Erasure and Voice in Ultrarunning: On “Mile 11—”

Lucien Darjeun Meadows, whose poems “Late September in the Garden” and “Mile 11—” appear in Shenandoah’s Volume 72.1, explores the complex relationships among ultrarunners and their relationships to the trails. In his essay, Meadows reckons with his experience as a queer Indigenous runner and the current lack of diversity in the ultrarunning community.



I turn to poetry to bloom this “I” into multiple imagined, semi-fictitious, and experienced selves, and I wish I could say that the “I” in “Mile 11—” was imagined. That such a footrace, with such an aid station, signs, and comments from participants, did not happen. But it did. I remember climbing out of the aid station at Michigan Ditch, unsettled by the aid station’s white volunteers in stereotypical “Hawaiian” attire, and now further troubled by the jokes on these signs—made with good intentions, I believe: to help us laugh, to ease the burden of the coming 53 miles. Their racist undertones turning my stomach, making me doubt what I was doing here, among all these white runners, headed deep into the remote forest.

Competitive ultrarunning—the commodified version of diverse non-competitive, community, and/or ceremonial practices of running distances over a marathon (26.2 miles)—is founded on a white, economically privileged aesthetic. Over 70% of competitive ultrarunners are white, heterosexual, married, and financially secure. In 2010, Maylon Hanold writes, “ultrarunning […] (re)produces middle-classness,” where the goal is “proving yourself over and over based on your own power.” Thus, many ultramarathon narratives where the (white, heterosexual, male) writer describes trail running as an ascent toward claiming his individual power, include accounts of his “perseverance and personal transformation” while dealing with “punishing terrain” (Scott Jurek, North, 2018) to his evolution from first being “brutalized” by the trail to, at last, “killing it” (Dean Karnazes, Ultramarathon Man, 2006). I am unsettled by these ultrarunners’ aggressive relationship to, and desire to dominate, the land.

Thus, too, the event handbook for the race of “Mile 11—” begins by declaring the race “some of the rawest trail running Colorado has to offer” and a “true mountain wilderness experience,” while depicting these lands as conquerable by powerful individuals, for, “anybody with adequate training and the requisite mental fortitude can complete this run.”

For countless group runs, I notice how I must start toward the trailhead 30-90 minutes early from my apartment to arrive on my bicycle in time, while virtually all other runners arrive in large vehicles from single-family homes. Across these years of group runs in northern Colorado, I have met only one other Indigenous runner, one Black runner, and two Asian American runners. I have yet to meet another openly gay male runner. At a 2019 potluck attended by over 70 runners, I asked one of the organizers who made one particularly delicious dish. He said a name, and when I didn’t immediately respond, he said, “You know, the Asian runner.”

I document a similar micro-aggression in “Mile 11—”. Earlier in this race, held on the ancestral homelands of the Arapaho, Cheyenne, Eastern Shoshone, and Ute peoples, we climbed Níísootoxúthi’ Wo’téeneihíthi, known on US-governmental and race maps as Seven Utes Mountain (the translation of the mountain’s Arapaho name). During the ascent, I heard one participant turn to another and ask, “What’s a Ute?” The runner beside her said, “I have no idea.”

Granted, any sort of distance running is very white, though that is no excuse. Emilia Benton, writing for Women’s Running, notes that the five top running cities in the US, according to the magazine’s May 2021 article, are almost all 80% or more white—as is the town where I live, and the county where the race of “Mile 11—” is held. Verna Volker, founder of Native Women Running, shared with Benton:


“I think a lot of times people are so comfortable within their running communities that they don’t even see that there is a lack of diversity on their trails and running spaces and will often say, ‘Well, running is for everyone, everyone is welcomed,’ and can’t see how people like me could feel not welcomed by not seeing others who look like them.”


And, I might add, such runners might not see how people who are not white (let alone middle-class, male, and heterosexual) could feel unwelcomed and objectified by racialized humor written on signs meant to encourage but that are ultimately designed by and for white perspectives. Even so, I know I need to continue this research and to reflect further on how I am implicated in this process.

My goal is to witness the frictions and exclusions in ultrarunning, to destabilize white fantasies of exceptionalism and Indigenous erasure, and to bring these elements into my writing—alongside the joy of sharing respectful relationship with the lands and their dynamic histories. I join other voices, including Noé Álvarez and Mirna Valerio, in offering a different way of existing in relationship to the ecologies with whom trail runners are connected. This relationship, for me, opens into eloh, the single (yet multitudinous) reverberate Cherokee word for land, religion, history, law, culture. The word one syllable away from the word for earth.

Why do I return to the trails? To find the screen between I and land and relax all of the screen’s pores. To become a breathing being and a space permeated by spaces where there is no I separate from land separate from I. To witness. To open a creative, critical space of possibility—


Works Cited & Consulted


Álvarez, Noé. Spirit Run: A 6,000-Mile Marathon Through North America’s Stolen Land. Catapult, 2020.


Benton, Emilia. “Why are Running Towns So White? And What Can We Do About It?” Women’s Running, 06 Oct. 2021,


David, Gary C., and Nick Lehecka. “The Spirit of the Trail: Culture, Popularity, and Prize Money in Ultramarathons.” Fast Capitalism, vol. 10, no. 1, 2013,


“Demographics and Trends.” International Marathon Center, 2020,


Hanold, Maylon T. “Beyond the Marathon: (De)construction of Female Ultrarunning Bodies.” Sociology of Sport Journal, vol. 27, no. 2, June 2010, pp. 462-466. doi:10.1123/ssj.27.2.160.


Hoffman, Martin D., and Kevin Fogard. “Demographic Characteristics of 161-km Ultramarathon Runners.” Research in Sports Medicine, vol. 20, 2012, pp. 59-69. doi:10.1080/15438627.2012.634707.


Ronto, Paul, and Vania Nikolova. “The State of Ultra Running 2020.” and the International Association of Ultrarunners, 21 Sept. 2021,


“Spring 2022 Trail Runner Survey Results.” American Trail Running Association, 2022,


Valerio, Mirna. A Beautiful Work in Progress. Grand Harbor Press, 2017.


Volker, Verna. Native Women Running. 2020,

Lucien Darjeun Meadows was born in Virginia and raised in West Virginia to a family of English, German, and Cherokee descent. He has received fellowships and awards from the Academy of American Poets, American Alliance of Museums, and National Association for Interpretation. Past Shenandoah contributor and the author of In the Hands of the River (Hub City Press, 2022), Lucien is currently a PhD candidate, volunteer ranger assistant, and ultramarathon runner in northern Colorado.