Defining Success


I won my first ultra. It was the Dizzy 50s 50K in Arkansas. I was out of shape … like really out of shape, but I was young (I think 22?), naive, and still stuck in a college racing mentality of “run hard no matter what.” At the time, I was working at this tiny running store. The owners, a triathlete couple, were absolute assholes. Like, completely. They told me I was too fat to win an ultra, so I had to run as hard as I could to prove them wrong. I think they thought I was lying when I told them how race day went. While I was proud of myself for finishing, the feeling I got when I saw their disbelieving faces felt, somehow, more important.

Later, when I moved to Colorado and really started training, I decided I had to be sponsored. To be an “elite” runner meant I had to run for an outdoor company and that I had to run certain races that meant “something” in the ultra running world. After a race in 2011, my day came: The North Face called and before I knew it, I was signed onto their national team. It was a dream actualized. I’d proven something I felt mattered.

Then there were A-list races and B-list races and C-list races and then a whole slew of races that didn’t make the top-tier cut, that, basically, didn’t matter. According to someone. There were places where you trained and raced (basically out West). … Living at altitude suddenly became an important component of success. I felt to be a good ultra runner, to mean anything in the sport, I had to do X, Y and Z. But I couldn’t ever quite get myself to do Y and Z. I could never commit the time. I could never commit the energy. I could never commit all of myself. And yet, I kept chasing someone else’s version of success, I kept chasing the “you gotta prove it to them” bullshit.

Then, I got adrenal fatigue. And that’s a whole separate story that doesn’t exactly fit in here. But I didn’t race for a long time. In fact, I’ve only raced once since …. and it was maybe an F or G race, so you have probably never heard of it.

But man, I ran a good race that day. I ran one of the best races in probably five years that day. There wasn’t much competition. There was no one keeping tabs on my performance. It was just a “trail sister” trip. My best friend, Blair Speed, and I decided to drive up to this 50K a couple hours from her home in Bozeman and go for a run in the woods.

I changed my perspective of success that day. I realized that I don’t have to run for anyone or in any particular brand of clothing to be a good runner, to be successful. I learned that to be successful doesn’t even have to mean winning (even though to tell you the truth, I sure do like when I win and I’ll push hard to win when I race because I want to see what I can do). But, to be successful also means to live the lifestyle I love, to let running be as organically involved in my everyday as I can possibly let it be and that, ultimately, to simply be a runner, is to be successful. Every single day I go outside and run, I see success. And it has nothing to do with proving anything. It just has to do with that repetitive left, right movement and all the incredible (and ordinary) places I get so see.

And, so, I say to you: Let your success be yours and yours alone and don’t ever let anyone ever set those terms for you. 

Ashley Hunter Arnold

Ashley Hunter Arnold

Ashley Hunter Arnold is a writer and filmmaker currently living and running in Asheville, NC. Her favorite foods are kale and cake with lots of icing. You can connect with her on Instagram @ashleyharnold.

Trail Sisters is committed to creating opportunity and participation for women in trail running. Our content is always free to read. Consider a monthly contribution on Patreon to support Trail Sisters so we can continue to inspire, educate and empower others!


2 thoughts on “Defining Success”

  1. "Let your success be yours and yours alone and don’t ever let anyone ever set those terms for you." Thanks Ashley! Powerful words for me today.

    • @Trailmomma, thank you! Indeed, it is sometimes easy to get swept away in the "other" voices and not our own. I’m happy to hear that this was empowering for you today! <3

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