I can’t remember my first run, but I’m sure I was barefoot, in the grass and the run was untimed. In elementary school I do recall other kids complaining about mandatory runs in gym class, while I relished the chance to let my legs fly across the ruddy schoolyard. I also remember running through the backwoods with my dog Slider and to my friend JK’s house which connected to my house via an untamed snowmobile trail.

As a freshman in High School I joined the cross-country team for two reasons: one, to get in shape for my favorite sport, basketball, and two, to get acquainted with a cutie on the ladies team. Soon though, I was hooked on running for other reasons, eventually competing for Connecticut College under Coach Jim Butler.

After college I ran sporadically while pursuing other things – such as a career in photography. In 2009, a photography assignment to document Racing The Planet’s 4Desert Series, lead me back to my off-road running roots. I photographed four, 250KM, seven-day, self-supported stage races in the the Atacama Desert in Chile, the Sahara Desert in Egypt, the Gobi Desert in China and Antarctica, and started to get the “itch” to run again.

In 2010, I entered Racing The Planet’s seven day self-supported stage race in the Australian outback. Unfortunately, at the same time, my dear cousin Ulla Lerse was diagnosed with lung cancer. In that spirit, I dedicated my first ultramarathon (Racing The Planet, Australia, 2010) to her and used the occasion of the run to raise money for a charity of Ulla’s choice – the Stephen E. Banner Fund for Lung Cancer Research.

Ulla was an inexhaustible source of inspiration. I would not have finished my first ultramarathon if not for the never quit attitude she inspired in me. In spite of the ravages of lung cancer, Ulla never stopped living and I haven’t stopped running.

Ulla Lerse and her long-time friend Jack Wolfe, New Milford, CT.