When Beth Garrison, 51, crossed the finish line of the St. Jude Half Marathon in 2007, she knew she was hooked. Two years later, she completed her first full marathon, and a year after that, her first ultra. By October 2016, she had her eyes set even higher.  

Spanning the Ouachita National Forest with over 12,000 cumulative feet of elevation, the Arkansas Traveller 100 certainly isn’t for the faint of heart. “I had the highest of highs and the lowest of lows during that race,” Beth says. 

In the midst of exhaustion, she recalled one moment that made it all worth it. Nearing a mountaintop in the Ozarks in the dead of night, Beth’s pacer had her stop for a second, turn off her headlamp, and just look up. 

“It was the most stars I’ve ever seen,” she says. “It was just gorgeous. And you’re like, okay, I’m just this small little speck in this world. It kind of put things into perspective.”

The end goal was to finish under 30 hours, but Beth exceeded that by finishing in just over 27. “It’s the first race that I ever just cried at the end of,” she says. “It was relief….and it was proving to myself that I was strong enough. You know, if I could accomplish this, there’s not much I can’t do.”

With 28 marathons and 18 ultra-races under her belt today, Beth isn’t ready to quit anytime soon. The mother of three says she will continue to run until she physically can’t anymore. 

The passion didn’t come right away, however. “It kind of snuck up on me,” she recalls. Shortly after joining the Memphis Women Run Walk program back in 2007, a friend suggested that they shoot for the St. Jude Half Marathon. Beth’s reply was simply, ‘Why not?’ And the rest is history. 

“I think the first time that it ever struck me is when someone called me an athlete….that’s not how I viewed myself,” she says. “I’m just this girl that goes out and runs a little bit.”

When she isn’t training for the next big race, Beth can be found at BMG UT Specialty Clinic, where she is a registered nurse in the surgical oncology unit. There’s a dark side to the job, she says, but running provides the perfect stress relief.

Avoiding Injuries With Rest, Recovery & Real Food

In her nearly 14 years of running, Beth says she’s never had a problem with injuries. She defines herself as one of those rare creatures in the sport, but all credit goes to prioritizing rest days and listening to her body.

“I try to do yoga at least twice a week,” she adds. “It’s just relaxing, and I think it strengthens those muscles [which] keep me from getting injured.”

Nutrition also plays a critical role in recovery. On longer runs, Beth takes an energy gel, packed full of amino acids and electrolytes, to maintain hydration and promote muscle repair. As for her go-to post-race meal: “There’s nothing better than a cheeseburger and a draft beer.”

That said, Beth works hard to maintain a healthy diet overall while not denying herself in the process.

It’s “Relentless Forward Progress”

There’s an old saying that your mind will quit a thousand times before your body ever will. And for a runner, mental fatigue can be the devil. 

According to Beth, good training is key. Every week, she carves out time to coach intermediate runners in the same program that kick-started her career all those years ago. The trick is to establish base miles and focus on a slow buildup, she says. 

“One of the things I always tell my people—it’s relentless forward progress…Sometimes, it’s just about making yourself put one foot in front of the other and trying to stay out of the deep, dark places that your mind wants to go.”

Looking Ahead

Beth has her sights set on the Tunnel Hill 50-miler on November 13 in Vienna, Illinois. And after that, there’s sure to be another 100-miler in her future.

“I see these videos…these articles of men and women in their 90s running, and I’m like, ‘Yes, I want that to be me,’” she says. “I found out it’s just a big part of who I am. You know, it’s not all of me. But I would totally miss this if I didn’t have it.”

By Colleen May

Photo by Tindall Stephens