[Editor’s Note: This piece is by former iRunFar editor, Alex Potter, remembering her husband, Pete Reed.]
Pete hated running.
It was his knees. And his back. And his hips. All worn down from four years of carrying heavy loads in the Marine Corps as a rifleman, and a decade of carrying extra weight he could never seem to shed. It bothered him, but I think it made him a better cuddler. Not everyone is made for running, and that’s just fine, but most couples I’ve met who live in the mountains both run, to some extent. Not Pete. He was more than content, and actually happiest, to support me in my (more often than not) undertrained endeavors.
The first time Pete supported me on the trails was in Iraq. We met in Erbil in November 2016, when I’d arrived to document the Battle for Mosul as a photojournalist, and he was there, working as a medic on the frontlines. I was a also a nurse, so I asked if I could join his team, and he agreed, thinking I’d last maybe a week — as he told his friends.
In reality, we fell in love fast, as some do in war, spending the next nine months treating thousands of civilian and military trauma patients with the rest of our team. We carried each other through that harrowing year, only to be a bit lost when we came out the other side.
Burnt out from battle and with a desire for the outdoors, I settled on training to be a wildland firefighter, and Pete was happy to encourage me every weekend on the trails. We drove two hours outside the city so I could get some vert, and I shuffled up the jeep trail with a heavy pack, drenched from the culturally dictated long sleeves and pants. I ran out of water, but he was waiting at the top with the truck, snacks, and hugs.
The second time was in Maine. I had signed up for the 30-mile Bold Coast Bash race earlier in the year, but the U.S. East Coast COVID-19 restrictions and exhausting nursing work cut my milage to nearly nil. The race was canceled, but I wanted to try to run the route anyway. Pete was more than happy to hike the 10-mile loop with Starbursts and gummy worms in hand, making me laugh when my knees were screaming. When I got back to the car, hours later than I estimated, he was there with pizza and hot chocolate, and had made friends with others at the trailhead. He laughed when I could barely walk the next day and I didn’t blame him.
When we moved to Flagstaff, Arizona, I made trail running friends, and at our monthly campfire gatherings, he was often the center of attention, offering levity as the only non-runner of the group, drawing the conversation away from milage and vert as often as possible. While Pete didn’t like running, he loved being around runners, and at races, finding the humor and joy in our chosen sufferfests. We went to the finish line of the Cocodona 250 Mile, and he was even more excited to see the final finisher than the first.
Most of our adventures together stateside involved driving somewhere, me running, and then camping out and enjoying the views. Our trip to Idaho for the Beaverhead 55k race was no different. The night before, while I was stressing about my pack, how much water and calories to bring, and waking up early enough, he made fast friends with the crew from Montana camping next to us. He always brought the laughs and it was here where he came up with an idea for crew t-shirts that would say “Born to Crew” for people just like him.
As I traversed a scree field halfway through the course the next day, he texted me:
“Keep crushing it babe,
Run smarter not harder,
Hydrate or die,
You’re doing fucking awesome.”
In the following years, I got Pete to love the community around running, even if not the act of running itself. Our landlord in Flagstaff, Neil Weintraub, is the race director for the Soulstice Mountain Trail Run, held during peak fall colors on some of the highest trails in Flagstaff. Pete ran the race to make me happy, to make Neil happy, and on the one condition that our friend and top runner Jim Walmsley come watch him finish the race.
I told him that condition was a tall order, but as he came down the home stretch, he looked right past me to my group of friends, pointed, and laughed, “Hey, it’s Jim Walmsley!” He came in third for his age group. Though there weren’t more than five people in his age group, I was proud. Pete stayed for hours after the race with Neil and his close friends, laughing about the day, and planning for next year’s Soulstice race. He may have hated running, but he loved being around runners.
The next spring, I lovingly forced him into one of his bucket-list goals: to run a half marathon. He hadn’t run that far since the Marine Corps over a decade earlier, but promised he wouldn’t drop out. At the Whiskey Basin Half Marathon in Prescott, Arizona, in true Pete style, he helped a runner on the trail wrap a bleeding finger before hobbling to the finish with cramping calves and a spicy sunburn.
Last July, while I was training with my Air Force unit in Alaska, doing endless pushups and heavy rucks, I encouraged Pete to go hang out and help out at the Hardrock 100 with iRunFar. Never one to turn away from an excuse to laugh and party in the mountains, Pete joined iRunFar’s Editor-in-Chief Bryon Powell at the Telluride aid station, helping to cover the race. Ever the caregiver, he bought Bryon a pizza whose box came in doubly handy as a makeshift umbrella when it started to rain.
At the after party, in community with runners and crews, is where Pete shined, with pizza and drinks at the Avalanche Brewing Company — “enthusiastic drinking,” according to Bryon — and a hat-tossing contest at Eureka Station, another restaurant and bar. This culminated in Pete hilariously carrying iRunFar writer Tom Caughlan around that bar.
The last time Pete was there for me on the trails was the Kesugi Ridge Half Traverse in Alaska. We moved up here for my Air Force endeavors, and I wanted to enjoy the mountains after a month of push-ups and rucking. I figured the half traverse — 15 miles — was more doable than a full 30 on untrained legs, but the final climb to the saddle was still a killer.
Pete was there at the finish as he always was, making friends and spreading laughs. He knew exactly what I needed when I finished: high fives, new clothes, hugs, and patience for the four-mile hike back down to the road.
Pete hated running but he loved the community, and he loved me. So he was there for them, and he was there for me.
To get in the “Alaska Pete” shape he wanted, Pete also wanted to run the Kesugi Ridge Half Traverse and Beaverhead 55k this summer. But he never got the chance.
We moved to Alaska last fall, and though he was a skilled paramedic, he struggled to land a job. He’d been restless ever since the war in Ukraine started, wanting to be there on the ground, hands on, helping out. It’s been said that discontent brews when we are working against our soul’s purpose, and Pete’s soul’s purpose was to help people in the greatest need.
Ever the servant, he traveled to Ukraine for medical work near the frontlines and accepted a nonprofit country director position, something he was so proud of and passionate about. Then he did what he was good at — gathered the half-dozen or so ragtag groups working near the front, and brought them together to augment their strengths.
On February 2, 2023, while answering a call to help a woman who was injured on the road in Bakhmut, his ambulance was hit by an anti-tank guided missile, just as he and his team started to care for the woman. He was the only one of his team who didn’t survive. Pete died doing what he lived for: helping those in need, whether it be on the trail or in the battlefield.
I have a couple races scheduled for this summer, and while Pete won’t be there in his physical form, I know he’ll still be present: cheering, supporting, and laughing at our pursuit of fulfillment in the mountains.
[Editor’s Note: If you’d like to learn more about Pete Reed, we recommend listening to NPR’s “All Things Considered” remembrance of him, learning about the Global Response Medicine nonprofit which he founded to aid civilians in areas of conflict, and reading the “Marine Corps Times” story about his tragic death. Alex and Pete are dear to the iRunFar family, we so grieve Pete’s passing and Alex’s loss of her newlywed husband, and we are grateful to Alex for writing about Pete here.]
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