trail runners we've lost
Trail Runner|Summer 2021
Reflecting on athletes, community builders and sources of inspiration who left us in the last 12 months.
the Trail Runner staff

One was a pioneer who lived most of her life unaware of that status. Another reclaimed his mind, and his life, when he found running. They were race directors; community leaders; coaches and teachers; fathers, mothers, sons and daughters; and they touched the lives of those around them and made an indelible mark on the sport and their world.

In our first-annual tribute to trail runners we’ve lost, we attempt to convey these stories and reflect on what trail running meant to these athletes—as well as what they meant to trail running. There are cautionary talesof nature’s unforgiving grasp, and tragic recountings of lives lost too soon; but accompanying them are stories of lives saved or prolonged by running, and reminders that none of us lives a life without impact. It is not a comprehensive list, but it is a diverse sampling of the myriad stories woven through each crowded starting line, or each passing face and friendly wave we encounter on the trail.

Above all, let their stories spur us all to appreciate the time we have, and make the best use of it. We’ll see you out there on the trails.

Matt Gunn

44, October 18, 2020

As a race director, Matt Gunn had a reputation for selecting locations as challenging as they were breathtaking. “He had a knack for picking beautiful locations to hold events, and putting them on even if it was prohibitively difficult or extra work,” recounted Jamil Coury, a fellow race director and friend of Gunn’s.

After running Gunn’s Zion 50K, which included a roped climb, writer Arianne Brown emphasized that “prohibitively difficult” section. “There’s a hashtag, #mattgunnwantstomakeyoucry,” she explained. “It’s totally true. His races are brutal.”

Gunn’s courses weren’t sadistic, though—they were difficult out of necessity, and designed to bring people to places they would never see from the comfort of a car, or even during an easy hike.

“He wanted people to see and experience the beauty and toughness of the area,” Coury says.

Gunn, of Willard, Utah, who died of suicide on October 18, 2020, directed several races in the Southwest, including Zion, the Bryce Canyon Ultras, and the Antelope Canyon Ultras. Organizing trail races, according to those who knew him, was Gunn’s way of sharing the most beautiful places he knew. It was especially important to him to share the culture and wisdom of the Indigenous people from the areas where the races took place.

Gunn didn’t fit many conventions of a full-time race director. He was reserved, even shy.

“I think he was more comfortable sorting the trash than speaking in front of everyone,” says Tana Seaford, who first encountered Gunn at the inaugural Bryce Canyon race when he issued the pre-race briefing from atop a picnic table. “He looked kind of disheveled, he was looking at a map, and it was clear he was just … all over the place. I thought, ‘He needs my help.’”

Seaford reached out and eventually helped with all eight of Gunn’s races. She recalled the steps he would take— including using composting toilets—to ensure his races created as little waste as possible. “He went through every single piece of trash, and anything that could be reused would be. If anyone ever accidentally threw away their eyeglasses at one of his races, I’m sure he found them and tracked down the owner.”

Gunn met his wife, Toby Ann Gunn, at the finish of his Monument Valley Ultra in 2015, where—despite having just met—they shared an embrace when she crossed the line.

“The chemistry was crazy,” Toby says. “I didn’t know if he was married or not; he didn’t know if I was married or not.”

But Toby described being brought to tears by the beauty of Gunn’s course, and being emotional at the finish: “He told me I understood the meaning behind the miles.” She kept coming to his races, they fell in love and he brought her along on his life of adventure and wonderment at the natural world. It included taking their six kids—four of Gunn’s and two of Toby’s—camping at every opportunity. His deep caring for places and people informed an underlying ethos: “Kindness was his fundamental belief,” Toby says. “Before anything else, be kind.”

Toby says Gunn’s deep sense of caring for others made it difficult for him to see the glass as half-full. “He was so troubled by the state of the world,” she says. “That outlook and the way he cared were really hard on him.”

The weekend before Gunn died, he was with Coury at the Moab 240 pacing a friend of theirs. Posting on Instagram after Gunn’s death, Coury wrote, “If there is anything you can do for Matt I hope it’s to honor his legacy. You can bet we will be celebrating Matt in the Tushar Mountains for years to come. Matt loved the entire Grand Staircase/Grand Circle area of the Southwest. Next time you travel to that region, do a run for Matt.”

Arlene Pieper Stine

90, February 11, 2021

Arlene Pieper Stine was the first woman to complete a sanctioned marathon in the United States. And you could say she jumped in with both feet.

In 1959, at the age of 29, Pieper Stine toed the starting line of the Pikes Peak Marathon. Embarking from Manitou Springs, Colorado, she climbed over 7,800 feet to the turnaround—which sits at over 14,000 feet—and ran down again, completing the grueling 26.2-mile course in 9 hours 16 minutes.

It was eight years before Katherine Switzer famously defied B.A.A. rules to run the Boston Marathon. The Pikes Peak Marathon, it turned out, never technically barred women from competing. The latest edition of the fabled race, in 2019, saw 137 women finish.

Pieper Stine had signed up for the 1959 race on a whim to promote her Colorado Springs fitness studio, and even had her nine-year-old daughter in tow, seemingly unaware that she was making history. Indeed, incredibly, it wasn’t until Pikes Peak Marathon organizers tracked her down in 2009 at her home in California that she learned of the pioneering nature of her 1959 finish, according to a tribute posted by the Pikes Peak Marathon organization and written by Katie Benzel. Pieper Stine traveled to the race that year to commemorate the 50th anniversary of her finish and would be a presence at Pikes Peak in the years that followed, speaking at prerace meetings and even serving as the official race starter.

In 2019, a few days before the race that would mark the 60th anniversary of her running, several women summited Pikes Peak, donning Pieper Stine’s signature white hat, shorts and sleeveless blouse—a look that, according to Benzel’s tribute, was modeled after Marilyn Monroe, her favorite movie star at the time.

“Her legacy will inspire generations of women to tackle their mountain, whatever that may be,” Benzel wrote for the Pikes Peak Marathon website. “She will be greatly missed.”

Larry Adams

55, August 29, 2020

Larry Adams loved Antelope Island, Utah (pictured here).

“He lived fairly close to the island,” says Jim Skaggs, who met Adams through the Utah running community over ten years ago. “He ran many thousands of miles on its trails.”

Adams, of Syracuse, Utah, also held immense respect for wildlife on the island, the largest of 10 in Utah's Great Salt Lake.

“I’ve encountered hundreds of bison over the years, I saw them clear in advance of my ‘encounter’ with them, and gave them the respect they deserve,” Adams had written in the Facebook group Wasatch Mountain Wranglers, according to multiple Salt Lake City–area news outlets. “I pass more and more runners/hikers these days that are deeply engrossed in their music, book, podcast or else and barely recognize my passing. How do you protect yourself in the outdoors from a two thousand pound plus animal?”

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