The Best of iRunFar in 2021

A look at the best of iRunFar in 2021.

By on December 31, 2021 | Comments

Wow, what a year this was! Even in our fast-paced world, we think it’s important to take a moment to reflect on — and celebrate! — all that made up the last year.

The year 2021 was a transitional year for iRunFar, in several ways. Near the start of 2021, iRunFar took its next steps by joining Lola Digital Media. What this has meant for the team here at iRunFar has been learning new processes and growing into our big, bright future. What this has looked like for you, the reader, is the appearance of more of the stories of the people and communities which make up our sport.

This year was also transitional for iRunFar in the fact that globally competitive trail racing returned around mid-year amid the continued COVID-19 pandemic. And this allowed us to return to covering races in person in the second half of this year.

These two transitions combined meant a year of staying nimble while remaining committed to iRunFar’s mission of providing the trail running and ultrarunning communities the information and inspiration to explore our sport — and the world.

I want to say a huge thank you to the many people who made iRunFar happen in 2021! Thank you so much to the writers, editors, photographers, behind-the-scenes team members, and volunteers who make up the heart of iRunFar.

Thank you to all of you for reading iRunFar, following our race coverage, and participating in community discussions on the website. And thanks so much to those of you who support iRunFar financially. If you’re interested, supporting iRunFar financially helps us continue to expand our coverage of the sport you love! (See more below.)

For those who enjoy details, here are the basic statistics for iRunFar this past year:

  • Our 26-person writing and editing team created 527 articles.
  • We presented comprehensive coverage of five of the most globally competitive races, including the Western States 100, Hardrock 100, UTMB, Les Templiers, and Madeira Island Ultra-Trail. This included 70 video interviews with top runners at these races.
  •  Forty-nine volunteers donated a couple of hundred hours of time to help bring you iRunFar’s live race coverage from random and remote locations all over the world.
  • iRunFar grew — by a lot! We gained a full-time editor, several freelance writers, and a number of behind-the-scenes team members who make sure the iRunFar you view works smoothly. While all of our regular editorial columns from 2020 continued in 2021, we added one new editorial column and brought back another which had been dormant for about a year. We also increased our number of gear reviews by nearly 50%; started a news section of iRunFar with short, timely articles; and began a collection of buyer’s guides containing comprehensive reviews of products in larger categories after a huge testing period. And you, the iRunFar community, also grew, as more of you joined us as regular readers of iRunFar!

With the rest of this article, we dig into and celebrate iRunFar’s year. From the articles which hopefully educated and inspired our community to some of the most fascinating moments in racing, here is the best of iRunFar in 2021.

P.S.: Enjoy a time-machine visit to the past by checking out our best-of articles from 20102012201320142015201620172018, 2019, and 2020.

Grand Trail Templiers Start 2021 - Bryon Powell

The start of the 2021 Grand Trail des Templiers in France, which iRunFar covered live. Photo: iRunFar/Bryon Powell

Support iRunFar in 2022

We invite you to join the readers who support iRunFar financially! You can join the iRunFar Patreon family with a monthly pledge, or support us via monthly or one-time donations on PayPal.

We are proud of what iRunFar is and does today, and we’re taking iRunFar far into the future. Thanks for considering your support of iRunFar!

Helpful Educational Articles

Education is at the heart of iRunFar’s mission. We aim to help you be the best version of yourself as you run. These were our top education articles of 2021:

Alex Nichols - Chamonix France

iRunFar columnist Alex Nichols above Chamonix, France. Photo courtesy of Alex Nichols.

Best Wordsmithing

Another part of iRunFar’s mission is inspiration. We endeavor to help you create an inspired running practice. Here are a few articles that hopefully added a little fuel to your running fire this year:

  • In his column Finding Words, Zach Miller finds the words to encourage us to be our best selves on race day with the essay The Best You’ve Got.
  • A lot of you loved a lot of Sabrina Little’s writing in her column The Examined Run, but you might have enjoyed her essay Toughness Reconsidered the most for the way it encouraged you to balance both toughness and softness.
  • If you know anything about columnist Andy Jones-Wilkins, then you know he’s spent his long ultramarathon career avoiding the dreaded DNF. In his AJW’s Taproom column earlier this year, he documented his first DNF in World’s End 100k: My First DNF.
  • We all loved Work in Progress, an honest, gritty essay with equally honest and gritty imagery by Hannah Green in her Notes from the Trail column.
  • Nature’s Running Buffet by iRunFar Editor-in-Chief Bryon Powell in his column opened our eyes to the colorful and tasty bounty that is along our beloved running trails.
  • Sandy Stott is a longstanding guest author, and his creative essay Graduated: Stepping Down to Step Up offered us a fascinating, in-the-moment perspective on aging and racing.
Zach Miller - Moab 1

iRunFar columnist Zach Miller running in Moab, Utah. Photo: Aaron Colussi

Hannah Green Alaska 2

A photo by iRunFar columnist Hannah Green during her month-long expedition in Alaska in 2021. Photo: Hannah Green

