Since there’s no wrong way to run, that means there are only right ways. For proof, check out the following 12 athletes, who came to running from unconventional places, like a circus tent, bull pit, fire line, scree field, soundstage, and more. Their stories show that running can be transformative in diverse ways—sparking creativity, balancing day-job demands, and uplifting others—but always points the same direction forward.
When she laces up for a trail run in the foothills outside her home in Boulder, Colo., this catering company owner-operator always makes sure there’s extra room in her pack. She often forages for ingredients—like morels, oyster, or porcini mushrooms or raspberries, blackberries, or blueberries—while she runs. “If there’s something I can grab, I grab it,” Bailey Newlon says. “It’s about paying attention to my surroundings.”
“And I often have relationships with farmers,” says the foodie founder of Real Athlete Diets (RAD), who’s competed in roughly 25 ultramarathons. “I’ll go knock on their door while I’m out on a run, having run by their crops, and ask them about what they’re growing—and then I'll source that ingredient from them later.” Results like apples, peaches, honey, or cheese from local farmers help fuel her next jaunt deep into the nearby Indian Peaks Wilderness.
Running yields other ways for prospectors who bring back the best of nature’s offerings
GRAB & GRUB:
Freshly Foraged Asparagus
“A lot of people are not aware that asparagus will often pop up on the side of the road or in ditches next to farms. It’s easy to spot once you know what to look for (spears near tall grasses and water sources in full sun). I always keep an eye out on the rare occasion that I am on the road. Picking a solid handful is a great addition to any meal or snack after a run.”
1. Wash quickly in cold water.
2. Cut stems.
3. Add to a hot pan with olive oil and a tablespoon or two of water.
4. Saute on medium until done. (They should still have a good snap to them.)
5. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Andrew Todd, the ‘flyathlete’ who runs to fish, and lures in other trail-minded anglers.
This 48-year-old trail runner and trout aficionado carries lightweight, telescoping fly rods on trail runs, casting for wild mountain brookies in backcountry lakes and streams. When he’s done, he has a beer. Though the wildlife biologist ran road marathons after college, Todd switched to trails when he discovered the fun of running on varied terrain. “No two footfalls are the same,” he says, “and every step takes you into some spectacular landscapes—and to some spectacular fish.”
That payoff has turned this pastime into an interesting multisport event, challenging others to run local trails, catch a local fish, and drink a local beer at established so-called Flyathlon races. Todd puts on at least three a year, raising almost $500,000 for water-quality projects in the process. And this year, Todd is kicking it up a notch personally, training to run an “Ultrout”—a 50-mile course through Colorado’s mountains where he’ll need to catch five different species of native trout and drink a 15% ABV beer, all in under 15 hours.
As Todd sees it, any pain associated with the run is worth the effort of upping the fishing odds in his favor: “I’m pushing 50 years old, so the run won’t be easy, but the fishing could be tough (otherwise),” Todd says. “I need the fish to be hungry when I’m casting.”
Kelly Bailey Newlon, the trail-savvy chef who forages Colorado’s Front Range.
Into the World of Flyathlons
Brendan Davis ran 30 to 40 miles a day while shooting film and still photos of Joe Grant’s 500-mile trek along the Colorado Trail, documenting the athlete as he ran from his former home in the Front Range to his new home in the San Juan Mountains. It was a typical job for Davis, a professional photographer and competitive runner who has blended his two passions into one creative, athletic pursuit. Davis not only runs 50 to 60 miles a week, but he’s made a name for himself by matching pro runners stride for stride and shooting them in their natural element.
“The hardest part is carrying everything,” Davis says. “A lot of my running injuries are tennis elbow from carrying a 6-pound camera for a long time.”
Davis has photographed pro runners at their best for their sponsors, captured runners attempting Fastest Known Times on specific trails, and created projects to raise awareness for specific charitable issues. For a while, Davis struggled with turning his love of running into work, worrying that carrying a camera and stopping for photos would remove some of the joy from the effort, but he’s come to terms with the combination now. “I’ve decided that taking photos as I run, carrying a camera, is just another way to add to the experience. It helps me be present for it all.
Brendan Davis, the pro photographer who’s turned his running passion into a creative niche.
