Lifelong trail runner Ian Golden has built a life around his passion for running, and helping others do the same.
Golden is the owner of the Finger Lakes Running Company store in upstate New York, the race developer behind the U.S. Northeast’s Red Newt Racing, a run coach, and the founder of the Trails Collective media site serving the U.S. East Coast.
Now more than two decades into his running-based career, Golden reflects in this article on his lifelong relationship with running, centering one’s purpose around one’s passion, and more than two decades of operating small trail running businesses designed to connect people with running.
A Passion for Running Develops Early
Raised in Honey Brook, Pennsylvania, Golden was a competitive swimmer from age six to 16, and then transitioned to high school cross country and track. In track, he focused on the 3,200-meter distance and enjoyed 300-meter hurdles. “Occasionally, even though I was scrawny and not competitive, I threw discus, because it was fun,” he said.
Throughout high school, the cross-country team wove trails into their workouts, being based in a rural region. “We’d go to French Creek State Park on weekends, and whether it be singletrack or rail trails, I always knew trails to be part of the running experience — especially longer runs,” said Golden.
The most significant part of his early running years, though, was the community.
“I fondly remember the team angle: The community, friendships, and friendships of families were what was most impactful. I was a decent athlete and, competitively speaking, that enforced confidence,” said Golden, who ventured to Ithaca College in New York as a collegiate athlete in cross country, and eventually for a master’s degree in occupational therapy.
“Our coach was really good about doing point-to-point trail runs and weaving in a lot of trails, which was meaningful for me. I loved those components and that allowed me to really get to know Ithaca intimately, and to have more affinity and connection to the place and to return to Ithaca later in life,” he said.
His freshman year of college, Golden joined the ski team to mix up the routine. As a sophomore, he added indoor track — which he viewed as a low-key training window — and outdoor track, competing in the steeplechase.
Throughout the college years, he earned several national qualifiers in cross country and steeplechase in track, finished with two NCAA Division III All-American honors, and was later inducted into the Ithaca College Athletic Hall of Fame.
While studying, Golden moved all over the U.S. and overseas for his clinical studies — including New Mexico, Washington, and California. Toward the close of his master’s degree studies, he traveled to Scotland for his last clinical rotation in mental health, then worked at a special education school in Hawaii.
While on the island, he became a volunteer assistant coach at the University of Hawaii, and he also worked part-time in a running store for fun and to be a part of the community.
This is all to say that, by his early 20s, Golden’s passion for running had already infused multiple aspects of his professional and personal life.
Stepping Into Ultrarunning
His first experience with ultrarunning was during the HURT 100 Mile, which ran a mile from where he lived in Hawaii. He jumped in halfway through to pace Luis Escobar, an ultrarunning community legend known for his superb photography. “I kind of knew what that entailed — but not really,” recalled Golden of the eye-opening experience.
After finishing his master’s degree in 2000, Golden moved to Bend, Oregon, and began practicing occupational therapy.
“Occupational therapy seemed like a safe, practical career track that would have a good number of options. There are various clinical settings, opportunities, and variability, which sounded appealing, and was a secure prospective for finding a job anywhere you wanted,” said Golden, who around the same time started dabbling in trail races.
But in 2005, Golden switched directions. He was living in Bend, and became friends with Teague Hatfield, the owner of FootZone, a running shoe store. “I appreciated what he’d grown, I thought he had a good thing going with the community, and I saw it was a viable profession,” recalled Golden.
“It was an exciting time when the sport was a bit younger. Jeff Browning had just recently moved to Bend, and he and I would run on occasion. Sean Meissner was race directing. It was a really nice community and a good time to see it grow. Those relationships became impactful,” said Golden.
He had a life-changing realization that summer while on a backpacking trip with Sherry, his now wife: He wanted his life to be more intertwined with running.
Turning a Running Passion Into a Career
By September 2005, he sold his house in Oregon and moved back east to Ithaca in a loaded vehicle. He proposed to Sherry, and she moved out east, too.
In 2006, Golden founded Finger Lakes Running Company, a retail store as well as a hub for education about running mechanics, injury awareness, and community.