Most Fascinating Interviews and Profiles

Creating connections among all members of the community is a goal of iRunFar, and we attempt this in part through interviews and profiles. Here are some outstanding articles in this category from 2021:

  • Tropical John Medinger and Lisa Henson are absolute icons in the American ultrarunning community, and columnist Morgan Tilton profiled the pair in our WeRunFar column early this year.
  • Age-Old Runners columnist Liza Howard brought us an incredible story in her profile of Salley Hernandez on how she’s used running to stay connected to others during her Marine Corps career, motherhood, and otherwise very full life.
  • Fernanda Maciel has had a long recovery following a climbing accident, and iRunFar editor Alex Potter’s profile of her this year is a good place to start for anyone on the long road back from a setback.
  • This profile of Justin Simoni by Alex Potter proves that you don’t need a car to get to even some of your most far-off adventures.
  • You were inspired by a lot of race performances this year, but perhaps one of the most inspiring from all the races iRunFar covered live was Hillary Allen’s win of the Madeira Island Ultra-Trail after a multiyear recovery from a major trail running accident. This interview of Hillary by Bryon Powell after that win is so cool.
  • I had the chance to turn the tables on longtime iRunFar columnist Liza Howard with this interview on everything from jelly beans to competitive age-group running. Liza’s bright light really shines through here.
  • If you haven’t read the profile of under-the-radar, peak-bagging lady crusher Whiley Hall by guest contributor Sarah Lavender Smith, we suggest you stop what you’re doing until you do. What a woman!
Fernanda Maciel Running Chamonix

Fernanda Maciel running through Chamonix, France, where she lives. iRunFar interviewed Fernanda in 2021. Photo: Martina Valmassoi

Compelling Imagery

Imagery has the ability to transport you into a single moment in time, and being in the moment is a critical ability for our sport. Here are a few images that crossed the pages of iRunFar in 2021 which do just that:

Hannah Green Alaska 4

iRunFar columnist Hannah Green inspecting a bear footprint in Alaska. Photo: Hannah Green

Trail Running Photo Gallery - Jean Baptiste Joly - Ninke Brikman 2021 Skyrhune

Nienke Brinkman cresting the top of an incline at the 2021 La Skyrhune surrounded by a cheering crowd. Photo: Jean-Baptiste Joly

Tim Tollefson at the finish

Tim Tollefson gave it his all to finish fifth at the 2021 Western States 100. Photo: iRunFar/Alex Potter

Matt Cecill - Running Emotions and Journey - post-race hugs

Running on emotions. Photo: Matt Cecill

Hannah Green Notes from the trail - work in progress - hand in water on film

A 35mm photo from out in nature. Photo: Hannah Green

Favorite Memories

Here, a few members of the iRunFar team share their favorite 2021 memories from life and work:

Editor-in-Chief Bryon Powell’s Favorite Memory

While it undoubtedly suffers from recency bias, an unplanned marathon on Christmas day was the best gift I could hope for! Although I pushed my daily run streak past five years earlier this month, I wrote in complete honesty in June that I was taking a break from running … at least in the sense of training in any meaningful way.

With fading recall, I remember most of my summer runs as being a quick, casual-clothes 2.5-mile lap up and over Shrine Road or even just a mile and a tick to the end of River Road and back where I live in Silverton, Colorado. Sometime in September, that turned into pretty consistent 2.5-mile laps.

Then, at the start of my trip to cover Les Templiers in late October, I committed to running five miles a day for that week. Trips for Madeira Island Ultra-Trail coverage and The Running Event (TRE) trade show meant a less consistent November, but I did plenty of runs in the five-mile range while seven miles was a long run.

Not long after coming home from TRE at the start of December a number of factors told me now was the time to get my butt training again. In less than two weeks, there were long runs of 13, 15, 17, 18, and then 20 miles.

On Christmas afternoon, I headed out in a break of a seemingly endless string of winter storms for what I hoped would be at least 15 miles with a high end goal of 20. The first six were … bad. Then came another nine miles with my buddy Karl Kamm. Sitting at 15 miles, I decided to run another two miles to get up to 17. This kept happening … I’d add another mile or two on at a time as I ran various laps of town.

The final eight miles en route to a full marathon were a treat. My energy was good. I felt confident and strong. The miles came easy. I felt like I could have kept on running, but a marathon was enough. I’d be rolling into the new year knowing I was on the path to a good year of running in 2022.

Bryon Powell - 2021 Xmas long run

An early view during Bryon’s Christmas day long run. Photo: iRunFar/Bryon Powell

Managing Editor Meghan Hicks’s Favorite Memory

If my 2021 had its own theme, it was, “Work hard, play hard.” I worked a ton of hours on this little website called iRunFar, it taking up more of my time than it has in a long time. However, when I wasn’t working, I was playing almost as hard as I’ve ever played.

From the play-hard part of this year, my favorite memory was a three-day march a couple of friends and I did from border to border in Colorado’s largest wilderness area, the Weminuche Wilderness. We chose to create a fun, largely off-trail route across this wilderness and we carried as light of packs as we could while staying safe and comfortable.

