years from now. That’s why it is key to learn to adapt!
You have a furry sidekick that everyone adores. What’s it like running with TruMan the dog?
TruMan is my dachshund, and he is a pretty strong runner for a wiener dog. In fact, he’s done five 50ks on his own four feet, and his fastest time was 6 hours and 49 minutes! He’s gone to the peak of White Mountain with me, which is 14 miles up at over 14,000 feet. TruMan even has his own UltraSignup account and wears his own race bib and everything!
TruMan is a rescue dog who came from a less than ideal living situation with 24 other dogs, and I think that traumatized him. He joined our run across the country for Mental Health Awareness in 2017, along with six other runners. We each ran 25 miles a day, and it took us 24 days to travel by foot from California, to Washington, D.C.
But he’s almost 13 years old now, so he’s retired from ultra running, and sticks to shorter-distance races, like half marathons. If you see photos of me carrying him in a pack, it’s usually because we’re crossing a very technical section while out on a training run. Even though he wears his little boots, TruMan often rides in my pack when we’re snowshoeing too. That way his little feet don’t get wet and cold!
TruMan’s next race is the Brazen Racing 5k in the San Francisco Bay Area. It’s a shorter distance for both of us, but I have a book signing scheduled for after the race, so we’ll squeeze in a 5k first!
Tell us more about your book!
23 years after buying that marathon book from Barnes & Noble, my own book is on their shelves! Reborn on the Run is an account of all the crazy things I’ve survived as a runner. I’ve run in the wilderness, I’ve run across the U.S., and many other places, completely on my own. I have encountered coyotes, rattlesnakes, bears, and 14 mountain lions. I had a near death experience when I fell rock climbing El Capitan. Fortunately, I only broke my arm in two places! What I do can be scary, especially since I like to run alone in remote, wild locations.
I wrote this book with other women in mind! I want them to know that no one is ever too old to run an ultramarathon And to remind others that a positive attitude is a powerful thing!
This book is my way of empowering other women! As women, we don’t have to be afraid to go running and hiking and exploring by ourselves. Don’t be scared, just be smart! Be aware of your surroundings! I carry a knife, and pepper spray as well for TruMan because he’s had dogs almost attack him while we’re running, and I have to be able to defend both of us!
I didn’t come from an athletic background or play any sports as a kid. In fact, I used to hated running! My life before running definitely set me up to be a survivor, as I’ve overcome an eating disorder, meth addiction, and abuse. My hope is that this book will show others that they can overcome all the challenges in their life too and become someone great, no matter what their background!
You often remind your followers that finding our purpose is a lifelong adventure. How has finding your purpose changed your life?
You have to have a passion to do what you want in life. I want to maintain sobriety and to do so, I knew I had to find something I am passionate about! To get clean and sober, I had to fill the space that addiction took up. Maintaining sobriety is just one of the benefits of living with purpose though!
Find something positive that really excites you! That can look different from runner to runner, so find a distance that you’re passionate about. I’m passionate about ultra distances. 200 is the new 100, and my next massive adventure will be the Triple Crown of 200 Miler Slam, which is comprised of the Bigfoot 200 Endurance Run in August, the Tahoe 200 Endurance Run in September, and the Moab 200 Endurance Run in October, for a total of over 600 miles in three months!
My passion for ultras is also behind my application for the Badwater Ultramarathon.
Badwater is a 135-mile course that begins at 279 feet below sea level in California’s Death Valley, and finishes at an elevation of 8,360 feet, at the trailhead to Mount Whitney. Every year it takes place in mid-July when temperatures can reach 130 °F. To be honest, I don’t love road racing, but I have ideal Badwater-training conditions right here since it’s so hot in this part of California in the summer!
You did a lot of epic races in 2018! What’s the biggest lesson you learned?
The Desert RATS Kokopelli 150 definitely taught me my biggest lesson: Be brave and keep going! This five-stage, multi-day footrace adventure had us running from Grand Junction, CO to Moab, UT along the beautiful 143-mile Kokopelli trail. I was training for Badwater when I did Desert RATS.
I got heat stroke during the race and l told my boyfriend to keep going. I remember laying in the shade of a telephone poll thinking “How will I ever do Badwater?!” But I had found this pendant in Moab before the start of Desert RATS that said: “Be brave & Keep going.” I purchased one for me, and one for my friend Jay since this would be the first time he ran back-to-back ultras in a week. Jay and I pinned the pendants onto our packs for Desert RATS and seeing mine gave me the courage to finish. I also wore it on my pack for the whole Triple Crown of 200 Miler Slam!
Desert RATS was an important reminder to me that I have to take better care of myself if I want to run strong at Badwater. I have to fuel, ice, take my time at the aid stations, and of course be brave and persevere! That’s a lesson I won’t forget… Because I got it tattooed on my leg!
On top of being a brave runner, you rock your own signature style out there on the trails, and run in skirts that have a very “Braveheart” edge to them! Tell us more about your iconic, punky look!
I’ve always had my own style, so that carries over into running! I only wear skirts because I am all about being stylish when I’m running. I like wearing bright colors! It brings me joy and makes others smile!
With her colorful look, a new book on the shelves, and Grand Master Ultra 48-Hour Challenge on the horizon this February, the Dirt Diva certainly has a lot to smile about these days!
Find her book Reborn on the Run online, or in your favorite book store. Find her on Facebook as Catra Corbett and on Instagram @dirtdiva333