By: Moses Greenspan
I recently had the opportunity to talk with Levi Roberts, a runner from Pittsburgh, PA who began running Wolf Creek Races in 2021. Levi had a lot to share about his thoughts and experiences from last year where he raced distances from 5k to Ultra Marathon. He has some fun stories and great insights into the mind of a runner.
How It All Began
Levi began running in high school where he ran cross country for Commodore Perry. “I’m uncoordinated; I can’t catch a ball; I can’t hit a ball; I can’t pass a ball; I can’t wrestle…I’m not very good at running, so I think most people can relate to that”. His high school coach would tell him, “You! Run in that direction and keep going.” It was simple. Unfortunately, running on the team lost it’s joy for Levi and it became a chore. This led to him taking a break from the sport.
“I rediscovered running because I realized this is the best thing for taking away stress”
“In college I was having some stress issues…the same kind of stress every college student faces and I rediscovered running because I realized this is the best thing for taking away stress; making life feel great…Once I got started again, it was every day.”
Levi graduated college in 2019 and kept running. He didn’t enter any races or join a club. He just ran. It wasn’t until 2021 when Levi decided he would sign up for his first ever Half Marathon; the Ghost Creek Half Marathon.
Levi’s First Half Marathon Race
“Crazy people! We’re crazy people.”
When asked what his motivation was in signing up for the Ghost Creek Half Marathon, he answered, “I run Half Marathons casually for fun…I [used to] live right next to Lake Wilhelm and do Half Marathons on Saturdays as practice. When I saw your [Wolf Creek’s] races pop up, I thought ‘this is good pressure because you can’t slack off when there’s a timer, there’s a clock, you paid money, there’s other people around. It was to apply some pressure and do better. The other thing is companionship. It seems that there is a select club of, what’s the right term? Crazy people! We’re crazy people. The ones who like to run for a really long time and smile about it. That’s one other great thing about your races. The cohesive group of smiling people who like running. It’s not like basketball or football where people jab at each other and get mean.”
Levi had a friend visit from out of town the day before the race so he was up later than he wanted. “I said worst case scenario, I’ll’ just walk this thing.” He arrived at the Ghost Creek Half Marathon fashionably late – a few minutes after the race start – but was still able to run without his time being impacted thanks to the 30 minute start window. “I showed up at the race, felt relaxed and great and the race went great…I got a really good time.” “The Ghost Creek course – I loved it man; absolutely loved it. Not too hilly; nice and flat; you’ve got the view of the creek right there.”
Shortly after the Ghost Creek Half Marathon, Levi signed up for the Old Turnpike Half Marathon. “I’d been wanting to go there. It’s great how you guys do the destination thing. It’s fantastic.” I was not able to attend the race in 2021 so I asked Levi how the race went. He had quite the story to tell.
The Old Turnpike Half Marathon
“I’ll buy duct tape off you”
“I actually had two incidents that day. I drove two hours to get there and as soon as I pulled into the parking lot I was like ‘I didn’t bring shoes’. So I went to the race tent and said, ‘do you guys have duct tape? I’ll buy duct tape off you.’ They said, ‘what are you doing?’ I said, ‘I don’t have shoes and I paid good money to get here so I’m gonna tape my feet and we’re gonna make this happen.’ Your guy behind the desk said, ‘No! You’re crazy! Here.’ and handed me his shoes right then and there. It really spoke to how great the culture of your company is. I ended up bleeding in his shoes. The shoes got bloody because I ran into a wall inside the tunnel and my knee was bleeding and it sort of dripped down onto the shoes.”
The Old Turnpike Half Marathon is a unique race because participants get to run through nearly 4 miles of tunnels. Our website makes it clear that everyone has to wear a headlamp which is included with registration. “When you advertised that you can’t see inside the tunnels, I thought, ‘Nah. They’re just exaggerating.’ You really can’t see in the tunnels.” Levi wanted to highlight that everyone should also visit the supernatural gravity hill which is located near the Old Turnpike.
Becoming an Ultra Runner
“During the pandemic, when I lost my job, I had nothing better to do and ran Half Marathons on the weekends.” Levi would run anywhere from a Half Marathon to a Marathon every weekend and a 5k every weekday. This base of running set up Levi well for his next race.
“We made it 43.5 miles.”
“After the Turnpike was Run Between the Suns in Titusville. That’s one of those races that’s measured in time rather than distance. So the idea there is you start at 7:00 AM and run until 7:00 PM and run as much as you can in the meantime. My cross country coach invited me and he told me to try it out. It sounded like a good challenge.” When looking for potential races, Levi says that he is always looking for a challenge. “We made it 43.5 miles. That is 70k.” When asked how that compared to running a Half Marathon he said it was “almost easier in a way”. “It doesn’t seem to make much sense but in a Half Marathon or Marathon there are people waiting on you to finish, the clock’s running…there’s a little more pressure. If you do a race that’s measured by time, you can walk for 12 hours and technically there’s no penalty there…In a marathon I like to gun it, but an all day race isn’t a gun it kind of thing. It’s like oil versus gasoline burning. In a 5k or a Half Marathon I think it makes sense to burn gasoline where it’s more quick burning and…explosive whereas if you burn oil it’s gonna be a slower burn, it might take longer to catch on but it’s gonna burn longer.”
The Burning Coal Marathon: Levi’s First Official Marathon
After finishing his Ultra Marathon, Levi signed up for the Burning Coal Marathon. Unlike many attempting their first Marathon, Levi knew that he could complete the distance. After all, he had already run 26.2 on route to his 43.5. This should be a piece of cake. He decided to sign up for an official Marathon because he had never done a timed 26.2 mile race. “It was so much more difficult than the all day run. It was so hot that day, the sun was beating down.” After checking his medal stash, Levi realized he also raced a 5k on Thanksgiving morning to finish off his 2021 racing calendar.
Thinking back on the year where he raced three completely new race distances, Levi concluded that his favorite distance to race is Half Marathon. “I have a sweet spot there just because you can bang it out in two hours. It feels quick and easy almost.”
The Year Ahead
“And I said, ‘computer, don’t you make fun of me; I can run 100 miles”
“You guys have been keeping me up at night because an email came through that said Rabid Raccoon 100. The computer screen said, ‘What are you? A wimp? What’s the matter? You can’t do 100 miles?’ And I said, ‘computer, don’t you make fun of me; I can run 100 miles; watch.’ So right now I’m training for your Rabid Raccoon 100 miler.”
Training for a 100 mile race is no small task and Levi is ramping up his training. “That’s about three months from now. I want to fit in a Half every weekend. I’d like to get a full marathon at least once a month and I’d like to get in a 40 or 50 miler once between now and then.” Levi lives in downtown Pittsburgh and runs parts of the Pittsburgh Marathon course for his daily runs and likes to do long runs at Maurice K. Goddard State Park.
“If you can run 100 miles, you can do anything.”
Though he doesn’t have any close friends who have run 100 miles, Levi looks to people like David Goggins for inspiration. “If he can do it, why not? If you can run 100 miles, you can do anything. Name another challenge: asking a girl out; starting a business; being strong during a loss in the family. I think that what you do to yourself mentally when you’re running a long distance is a way of life that transfers into the rest of your life. Being able to approach what you need to level headed and just diving into it.”
We are excited to see Levi run at the Rabid Raccoon 100. For more information about Wolf Creek events, visit our website. If you or someone you know would like to share some race experiences, email firstname.lastname@example.org. We would love to hear from you. Thank you Levi for making Wolf Creek Race Management a part of your life in 2021 and taking the time to share your adventures with us.