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The Owl Run 100s: Pete Ripmaster, Owls, and 100-Mile Runs

Pete Ripmaster is on a mission to run 100 miles in each of the 50 states while fundraising for an unlikely cause.

By on April 17, 2024 | Comments

Running for a cause is nothing new in the sport, but Pete Ripmaster of North Carolina has dedicated much of his life to using running as a fundraising tool to help others, and his new venture is definitely out of the ordinary. After a life-changing encounter with a snowy owl during a low point while racing the 2014 Iditarod Trail Invitational 350 Mile (ITI 350) in Alaska, Ripmaster decided to start his Owl Run 100s project.

He aims to run a 100-mile distance in each state while fundraising for the Owl Research Institute. Most recently, on April 13, 2024, he ran a “homemade” 100-mile run in Malvern, Iowa, his 28th state, and he’s raised more than $37,000 in the process.

Ripmaster is no stranger to ultrarunning, having completed events such as Leadville 100 Mile, Tahoe 200 Mile, and the Arrowhead Ultra 135 Mile. He’s also won the Iditarod Trail Invitational 1,000 Mile, a foot race across the interior of Alaska in the depths of the Alaskan winter. Ripmaster may be best known for completing some of the most difficult races out there and fundraising for various causes through his running, but he’s most excited to talk about the running community and how it’s impacted his life.

Pete Ripmaster - posing with owl art

Pete Ripmaster uses his Owl Run 100s project to fundraise for the Owl Research Institute. All photos courtesy of Pete Ripmaster.

An Owl Encounter on the Iditarod Trail Invitational

Owls hadn’t been a focus of Ripmaster’s life before his time on the ITI 350 in 2014. Participants have the option of racing on foot, by bike, or with skis. There are also two distances the shorter 350-mile version from Knik to McGrath, and the 1,000-mile option from Knik to Nome. Most years, it’s held entirely on snow. It was Ripmaster’s first year doing the race and things didn’t go as planned. By day two of the journey, he had wrecked the entire bottoms of his feet and, due to a navigation error, found himself completely alone on the trail and in last place.

In a moment when he was beating himself up and feeling all-around awful, he had an encounter on the trail that changed not only the trajectory of his race but his entire life.

When describing the experience, he says, “Next thing you know, a snowy owl flies out of nowhere, lands on top of the tree right next to me, and just stares down at me.” He continues on to say that the experience felt like much more than a lone man staring at a snowy owl. “As a very spiritual person, I felt there was some connection. My original thought was that I had lost both my parents and I was like, is this my parent coming to check on me? It just felt so powerful, and like it was something bigger than what it was.”

This experience changed Ripmaster’s entire outlook on the race, and he went from being in last place and dejected to finishing the race that year.

After completing the 350-mile version of the race four years in a row, from 2014 to 2017, he moved up in distance to the full route in 2018. He ended up winning the 1,000-mile distance in 26 days, 13 hours, and 44 minutes.

Pete Ripmaster dragging sled in Iditarod Trail Invitational

Pete Ripmaster dragging a sled across the interior of Alaska.

Fundraising and New Challenges

Upon returning home after the 1,000-mile race, Ripmaster started brainstorming new challenges for himself. By this time, he had already run a marathon in every state and raised $62,000 for breast cancer research in his mom’s name, but he wanted to do even more.

Nearly 50 years of age, Ripmaster says, “I was like, well I’m not 80 yet. I still have some good years of endurance in front of me, what’s my next project?” With marathons in every state done, he started researching how many people had run a 100-mile race in each state and came up with nothing. Ripmaster explained his thought process when deciding on his next challenge: “I was like, I think I could do that. I think I have it in me to do that.”

He then started looking into the Owl Research Institute. After supporting them through donations on his own, he decided to do something bigger by including them in his mission to run a 100 miler in every state. He decided he would aim to raise $50,000 for the Owl Research Institute through his efforts and started his Owl Run 100s project. When asked why he didn’t aim for a traditional ultramarathon in each state instead of a 100 miler, Ripmaster acts like that had never even crossed his mind. All or nothing seems to be his mindset, and that mindset is making a difference in the lives of people and animals.

Pete Ripmaster - face during Iditarod Trail Invitational

An encounter with a Snowy Owl on the Iditarod Trail Invitational 350 set Ripmaster’s life on a new trajectory.

Owl Run 100s

The Owl Run 100s project officially took flight in 2019, and on April 13, 2024, Ripmaster completed his 28th 100 miler of the project in Iowa. He has raised more than $37,000 to date.

The Iowa event was one of his “homemade” events, where he creates a route and runs it outside of any sanctioned event. Ripmaster believes that an important part of this self-made challenge is the support of the running community and the ability to spotlight it — especially the trail running and ultrarunning community.

“​​As I get closer to finishing this project, the cool thing is that the running community is always supportive. It’s a great community to be a part of, but when you can excite other people who aren’t even currently a part of the community to acknowledge the community and become aware of things like ultrarunning, it helps grow the sport. It helps get more people involved, and you know, it needs that. It may seem like a big community, but comparing it to other sports, it’s not. It is niche and it is tiny.”

Ripmaster isn’t choosing easy routes for these 100-mile runs. He’s raced events such as the Leadville 100 Mile, West Virginia Rim to River 100 Mile, and the Rocky Racoon 100 Mile as part of the project. Ripmaster has also completed a 100-mile run on a track, had a swarm of horseflies bite him hundreds of times at one of his aid stations, and run a two-mile out-and-back course 50 times.

Pete Ripmaster running 100-mile events

Ripmaster is using a combination of sanctioned and “homemade” 100-mile events to run 100 miles in every state.

It’s not always pretty, and it’s never easy, but Ripmaster is committed to raising money for owls and taking full advantage of the healthy years he has left. Ripmaster hopes to finish the Owl Run 100s in the next four or five years by completing five or more 100-mile runs each year.

If you want to be a part of or follow Ripmaster’s incredible journey, check out his website and cheer him on from afar, or maybe even in person in a state near you. His next stop is the Vermont 100 Mile in July.

Call for Comments

  • Have you ever undertaken a big self-created running challenge?
  • Do you try to use your running to support good causes?
Amber Nelson

Amber Nelson is a writer, trail and obstacle course runner, and lover of travel and new experiences. She’s been writing about all things health and fitness for about three years and especially loves writing about about anything running related. Running changed Amber’s life when she stumbled into it after a 100 pound weight loss. In her free time you can find her planning upcoming travel, listening to an audio book while running in the foothills of Boise, Idaho, or slowly chipping away at her PhD in social psychology.