Performing in two Cirque du Soleil shows daily, five days a week adds up to a lot of activity. That’s Jorge Castano’s task in O as Philemon—a central character whose quest for adventure kicks off each high-production show and carries the audience through its dynamic sets at Las Vegas’s Bellagio Hotel. As Castano puts it, the character “requires a lot of running.”
Fortunately, Castano’s equipped for the constant onstage movement. After starting as a diver with Cirque du Soleil 17 years ago, the performer added running to his routine upon moving to Vegas to compete in triathlons. “Running wasn’t my forte,” he explains. But as he ran a couple days a week, a few miles at a time, he got better at it. And he landed the role of Philemon.
Now Castano runs three to four miles a few days a week in the city’s Sunset Park, at nearby Lake Mead, or occasionally the hills of Mount Charleston, with scenery as a big motivator. While running benefits his performances on the stage and in races, he thoroughly enjoys the time to himself where he feels “free of everything.” Plus, Castano says, when he runs before such (extremely physical) performances, the show becomes “the easy part” of his day.
Jorge Castano, the circus performer always on the move.
After her leading role as Meg in Disney’s 2018 adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time and now starring in HBO’s current breakout hit Euphoria, it’s no wonder Storm Reid talks about how her life can feel like a “whirlwind.” Just this year, she starred in the Sony film Missing (which jumped to No. 1 on Netflix upon hitting the streamer in May 2023) and in a guest role in the record-breaking Max series The Last of Us. College coursework only adds to the directions pulling the 19-year-old actress, producer and student. With production travel compounded by impending exam study, Reid admits to having trouble being in the moment. “I’m always thinking about what I have to do next,” she says.
Fortunately, Reid recently discovered how lacing up her shoes for a run outside can be a true “cultivator of joy.” The three-part Beyond the Run series documents her experience integrating running into her stacked schedule. On the journey to regular time spent in motion, the episodes detail how solitude provides a welcome break in her busy life, as well as the larger psychological benefits of a running routine.
“I know that what helps my mental health is moving,” Reid says, ever grateful for running’s ability to calm her nerves and “not feel so overwhelmed.” And considering the “out-of-body experience” that is her acting work—stepping into the shoes of a character—the trail time spent back in her own shoes matters that much more: “Being present and in my own body is a really beautiful thing.”
Storm Reid, the rising actress and student who runs to stay grounded.
Tom Havelock, the singer-songwriter who pens lyrics while he runs routes.
“Just the other day, I needed one line to finish a song,” says Havelock, the lead vocalist of British indie-pop band Prep. “I had five or six options but couldn’t decide which one to use.” A run did the trick. “The moment I got back to my front door, the right one was there in my head. That kind of unconscious sorting happens all the time.”
As the primary songwriter for Prep (alongside other artists he’s written for), Havelock runs five or six days a week from his base in London. Most days that’s along the Thames River. Though he loved running as a kid, he’s gotten more serious about it in the past five years or so, often entering 10Ks, half-marathons, and marathons.
Sure, he loves how the motion allows new ideas to percolate. But there’s also the benefits of structure and routine that running brings, especially when he’s on tour with the four-piece band, “getting out and exploring new cities, rather than moping round hotel rooms.” Havelock adds the perk of staying healthy for shows “both mentally and physically,” and the release valve that running provides, helping him gain perspective on “whatever tensions can build up on the road.”
5 Songs To Fuel Your Run
Playlist picks from Scott Schumaker, former pro off-road triathlete and avid runner who co-founded and now manages Bright Antenna Records.
- “Pictures of You,” Prep
- “Lash Out,” No Roots EP
- “The Drop,” Sports Team
- “Head Right,” Wilderado
- “Chaise Longue,” Wet Leg
These runners tap the creative fuel that’s the secret to key performance and production
Like many, Al Greenwood found running during the pandemic. As the drummer for alt-rock band Sports Team, shutting down tours with the six-piece outfit meant the loss of her key outlet. But discovering running led Greenwood to recognize the power of movement.
“Running transformed my sense of self and gave me purpose and structure during lockdown,” she explains. “But beyond that, running has become a tool through which I reconnected with my body and came to reconceptualize it.”
