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Stefanie Flippin drives changes in ultra running

Stefanie Flippin drives changes in ultra running and shows how to improve diversity in the sport.

By Grace Morgan

Stefanie Flippin’s passion for trails goes far beyond her impressive results.

A multifaceted individual, Flippin is not only a professional athlete for Lululemon, but also a co-host of the podcast Making Strides, writer, coach and physician. She utilizes her knowledge and experience to advocate for her love for running.

Growing up in San Diego, Flippin primarily pursued ballet as a child. However, she was introduced to running by her dad, who had a lifelong passion for the sport. “When I was 6 or 7 years old, my dad started taking me out on two- to three-mile runs. I just really became familiar with running as something very fun that was like an activity for me and my dad to do together, because he worked a lot.”

Flippin eventually embraced running on her own when she moved to Chicago for medical school. She viewed it as a way to decompress from the rigorous demands of classwork. “I knew I needed something as a stress reliever to ground me. I didn't know anyone, and school and studying was stressful. So I started running consistently at that point.”

Going longer

It wasn’t until Flippin volunteered at the medical tent at the Chicago Marathon that she started considering signing up for races.

Stefanie Flippin is leading efforts to improve diversity in ultra running

“I was standing right by the race officials who were holding the finish line tape for the elites to come through and I just got so swept up in it,” she remembers. “I thought, ‘I want to be a part of this!’ I had no knowledge of the sport in terms of training. But after volunteering, I started signing up for races.”

Her first long distance race? The 2012 Chicago Marathon.

Soon after, her running trajectory — and life — would change. That’s when her husband introduced her to trail and ultra running. She found joy in the challenge of the 100-mile distance.

“I think my favorite aspect is being forced to work through the ups and downs,” she says. “Sometimes with a 50K or a 50-miler, obviously you're going to have ups and downs, but sometimes the race is over before your mind really has that opportunity to have to dig deep and confront your soul, and why you're out there. I like the journey aspect of the 100-mile distance.”

Medical school and residency didn’t leave much time to train, and Flippin continued to view running purely as a form of stress relief. “It was one of those things where I just didn't have any time to properly train. Medical school and residency just ate up every last second that I had. So at the time, I was never really performance-oriented. I knew in the back of my mind that I was kind of doing the bare minimum to complete these races.”

After moving to Evergreen, Colo., with her husband to open a private practice, Flippin found she had more free time. She structured her training and significant improvement in her performances soon followed.

“My times just started dropping very rapidly,” she recalls. “As a coach, I can see how the progression makes sense. I sort of had this enormous aerobic base that I had built up and at that point just really needed structure. It was pretty substantial.”

A breakout performance

That progression led to a breakout in 2021, when she won the U.S. 100 Mile National Championships in 14:35:21, which was the.sixth-fastest time ever by an American woman for the distance.

“That race stands out to me in the way that I approached it,” she explains. “I was definitely a dark horse going into it. The field was very deep for a road 100-mile championship. I feel like those races aren’t always like that, but I went into it blinders up and focused on running my race, and not trying to run anyone else’s. That ended up being a breakout performance for me. So I always try to go back to how I approached that race and how calm I was and how I didn’t have any sort of self-imposed pressure.”

Flippin built on that victory with wins during 2021 at Tunnel Hill 100 in 14:04 and the Jackpot Ultras, where she ran a 14:35. But what sets her apart is how she uses her platform to address issues of diversity and representation within trail running.

“I've been through these cycles of burnout, like chasing times and I think when I really asked myself, ‘Why am I doing this?’ I realized that it's not just because I love to run.”

How to improve diversity in ultra running

Stefanie Flippin discusses diversity issues through her social media, writing contributions and as a co-host of the Making Strides podcast.

As an Asian-American female, she believes her presence in the elite and professional space can inspire others and create meaningful change. “It just had been on my mind quite a bit about what is my purpose, what am I actually doing to make meaningful change in the sport? It's one thing to acknowledge that you want to see change, but then it takes so many more steps to actually be the change.”

Flippin discusses topics through her social media, writing contributions, and as a co-host of Making Strides, a podcast that focuses on experiences of underrepresented and marginalized communities in the sport of running.

“It’s important to me that the community understands that all of these issues that we're trying to tackle are intersectional,” she says. “My passion is trying to link all of those factors together so that we all have an understanding that we can't look at any of them in isolation.”

She hopes that her presence in the trail community inspires others to see how much power they have to be the change, too.

“I have the understanding and the reality that I'm just one human,” she explains. “But I'm always looking to see what I can do today, in this moment. How can I make things better? How can I at least help the small sphere that I do have, and encourage those in my sphere to pay it back and pay it forward and do the same thing? I feel like the presence that I've cultivated and what I'm aiming to do in the trail and ultra space now, sometimes I do have to pinch myself that this is my reality.”

Flippin has advice for coaches and highlights their influence on the community. “For coaches out there, and especially those that are also BIPOC, I do think it's really, really important to offer your services pro bono to marginalized and underrepresented groups. Be willing to mentor athletes, take them under your wing, and also help connect them to the community so that they have others to reach out to.”

She practices what she preaches, building her own athlete team while emphasizing diversity.

“I’ve worked to be a mentor for other people of color,” she says. “It just really feels like my purpose and what I'm meant to do in this sport. I feel like that's what powers me, that’s what sort of gives me wings, because I'm not just running for myself. It's very much in line with who I've always been and my core values.”

Stefanie Flippin has victories at the 100-mile championships, Tunnel Hill and Jackpot Ultras.

Flippin represents Lululemon

Flippin directs her message to the industry as well.

“I think what's really important for brands and especially race organizations is to not be afraid and not shrink away from putting out statements on their social media, on their websites, stating we are anti-racist,” she says. “This is a safe place. We are inclusive, we want everyone to feel safe and supported out here.”

She would like to see races include more people of color on their staffs, add non-binary categories, create processes to report sexual harassment that might occur during races, and being more mindful and inclusive of cutoff times.

“We need to be clear that the trails truly are for everyone. That's the stance that we have to take, but also understanding that there are so many other facets that go into making that actually true.”

Stefanie Flippin signed with Lululemon, which simultaneously announced its new FURTHER initiative to demonstrate how far women can go when they’re supported with resources and product innovations.

Earlier this year, Flippin signed with Lululemon, which simultaneously announced its new FURTHER initiative to demonstrate how far women can go when they’re supported with resources and product innovations.

The six-day FURTHER ultra plans to include 10 women from the brand’s global ambassador collective. In addition to Flippin, runners expected to participate include Camille Herron, who has thrived after a serious car accident; Devon Yanko, who has stormed back to her elite status after a lupus diagnosis; and Leah Yingling, who has overcome her own set of challenges.

Each will run the furthest distance of their careers with the opportunity to set world records. The race, which will start on International Women’s Day, March 8, will take place on a certified looped course with the location to be announced.

“It's definitely a point of pride for me to be on the leading edge of female research in the sport,” she says. “That's something that's really important to me, and honestly the driving factor for me signing with the brand. I appreciate their dedication to the sports science side of things for female athletes, as well as their holistic support of my athletic team and my goals, to continue to increase representation by providing my mentorship and guidance to people of color who are looking to start racing and just enter into the world of trail and ultra.”

Flippin plans on running the Continental Divide 50K later this month in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, and will return to the Javelina Jundred 100 in October. She believes in following your core values, and with that will come positive change.

“I've tried to follow my North Star and my compass. I think that when you do that, when anyone does that, things will always work out how they should.”


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