Discover more from Colorado Mountain Running & Living
Erica Goes For It
One of my favorite ultrarunners is so much more than a runner
Welcome back! Those of you who’ve followed this newsletter for a while know that I periodically choose to spotlight an interesting runner. I’m happy to bring this profile to you. Next week I’ll return with some training updates and advice. If you haven’t subscribed, please do.
Two seemingly unrelated things happened to me a little over a week ago. I heard a song I liked on Spotify by My Morning Jacket. Then I saw a promo for the TransRockies Run in August. I thought to myself: I’ve gotta learn more about this band. I’ve gotta find out what’s the big deal about TransRockies.
I’ve gotta get back in touch with Erica!
Erica Moore is a My Morning Jacket superfan and a TransRockies Run superfan. She’s super-everything. She goes all-in. She got into ultrarunning because she ran a 10K and then decided to do a 24-hour ultra shortly after it.
I decided to bring you the story of Erica because if she makes me feel good and motivated, she’ll probably do the same for you.
I’ll cut to the chase and share the takeaways I got from talking to Erica last week:
You can take a break from consistently running and still be “a runner.” Running waits for you and will meet you whenever, wherever, and at whatever pace and distance is right for your body.
You don’t have to define yourself solely as a runner; you can be athletic in different ways and realms, and nurture other hobbies, without sacrificing being a runner too.
You can enter and thrive in spaces and circumstances where you may wonder at first if you’re welcome because nobody looks like you or shares your background. If you open yourself up to the opportunity, you can claim it.
A Small-World Connection
Erica and I connected thanks to the ultrarunning community, which perhaps isn’t as tight knit as it used to be, but still brings strangers together for bonding through the shared challenge of long-distance trail running.
A decade ago, Erica was living in Chicago. She had moved there after an upbringing in Cincinnati, and a post-collegiate period in New York (where she graduated from Barnard College), because she wanted to compete in Scrabble tournaments with her boyfriend at the time who lived there. “My friends were like, ‘What the hell is wrong with you? You’re moving to Chicago to play a board game?” she recalls, laughing.
But, yes, she is a competitive Scrabble player—along with being a serious knitter, paddleboard player, CrossFit and OrangeTheory junkie, My Morning Jacket groupie, high-up Amazon manager, identical twin sister, and ultrarunner.
She wasn’t athletic when she first arrived in Chicago—her weight got a bit over 250 at one point—but she sought out ways to make new Black female friends and landed on a group called the Soul Tri Sisters that trained for triathlons.
“I thought, that sounds interesting. I can’t swim, I don’t have a bike, but I can show up and run. So I would stalk these ladies and show up to their running events, wearing the same shoes I walked around in during the day and having no idea what I was doing.”
She went all-in with the group, learned to swim and did a sprint tri, and kept showing up to their workouts. Around early 2014, she started overlapping with another Chicago running group, called the Flatlanders, that did stair workouts at the same place she and the Soul Tri Sisters did. The Flatlanders got her interested in trail running.
Fast forward to late September of 2014, and the Flatlanders’ leader, Scotty Kummer—a Facebook friend of mine, and a great ultrarunner, podcaster, and race director—shared a photo of me and our mutual Chicago friend Dan finishing the Grand to Grand Ultra.
Right after he shared that post, Erica—whom I’d never met—delved into my Facebook page and weirdly liked a lot of photos showing my kids at the Thacher School, the high school where they went and where I also went. I wondered, who is this woman and why is she liking all these posts about my kids and their school?
I clicked through to Erica’s page to learn more about her, and to my surprise we had a lot of mutual friends, all of whom are teachers and alumni of Thacher. We went to the same high school! But, we were 11 years apart—I’m class of ‘86, she’s ‘97—so we had never met.
Erica left a nice comment on Scotty’s post, and then she and I started messaging back and forth like long-lost friends.
(Thacher, in Ojai, California, happens to be one of the most sought-after prep schools in the country in terms of its admissions demand. The tuition is comparable to the cost of a private college, but neither Erica nor I came from a lot of money to go there. I went there because my dad and grandpa worked there for decades, so I had a family history at the school and a tuition subsidy. Erica aced a standardized test in middle school and was recruited by several private secondary schools, and she chose Thacher, which offered her a full scholarship.)
Jumping into an ultra
Erica was about to attempt her first ultra in mid-October 2014, a 3-mile repeat loop course called the St. Pat’s 24-Hour in Indiana. Two months earlier, she had run her first 10K.
At the time, I texted her, “You do know it’s crazy, don’t you, to jump from a 10K to a 24-hour?”
“I’m a bit crazy!” she replied. “I like to set big, scary goals and go after them with everything I have. I know what motivates me, and it’s proving that I can conquer what seems impossible.”