The routine helped Greenwood gradually regain the same sense of power and flow that drumming provides. And since becoming “totally hooked,” she’s spent serious time trying to facilitate women’s access to “the joy of movement that I found in running.” Between gigs, this rock star set up a creative collective in the UK called INMOTION to further her mission.
“I believe that running and movement can expand perceptions of ourselves and what people believe they’re capable of, which can translate to all areas of life,” says Greenwood during a spring North American tour (including performances at SXSW) with the London-based band, fresh off its sophomore album debut. Amid the tour stops, Greenwood only keeps moving. “[Running] remains a touchstone of self-care, a sense of routine, and an amazing way to explore new cities.”
Al Greenwood, the rock star who finds a flow state both drumming and running.
Lenny Maughan’s art began accidentally. When he started checking the GPS-generated map imprint of his circuitous running routes on Strava, the popular exercise tracking app, Maughan began musing. “It was like looking at shapes in clouds,” he said of the runs that inspired a first attempt at so-called Strava art (intentionally running a tracked route to generate a unique mapped drawing). He attempted to run a route that resembled a primitive hand.
That was in 2015. Maughan’s designs have only gotten more elaborate after he committed to a streak of completing a new installment once a month. He’s created realistic flamingos and giant sunflowers with shading. Intricate routes trace the outline of a Swiss Army knife, a yoga pose, a tiger, and a 50-mile-long ox.
These detailed depictions demand a more direct approach: Maughan has taken to sketching his routes before setting foot to pavement. Fortunately, he has an expansive canvas at his feet; the streets of San Francisco are so dense and expansive, Maughan is limited only by his imagination.
“I will look at a street map and a shape will pop out to me,” Maughan says of his process. “I like to make shapes that are timeless, easily understandable globally, and I aim for unexpected, fun, random, and quirky designs.”
the Bay Area da Vinci of “Strava art.”
the cyclist road warrior.
“Cycling is my job, and running is my hobby,” says Freddy Ovett, who rides professionally as an off-road racer. To prep for a slate of UCI Gravel World Series events, Ovett trains on his bike every day, sometimes up to six hours, yet he still finds time (and energy) to run one day a week. It’s a formula that’s worked: he clocked a 2-hour, 45-minute Berlin Marathon in 2022 in his second attempt at the distance. He ran a 2:48:55 in the 2021 Los Angeles Marathon on cycling training alone, after signing up just three days before the race.
Ovett says he loves how running gives him “peace of mind” and that “it’s the most practical physical activity you can do.” All you need is a pair of shoes, after all, “and you can explore a new place by foot while enjoying an almost meditative state.” He says his favorite kinds of runs are impromptu, where he may feel bad beforehand but has a great run and ends up feeling amazing afterward.
The Scottish-born Australian plans on running a marathon every year to round out his competitive cycling. “It’s a fun way to sign off from the season and enjoy something different.”
Colorado native Mark Morris started running because highway traffic was too thick to reach the ski resorts. “I needed something to do ’cause I-70 was always a mess,” Morris says. Now, the professional freeskier and lead vocalist/guitarist for the band Rapidgrass runs trails to stay in shape for ski season—and to tap into his innate creative energy.
“Something happens when you run,” Morris says. “The first part of running sucks, but after 15 minutes, the endorphins kick in and your brain disconnects from the everyday nonsense. The best songs I’ve ever written I came up with during trail runs.”
Trail running not only boosts Morris’s songwriting creativity, but it’s also the glue that holds his ski career together. He runs as often as he can during ski season and up to five days a week during the off-season, running a five-mile loop behind his house that starts at 9,500 feet in elevation and tops out around 11,000. “Trail running keeps me agile as a skier, so I can handle moguls or cliffs,” he adds. “I think it’s the best cross-training I can do as a skier. I’ll do it as long as my knees hold up.”
Mark Morris, the pro skier and bluegrass frontman who runs to tap into his creativity.
Running can also be cross-training—and means to bolder active pursuits off the trail
Dani Goodson started running when she got her first wildland firefighting job. “I still remember the first time I ran down the canyon road by my house,” she says. “I had no idea what I was doing. It felt weird, and I remember thinking, ‘Man, am I doing this right?’”
