DeWayne Satterfield: An Ultrarunning Legend

Dewayne Satterfield
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When he stands at the starting line for the 2014 StumpJump 50k, DeWayne Satterfield will be smiling and chatting with everyone around him, whether they're friends he’s made over a lifetime of running or people who simply want to say “Hi” to him because they’ve heard the stories.

DeWayne is a legend, and not as the joke goes, "in his own mind alone." His Ultra signup page lists him as 50 years old with a 93.9% ranking. If you scroll through his results, you’ll see plenty of first place finishes in a variety of distances, from 6 miles to 500 kilometers. He’s done plenty of 5Ks, too, and his PR for this distance is a 15:52, so don’t go thinking he’s just a long distance guy. You’ll also see that DeWayne has done virtually every race worth mentioning, especially the classics in the southeast, of which he's usually completed several times each. These races range from 12 to 28 hours long and include famous courses like Strolling Jim, Promised Land, Mountain Mist, Loops of the Barkley, Pinhoti and Arkansas Traveler 100's, as well as the Volunteer State 500K, and even Western States 100 back in 1994.

DeWayne Satterfield

He’s also done StumpJump before, so he’ll be taking part in a course and race that he's more than familiar with--he won it in 2003--and terrain somewhat similar to the trails where he currently lives and runs in Huntsville, Alabama. He may also be thinking about the event that people seem to always want to compare with StumpJump--the Mountain Mist 50k , (a race that DeWayne has won an unprecedented 9 times). He’s also finished it all 20 times that it's been run, and he's never finished lower than 7th place. Impressive stats that certainly contribute his legendary status.

The Mountain Mist 50K
The Mountain Mist 50K Shannon McGee

Will he think about Mountain Mist 50K as he runs? It might be hard not to. StumpJump starts with a short road section and then goes to dirt “road”--Mountain Mist does this in reverse. And dirt roads seem to suit DeWayne. After all, he got his start with running and his love for endurance as a child growing up with his grandparents in the rural farming community of Sand Mountain, Alabama. He ran everywhere without thinking of it as running, and he did most of it barefooted because there wasn’t any money for shoes. “We were ‘Paleo’ before it was cool,” he says. The majority of their food came from the land as well, from their free-range chickens and cows, to the seasonal vegetables from the garden. At that time it wasn't because of health, but because of cost. “It seems funny to look back on it now,” he says. “I thought we were ‘poor,’ but now I know better.”

DeWayne Satterfield

DeWayne developed an early taste for competition. He used to love the challenge of trying to outlast all the other workers in the nearby fields. And at school, he was the high school basketball team captain as well as the designated 'miler' for his school's small track team (although he dismisses these early accomplishments by noting his graduating class only consisted of 65 people). Around this time, he also ran a few 10Ks and even a sprint triathlon in the early 80s, but really didn’t run again until his last year of college when he joined a roommate who decided to lose some weight by 'jogging'. DeWayne joined him for a few runs and then decided to enter a 20K road race in Huntsville in 1987.

The rest is they say. He was hooked, and he began concentrating on road racing in all events up to the marathon distance. A few years later, in 1990, his friend Dink Taylor talked him into trying a 50 mile road race in Birmingham. He thought it was crazy and told Dink as much, but DeWayne entered anyway and ran a 6:36--which translates to a super respectable, in fact impressive, time. Ultrasignup doesn’t go back far enough to list how DeWayne finished overall, but he soon added Strolling Jim and a few other road ultras, before doing Western States in 1994 and falling in love with trails. The next year Dink started the Mountain Mist 50K Trail Race, and DeWayne quickly shifted 80% of his running to trails.

DeWayne became an accomplished road runner and a great trail runner - and great doesn’t just mean he won things or set course records (although he certainly did both) - it means most runners in the Southeast, especially those who have been around for a while, have a story about him. Examples of these stories might be: he ran Mountain Mist after suffering a knee injury in a car accident just weeks before the event; he ran the Recover from the Holidays 50k wearing a dress shirt and tie because he was “taking care of business”; and in the 80's he sported the most amazing mullet you've ever seen. He’s also run Strolling Jim in under 5 hours and holds the course record for The Volunteer State 500K Road Race, “an epic adventure that will rock your world.”

Dewayne Satterfield

So, will this great runner be thinking about winning StumpJump? DeWayne says he’s coming back this year, not to win "considering how much I have slowed," but to enjoy a run in an area he loves. That will no doubt be what he tells himself in the days leading up to the race in October, and maybe even as he stands on the line, but once he gets running, who knows what he’ll think? The mind of an ultra-runner is a funny and scary place. And Dewayne’s is certainly both. In his “real life”, he does mathematical programming for the defense industry (most often real-time programming... "which just means I have to make the software run really fast”). He acknowledges how this type of problem solving is sort of like ultra-running, in that they both require a "weird brain" capable of efficiency and discipline and a willingness to endure discomfort.

Ultimately, this willingness to endure discomfort comes back to a love of competition, a love DeWayne has fostered since running the mile in high school, where he both loved and hated the thrill and pain of racing. His love for competition carried him to the traditional road racing scene as well as to the ultra scene, where he admits it was, "nice to win," but also acknowledges that "competing is certainly about more than just winning." DeWayne is the first to admit he’s had better races and experiences when he didn’t win. The challenge of “pushing myself and knowing when I have had a 'bad' race or a 'good' race no matter what the clock or the finish position says” is what matters. This philosophy is reflected in a story he tells about “trying” to run fast at the Starr Mountain 50k in 2003: “I bonked, got overheated, got sick, tried to talk myself into quitting...then I thought why not enjoy the course and the scenery.” He saw the race director out on the course a few minutes later and she asked how he was doing. Dewayne replied, "Since I gave up hope, I feel a lot better!" His comment was most certainly delivered with levity and probably even a laugh.

His ease, as well as his way of taking charge of his suffering and transforming it into something else is a necessary trait for a runner, especially one who has a knack for creating memorable running moments. One such moment was at a race in Mississippi in the early 2000's. It had rained all night and the normally minimal to non-existent water crossings had become raging creeks. Everyone’s shoes became so filled with sand it was nearly impossible to run. Only Dewayne threw his shoes off as he came through the end of the penultimate lap. He stunned the spectators and his fellow runners by completing the last twelve miles barefooted, and winning the race. And he did so with a huge smile.

DeWayne Satterfield

DeWayne says he pulls energy from the trees and foliage on the trails, where his “mind and soul are at ease.” StumpJump’s steep gorges, challenging climbs, and rocky sections may challenge this sense of ease, but there are trees and foliage aplenty to help him along the beautiful, challenging, and runnable course . He says the sense of peace he experiences is ultimately about a connection to childhood, faith, and nature. “Running, to me, transcends all that is; it calms my soul, I find answers to hard questions, I feel close to God. But it is a challenging journey--not all sunshine and roses. There is a price to pay,” he adds, “both physical and mental, and having a close knit family, I struggle with the selfish aspects of running long distances.”

His oldest daughter is now in college and his youngest in high school, so he’s had many years to learn how to balance the demands of family, work, a need to run. As the Vice President of Communications and the Adopt-A-Trail coordinator for the Huntsville Track Club, an amazing running organization in a city of engaged runners, DeWayne has plenty of opportunities to give back.

When he runs StumpJump in October, he could do any number of things: he may make new friends, perpetuate a new legend, zone out and create a poem in his head, suffer or give up hope, set a new course record, or think about the Mountain Mist course, but most certainly, he will be smiling.

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