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Trail running after 50: doctor’s orders

After a serious health scare, Julie Rudd decided to hit the trails and live life as an ultra trail runner

Julie Rudd, 67, had always wanted to try trail running. After being diagnosed with ovarian cancer at 52, she knew she needed to start. Following surgery and endless treatments, she told her doctors about her trail running goals, and they agreed. Since then, Rudd has lived by the notion that “if there’s anything you want to do in life, you’d better get on and do it because you have no idea what’s around the corner.”

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Julie finishing Fat Dog 70 mile. Photo: Morag Crocker

Rudd not only fell in love with trail running, she also fell in love with the supportive community that came with it. She joined a trail running clinic (eventually becoming a volunteer pace leader) and entered her first race–5Peaks Mount Seymour 8K in North Vancouver. The race “was challenging but so fun. I realized how amazingly supportive and encouraging the trail running community is. It doesn’t matter if you’re slow.”

For her 60th birthday celebration, Rudd decided to run both a road marathon and the Iron Knee 24K on technical North Vancouver trails. Finding magic in both the community and the solace in the mountains and forest, she’s stuck to the trails ever since. “I discovered that it was way easier to recover from a trail race, and the terrain was way more fun.”

Julie at Iron Knee trail race. Photo: Alaia

At 61, Rudd was picked in the lottery for the notorious Knee Knacker 48K along North and West Vancouver’s gnarly Baden Powell Trail. “For every group training run I found myself dropped off the back and running solo. And it was that experience that I discovered my happy place. In the trees and running alone.”

Even in challenging years, it has been the beauty of the trails that helps keep her going. Rudd relapsed in 2007, leading to more chemo, genetic testing, and a mastectomy by 2017. Still, ultra trail running has been her rock (and roots), and made her come alive. She feels as though her “time on the trails is part of what keeps me on track on a path of wellness. It really is the best therapy to be out in the trees or up a mountain.”

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Julie at Iron Knee trail race on the Baden Powell trail. Photo: Salvador Miranda

“My longest race and the one that really feels full of vivid snapshot memories is Fat Dog 70 mile. I’d had a variety of challenges training for that one (genetic testing, leaky heart valve, etc.), and early in the race the route takes you on Heather Trail with the most gorgeous views. I was so overwhelmed with emotion at being lucky enough to tackle that race and be on that ridge, in the wildflowers, with the amazing vistas… really, it was very emotional.”

Rudd wishes she had discovered trail running years ago, yet lives her life now as a true trail runner. She loves training and running 50K distances and recovering with a local lager. She is inspired by the runners around her and by “how generous trail runners are with their time and effort in our community and how encouraging they are, regardless of distance or pace.”
Julie on the Heather Trail in Manning Park, BC
Trail running has been a constant reminder for Rudd of what it means to be alive. Rudd relapsed in 2007, resulting in a mastectomy by 2017. Rudd’s doctors agreed that trail running is beneficial for her physically and mentally. All of the doctors, especially “my oncologist and surgeon understand this is what keeps me mentally healthy and strong. They support that. They know that’s what I need to do.”
As a true trail runner, Rudd focuses on keeping it fun. This summer she is heading to Europe for the GlenCoe Trail Marathon in Scotland and the Fat Dog Relay with her daughter. This weekend, she’s tackling the Buckin’ Hell 50K race in North Vancouver on home trails.