Ellen Bayer

TRAIL RUNNING, TACOMA

Instagram: bfc.blackhorse
 
At A Glance
  • 2 completed 100-mile ultramarathons
  • 3rd place, Barkley Fall Classic 50k—after sustaining a concussion at mile 9
  • Literature professor, University of Washington Tacoma
Why I Love the Sport
“I love the challenge, the testing of limits, the pushing of boundaries and the feeling of accomplishment when putting in big miles. I love being in the natural world and feeling like I’m part of it; it’s a type of meditation.”
 
From 5k to 50 Miles in 3 Years
Ellen ran her first 5k race in 2013. Within the next two years, the occasional race quickly escalated into a full-fledged pursuit: she had raced in 11 half marathons and was entered in her first 50-mile trail race—before even running a full marathon.

At first, Ellen was excited just to have started her Saturday mornings with a few miles under her belt. She felt the runner’s high kick in while trying longer distances and remembers thinking, “I want that feeling all the time!” She was hooked.

Ellen picked up the sport in her late 30s, an age where she didn’t think she could try something new. “I love the camaraderie and support of the trail-running community and the way they push me to bring my finest self to the course.”

She now uses her experience as a platform to help others see that there’s no limit to exploring new athletic pursuits.

Increasing Accessibility to Nature
Many of Ellen’s students—even those from the Tacoma area— have never gone on a hike, much less visited Mount Rainier.

She shares her passion for the outdoors and increases students’ access to nature in her environmental literature class assignments. At the end of each quarter, students present their experience with nature. It’s almost always an emotional experience.

“I know I’m doing my job when my students are crying during their final presentation,” Ellen said.

She’s also developing an Environmental Arts and Humanities academic program at UW Tacoma. The curriculum would integrate outdoor adventures and help students gain access to the outdoors—something many of them currently don’t have.

Empowering Women Through Outdoors
Ellen is no stranger to the fear of running alone.

Many of the young women Ellen interacts with in the classroom also experience that fear—especially women of color. It keeps them from trying new things.

Ellen’s most memorable day was her first solo run to Corral Pass, near Mount Rainier.

The venture was a “cool evolution” from her early days of running, when she was afraid to run alone in town or even at Point Defiance Park. She wants her young female students to experience the same independence and empowerment through movement.

“Most of the time, the students are afraid not just because they’re women, but because they don’t see other people like them out running or hiking the trails.”

Ellen invites her students to run with her, with hopes of mentoring them along the trail.

She’s also excited about Tacoma’s new chapter of Girls on the Run, which teaches elementary-aged girls life skills through running. She hopes the chapter will raise a new generation of empowered women runners.

Mountain, City or Sea?
Without hesitation, Ellen prefers the mountains.

“I never fail to gasp when I see the mountain out,” she said.

Coming from the cornfields of Indiana, Ellen is amazed that “here you can actually go to the mountains, you don’t just have to look.

“I can be running along the water at Ruston, and then in no time be up in the mountains. I can’t imagine living anywhere else.”