When Nancyanne and Clay Hickman first met at a financial service company in 2006, they lived fairly sedentary lives. “I was sitting at a desk all day, every day,” Nancyanne says. “When I started running after college for exercise, I was still struggling to just get past 30 minutes without walking.” When they started dating later that year, running became their weekly date (they’d stop for ice cream afterward). Today, 10 years into their marriage, the couple has run over 30 races of marathon-length (26.2 miles) or longer.

“Early on in our relationship, we decided to sign up for just one full marathon to see how it would go. We said that if we were only going to do one, let’s make it a pretty one, so we signed up for the Big Sur marathon in 2008,” Nancyanne says. “It was gorgeous, and after we finished we said, ‘Hey, that was cool. Maybe we can do this. Maybe we can finish faster.’”

Over time, they shifted from road races to trail runs and adventure runs—long distances on scenic paths like Zion National Park, the Wonderland Trail, Maroon Bells Four Pass Loop in Aspen, and more. “It’s like anything in life. You start small and you can’t envision where you’ll end up, but over time you build a community and expand your ability,” Clay says. “It’s not one big transformational moment but just one piece at a time. Over the years it makes a big difference.”

In 2011, they ran in both the Boston and New York Marathons, and three years ago she ran in South Oregon at the Pine to Palm 100-mile. They also visited Mont Blanc in Europe, traveling 106 miles over five days with a friend. Because they’ve seen so many beautiful courses, it’s hard to say exactly how many races they’ve done, but this year was a standout one.

On Sept. 13, Nancyanne and Clay traveled to Colorado for the Run Rabbit Run in Steamboat Springs, her second and his first 100-miler. “It’s a totally different mindset at that distance,” Clay says. “It’s different pacing, you are just looking forward to the next aid station every four to 10 miles. You have to be patient and mentally prepared.”

Nancyanne says her goal was to finish, and she crossed the line in a little under 36 hours. Clay came in under 28 hours. “When you run the 100 mile, you’re cussing at yourself, saying you’ll never do anything like this again,” Clay says. “It’s pretty painful, but after a few days you think, ‘Man, maybe I do want to do that again. Maybe it wasn’t that bad.’”

To train for long distance, the Hickmans take big runs together on Saturdays and Sundays, usually doing repeats of the three-mile loop at Shelby Forest or at Shelby Farms. They balance out their running with cross-training mostly at home a couple times a week. Nancyanne rock-climbs at MemphisRox three times a week and at High Point once a week. They don’t meal prep and have transitioned to a more plant-based diet over the past three years. “We could tell on the trail when we weren’t eating right,” Nancyanne says. Depending on their work and travel schedules, they’ll run between four and eight miles together before or after work. The couple doesn’t keep a log of their runs, aiming more for consistency over metrics.

“You have to enjoy it, otherwise you get burnt out. With certain training programs, you’ll feel like it’s work and be way less motivated,” Clay says.

A huge part of their routine is hitting the trails with friends they’ve made through Breakaway running, and their Labrador-Shepard-Pitt mix Scout. “When we saw him, we just knew,” Nancyanne says. “We’d been looking for a dog to run with us for a while by the time we got him in 2015. Now he’s four and can go 17 miles on the trail.”

Looking towards next year, the Hickmans hope to complete a few more 50K or 50-mile runs over the country: races in Mt. Rainer, Hawaii, and Colorado again. “The community in trail running is really the main reason we do it,” Clay says. “There are so many humble and supportive people.”

By India Nikotich

Photo by Tindall Stephens