Become a Member

Get access to more than 30 brands, premium video, exclusive content, events, mapping, and more.

Already have an account? Sign In

Become a Member

Get access to more than 30 brands, premium video, exclusive content, events, mapping, and more.

Already have an account? Sign In

Brands

Culture

Mi Casa Es Su Casa

Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.

Whether attending one of the many group runs he helps organize or watching him perform his rap parody about trail running (“That’s So Trail”), you cannot help but be drawn to Miguel Moreno, 39, of Phoenix, Arizona. Perhaps it is his laugh, his stoke or maybe it is his genuine interest in integrating people into his life—Moreno is a leader and a go-to homie when you need a place to crash for the night.

Which is why Moreno started “The UltraHouse.” Seeing the need for housing for runners who travel to Arizona for races, he envisioned a place for them to rest and focus on the next adventure, free from monetary restrictions.

Elite and novice trail runners alike now reach out to Moreno when they anticipate traveling through the Southwest to trail run. Moreno opens his modest home to runners such as 2017 Skyrace champion Morgan Elliot and Tarahumara racers Manuel Luna and Arnulfo Quimare, made famous by the bestselling book Born to Run.

Sometimes there are a dozen people staying there at one time, vying for limited floor space let alone actual beds; other times, it is just you and him.

Moreno was involved with gangs in high school—for the fights, for the sense of belonging. He dove into alcoholism at the age of 15—something that would grip his life for years.

“Miguel does a good job of treating you like you and he go way back,” says Anthony Kunkel, a sponsored ultrarunner, dirtbag and coach, who has started a second UltraHouse in Durango, Colorado. “I have been lost and alone in cities all over North America, and it can be stressful. With UltraHouse Phoenix, runners can truly have a home away from home.”

Sit As If You Were Family

Moreno was born in the United States, but his parents immigrated from Mexico. 

“We always had several families under one roof,” he explains. “Even with that, when a visitor from a different state came to stay, we were never inconvenienced. My mom would break out the comal to warm tortillas and get whatever food we had to feed the guest. My father would say, ‘Bienvenidos, estas en su casa, siéntate como si estuvistes en su propio familia,’ [‘Welcome, you are in your home; sit as if you were family’].”

Though integral to the success of The UltraHouse, these values laid dormant for many years of his early life.

“I was so accustomed to the pink paper, those carbon-fiber copies, that I started to enjoy the smell of it,” he says, remembering referral and detention slips.

Moreno was involved with gangs in high school—for the fights, for the sense of belonging. He dove into alcoholism at the age of 15—something that would grip his life for years.

“I was the only Mexican guy on the group runs,” Moreno says, laughing. “I felt so awkward. I made it a point to make people comfortable when they came.”

Around age 30, he entered himself into rehab, redefined his identity and became a sober man with a good enough credit score to take out a loan for a house—the house that would become The UltraHouse. He moved in with no furniture and five items of clothing.

In 2011, having no background in running, in the midst of recovery, he impulsively went for a jog near his new home—initiating a new form of healing. He started small, running two miles around his neighborhood. The runs grew longer as they changed him.

Photo by Melissa Ruse of Sweet M Images.

Soon, he entered his first race, a four-mile run called Luck of the Draw; he didn’t even know how to pin on a race bib. He won his age group—his first-ever award of recognition—and connected with a local running group.

“I was the only Mexican guy on the group runs,” Moreno says, laughing. “I felt so awkward. I made it a point to make people comfortable when they came. I understand how it feels to not have any friends at age 32. It’s nerve racking trying to make new friends, let alone wearing tiny-ass shorts!”

A House Is Born

While volunteering for California’s Born to Run Ultra in 2014, Moreno was chosen at the last minute to pace Miguel Lara, the famed Tarahumara runner because Lara’s crew needed a Spanish speaker. Toward the end, four Tarahumara runners appeared seemingly out of nowhere to run alongside the Miguels.

“They run together; they run as family,” Moreno said. “I just cried because I knew right there was where I was supposed to be in life.” He offered the crew a place to stay.

A few months later, Arnulfo Quimare, the Tarahumara runner known for beating Scott Jurek in Born to Run, took him up on the offer on his way to run the Javelina Jundred. Moreno cooked a traditional Mexican dinner for Quimare and his crew.

“We were joking that we needed to find a husband for [a mutual friend],” Moreno remembers, “and there was an abnormally big cucumber sitting on my table. We were talking about how we needed to find her someone who is reliable and trustworthy … out of nowhere, Arnulfo grabs the pepino, and says, ‘He has to have a big pepino.’ He hadn’t said anything until then! To this day, I call him Pepino.”

Later, Moreno traveled to Mexico for the Caballo Blanco Ultramarathon, and was reciprocally welcomed by the Tarahumara.

“They were like family; they fed me. At that moment, my father’s phrase—Bienvenidos, estas en su casa, siéntate como si estuvistes en su propio familia—awoke a part in me that had been buried,” says Moreno. And the idea to start The UltraHouse was born.

He collected donations: socks, gels, bandaids—things that people could easily forget when traveling and word spread like wildfire.

“The rewards are priceless,” Moreno reflects. “The stories I hear, the friendships I make—and connecting other runners. As long as it feels right, and I am making a runner feel safe, then I have done well.”

This article first appeared in the April 2019 issue of Trail Runner magazine.

Jacqueline Thompson is a writer, yoga teacher and wilderness guide based in Flagstaff, Arizona.