Golden reflected, “I decided I wanted to feel passion. I wanted to make a career out of something I genuinely enjoy and that’s all you can really ask for — is to enjoy what you do. The occupational therapist career checked the boxes of geography, stability, and security, but I didn’t feel competent or passionate.”
He went on, “As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned it’s a learning disability I’ve always had — I had to work really hard to retain information that my coworkers could, from anatomy to physiology, and what I felt would make an effective, inspiring, and relatable practitioner. That’s also why I stepped out and tried to change.”
His experiences with trail racing were incrementally expanding during this same time period. In 2003, Golden registered for his first trail race, a local community 50k in Hawaii.
He later started the Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 Mile, in Virginia, and made it 82 miles before dropping, then returning to give the 100-mile distance a successful go in 2016, at the Wasatch Front 100 Mile in Utah.
“I have a tendency for the wheels to fall off late in a race. I was quick enough where I went out hotter than I should have, and I was fairly competitive. I’d be dead to the world in the final miles. Whether it was 10 miles or 100 miles, I was similarly patterned,” he said.
To date, Golden estimates he’s finished around 35 ultramarathons, with the majority as 50ks, several 50 milers, and a couple of 100 milers.
One of his favorite events he’s raced is the Escarpment Trail Run around the Catskill Mountains in New York, one of the oldest races in the country.
“It’s an awesome, classic, U.S. Eastern technical race and a cool experience. If you’re racing and hammering, you’re really throwing yourself off boulders into blind footing. There are tight turns with big cliffs. There’s a lot of kicking of roots and rocks throughout, and some of the route flows but other sections are technical,” recalled Golden.
“I don’t know if I want to go back because it’s too risky for me to race it hard, but it’s one of my favorites,” he added.
Another favorite race is the 30-mile Bold Coast Bash in coastal Maine, which “was absolutely beautiful along a bay with dense moss-covered trees and ground, with waves crashing against the shore,” he said.
His own love of trail racing developed into a desire to help connect more people with trails through racing. Golden started directing trail races in 2008, and his company is now known as Red Newt Racing.
His entrepreneurship continued to bud. In 2013, he founded Confluence Running Company, another store, in Binghamton, New York, which he later sold to the manager. By 2014, Golden co-founded the Run On Hudson Valley storefront, in Croton-On-Hudson, New York, which has since closed, in 2019.
Also in 2019, he founded the Trails Collective, a regional media hub that provides weekly rundowns of the U.S. Northeast trail running community; publishes feature articles and gear reviews; and connects readers with the Finger Lakes Running Company for e-commerce.
Connecting More People With Running Through Coaching
In 2023, Golden continued to dive head-on into run coaching. After being an assistant coach for Ithaca College for a couple of years, he transitioned to coaching cross country and track at Ithaca High School, where two of his daughters currently run. His oldest, Maren, is 15 years old, and his middle daughter, Nora, is 13 years old. The youngest, Camryn, is five years old. Their family also has a greyhound dog, Lucy.
“I have three daughters and the older two are competing and I didn’t want to miss seeing them compete, as I’d be off at Ithaca College. This was a way to be able to see them compete and coach at the same time,” said Golden, who is the head coach for the boys’ cross-country team, head of the indoor track program, and the distance coach for the outdoor track team.
The past couple of years, Golden has flipped from feeling competitive for races to focusing on his experiences in places. He’s had a lot of injuries, including a recent ankle roll that sidelined him for the Beaverhead 100k, which his family still enjoyed as a vacation in Montana, although the lost entry fee was hard to stomach.
“I keep injuring myself or tearing connective tissue through running or climbing or in the context of coaching,” he shared. “If I can get a few months in of being uninjured and enjoying runs, I’m wicked thankful for that.”
Overall, throughout the years, the most important part of trail running and ultrarunning for Golden has been the people. “I’ve done events, but it wasn’t with a focus. I never kept a log and I’m not on Strava. Maybe there are medals or old shirts sitting around. I don’t keep a list of anything. Mostly, trail running has been about the relationships.”
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