Thank you, HBO. I’ve been wanting to write about Catra Corbett for a while, and now that they are producing an episode of “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” that profiles her in a segment about “obsessive runners,” I have a reason to write about her!
I first read about Catra in “Born to Run,” where she garnered a couple of sentences as the “kaleidoscopically tattooed” woman who ran the 212-mile John Muir Trail, from Yosemite to Mt. Whitney. And because that isn’t awesomely bonkers enough, she got to the end of the trail, then turned around and ran back. As a result, she holds the “yo yo” speed record for women on that trail, completing the whole 424-mile run in 12 days, 4 hours and 57 minutes.
What she does is known as “fast packing,” where you carry your supplies with you as you run, sleep where you stop, and start running once you wake up. Think of hiking the Appalachian Trail, but then imagine running it.
Her list of achievements also includes:
- She’s run the Western States 100 at least five times.
- She was the second American woman and nineteenth woman overall to finish the 2002 Marathon des Sables, a six-day race through the Sahara Desert.
- She’s run over 200 ultramarathons since taking up the sport.
The fact that she is an accomplished ultrarunner is only part of why I find her so admirable. Obviously, I love that she’s heavily tattooed. She’s got something like two dozen tattoos adorning her body. I’ve only got five, so I’ve got a ways to go to catch up with her, but on behalf of all tattooed lady athletes in the world, I say, Catra Corbett, we salute you!
She also has multi-colored braids and a couple dozen piercings, which I think makes her look like a punk-rock wood nymph. Plus she’s really into CrossFit and she’s a vegan. She’s practically the patron saint of athletic punk rock girls, don’t you think?
(By the way, she runs mostly while wearing skirts. Suck it, running skirt haters!)
Catra is also a recovering drug addict and alcoholic, and she credits ultrarunning with helping her stay sober. I can relate, both to the importance of physical activity in maintaining an even emotional keel and also to the sense of gratitude she feels about the transformation her life has undergone:
I am really lucky to live where I live to be able to run 31 miles only crossing one road through the wilderness. When I am out there I think of who I use to be and who I have become. Ex drug addict turned Healthy Ultrarunner. It makes me smile.
I often wake up and think about where I was five or six years ago, how I used to treat my body with such incredible disrespect, and how I am now this healthy, strong endurance runner. I often feel like the universe has opened up and rained down gifts of good fortune upon my head, and I want to share those gifts with everyone I encounter.
Catra posts a lot of photos of her trail runs, and in many of them, she’s grinning as she leaps into the air. She hugs her dog and her friends. She smiles as she runs down hills. She’s positively radiant.
A sense of gratitude and excitement infuses every post on Catra’s blog, where she documents all of her runs and races. Even when she has a rough race, or maybe she doesn’t finish a race because she got hurt, her attitude is so positive that it’s hard not to feel inspired by her. It doesn’t strike me as forced positivity, where she’s putting up a front because she feels like it’s expected of her. It seems genuine, and I can believe that, because I am also a genuinely positive person. Maybe it has to do with feeling like you’ve been given a second chance at life? I think that’s the case with me and I suspect the same is true for her.
I look forward to following Catra on her blog as I push the limits of my own life as a runner and an athlete, and may her passion inspire you as much as it has me.
Catch Catra along with fellow running junkies Marshall Ulrich and the Raven on Oct. 18 at 10 p.m. on HBO.