Top 20 Most Inspirational Ultra Runners for 2022
By Henry Howard
Welcome to the fifth annual list of my Top 20 Most Inspirational Ultra Runners of the Year. This year’s group includes headline-grabbing elites, as well as others who have proven inspirational to the community.
Two runners (Courtney Dauwalter and Camille Herron) have been on every annual list so far. This year’s compilation includes runners who have not been featured before, as well as the debut of a nonbinary athlete and, also for the first time, a four-legged friend.
Here are my selections for 2022 (in alphabetical order):
Katie Asmuth: The former top 10 finisher at Western States was stymied by injury for the second half of 2022. But that did not pause her vibrant outlook and love for the ultra community. After taking off more than four months, Asmuth posted on Instagram that she completed a 10x1-minute run, each interval followed by a one-minute walk. “To all those that are injured out there — I SEE YOU! You got this and you are NOT alone (and get a PT on your team!!!)”
Riley Brady: No stranger to the podium, Brady claimed a Golden Ticket to Western States with a second-place finish at Javelina Jundred in October. There was some confusion at the finish line, which caught the attention of many in the ultra running community. They (Brady’s preferred pronoun) didn’t seek out the attention and dialogue on social media that followed but handled it with grace. It was an honor to interview Brady and talk about their running journey, expectations for Western States and being a nonbinary athlete.
Jeff Browning: It was a super year for Bronco Billy, who won his first 200-mile race, the Moab 240; took first place in the Scout Mountain Ultras 100-miler; placed second at the Sean O’Brien 100K and placed fifth in a very competitive field at the Hardrock 100. And in December, he took to the track — yes, a track — and finished fifth in the 100-miler at Desert Solstice. Those results are sensational for any ultra runner but even more so for Browning, who is 51. In our interview from a few years ago, he dished out some advice for masters athletes. I cannot think of a better source for that information.
Candice Burt: As I write this, the ultra runner/race director is on a unique running streak. On Dec. 14, Burt completed her 40th consecutive day of running a 50K. That’s 1,280 miles in just under six weeks — and she’s not stopping yet. In our interview from four years ago, she talked about her drive. “I always want to do the best I can and the most I can,” she said. “’Content' is a word that I don't understand or feel; I never have. I enjoy reaching for the next challenge and so it is a natural thing for me to keep pushing my own boundaries as a runner and a race director and in every other aspect of my life.” Follow her journey on her Twitter feed, Instagram page or athlete page on Facebook.
Catra Corbett and TruMan: As a dog lover, I enjoyed following the adventures of TruMan and his human. For ultra and trail runners, myself included, it was really sad when he passed away earlier this year. Corbett had shared their running adventures frequently on her social media handles. Now, those posts turn to the challenges of losing a beloved family member. “Just when I thought I was healing from the loss of TruMan the sadness hit me again,” she wrote recently on Instagram. “Going through the holidays without him will be hard but I’ll make it.” Yes, you will. And the entire ultra community has your back.
Courtney Dauwalter: Madeira Island 115K. Check. Hardrock 100 Endurance Run. Check. Grand Raid La Reunion (Diagonale des Fous) 170K. Check. Three challenging courses. Three victories for Dauwalter, an easy selection once again for this list. She becomes the first woman to win Western States, Hardrock, UTMB and Diagonale des Fous. Her finishing time at Diagonale des Fous, which has more than 10,000 meters of gain, was 24:37:47, nearly two hours faster than the previous course record. As eye-dropping as her statistics are, her ever-present smile and cheery outlook are just as endearing and inspiring to her legions of fans. (Here’s a look back to our interview a few years ago.)
Jason Green: I have yet to experience a Yeti Trail race. But after having an amazing conversation with and writing about Green, I’m super stoked to do one of his races. The self-proclaimed “ultra enthusiast” brings a relentless passion to the sport as an ultra runner and ultra race director. I was impressed with Green’s continuing commitment to the ideals he conceived while creating skateboard contests as a youth. And his dedication to fostering inclusivity, spreading relentless cheer and prioritizing conservation methods make him an easy first-time selection for this list.
Camille Herron: What a year it has been for Herron, who has been picked for this list in each edition. Her 2022 highlights included setting 11 records at Desert Solstice, nailing a top 10 finish at Western States and breaking the course record as she won the Strolling Jim 40-miler. And, of course, there was the world record set at Jackpot Ultras, only to be rescinded by USATF eight months after the fact. Just like we have not heard the last of Herron’s domination, we have likely not heard the last of this world record. Her career has been marked by ups and downs. In fact, she even had to come back from a harrowing car accident just a few short years ago. Herron also is a huge supporter of other runners. After deciding not to race Tunnel Hill due to snowy conditions, she stayed and cheered on the finishers as they came through. “She is a true leader and great ambassador for the sport,” said Terri Durbin, spouse of Tunnel Hill race director Steve Durbin.
Marianne Hogan: Three challenging races and elite fields, and three podium finishes for the Canadian-born athlete. Hogan started the year with a win at the Bandera 100K to get her Golden Ticket to Western States, where she finished in third place in just over 18 hours. Two months later, she became the first Canadian to podium at UTMB when she finished second woman with a time of 24 hours, 31 minutes and some change. But her inclusion on this list wasn’t just related to the results for Hogan, who returned from a long layoff after breaking her leg, it was the gutty determination she showed. During UTMB, she tore her psoas with about 45K to go. “Never for a split second did I consider stopping,” she told Canadian Trailrunning Magazine.
