Rising participation in Cowtown ultramarathon leads more runners to challenge themselves

By Russell Hodges

What was meant  to be a one-time event commemorating the 30th anniversary of the Cowtown Marathon has become one of its most popular events.
The 50-kilometer Ultra Marathon, presented by Miller Lite, the race’s official title according to the Cowtown website, is an annual race that runs approximately 31.1 miles. The race is nearly five miles longer than a regular marathon, and takes place on Feb. 26-Feb. 28.
When the 38th Cowtown Marathon comes to Fort Worth, 58-year-old Nick Castillo will once again be participating in the organization’s newest, but increasingly popular event.
“I’ve done the Ultra ever since they started [it],” Castillo said.
The 50-kilometer Ultra Marathon runs approximately 31.1 miles, or  five miles longer than the marathon, both are set for Feb. 28.
“It was successful and people wanted it back, so we’ve kept it,” said Executive Director Heidi Swartz.
Since then, the race has become a fixture in the annual Cowtown festivities, including the Cook Children’s 5K, Adults 5K, 10K, Half Marathon and Full Marathon.
Despite being the smallest of the Cowtown races, participation has increased every year since its inception, according to the Cowtown results database.
“It’s the smallest race of the six, but it’s the fastest growing that we have,” Swartz said.
With positive feedback coming from runners, and participation continuing to rise, this could mean ultramarathon running might be turning into a new trend for distance athletes.
“Ultra racing has become more popular over the last several years. Runners are looking for a new goal, so the ultramarathon is the next goal after running a marathon,” Swartz said. “The trend across the United States is that more people are interested in participating in ultra distances.”
Castillo, who has been running the Cowtown for about 20 years, said he believes there is a growing trend of ultramarathon racing.
“If people say ‘Hey, I’ve done the half, let me do the marathon,’ and a lot of people are completing marathons now. They want to challenge themselves more, so the only way they can do that is to run the ultra,” Castillo said. “It’s getting big.”
Castillo has been running about 50 miles a week since last summer to prepare for the event. Castillo said he believes more runners are signing up for ultramarathons in order to challenge themselves both mentally and physically to go beyond what they experienced from a previous race.
“The ultra is more [challenging],” Castillo said. “Anybody can do three miles, walk and run. But doing about 31 miles, you’ve got to have a game plan and not go out too fast. You have to make sure you have something to finish with.”
Castillo said he thinks the support runners receive during the race along with the joy and achievement of completing the race are more reasons runners are flocking to it.
“It’s like you die and get reborn. You start looking at life different. You say ‘Hey, life is real short,’ I better enjoy it while I can and challenge myself mentally and physically as long as I can to; it’s mostly just rewarding yourself,” Castillo said. “People you don’t even know encourage you to finish.”
Ginny Love, a 29-year-old from Nacogdoches who has been running for about seven years, is running the race for the first time with her mother, Lee Ann. Love said she decided to participate not only to challenge herself, but to challenge her mother as well.
“I just wanted a bigger challenge, something new to try and do,” Love said. “I said ‘Mom, how strong are you?’ And she said, ‘Well I’m pretty strong.’ And I said ‘How mentally strong are you?’ And she said ‘I’m really mentally strong.’ And I said, ‘Alright, do you want to do an ultramarathon?’ And she goes, ‘Oh, that’s — that’s crazy strong.’”
Love said she began her training for the race last summer: running about 30 miles a week. She said she’s currently dealing with a condition known as “runner’s knee” which is a common term runners use to describe pain underneath or around the kneecap. She said the pain is just one of the burdens of training for such a long race.
“It’s a challenge,” Love said. “I might have to run 12 miles on a Monday, after I ran 20 miles on a Saturday. Physically, that’s a pretty big undertaking.”
The challenge is one that Love is more than happy to accept.
“I just want to see if I’m able to do it,” Love said. “It’s something I’ve never done before and I think I can do it and I want to prove to myself that I can.”
When asked whether or not she thinks ultramarathon running has become the trend in distance racing, Love said she agrees because she believes both runners, and society as a whole, are beginning to take steps toward healthier lifestyles.
“I think America in general is becoming more health-conscious,” Love said. “I think people are realizing that if they’re putting physical limitations on themselves, then that’s where they’re going to go; if they shoot for something bigger, they’re able to do it.”