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The ups and downs of an elite ultra runner

Michele Yates has the hips, pelvis and pubic bone area of a 100-year-old, doctors told her five years ago.

“My bones had grown the wrong way,” she explains, noting this was discovered when she was pregnant with Maya Jo. “They also found I had thyroid disease as well as ostreoarthritis to the extreme. I had major labrum tears, impingement, displaysia, as well as cysts.”

Doctors insisted Yates, the 2013 Ultra Runner of the Year, get hip replacements immediately. She balked and found a cutting-edge specialist who was willing to do scopes to delay surgery for a few years. “He checked me over thoroughly and decided I was strong enough to at least try doing complete scopes,” she says. "But all said I was done running.”

After two surgeries and more than five months on crutches, Yates was determined to build back up.

“I was hellbent on increasing my strength to support the rotten joints so I could possibly run again, which I did, but it cannot be as much as it used too,” she says. “I can, however, mountain bike some races to feed the need.”

Yates has dealt with major health issues — compartment syndrome surgery, heart, tonsils, then the two hip scopes. And earlier this year, a total Thyroidectomy.

“My life now depends on a stupid little pill that has to be the right amount to feel good ... but it could be worse! This past summer has been a little rough too with GI issues maybe stemming from the thyroid surgery... we are still figuring some things out!”

But, as ultra runners do, she finds joy. Joy being a mom. Joy pursuing her fitness goals. Joy owning her own business, Rugged Running. “I strive for balance daily.”

The journey begins

Her running journey began back in sixth grade in Alpena, Mich. Inspired by her older sister who ran for the high school team, Yates followed her path and joined a younger athlete program.

“The coach sent the runners who had been a part of the team for a while off on a run and he asked me to run once around the cemetery equaling a half mile,” she remembers. “When I came around he asked if I could keep going and do it again. I did it again and again … well you can see where that is going. He stopped me at some point, I'm not sure when.”

Along her journey, Yates has won events including Run Rabbit Run, Indiana Trail 100, the North Face 50 and Bandera 100K.

“I was certainly blessed to have the determination to finish IT 100 when the conditions weren't ideal,” she says. “Not only did I finish, but I chick'd them. That for sure made that one special and hopefully empowered women to try to accomplish their goals.

Run Rabbit Run holds a special place in Yates’ heart.

“RRR has been a trip! The first win resulted in the course record then, but also got some heads to finally turn after already having a blessed year,” she says. “The second time (last year) coming back after two hip surgeries and one failed attempt again at RRR was sheer grit. Something broke inside me after I had a miscarriage late in the year 2017. I jumped into Bandera 100k just to find comfort and keep my mind off of it, and when doctors suggested I didn't try to get pregnant again for some time, I threw myself right into RRR training. Not just to be distracted, but to again, possibly encourage others to keep up their fight no matter what card they are dealt.”

A rare combination

One setback she had was when she DNF’d at Western States soon after giving birth. Yates said doctors had diagnosed her with Hashimoto’s thyroid disease, which is when the immune system attacks the thyroid. It causes a drop in thyroid hormone levels in one’s blood.

However, doctors didn’t realize that Yates also had Graves disease — the complete opposite, where levels are too high.

“I have both antibodies — it’s rare,” she says. “When I went to Western States, doctors had me on medication and it spiked me so high my body just wanted to shut down. I was full blown Graves, which we then found out two days later when I confirmed it with my sports med doc via blood testing.”

It seems the only thing that can stop Yates is her health. That is only temporary. Her drive is too strong.

“I feel God has given me the ability to be able to run and ride mountain bikes,” she says. “And in doing so also the gift to maybe inspire others. I continue the fight with numerous health problems but the ultra running community support is unlike any other and there is no doubt they help me through this. So naturally I like to be around awesome people like that!”

Her running community

Yates is counting on not only her experience as an ultra runner for Rugged Running but her education as well. She has a degree in kinesiological sciences with a concentration in fitness management.

“Despite the education, years and years of experience is something you cannot get out of a book or from a few races,” she notes. “If there is one reason I remain positive with all my health problems, it's because God gave them to me so I could help others who may be dealing with something the same or similar.”

Yates works to ensure that Rugged Running is a supportive running community.

“I'm really passionate — maybe too passionate sometimes — about what I do,” she says. “I've created and continue to try to create a place where all runners, or even non-runners who are interested, have a place to come share life and maybe run a few miles on the trails. After all, we take life with us everywhere. Isn't it just better to have some good people to go through it with? And check out some beautiful trails at the same time? Although we aren't only about trails, we like to hammer down on some roads too!”

Rugged Running hosts camps throughout the year. “They have been such a blast for me to coach. It truly is living the dream!”

The future

Looking ahead Yates is aiming for the course record at September’s Run Rabbit Run and a top five overall. From there, she has decisions to make.

“I'm working with doctors now to either close shop on the baby-making or we may be able to try one last time in this next year,” she says. “But my plan B options are: Leadwoman, RRR again for the win, Quad Rock again for the win.”

Of course she will continue to grow Rugged Running, adding camps and coaches. “I will oversee all of their work. It will follow along my coaching guidelines and structure.”

One thing is for certain, Yates will find a way to continue her running journey.

“It hasn't been an easy one, but I think things that are earned through hardships are just that much sweeter too.”

Speed drill

Name: Michele Yates

Hometown: Conifer, Colorado

Number of years running: 25

How many miles a week do you typically run: 80

Point of pride: “My child, Maya Jo ... I try to fix my pride but it's broken :)”

Favorite race distance: “50 … but Run Rabbit Run is an exception.”

Favorite pre-race or training food/drink: Health Warrior chia seeds in oats and/or smoothie with Health Warrior protein powder.

Favorite piece of gear: Under Armor snot wipe camo gloves

Favorite or inspirational song to run to: Fight song

Favorite or inspirational mantra/phrase: “Never settle in a race, never settle in life.”

Where can other runners connect or follow you:

  • Website:

  • Instagram: @uroy2013 and @ruggedrunning

  • Twitter: @ruggedrunning

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