She also rationalized that a 3-mile loop didn’t seem intimidating, and she could stop when she wanted.
She and I ended up texting throughout the event, with me offering her some coaching tips. I found myself emotionally invested in her odyssey, and I got teary while texting goofy feel-good messages like, “It’s mind over matter—if you don’t mind, it don’t matter. Erica = Endurance. Whatever the final mileage total amounts to, you are a hero, and you will have learned a ton from this experience that will help you in any and all future challenges.”
She made it just over 40 miles. She was an ultrarunner!
The following year, she blew me away by showing up on TV on CNN. Through the Tri Soul Sisters, she heard about CNN medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta’s “Fit Nation” program to get six people in shape for triathlons. Those chosen got featured on CNN and received coaching and high-priced gear, including a bike and wetsuit.
Erica doubled over with laugher on Zoom telling me how she became one of the six. All the other applicants submitted tough-luck stories of hardship and loss to explain why they were overweight and needed help to get healthier. “My video was called, ‘Had Fun Getting Fat, Now I’m Having Fun Getting Fit.’ I told them, ‘I don’t have a sad story. I got fat the old-fashioned way. I drank too much, I ate too much, and I didn’t do any physical exercise. Now I’m finding joy in movement.’”
Loving Getting Older
Today, Erica lives in Lexington, Kentucky, and works from her home office for Amazon’s logistics. She’s been with Amazon for 7.5 years and got promoted to Senior Manager of Geo Spacial Programs, managing a team of technical program managers. “It’s a fancy title that has to do with maps and navigation. We create our own maps and routes for our drivers, because the things we need to think about logistically are a lot different from what’s on the consumer maps you’d get from Apple or Google.”
She just celebrated her and her twin’s 44th birthday.
“I love getting older—it’s been amazing. I would not go back. The year I turned 33, I was in India for work, and I remember that was the first year I thought, ‘This is the best year of my life,’ and almost every year since 33, I’m like, ‘This is better than last year.’ I’ve had some personal hiccups over the last couple of years, but I’m still completely in awe and in love with life, and so grateful I get to get older in this way.”
The main “personal hiccup” involved a whirlwind romance in 2019 that led to marriage with an addict, during the pandemic. “He had a terrible drug problem I didn’t know about, and it spiraled out of control and got to the point where I realized, I’ve done so much work on me, this is not the life I want for myself. … When I met him, he was a climber, super in shape, and he started running, but people in active addiction are always thinking about how to keep the facade up.”
Erica used to drink heavily but stopped in 2016 and has been sober ever since. She left her husband in mid-2022, then headed to Colorado to complete her fourth TransRockies Run six-day, 120-mile stage race. “I was totally out of shape, but I’m also really stubborn. It’s the Taurus in me.”
For her birthday, “I woke up and was like, 'I can do whatever the hell I want to do,’ and it was the best feeling ever. For the first time in my adult life, it was just me.” (She had been in committed long-term relationships before the 2019 marriage.) “I make a lot of money; I don’t have somebody else I need to take care of or ask what they need ; it’s just me. So I was like, what do I want to do? What I want to do is follow My Morning Jacket this year, so I’m going to see them a total of 36 times this year.”
Erica’s journey following the band My Morning Jacket is another whole story, but suffice to say, she met a lot of other superfans since her first show in 2008 and found a community. She also started tweeting the band members and getting to know them. “I’m one of their few Black fans, and I’m always in the front, so I’m easily picked out of the crowd,” she says.
A little over a week ago, she celebrated her 100th show wearing a “100” headband. “Jim James [the lead singer and guitarist pictured in the Instagram post below] came over and serenaded me, and I was rocking out, and at the end of the show he holds my hand and is saying thank you to me, and the drummer comes and bends down and gives me a kiss on the forehead and hands me his drumsticks and a set list they’ve all signed, and then Jim James on the mic goes, ‘It’s Erica’s 100th show!’ and everyone is screaming, and I burst into tears.” (You should click through to check out the full glory of the post and pics below.)
“I actually got sober because of My Morning Jacket, tangentially,” she tells me, and explains how she wanted to go to one of the band’s destination retreat shows on an island in 2017. “I was almost 40, and I was like, I want to wear a bikini on this beach holiday. I had been doing CrossFit—but not running much at that point—but I wasn’t seeing any results. I hired a nutrition coach, and he said, ‘It’s all the alcohol. You’re treading water because you’re eating better and working out, but then just drinking at night.’”
She decided to stop drinking between that point and the boozy beach party, when she intended to drink alcohol at the all-inclusive resort, but then she realized, “You don’t know how bad you feel until you start feeling good.” Her alcohol-related insomnia went away, and she felt so much better physically, she realized she didn’t need to drink to enjoy the band’s shows or anything else. She’s been a non-drinker ever since.