Fast-forward 16 years, and Goodson spends hours running in the mountains of Montana, ticking off as much vertical gain as possible. She describes her challenging training runs as “so satisfying to complete.” Though she occasionally enters ultramarathons with her fire crewmates to maintain camaraderie in the firefighting off-season, the main purpose of Goodson’s running is to be ready for the frontlines—where the fire burns the hottest. She’s a Forest Service Hotshot squad leader.
“Physical fitness is such a huge part of any job in wildland firefighting,” says Goodson, “and in hotshotting, it’s especially critical to show up ready to perform at your highest level. The job is incredibly demanding, and for our safety and the safety of everyone around us, being able to move quickly up hills and not fatigue easily is very important.”
Dani Goodson, the elite hotshot squad leader who runs to stay ready for wildfires.
Cody Webster, the cowboy protector.
Cody Webster calls himself a “secret service man for bull riders.” His official title, cowboy protector for the Professional Bull Riders (PBR) tour, means his job includes distracting the animal long enough for the bull riders “to get out of the way.”
“Yeah, it’s very risky,” admits Webster, who’s been in the business for 20 years. “We literally have to get in there and put our bodies on the line and take the shot for the cowboy.”
Webster does core and cardio workouts with a group, but, he says, “I still go catch me a couple miles at least three to four days a week running, up and down the road, to stay in condition so I’m able to keep my wind where I need to be in order to keep these guys safe.” The fitness necessity of a high-impact career is just half of why he runs. There’s the relaxing element of enjoyment that motivates Webster as well, “to get away from everything…and just kind of clear your mind, you know?”
These runners are the protectors and the pied pipers who excite running’s next converts
PHOTO: Ryan Sterner of Rabbit Wolf Creative
Running’s Weirdest Events
Pack Burro Racing: Take your typical footrace and add a donkey as a partner. That’s the gist of this race series, which pays homage to the mining heritage of the Wild West at almost 20 official Pack Burro Races across the United States. (Donkey rentals availble.)
Your local 5K is great, but if you’re looking for a unique challenge, consider one of these alternative races.
Garmin Connect tallies all the metrics of a tracking app while adding a Coach feature for customized workouts and advice, plus competitions within the (free) app’s step and distance challenges. Try the Expedition Challenges and spend a month trying to climb Denali (20,308 feet of climbing) or a day running the length of the Great Wall of China (12.5 miles).
Beyond Strava and Gaia GPS
Tracking your routes can gauge your progress, but other apps help motivate your next run in new ways.
Weav Run is like a DJ who knows exactly what song you need to hear. The app remixes your playlist to match the cadence of your pace. Or you can set the desired cadence to push yourself; the app adapts the songs to support that pace in real time.
Zwift gamifies running by turning a typical treadmill session social as you compete with other Zwifters through a unique collection of digital worlds. Connect to a running community by choosing from casual group runs or intense races with actual prizes across hundreds of daily events.
Zombies, Run tracks your efforts to outrun the undead, providing an audio adventure where each run features a story line with prompts that put you on a mission to collect supplies and evade zombies as you log your daily miles.
The Beer Mile (shown above): Run a lap on a track, drink a beer. Repeat until you’ve reached a mile and four beers. Stage your own race, or sign up for one of the events across the country. If you’re really fast, you can qualify for the official Beer Mile World Championship, held July 1 in Chicago, with a prize package of $10,000.
Tower Running: The Tower Running World Tour gets runners off the flats to battle the stair systems and race the clock in some of the world’s tallest buildings. Hosted in 28 cities around the world in 2023, the events pit runners against iconic buildings, including the Empire State Building and the Las Vegas Stratosphere.
>> 3 Riverside Trails with Picturesque Running and Plentiful Trout (BYOB)
Indian Creek Trail, Colorado: This 4.6-mile trail leads to the creek of the same name. Expect a couple creek crossings and the chance to catch native cutthroat trout.
Green River Game Lands Loop, North Carolina: An 8.4-mile loop through rugged terrain, this trail offers multiple chances to cast for brown and rainbow trout.
McKenzie River Trail, Oregon: Follow this 27-mile section of singletrack as it traces the McKenzie River through the Cascade Range.
