For her 50th birthday, Becky Bates gave herself a gift. With no running background, she signed up for a 50-mile trail race in Montana. “I thought I could run and compare miles to years in my life. Starting unprepared, I couldn’t walk for weeks, and didn’t run again for almost two years.” After an extended recovery, she kept going. Bates was curious if her first race was a fluke, or whether she could run that far again. In five years, the 56-year-old from Kimberley, B.C. has gone from zero running to winning ultras.
After placing second at her first 100-miler IMTUF, Bates won the lottery. She got into Hardrock 100 2017 and placed in the top five. Then, she went on to set the course record at the Elk Valley 50K and Finlayson Arm 100K as “recovery races.” In 2018 she won the masters division at CCC 101K–one of the toughest mountain races in the world. So how does she do it? Is it her background as a skier and climber? Her training? The fact that she loves running through the night? Or is it her approach to life and attitude on and off the trails?
“I’ve always been active and motivated by the outdoors and mountains. I’ve climbed since my mid-twenties. I believe my endurance and ability to keep pushing has come from mountaineering and backcountry skiing. Cross country mountain biking on alpine trails is my favourite way to adventure. I have never liked hiking, so long distance trail running has now added another way to move in the hills.”
Although her history of alpine exploration may help her dominate the mountain running scene, she still considers herself a rookie. Having so much fun at her first race, she decided to hire a coach and start training. “I didn’t have a running background. I didn’t know what a tempo, negative split, fartlek, or an interval was. I didn’t know any ultrarunners. I had no idea how other people trained and I felt pretty lame in comparison.”
Other than beer at the finish line, Bates feels inspired by the supportive trail and ultrarunning community. Making friends within the community and sharing the physical and mental aspects of ultrarunning. Much of her inspiration comes from strong Canadian female trail runners like Anne-Marie Madden, Alicia Woodside, Kim Magnus, Alissa, St. Laurent, Tara Berry, and Ellie Greenwood. “I’m so inspired by the younger athletes! And also the athletes my age!”
If you ask Bates about her running resume, she will quickly tell you about the accomplishments of others. Trail and ultrarunning is about the adventures, memories, and keeping it fun. “Every time I finish a race I get ‘the look’–like you finished this! No one puts money on me. I have even been given a team finisher prize because the race volunteers wouldn’t believe an old lady could finish! Yes we can.”
Bates has only been running for five years, and her resume is stacked. She has already raced over fifteen ultras. Whether she is dressing up as a rotten banana for a Halloween trail run, volunteering at events, pacing friends in their races, or adventuring in the mountains–she exemplifies what it means to be a trail and ultrarunner. Bates continues to prove that age means nothing. She is just getting started in the world of trail running. “I want to be able to keep running and playing hard into my next decade.”