How Can Trail Running Change Your Life?

For me, it’s simple. Trail running has changed my life in every way.

Myles captures an artistic selfie on Secret Trail below Michigan Bluff. Photo credit: Michigan Bluff Photography.

The author, Myles Smythe, is the director of This is Your Day and will be present at the Thursday, September 8 screening of the Trails in Motion Film Festival at the Fremont Theatre in downtown San Luis Obispo as part of the inaugural SLO Ultra weekend of events. To purchase VIP tickets for the pre-screening reception with Myles and other Film Festival guests or for general admission tickets please click here. Proceeds benefit The Land Conservancy of San Luis Obispo.

On December 3, 2011, I rolled into the mile-39 Muir Beach aid station of The North Face Endurance Challenge San Francisco 50-mile championship race. My gut took a wrong turn and I found myself puking just before starting the continuous grind up the Coastal Trail and on towards the finish line. Giving me about 10 minutes of pure bliss before the endorphins wore off. About a half-mile up the arduous climb, I saw a hiker traveling in the opposite direction of our race. The woman had stopped to take in the views of the Pacific. My head was still focused on the race, yet I smiled big as we crossed paths and I kept moving up the hill. Realizing the woman was very pretty, I turned for a double-take. At the triple-take I noticed she had turned around and was now heading in my same direction towards the race finish line. So I did what any reasonable race participant would do, I slowed down so the cute hiker girl could catch up to me.

She approached quickly from behind and introduced herself at my side, “hi, I’m Heather, what’s your name?” We hiked and chatted for about 15 minutes as we continued up the climb, and immediately formed a positive connection. Love at first sight? Yes, likely. But I had an odd dilemma, do I finish my race or secure a connection with the wonderful woman. Neither of us had phones, or pens and paper to exchange numbers. Her car was still 2–3 miles away and I wanted to finish my race. Thankfully my race bib in a small font had my printed full name, so I ripped off a piece of the race bib with my name on it, and handed it to her, saying “find me on Facebook”. After a sweaty and barfy hug, I sprinted away down the other side of the hill to later puke a few more times and eventually cross the finish line of the race. That evening I had the best friend request of my entire Facebook life.

Heather enjoying our first winter in our backyard, in Michigan Bluff, CA. Photo credit: Michigan Bluff Photography.

It was June 26, 2012, just two days after I participated in the Western States Endurance Run, in which I DNF’d (did not finish) because of another barfy day, happily I never left the trail as I received the keys to my new house in Michigan Bluff at mile-56 of the Western States 100 course. I purchased the remotely located forest home thinking it would be my weekend runner get-away house, but Heather and I have been living in Michigan Bluff now full-time ever since.

Photography has always been either a profession or huge part of my life. Generally I kept my talents to myself not really wanting to share my creative work with others. Living on a trail with inspiration all around I felt inspired to share the love I have for trail running and spending time in nature with others. So that others could see what makes trail and ultra running in backcountry locations so spectacular and hopefully motivate them to discover a similar passion for the outdoors. In February 2013, I started Michigan Bluff Photography with the single purpose of capturing the greatest (trail) running images of all time.

A multi-layered composite selfie image of Myles running across the El Dorado Creek bridge along the Western States Trail. Photo credit: Michigan Bluff Photography.

After only a short period of time, I also rekindled my most serious lifelong passion of filmmaking and began honing my skills on sharing stories revolving around running. Now with a business partner, Damian Gordon, together we have started Sierra Studio Films creating documentary films and commercials.

Interviewing and documenting dozens of elite and rookie runners has now had a huge influence on how I train and set personal goals towards my ultra endurance challenges. Seeing first hand how successful individual athletes can perform in their races, with such devotion, sacrifice and determination, has been very inspiring to my own life. But most importantly observing that none of the successful runners I have encountered have achieved anything great alone. It’s about the people and the community standing behind and along side them supporting them both physically and emotionally.

Finding ways to train amongst forest fires. Photo credit: Michigan Bluff Photography.

As retired Major League Baseball player, Eric Byrnes tells us in our upcoming documentary, Diamond To The Rough, about his training and attempt at his first 100-mile trail race:

“it’s not about the reward, the reward is the process, it’s (about) being on the trails.”

My life on the trails, my professional work, and relationship with my life-partner Heather, it’s always about the process and has all started because I lace up some dirty running shoes and keep heading out the door.

To learn more about my work visit and

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