Some people train for months before entering a marathon. Javier De Jesus didn’t want to wait that long. Once inspired, he jumped in.
“A friend of mine had trained for and completed the Chicago Marathon and I thought, I'd like to try that! I also wanted to accomplish a significant achievement before my 30th birthday and a road marathon seemed like just the thing at the time,” recalls De Jesus.
De Jesus trained for Nashville’s inaugural Country Music Marathon in 2000 and has been hooked on running ever since. He racked up road marathons before doing his first 50k trail race in 2008, a low-key race along the Bartram Trail in South Carolina. The first races delivered an emotional rollercoaster. A sense of accomplishment after crossing the finish line inspired him.
“I fell in love with the ultrarunning community and since then I've raced almost exclusively on trails,” says De Jesus. Every new event deepens his love for running in the woods. “The first [experience] is notable because you remember it more vividly and it tends to be the most rewarding. Experience may allow you to perform better in the future, but there's a nostalgic quality about the first time you take part in something that you will never feel again,” he says.
The switch from the road to trail running was easy. De Jesus embraced the varying terrain of trails from smooth and dusty to rocky and technical. De Jesus can be considered a race junkie, competing in roughly eight to ten ultradistance races per year.
“I don't tend to repeat races very often, but one that I have and that I plan to go back to again is the Chattanooga Stage Race,” says De Jesus.
The three-day 60-mile stage race includes long ascents on Raccoon Mountain, Lookout Mountain and Signal Mountain -- switchback trails and rolling hills, which made the race worthy of a repeat run for De Jesus.
In 2013 De Jesus earned a buckle at the Pinhoti 100-miler. De Jesus and a close friend also competed in the 120-mile TransRockies stage race Colorado. The race traversed across Colorado from Buena Vista to Beaver Creek.
“We would race in the mornings, from 14-miles on the shortest stage up to 23-miles on the longest stage,” says De Jesus.“Over the course of a week we dealt with altitude changes and climbing and descending several thousand feet. The views were stunning, but more importantly the connections we made and the new friends we met made it unforgettable.”
Running with a group of friends is essential for long trail runs. De Jesus’ go-to running group is the Yeti Runners Club. What separates this running club from several others in Atlanta is their emphasis on trail maintenance and solutions. Headed by Jason Green, the club has built more than 15 miles of trails and even hosts a “trail solutions” certification course.
“We log long trail miles while drinking obscene amounts of craft beer,” Green says of the group, whose motto is “taking trail running to a new low.”
The club hosts two major trail races per year- the Snakebite 50-miler/50k at Sweetwater Creek and the Yeti NIGHTmare, a night race at Sweetwater Creek.“I think what makes our races appealing is we put a big emphasis on post-race activities and create an atmosphere where participants can share stories, catch up with old friends and connect with new ones.”
De Jesus has made many friends in the trail running community. Most important, he credits running with introducing him to his wife Stacy.
First meeting when he worked at a running store, the pair crossed paths at local run groups for several years before dating and eventually marrying. The couple has a four-year old son who already enjoys hiking the trails.
“At times, running has to take a back seat,” De Jesus says about the challenges of balancing training and family life. “The good thing about running is that all it takes is a pair of running shoes and you can always zip out for a few miles when tight on time.”
De Jesus has been able to mix his love of trail running with his professional career. For five years, De Jesus also worked at the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society as the marketing manager for Atlanta’s popular Team in Training program.
“I enjoyed the best of both worlds, I got to turn people on to the world of endurance sports while doing it for a good cause.”
Today, De Jesus works for The Winship Cancer Institute at Emory University, where he develops initiatives to promote the Institute’s programs and activities. Prior to marketing, De Jesus worked at two Atlanta specialty running stores: Phidippides and Big Peach Running Company.
De Jesus still stocks up on gear at both stores. Phidippides is touted as the “world’s first specialty running store”, where Olympian Jeff Galloway opened the store at the cusp of the 1970s running boom.
Both of Phidippides locations host group runs weekly, where people from all walks of life meet to log a few miles at the end of the workday. Most of De Jesus’ weekday training is done on roads, purely for convenience. When he needs to hit the trails, his go-to local spot is Stone Mountain Park, where there are more than 15 miles of trails to explore.
The hour and a half drive to the North Georgia Mountains lends itself to more technical trails including sections of the Appalachian Trail. One of De Jesus’ favorite routes for strenuous climbs is the Benton McKaye Trail, a 50-mile trail that follows the western crest of the Appalachian Trail. It starts near Springer Mountain and runs through sections of the Chattahoochee National Forest. At Three Forks, the Benton McKaye Trail links up with the Duncan Ridge Trail, a 30-mile section with steep up and downs.
“I owe more to running that just my well-being or fitness. Through running I've made countless friends and it makes the perfect trifecta of body, mind and spirit,” says De Jesus. “There are many people out there that are helping to grow the ultradistance community and they are doing it modestly, just for the love of it.”