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Catra Corbett: Reborn to Run

Having run over 250 ultramarathons and 100 ultramarathons of 100 miles or more, Catra Corbett knows how to persevere when others want to give up. Now 24 years sober from a methamphetamine addiction, the 53-year-old vegan has inspired countless runners to hit the trail and leave their personal troubles behind. In her new book, Reborn on the Run: My Journey from Addiction to Ultramarathons, Corbett details her long and winding road from her battle with drugs to becoming an elite endurance athlete.

In your book you detail your meth addiction. At what moment did you realize that things had to change?
I came clean at a time where I didn’t know what I was going to do or how I was going to do it. My new life began when I was put in jail; that was a pretty scary thing. I had never gotten in trouble for stuff in my entire life, so this was a really terrifying experience, especially to be in trouble for selling meth of all things! The hardest part was not knowing how much time I was going to have to spend in jail or if my life was essentially over. Fortunately, the court system sent me through drug diversion, and as a result, I was able to give myself a chance at a new life.

While you were in the process of starting your new life, were there people in your life you knew you would have to move on from?
Oh, no question. My boyfriend I was with at the time, I knew that if I was serious about moving on I’d have to get out of that relationship. I also had to sever ties with all my friends and really everyone I was associating with at the time of my arrest. All of them were doing drugs, and it would’ve been impossible to get clean if these people were playing any role in my life.

Once you moved away from the bad influences, what inspired you to make running such a critical aspect of your life?
I didn’t actually start running until two years after I was clean and sober. Before that, I was working out in a gym and walking my dog along a three or four-mile route everyday. I said to myself, “I walk the three, four-mile route everyday, I’m going to try running it.” After I tried running that route, it felt really good, I didn’t die, and I ran pretty fast, so I decided to keep at it.

How did you get into competitive races?
About a week and a half after I started running, I found a flyer outside a Barnes and Noble for a 10k race a few weeks down the road, so I filled out the app and decided to run it.

Do you credit running with why you’re still clean and sober 24 years later?
I have no doubt that if I didn’t run, I probably wouldn’t have stayed clean. It’s been such a powerful influence on my life, and I definitely feel as though running saved my life. I have the power to go out to a trail, cry if I need to, and just keep running.

How did you progress from running a 10k to eventually running marathons and ultramarathons?
I only ran one 10k before I ran my first marathon. I actually found a flyer right after I finished the 10k for the San Francisco Marathon, and so I immediately knew that the longer distances were appealing to me. I had no clue how to train for a marathon at the time, so I bought a book on how to train for your first marathon. I skipped to the part that spoke about how far you should be running three months before and started from there.

What was going through your head during your first marathon having never run such a long race before?
About halfway through, I was actually thinking about when I was going to run my next marathon (laughs). Running it, I was really just thinking how cool the experience was. I was thinking about the Boston Marathon, and seeing it on TV and how cool it was to be in one. To me, people running marathons were gods and goddesses.

You’ve seen your share of marathons and ultramarathons. What has been the high point of your career to this point?
I’d say when I set the speed record on the John Muir trail, for the out and back, I did what was called the yo-yo. It’s 212 miles long from Yosemite to the top of Mount Whitney, so I did that stretch and then turned around and went back. You have a backpack and carry your stuff with you, and I did that in 12 days, 4 hours and 57 minutes. Round trip, that was 424 miles long, and I was by myself a majority of it. A friend of mine went with me for about 200 miles, but the rest was entirely solo. It was really hard, I had terrible blisters, but all in all in what really important for me because it told me I could do anything.

In your book, you speak about running long distances with your dog. How did that aspect of your running come about?
Actually, I only got him about six years ago. He was super timid, and I didn’t force him to run—he wanted to. One day, I took him to the trail head and he followed along. We initially did smaller distances and worked our way up the same way you would train a human. Now that he’s 12, he won’t run the ultras with me, and we usually stick to about 20 miles.

You mainly run on trails in rural areas. Have you had any dangerous encounters with wildlife?Fortunately, mountain lions, bears and all that leave me alone. I always carry pepper spray and a knife with me as a precaution, but I always feel pretty safe out there.

What advice would you give to someone coming out of addiction and unsure of what happens next?
The most important thing is finding a way to channel your energy. When you’re high, you see the world almost with blinders on. It doesn’t have to be running, but you definitely need to find something that lets you occupy yourself and motivate yourself away from your addiction.

Photographs courtesy of  Catra Corbett

Reborn on the Run: My Journey from Addiction to Ultramarathons (Skyhorse Publishing) is available at Amazon.com 

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