For Ali Edwards, the process of getting to the starting line at the 2013 Boston Marathon started much the same way her running career did as a child in Louisiana: with an invitation from her father. Unlike the invitation as a child to go on a gentle run together, this time he challenged her to qualify for Boston. And he promised her that if she did, he would do the same. Challenge accepted. Edwards not only qualified, but along the way she rekindled her passion for running and has become a serious contender in the southeastern ultra running scene as a result.
Edwards grew up in Louisiana first running local road 5ks and 10ks with her father before joining her high school cross country team. Her first true trail running experience once again came at the encouragement of her father, and she found herself dirty and humbled after tripping on a root and watching as her dad continued down the trail leaving her alone to brush off the dirt, get back up and persevere to the end by herself. Intentional or not, that was a fatherly lesson in hard knocks that Edwards has channeled into an impressive list of running accomplishments and results.
Not one who likes to have her week structured with a rigorous training schedule, Edwards prefers to run intuitively. Instead of being told when, where, how long and how hard to run, she lets her body and her mind guide her training regimen. “I prefer to have the choice between running and not running instead of being told to do so, and most of the time, given that choice, I choose to run.” As a nurse in surgical ICU she works 3 twelve-hour shifts which give her time and flexibility to schedule in long runs as needed and to travel, so that she’s not always running the same trails again and again.
She’s earned an impressive list of results over the past few years with 9 first place finishes in everything from 18 to 50 mile races. Even more impressive is that Edwards says one of her weaknesses is that she takes a while to get warmed up and that the shorter distance aren’t really her specialty.
Reading several books on ultra running inspired her to enter her first ultra. After finishing 2nd overall and 1st female in the 32-mile Autumn Equinox, Edwards was hooked. She loved being outdoors and on the trails. For her, the results came secondary to the time spent on the trails in the company of other supportive and like-minded runners in the ultra community.
The local trail running group BUTS (Birmingham Ultra Trail Society) has become Edwards' family away from family. She’s connected with a group of like-minded runners, she’s made some great friends, and she’s had the opportunity to pace for other group members at the Western States 100 and Wasatch Front 100. Both experiences have helped prepare her mentally and physically for her 100 later this fall.
In addition to making great friends and finding supporters, the BUTS group has created a local trail racing series, so she no longer has to travel great distances for ultra events (pun intended).
Edwards says, “It’s about the journey and being in the woods.” For her, this isn’t just lip service. Last year she completed a solo thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail and walked away with countless memories and experiences that she values more than any hardware earned on a race course. Even though at the end of her hike in Maine she told herself she’d never do anything like that again, she’s already dreaming about a possible thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail in California, Oregon, and Washington. And while she appreciates the beauty and solitude of southeastern single track trails, she loves taking trips out west to explore the high peaks and trails of the Rockies and Sierra Nevada mountain ranges.
Wherever Ali chooses to take her running talents next, she'll certainly do so with the constant support of her father and the trail running community. And though she has plenty of trips and falls and tough races to come, she'll always find a way to get back up and persevere across the finish line into a crowd of welcoming friends.