Kurt Decker can’t name a place where running doesn’t influence his daily existence.
“Running is my life, really. My love for it eventually led to my professional career and it has fully engulfed every other facet of my life,” says Decker. “In one way or another, my day to day life is shaped by running."
Decker started running in high school and ran his first marathon in 1994 at the Twin Cities Marathon. Today, his competitive resume includes over 20 marathons (including Boston, Chicago and New York) and over 40 ultra marathons.
His commitment to running has influenced his professional life as well. Now 43 years old and general manager of TC Running Company in Minneapolis, Decker has spent the last 19 years working with running specialty retailers to inspire people to experience the same pleasure he obtains from the sport.
“Running provides me with a source of income, but that's only a minor part of the benefits. More than that, it helps me with fitness, stress relief and being outside with my kids. Running is all encompassing,” says Decker.
Decker finds joy and solace in trail running especially. “I’ve been on trail runs where I was so singularly focused that I felt like I was running on clouds. That’s what makes trail running so special. It’s primal and very cool. You think about running in a different way,” says Decker.
With a 2:40 personal best marathon, Decker found his attention shifting from road races to trails. “As I got more into running, I heard about trails and wanted to check them out. Even as I raced on the roads, I trained on trails. If I ran 12 times per week, at least half of those workouts were on trails,” he says.
After friends encouraged him to enter a trail race in Northern Minnesota called the Half Voyageur (now called the Eugene Curnow Trail Marathon) he become enthralled with ultra-distance races.
Decker has competed in some of the most iconic ultra-distance races in the United States, including the Western States 100 and Leadville 100. “I did the Western States 100 race early in my life as a trail runner. It was the first race I ever entered at altitude,” he says. “It was something else! The hills just went on and on. I knew about the hills but 'knowing' and 'experiencing' the route are two completely different things.”
The first time at the Leadville 100, Decker paced a friend. Since then he’s completed the race several times. “ I was a lot more seasoned and experienced. When I went back as a competitor I didn't underestimate what I had in front of me,” says Decker. “I’ve been to Leadville at least 6 times and always learn something new on how to cope with things.”
Decker’s lifetime ultra bucket list includes the Hardrock 100 and the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB). He’s also attempted to run the Superior Hiking Trail from start to finish and may return for another attempt. “There are races that I still dream about doing like the Hardrock 100. The Superior Hiking Trail I find intimidating but the trail continues to draw me in. I can see myself racing less and doing more adventure runs. Maybe run the Hardrock course over 3-4 days with friends or run the rim-to-rim route of the Grand Canyon."
While ultra marathons feed his competitive spirit, local trails fuel his every day desire to explore. One of his favorite routes is a single track trail along the Mississippi River near the University of Minnesota. Theodore Wirth Park is also at the top of his favorite’s list. “I enjoy running along the Mississippi River Bottoms and at Lebanon Hills Regional Park,” he says. “If I have more time I will visit Afton State Park, Elm Creek Park and Murphy Hanrehan Park. There are so many trails that people don’t realize connect to one another. There’s a plethora of places to run in the Twin Cities.”
Decker runs outside through all four seasons, even during last winter’s Polar Vortex sub-zero temperatures. “I’ve had moments when I’m ready to be done with winter, but I enjoy running outside all winter,” he says. “There are some trails that you can run on all winter. They get so much use the snow gets packed down. It's a totally different experience with no leaves on the trees and snow surrounding the environment.”
A member of the Upper Midwest Trail Runners, Decker shares his passion with other enthusiasts in the community. “Trail running in Minneapolis is growing,” he says. “There's already an extremely dedicated core group of people who volunteer to put on our races and events in the area, and there’s a wonderful sense of camaraderie."