Marathons, ultras, and being “that crazy Black lady”
Starting in 2018, and peaking in 2019, Erica became more dedicated to running and got in the best shape of her life. She ran her first TransRockies in 2018 and then built up to running her first 100-miler, the 2019 Yeti Endurance Run in Virginia, in a time of 29 hours, 31 minutes. She also met her goal of getting her road marathon time under 4:30.
The Erica who tackled the most challenging parts of the TransRockies route the four times she did it—such as Hope Pass near Leadville and parts of the Continental Divide Trail—had evolved dramatically from the earlier version of herself who only visited Colorado for concerts at Red Rocks. At those concerts, “you have to run when it’s GA [general admission], so people would run up the steps and throw out blankets, and I remember feeling like I was going to die! I was hyperventilating and sweating.”
When I ask why she got hooked on running, and why she loves it, she says, “It’s the ultimate freedom, and it doesn’t require anything really except shoes. Running allows me to connect with people when I choose to do a group run, or I can go out by myself. Running makes me a better Erica. My team has said they can tell when I run before work, because I’m always positive and enthusiastic, but it’s through the roof when I’ve run. I feel so grateful to be able to move and feel this way, because I see the impact of a sedentary life on my family and friends.”
As with My Morning Jacket, Erica found a community through the TransRockies Run and wanted to return to experience it again and meet up with other runners there. She learned about TransRockies through Instagram influencer Mirna Valerio, aka themernivator, a large-sized Black athlete on a mission to get more underrepresented women enjoying trail running and other outdoor sports.
“I saw an article about her doing TransRockies in 2016 or ‘17, and I remember thinking, I can do it if she’s out there doing it. It was less about her being Black and more that, you see all these skinny super-buff trail runners, and seeing Mirna, I’m like, ‘You mean I don’t have to run the whole thing?’”
Here’s a post of Mirna and Erica meeting up last March at the inaugural Moab Run the Rocks, a new three-day stage race put on by TransRockies.
Talking about Mirna made me ask Erica if she, too, wants to be a mentor and advocate like Mirna. Not exactly, she says. It’s complicated. It’s more like she wants to encourage anyone and everyone to join her if they want, but it’s up to them. She’s just doing her thing.
“First of all, I get confused with Mirna a lot, which is insane. It’s like, oh, you see a Black woman and think it’s Mirna. I’m not Mirna,” she says, laughing. “I don’t take that mantle, because that’s Mirna’s job, and I can’t even imagine having a job like that, there’s just so much pressure. There’s always the expectation to explain and teach to others, and I don’t want that.”
She says she has had a different experience than disadvantaged runners of color because of her financial security from career success. “People have this expectation of me needing a free entry, but I live a very privileged life,” she says.
She explains her perspective further, “Seeing people who look like me has never been a requirement for my life, because that just hasn’t been my life,” she says. “I came from Thacher”—a reference to our high school, which was predominantly white through the 1990s but has significantly diversified in the past two decades—”and I’ve always operated from a point of, ‘If I want to do it, I’m going to do it.’ Now, it’s great to be that face for people who are like, ‘Oh, man, I want to do that,’ and I’m like, ‘C’mon!’ That’s been an unexpected benefit, but also a bit of pressure. Sometimes I feel like the de facto representative, even though I have not chosen to be, and I just want to be Erica, not that crazy Black lady who runs crazy distances.”
Erica’s next big adventures
In 2021, Erica trained to tackle the 200-mile distance, and even did her own 100-miler organized with friends as part of the training. She was signed up for the Tahoe 200, but the event was canceled due to wildfires. She then volunteered to sweep a large part of the Moab 240 and still hopes to accomplish a 200 one of these years.
But her training waned in 2022, largely because of the divorce, and she let herself step away from running. She regained consistency in running and working out this year and is slowly building back up, but not racing. She wants to run just for the joy and health of it and not burn out in advance of her big running goal for the summer of 2024: the 1000-mile, 37-day staged event called Run Britannia, which traverses the whole UK from top to bottom.
“Running waits for you,” she says. “We beat ourselves up when we don’t want to lace up and run, or we feel we’re doing it just because we need to. The biggest joy I’ve found is that running can morph and change. I don’t have to be this hardcore runner to still enjoy it. And if I want to be a hardcore runner again, it’ll still be waiting there for me.”
Thank you so much, Erica, for sharing your story. I hope we can share the trail someday, somewhere!
Check this out—thanks to you, this newsletter has grown to an audience of nearly 1500. Could you please help me grow it further by sharing this post or giving the gift of a paid subscription? Paid subscribers receive an invitation to a monthly online meetup, bonus posts, and my deep gratitude.