Running a Long Way: The Spokane River Run Ultramarathon


I never thought I would run an ultramarathon, let alone consider myself an “ultramarathoner.”

I used to dread long runs and love a good track workout. I am not sure when my mindset changed or what attracted me to the idea of running a race through steep, winding trails that went on longer than a marathon, but somehow what I once never thought I would become, became what I think I am best at: Running a long way.

I just completed the Spokane River Run 50k on April 22nd, within the beautiful trails of Riverside State Park, outside Spokane, WA. It was my first 50K and I finished in 4:14. I won overall for women and was fourth out of both men and women.

I never expected that I would finish as well as I did and feel as good as I did for most of the race. There were definitely points of the race that I questioned myself and what I was doing, but all in all, I felt pretty good.

Anna Russell at the start of the Spokane 50K ultramarathon.

Anna Russell at the start of the Spokane 50K ultramarathon.

I felt pretty relaxed when we got to the park on race morning and I was expecting myself to be more nervous knowing that I had 31 miles ahead of me. For some reason, I felt pretty calm and excited to race. We got to the race site about 40 minutes early so we could drop our gels and water-bottles at the halfway point, which was right next to the start.

With 20 minutes to go before the race, I decided to turn on my Garmin and get ready to walk over to the start. For some reason my Garmin was not working. The Garmin screen just stayed on and I couldn’t get to the screen which had pace, time, and distance.

I tried to remain calm, though I was thinking to myself, “this damn thing better turn on.” I think I was even muttering aloud. I tried turning the watch on and off, over and over again but nothing was working. I think I had 10 minutes before the race start. I couldn’t believe that this was happening that day, of all days.

I don’t run all that much with my Garmin, except when I am racing or doing really long runs, so it’s not as if I can’t run without it, but I needed it then. I think in longer races, such as this one, sometimes just having things that comfort you, like knowing how many miles you have gone, makes things seem a little easier even when you know you’ll be fine without it.

I started pleading with the watch. “Please, Please, Please turn on.” I even started asking random people if they could help me fix my watch.

With three minutes before the gun went off, I just decided to wear my old digital watch, but I was mad. As I look back now, my Garmin breaking was probably the best thing that could have happened—I think I was somehow fueled with a little anger as we took-off through the woods and then a few miles in I realized I didn’t even need it.

Anna Russell at the end of the Spokane 50K ultramarathon.

Anna Russell at the end of the Spokane 50K ultramarathon.

My poor fiance had to deal with me and my hysteria before the race. I think I lashed out at him a few times, and I am sure everyone at the start thought I was a raging manic. Although, that is one of the things I love about trail racing, you get to become this thing that fights its way to the finish.

I have always loved trail racing, and racing in general, because you are able to let go and become something else.

At times when I am running, an alter ago will emerge and those are the best days because I am not caring about what my splits are, or how much gel I have on my face, or how many miles I have gone, but all I am focused on is just running and running well.

Although I said that I felt pretty good the entire way, which I did, I have never been so happy to finish a race in my life. I don’t think I have ever smiled bigger, or wanted to take my shoes off more.

I am sure that, to an outsider, watching someone run a marathon or ultramarathon you see pain and broken bodies. But you also see people accomplishing goals and dreams—ordinary people doing extraordinary things!


   Need more running inspiration? Check out the Run It archives for posts from Missoula runners and marathoners.


Anna Russell is an active member in Run Wild Missoula and has been running competitively since high school. She has run six marathons and enjoys trail running in and around Missoula.

Anna and her fiancé recently moved to Missoula from Washington, DC. She is a personal trainer, specializing in running and endurance-related training at Peak Health and Wellness Center in Missoula. Anna feels very lucky to have moved to a place with such a vibrant running community.