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Aneta Zeppettella finds her tribe with Empower Ultras

Aneta Zeppettella co-owns Empower Ultras with Jennifer Russo.

By Henry Howard


I am featuring Aneta (Nettie) Zeppettella of Empower Ultras this month as part of my special series highlighting race directors this year. Zeppettella, who co-owns Empower with Jennifer Russo, is an amazing human, runner and race director who immigrated to the U.S. from Poland in 1999.


Her race resume includes finishing races such as Western States Endurance Run 100, Badwater 135, HURT 100 and Fat Dog 120. Zeppettella, who has more than 20 finishes of races 100 miles or longer, became the second female ever to complete the Potawatomi 200-mile race.


I had the opportunity to run her Night Owl Trail Marathon in 2023, which I thoroughly enjoyed, and came to respect her as she literally rerouted the course the day before the race when flooded creeks forced the issue. It likely will not be the last race I run with Empower Ultras.


Every month during 2024, I will highlight one North American race director who specializes in trail and ultra events as a way to highlight what makes this sport great. That is the people, the community and the events themselves. (In January, I featured Michele Hartwig of Ornery Mule Racing, in February I highlighted Scott Kummer of Ten Junk Miles and last month I profiled Kim Levinsky of Sassquad Trail Running.)


If you have nominations for other race directors to highlight, feel free to contact me with your suggestions.


Aneta (Nettie) Zeppettella: Empower Ultras Race Director


Aneta Zeppettella has finished Western States, Badwater, HURT 100 and other 100-milers.

Question: Why did you get into race directing?

Answer: I wanted to give back to the community. Running, especially trail running was such an important part of my life after I had my daughter. I live in the area where people (although very nice) often define themselves by the high school they went to. It’s hard to make connections as an adult who grew up an ocean away. Through running I found my place and my tribe and started to feel I belong.

Question: How did you get your start as an race director?

Answer: I first directed races for my local running club as a volunteer race director. I directed and co-directed a 14-mile race, a 50K and a 50-miler for the club. I did that for about five years before starting my own company with my friend Jennifer Russo.

Question: What's the most interesting thing you've learned about yourself since you became a race director?

Answer: That I am really a big, big softie! I hate timing people out. I hate pulling people out from a race. I want everyone to finish!

Question: What's your best piece of advice for someone who wants to become a race director?

Answer: You have to love it! It is a lot of work, long hours. Some plans will fall through and you will have to start over. You have to be very flexible. Adapt on the fly. There is a lot of work that’s not glamorous — making reflective flags, cooking pots of soup, folding and sorting shirts, stringing awards. I’ve listened to a lot of audiobooks while getting ready for a race.

Aneta Zeppettella says Empower Ultras will have a new 24-hour race this September.

Question: What's your favorite race to direct?

Answer: Vernal Equinox! It is a timed event: 48, 24, 12 and 8 hours. Two-mile loop around a horse farm. I love that I get to know almost everyone there because of the format. I love that we give out so many first time 100-mile buckles. It is such a special event to me. Every year I meet at least one person whose life story shatters my world. It’s such an honor and a privilege to be a part of their running journey.

Question: What's your favorite race to run?

Answer: HURT 100 in Hawaii. Hard and beautiful and the HURT Ohana is incredible . I strive to create races that radiate love and community as much as HURT does. It’s truly magical!

Question: Tell me about a funny experience as an RD and what you learned from it.

Aneta Zeppettella co-owns Empower Ultras with Jennifer Russo.

Answer: I guess my chocolate Labrador River who gets into my race supplies and devours a couple loaves of bread in under a minute. I try to keep the door closed but somehow I always forget once or twice. She’s watching and she’s in fast. One time she got into bags of Tailwind. That was scary and resulted in some calls, but she was fine and didn’t need to go to the vet after all. I’m better about keeping the doors closed when the food is there, but this year I forgot to close it when we put in wooden medals to assemble. She chewed up a few. She’s 9 years old and a perfect angel otherwise. I guess the energy of the race week makes her crazy. And I guess I still need to get better at keeping her out of the race supplies.

Question: If a runner can only do one of your races ever, it would be … :

Answer: East Fork 100 mile. It took us almost five years to be ready to bring a 100-mile race to the Cincinnati area and we are so proud of it and so excited! Three loops, 40-hour cutoff, not easy (which 100 is?) but very doable given the cutoff.

Question: What exciting project do you have in the works?


Answer: We are working on a 24-hour race, A Day in the Park, that will be USTAF approved and we hope for some records to be broken there. This is our cooperation with the city of Lebanon, Ohio, and part of their Apple Festival activities. We plan to have the first race this year in September. We are really looking forward to it and are so lucky the city is supporting our ideas.

Question: Where can runners find out more about your races?



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