Jacky Hunt-Broersma: The amputee ultra runner set a world record this year, completing 104 marathons, one each day for 104 days. While her record, which was certified, has since been broken, Hunt-Broersma’s quest and accomplishment triggered an outpouring of support. As she approached the record, she told me in an interview, “It's been incredible just to see the response. It's just been phenomenal, just the outpouring. I've always got that in my back of my head. I can't quit now."
Andy Jones-Wilkins: Some runners make this list for their running performances first. Others are recognized for the inspiration they bring unrelated to finish times. For Jones-Wilkins, his off-trail contributions to the sport are inspiring for seasoned runners and newbies alike. He is a regular guest on running podcasts, sharing his perspective on the state of ultra running, dishing out coaching and training tips, and — of course — talking about his beloved Western States. It’s hard to imagine any trail and ultra runner who doesn’t feel stoked after listening to AJW discuss literally anything about Western States. Like many others, it’s my top goal to get into the race. Hope to #SeeYouAtStates sometime soon, AJW. (Before this year’s Western States, I asked Jones-Wilkins for some predictions. Check out this post and see how he did.)
Adam Merry: While he is an elite athlete with a collection of strong race performances, he prioritizes a thoughtful approach to life, caring for others and espousing joy. “I think the goal is to be great humans first and then aspire to be a professional trail runner, aspire to be a great coach,” he told me in an interview earlier this year. Merry, who has a Black mother and white father, was part of the American men’s team that won gold last month at the 80K world championships. Certainly that won’t be the last we hear of him.
Zach Miller: It appears that Zach is back after a long break from ultra running due to a lengthy foot injury that required surgery. Miller took fifth place at UTMB in August, following back-to-back DNFs in 2018 and 2019 after placing ninth in 2017. In late June, he won the Trail 100 Andorra (a 105K) in a time of 14 hours, 19 minutes and 52 seconds, beating the runner-up by about 17 minutes. Miller concluded that race, pumping his fist. “That’s the final stamp,” Miller told his hometown paper, “knowing, ‘I’m back.’”
Adam Peterman: What did Peterman not do successfully in 2022, or since bursting on to the scene with his victory at his first ultra, the Speedgoat 50K in 2021? He conquered the historic JFK50 in November 2021, then won the Chuckanut 50K in March, the 100K Canyons Endurance Run a month later, followed by victories at Western States and UTMB Thailand. Not only is he a tremendous athlete, he also is a superb human, as you can tell in this iRunFar interview.
Brandy Ray: Kudos to this Adventure Jogger podcast episode for raising the story of Ray to our attention. Tune in to learn how she battled addiction for years, then somehow discovered the strength she needed to get sober and stay clean. With her newfound sobriety she would find ultra running. She then used the incredible strength and willpower necessary to kick her addiction to conquer ultra races.
Kevin Robison: I had the honor to meet and interview Robison, the president of UltrAspire, at the company’s headquarters during a visit to St. George, Utah, earlier this year. His story of battling a rare form of cancer, returning to running and finishing his first 100-miler stands out among the most inspirational stories I wrote this year. “That was the first time, honestly, it was in that moment, cresting the finish line where I realized that I beat cancer," he says of completing the 102-mile Last One Standing in Utah.
David and Megan Roche: I will unabashedly let my bias show on this selection. It’s an honor to be coached by David, who has helped me develop as a runner and grow as a human. But beyond our client-coach relationship, I have been inspired by the power coaching couple (my interview and story about their 2018 “Happy Runner” book) whose life resembled the ups and downs of an ultra in 2022. Megan dealt with a serious health challenge at the onset of the year then became pregnant and gave birth to Leo (Love Each Other) in the fall. Their very public sharing of their story was full of joy, determination and inspiration. Oh, and they are hella good athletes, too. Huzzah!
Jason Schlarb: In the past, Schlarb dreamed of becoming the first American male to win UTMB. But a freak skiing accident jettisoned those plans. In 2022, the start line represented a different but perhaps more meaningful victory. That was the moment when Schlarb concluded an 18-month journey that began with that fateful fall on a snowy mountain. Along the way, he endured surgery for a torn ACL and meniscus, followed by months of rehab and training. His outlook is incredibly refreshing and inspiring. “I am just happier than ever, even though I didn't go where I wanted to with UTMB,” he told me during our interview. “With coaching, the pleasure of training my body and being in this community in all those different ways. That's the real win.”
Callie Vinson: The bright, energetic runner who’s active on the socials has come a long way as an athlete and a person. Vinson lost 200 pounds before becoming a runner and transitioning to ultras. Just as impressive as her weight-loss achievement is her finish of the Moab 240. This interview with Ultrarunning Magazine podcast host Scotty Sandow is among my favorite and most memorable episodes this year.
Leah Yingling: What a year for the ultra runner who finished as the top American female at Western States. Just getting into the coveted race showed some serious determination and grit. After just missing a Golden Ticket earlier this year, Yingling took second place at the Canyons 100K and earned her way into Western. As I wrote in a profile earlier this year, “Her relentless drive is fueled by a deep passion for the sport, a love of the mountains and the perseverance from overcoming an assault.”