Ray McNutt minces no words in describing himself at the time he moved to Colorado from Austin, Texas about 17 years ago. He was “an out-of-shape Texan” with more than 200 pounds on his 5-foot, 11-inch frame. “My friends were like, ‘You might want to start exercising a little bit," he says.
Indeed, inspired by Colorado’s majestic mountains, McNutt, 43, soon fell in love with hiking. He racked up ascents on 28 of Colorado’s more than 50 fourteeners (peaks of 14,000 feet or higher) and regularly hiked mountains around the Aspen area, which helped him get in better shape.
But McNutt could have never predicted that one day he would be running up some of those very same peaks. After all, he really didn’t like the sport all that much – he’d trained for and finished a marathon in Oregon, but “didn’t do very well, and after that I didn’t run anymore,” he says.
The turning point came about three years ago, with some nudging from his wife, Lexi, herself an accomplished runner, that a coach just might be the catalyst for McNutt to start hitting his stride. So McNutt, admittedly grudgingly, agreed to give Lexi’s coach, Megan Lund-Lizotte, a try.
It didn’t take long before McNutt was “absolutely hooked." She started sending me bi-weekly schedules and I couldn’t wait to run. I would sometimes complain about how difficult some of the runs were, but I always completed them.”
Since then, Lund-Lizotte has moved to La Jolla, Calif., but McNutt continues as a dedicated disciple in Aspen. His hard work has paid off, with top-five- or 10-percent finishes in almost all of the approximately 20 races he’s participated in, including two second-place finishes in trail half marathons.
While that recognition is nice, McNutt says the real reward from trail running comes at a more internal level. “I just love the sounds, the sights, the smells out there. I’m not religious at all, but being out there and being one with nature, it’s almost like religion. It’s just so beautiful and so relaxing,” he says.
On race day, however, McNutt’s competitive streak can be stoked – especially if he senses that younger runners might be underestimating him. “I wouldn’t say I’m cocky, but at the starting line, you’ll see some of these kids jumping up and down, stoked and kind of yapping a little bit,” says McNutt. “I just can’t wait to pass those kids later on the trail. I love [saying], ‘On your left!’”
Still, McNutt knows his limits. Though he’s run longer distances before, he says the half marathon is currently his ideal distance because he “can push it and run really hard and know it’s going to be over in less than two hours.” However, since Lexi is a long-distance trail runner, he’s still “intrigued” about the possibility of tackling a trail marathon or even ultra in the not-too-distant future.
Still running as often as possible, McNutt switched his role from runner to organizer for the Aspen TNT (Town-N-Trail) 10K, the race he and Lexi started last year as a way to raise funds for the Colorado/Wyoming chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society (in 2011, Lexi was diagnosed with the disease, which affects the nervous system). Last year, the race raised more than $32,000; this year, it was on track to bring in more than $60,000, McNutt says.
The race highlights the many reasons McNutt loves living in Aspen: its friendly, down-home feel, abundant outdoor beauty, and strong running community through which he and Lexi have developed so many deep friendships.