In the end, our daily mileage was low, but the challenge factor was high and I was properly awed by the experience and effort. Thank you to Eszter Horanyi and Maggie Guterl for this incredible trip.

Perhaps ironically, I’ve been trying to write about this trip for iRunFar ever since we did it in August … but just haven’t found the time in that work-hard part of my schedule to craft a story that does the experience justice. Stay tuned to the pages of iRunFar on some quiet winter day for the full story, finally, hopefully!

Maggie Guterl and Eszter Horanyi - Weminuche Wilderness

Maggie Guterl (left) and Eszter Horanyi on our three-day crossing of the Weminuche Wilderness in Colorado. Photo: iRunFar/Meghan Hicks

Editor Alex Potter’s Favorite Memory

I joined iRunFar in late June of this year … well, technically not ’til July 1, but the Western States 100 was happening on the last weekend in June, and I wasn’t going to miss the opportunity to see one of the most competitive events of the year.

I spent the whole day following Bryon Powell around and learning the tricks of the trade of covering this fast and furious race. Watching people’s faces as they crossed the finish line in complete exhaustion and elation was absolutely wild.

My other favorite non-work memory is traveling up to Idaho, by far my favorite state, to run the Beaverhead Endurance Run 55k. It was my third 50k and the first one where I felt like everything clicked. Being up on a ridgeline of the Continental Divide — gasping both from the elevation gain and the smoky air — was incredible. Even better that I got to bring along my partner, Pete! He also fell in love with being an ultra spectator.

Bryon Powell and Alex Potter - 2021 Western States 100

Alex Potter and Bryon Powell on the move during the 2021 Western States 100. Photo: iRunFar/Bryon Powell

Columnist Andy Jones-Wilkins’s Favorite Memory

When I ran my first 100-mile race at Angeles Crest 100 Mile in September of 2000, my two older sons Carson and Logan were three and one years old, and my youngest son Tully had not been born yet. Ever since that day, at every one of my most important races, my boys were there, along with my wife, Shelly, to provide support and encouragement.

When they got to be old enough, my sons were able to pace me, with Logan joining me at my last Western States 100 finish in 2014 and Carson running with me at the Hardrock 100 in 2016.

And so it was with great excitement that my youngest son Tully joined me for 34 miles at the Bighorn Trail 100 Mile this past June. It was a hot day, and the going was tough, but we soldiered through and along the way, I enjoyed deeply meaningful time with Tully. It was a gift I will cherish forever, and that was certainly the highlight of my 2021 year in running.

AJW and Tully Jones-Wilkins - 2021 Bighorn Trail 100 Mile

AJW (right) and and his son Tully after the 2021 Bighorn Trail 100 Mile. Photo: Shelly Jones-Wilkins

Columnist Liza Howard’s Favorite Memory

One of my happiest memories from 2021 is of Louis Johnson running the Small’s Side Yard Sub-Ultra at the Band of Runners trail running camp, held this past November. The nonprofit Band of Runners sponsors a free three-day trail running camp for military veterans and surviving family members in the Texas Hill Country.

On the final night of the camp, we do our version of a backyard ultramarathon that begins with one-mile, 20-minute loops. In order to get to bed eventually, we roll dice after the first few loops to determine how much less time runners will have on each subsequent loop. By the end, all the campers and running mentors are cheering and whooping and laughing.

I didn’t think it could get much more fun until Louis ran this year. He was all-in from the get-go. He gave folks high-fives and laughed loudly as we described the rules of the ridiculous event. He was still laughing and high-fiving people when he finished the first loop … and the second loop, and the third loop. He was a joy to watch. In fact, it was as if he embodied the joyfulness of running.

At one point, he yelled, “I love this!” I felt like my heart grew three sizes. I remembered feeling just that way about running. And I felt very grateful to be part of a community that loves to share that kind of joy with service members and their families.

Louis Johnson - 2021 Band of Runners trail camp

Louis Johnson at the 2021 Band of Runners trail running camp in Texas. Photo: Will Harrison

Call for Comments

  • What were your favorite iRunFar articles this year and why?
  • Did anything else cross the pages of iRunFar that you really enjoyed?
  • Can you share a personal best, a moment, an adventure, or an experience from either running or life that you’re taking positively away from 2021?
Meghan Hicks

Meghan Hicks is the Editor-in-Chief of iRunFar. She’s been running since she was 13 years old, and writing and editing about the sport for around 15 years. She served as iRunFar’s Managing Editor from 2013 through mid-2023, when she stepped into the role of Editor-in-Chief. Aside from iRunFar, Meghan has worked in communications and education in several of America’s national parks, was a contributing editor for Trail Runner magazine, and served as a columnist at Marathon & Beyond. She’s the co-author of Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running with Bryon Powell. She won the 2013 Marathon des Sables, finished on the podium of the Hardrock 100 Mile in 2021, and has previously set fastest known times on the Nolan’s 14 mountain running route in 2016 and 2020. Based part-time in Moab, Utah and Silverton, Colorado, Meghan also enjoys reading, biking, backpacking, and watching sunsets.