Compete in one of four scheduled Flyathlons, ranging from a 4.4-mile course in Iowa to a mountainous 13-mile course in Colorado. Or grab a buddy and sign up for the Troutman Team Challenge. Teams design their own courses (totaling at least 26.2 miles with an elevation of more than 3,000 feet), catch four trout species, and finish by drinking a beer greater than 12% ABV. Any team that completes the challenge in 12 hours or less earns an official Troutman belt buckle.
>> 3 Key Gear Items You’ll Need to Run and Fish
REYR Gear First Cast: This seven-foot telescoping fly rod is designed to pack small and set up fast, allowing you to cast on the go.
Nathan Limitless 2L Sling: Big enough to carry a box of flies, some line, and an emergency layer without being cumbersome, this small pack’s waist strap helps reduce bounce when running. Slide the pouch around to your chest for easy access when it’s time to fish.
New Balance Fresh Foam X Hierro v7 GTX: Built for rugged trails, with a Vibram Megagrip outsole and Gore-Tex waterproof lining, these shoes keep you comfy when the trail gets spicy.
THE PEOPLE GATHERERS:
America’s Most Unique Urban Running Groups
>> BlacklistLA hosts a variety of runs for all levels, including Monday night 5K routes focused on L.A. street art, where group leaders educate run participants about the art and its artist.
>> West Philly Runners goes beyond Wednesday group runs; it pits runners against Philadelphia traffic and public transit over a 6.6-mile course on May 29. First one to the Wissahickon Transportation Center wins.
>> RunningDog members of this northeast Ohio club lace up and leash up—taking rescue dogs out of shelters and running with them to improve their physical, mental, and emotional health. ↓
5 Great Breeds of Running Dogs
1. Border collie
3. Labrador retriever
5. Australian shepherd
>> The 504th Run Crew has a BTG mission, meaning “bridging the gap.” This New Orleans group’s Tuesday night BTG NOLA runs take participants across the city, connecting different cultures and communities.
Gear Up to Run
1. Reflective clothing
2. Shoes with reflective detailing
3. Lights (including a lightweight headlamp)
4. Your phone or cellular-enabled smartwatch
5. Company (and maybe some mace)
>> Hash Hound Harriers is a social-first international club tagged as a “drinking club with a running problem,” with runs that involve a “hare” or “hares” trying to outrun “hounds” or “the pack” while following a downright fast trail of clues (often, white flour on the ground).
RUNNING IT BACK:
The Nonprofits Helping the Next New Runners Thrive
>> Chicago Area Runners Association works to ensure “everyone in the Chicagoland area has access to the benefits of running.” The organization is spearheaded by Dominique Sabbs, who handles community development and various running club programs that she’s started in underserved BIPOC communities.
>> Wings of America (shown above) works to develop American Indian youth athletes. Inspired by the cultural, spiritual, and competitive legacy of Native American runners, this Santa Fe, New Mexico–based nonprofit’s programs include a junior national cross-country championship team.
>> Healthy Active Soles is a running club born out of Montyne (Tina) King Clay’s action to help Black women find running, health, safety, and community. She took action as a mom in Jackson, Mississippi, who couldn’t run her daughter’s cross-country course to watch her race—and as an insurance agent who spoke to those who were denied coverage because of poor health as a preexisting condition.
>> 261 Fearless is dedicated to helping women find empowerment in running through clubs, mentoring, and coaching. It’s named for the infamous Bib No. 261 that org leader Kathrine Switzer wore when she fearlessly ran the Boston Marathon before women were allowed to enter.
>> Back on My Feet operates in 16 major cities nationwide, helping people experiencing homelessness build confidence and self-esteem through the mental and physical health benefits of fitness, while also providing training and employment services as a route to independence, step by step.
PHOTO: Gabriel Rovick
PHOTO: Jeff Cricco
PHOTO: Will Buckner
PHOTO: Courtesy Bull Stock Media
PHOTO: Courtesy Bull Stock Media
PHOTO: Anastasia Wilde - Running Up For Air Mount Sentinel in Missoula, MT
PHOTO: Anastasia Wilde - Running Up For Air Mount Sentinel in Missoula, MT