The Dirtbag Runners’ Realization: Our ambassadors share their stories

Are you familiar with the story of how Dirtbag Runners began? If not, you’re in for a treat by reading the article Crista Tappan, DBR…

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Are you familiar with the story of how Dirtbag Runners began? If not, you’re in for a treat by reading the article Crista Tappan, DBR Founder, wrote for Trail Runner Magazine.

Hint: The story features two friends, a trip across the US and a vehicle to call home-base. It also features miles on foot, friendships, race crews, and what happens when societal norms are left behind. Dirtbag Runners was born. 

Six years later, the DBR name and team has grown dramatically with almost 72K followers, an ambassador team of over 500 like-minded dirtbags from around the world, and a voice that endeavours to make a difference. 

We asked the team when they realized they were a dirtbag runner, and compiled some of the answers below. Warning: content WILL encourage you to get out there and live the dirty life!

2021 Ambassador Lisa DeNardo

Lauren Salge, Allantown, New Jersey

I woke up in an 18-foot travel trailer in Truckee, California. I was living there for three months and spent almost every day alternating between the Tahoe rim trail and the PCT, sometimes connecting them both. Between the caked on dust on my ankles and my little trail dog, I knew I was indeed a dirtbag when jumping in a lake became my shower, sleeping under the stars became normal and helping a through hiker became second nature.

Chickpea Bilodeau, Farmington, Maine

I knew I was a Dirtbag Runner when I ran two trail races in the same weekend. When I got to the start corral of Race #1, I realized that women shaped like me were not just welcomed, but respected. During Race #2, I was fatigued enough to trip over absolutely nothing and ended up rolling down a brambly embankment. The guy ahead of me stopped, turned around, offered me a hand back up into the trail, admired my mud and blood, and continued on his way. He raised his beer to me later at the finish. I was a dirtbag for life!

Dylan Netter, Izmir, Turkey

Before I was a dirtbag runner, I had a different label: Danny Bandaid. My dad would say had ants in my pants. I’ve always been wired to go and move. I lived out of a van before it was cool. Ran ultras before they were a thing. And in the pelaton, was known as the guy with the weird socks who would cause suffering if I was feeling good that day.

Today, I prefer the mountains, could care less where I #2 and love to spend my days running with my dog Gezi. So I guess not much has changed. I have and always will be a dirtbag.

2021 Ambassador Kuwanna Dyer-Pietras

Mike Pratt, Salt Lake City, Utah

Three years ago I showed up to the start line of a trail half marathon after being pressured into it by a work friend. That friend didn’t show up that morning, so I ran it all alone.

Most people would think that this would be the point where I say I got hooked, but it was MISERABLE. I was out of shape, had never seriously trained on trails and didn’t even enjoy the small amount of running I was doing.

Then in 2020, I set a goal to run 1000 miles solely because it sounded like a nice number to hit. I started road running at 5am five times a week in January of 2020. When spring came I got back out on trails and realized that I was a total dirtbag.

In 2020 I ran the same trail race I had three years ago but this time I did the 55k distance. I logged just over 1800 miles, most of which ended up being on local trails. I’m now a true dirtbag runner through and through.

Daniela Auer, Kitzingen, Bavaria, Germany 

When I had to drop out of a trail race in Snowdonia due to a rolled ankle on a unusually hot summer day, I was caked in sweat and dirt and possibly sheep shit too. We were a group of maybe five runners who had dropped out at the same aid station, all dirty and smelly, wondering how we should get back to the start/finish line area. One guy decided to call his friend and ask him to pick us all up with his shiny new family van. The poor friend didn’t know what hit him when he found himself driving a bunch of smelly dirtbags around. After a while, he politely asked if he could open the window 

We had a lovely ride back, sharing stories about our trail adventures, consoling each other for our DNFs, eating sticky leftover food from our backpacks, and I felt like a true dirtbag runner right there.

2021 Ambassador Renee Butler

Dawn Desarmeau, Ontario, Canada

For me, there’s no specific time that I felt like I wasn’t a dirtbag runner. I’m a late bloomer and didn’t start running until I was 41. I started out on the roads but very quickly discovered trail running and I was hooked. I’m 100% a solo runner and for me being a dirtbag is fighting with your own damn self to go, be motivated and get shit done. The dirtbag spirit lives within our self, set it free and run wild my friends.

Corey Alexander, Arden, North Carolina

I was never a runner but had always been a long distance backpacker (backpackers also use the term dirtbag because of sleeping in a bag on the ground every night). Anyway, my brother had started running marathons which never interested me, but then he entered an ultra and asked me to crew and pace for him. I remember seeing everyone at 5am embarking into the dark unknown and immediately felt the adventurous side of me kick in. While I was waiting for him to arrive at mile 47, I was hearing all the runners say how gnarly the first 40 miles were and felt jealous that I didn’t get to see them.

I then jumped in and “ran” the last 27 miles with my brother and quickly realized that these were my people. Ultra runners are the same as backpackers except they do the entire distance in one day instead of a weekend. I loved the challenge and craziness of it all. I drove home and immediately entered the lottery for Georgia Death Race, and got in. I haven’t stopped since.

Anjelik Iastremskaia, Rethymno, Greece

I wish I knew… it was like being in a fog… one day I was saying that running is pointless and I that hated it, and the next thing I remember is running all the local mountains and signing up for ultra.

2021 Ambassador Amber Konikow

Greg Nercessian, Bowie, Maryland

I completed Ironman Lake Placid in 2013 and was super burned out during the whole process. It was a pretty rough year, but I hammered through, trained, and finished.

When I got home from Placid I simply ran more and swam/biked less… then I found the trail. The ease and quietness of it all was romantic… just me and my shoes (and a pocketful of uncrustables).

There were no splits to hit. There was no keeping up with the the newest carbon fiber bike. There was only the sound of my feet hitting the dirt in a rhythmic drumbeat fueled entirely by imagination and my desire to see more.

I was hooked. I was a dirtbag.

2021 Ambassador Greg Nercessian

Meg Eckert, Santa Fe, New Mexico

I can’t state the specific moment I knew I was a dirtbag runner. For me, it’s more of a feeling. It’s the constant pull of the wilderness making me wish I could close my day job and go stick my toes in a cool creek. It’s the feeling of freedom and strength after a run, climb up a mountain or exploring a new place. It’s laying in the dirt after tripping on a rock and watch the clouds go by, or stars light up the sky. For me, it’s a mindset and an experience, not something that is limited to a set time or place.

Marc C Jacksina, Charlotte, North Carolina

In 1984, the 14-year-old version of me read in Runners World about some 100 mile race through the Rockies and I felt confused and lied to. I mean wasn’t a marathon the farthest a human could run? I was also oddly struck by how awesome that sounded. I think it was there I became a dirtbag, but it took me a few more decades to fully realize it.

Kate Metcalf, San Jose, California

I don’t know that I’ve ever not been a Dirtbag Runner, given that my mom basically turned me and my brothers out of the house every summer day for us to run wild through the woods, barefoot and filthy and thriving. I came back to my roots after some time in the more stuffy world of academia and just slipped right back into the spot I’d always felt most comfortable – knotted hair, dirty legs, and all – at peace with the earth and at home in my body.

friendship, dirtbag runners, minimalism, trail running
DBR Editor Bobbi Sawchyn & BFF dirtbagging across the US

Be sure to follow our ambassador team to catch 2021’s dirtiest moments.

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