Even though racing is in Bethany Patterson’s DNA, she didn’t discover her passion for the sport until college.
That’s when she did her first race — a 50K.
“I somehow skipped the usual 5K, half marathon, marathon progression,” Patterson says, adding that she had been running three to five miles a day for a couple of years. “As a junior in college, I signed up for a running class as part of my major. I didn't even particularly like running at the time. I remember thinking that taking the class would force me to stay active and run for another semester at least.”
But thanks to her professor, David Horton, Patterson discovered trail running.
“I didn't know trail running was even a thing,” she admits. “My professor directed a 50K and somehow persuaded me to run it.”
Patterson did her “one and only long run” of three hours the week before the race. “No one told me you aren't supposed to do your longest run a week before your race,” she says. “But I was immediately hooked once I finished ... and the incredible soreness had worn off.”
Living for the long run
Her passion for trail running soon turned into a competitive spirit.
“My ‘why’ for running has always been that I absolutely love running trails and being in the mountains,” Patterson says. “After my first race, maybe my second, I knew I found what I was born to do. It just clicked. When I found some success in races, I discovered that I also loved the competition. I'm good at ultradistance races. I'm a very mediocre marathoner or 5K athlete, but the trails even the playing field. The longer the race, the more I like it.”
It's also a way that she can be a positive role model for her children.
“My ‘why’ for running now is a combination of many different things,” she says. “I still love to run and the competition, but I also want to show my kids dedication and hard work. I want to set an example of a healthy lifestyle when so many people in our country struggle with obesity and health problems. I want to show them it is possible for adults with families to continue to stay healthy and fit. I want to show them a love for the outdoors and nature.”
A balancing act
Without a doubt, running has changed since Patterson became a mother. Previously, her Saturday mornings were spent driving to the mountains for long trail runs. Now, weekends are filled with soccer games, camping and spending time with family.
“I squeeze out running when the kids are in school as much as I can,” says Patterson, whose accomplishments include a top 10 finish at Western States. “I don't run nearly as many miles as I used to. I have to be creative about how I get any ‘mountain’ running in since Richmond, Va., where I live is pretty much flat. I also don't care as much about the results as I used to. My kids could care less about how I do, although they do like to take all my medals and trophies. My entire world isn't defined by my racing.”
Of course, everyone’s family situation is different. There are various time commitments due to work, for example. For ultra runners seeking out balance, Patterson recommends focusing on what’s important.
“You have to decide what matters, and focus on those things,” she says. “You can't do too many things well. If you try to juggle too much, you end up doing a mediocre job at everything. Make every workout and run count. Make sure you and your spouse are open and honest, or fighting and resentment can creep in from both sides.”
As an example, Patterson noted that she has cut back on the number of races she does. “It is a sacrifice for my husband every time I run a race, so I try to spread those weekends out over the year.”
An active family
Patterson has traded in some of her time spent on long runs to camping adventures with family.
“We love to camp as a family to get out in nature and away from TVs and games,” she says. “We make our kids go on hikes, which sometimes they love and sometimes they hate. We really want to expose them to nature and the outdoors. I don't think a lot of kids get outside to experience the world outside of their busy family life. Hopefully they will thank us one day and take that love of nature with them as they grow up.”
The Pattersons aim to get their children involved in a variety of sports and activities and let them choose their preferences. So far 9-year-old twins Hunter and Connor, as well as 5-year-old Allie, have not shown interest in following in their mother’s (trail running) footsteps.
Hunter loves soccer, she says, while Allie likes gymnastics and Connor hasn’t shown interest in a sport. “I realize that most likely my kids won't love running the way I do, and that's OK. I didn't even like it until college. I just want them to find something they love and pursue that.”
As Mother’s Day approaches, Patterson describes her perfect idea for the holiday. “Honestly, a long run in the mountains with some of my mom running friends would be amazing,” she says. “Then coming home to spend the rest of the day at home with my family would be ideal for me.”
As she balances family, running and life, Patterson still has some goals she would like to achieve. I've hit a lot of my goals in running, but I have certain races I'd like to improve upon,” she says. “I'd like to run a fast 100 sometime. I have a few bucket list races I'd like to try — Hardrock, UTMB, Barkley being at the top of my list.”
Looking back, Patterson has come a long way since her 50K debut.
“I love the trail community,” she says. “I've met so many wonderful, interesting people that I would never have met otherwise. I love the places I've seen because of racing and competing. At this point I've been running ultras since 2001; it's just a part of my DNA at this point.”
Name: Bethany Patterson
Hometown: Richmond, Va.
Number of years running: 19
How many miles a week do you typically run: 50-60
Point of pride: Seventh at Western States, finishing the Tuscarora Stage race back in 2003 and Hellgate 2015.
Favorite race distance: 100 miles (it's a love/hate relationship)
Favorite pre-race or training food/drink: Oatmeal with peanut butter, fruit and a cup of coffee
Favorite piece of gear: My Pearl Izumi shoes, which are sadly now discontinued.
Favorite or inspirational song to run to: I love Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” and Florence and the Machine’s “Shake it Out.”
Favorite or inspirational mantra/phrase: It never always gets worse
Where can other runners connect or follow you:
• Pattersonruns on Instagram and Twitter
• Bethany Patterson on Facebook