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Meet Champion Mountain Runner Luke Nelson

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Luke Nelson, 37, of Pocatello, Idaho, is veteran mountain runner, with a race resume stretching back to 2008 and a long list of podiums that includes the Bighorn 100, the Bear 100, the Wasatch 100 and an FKT for linking all of Utah’s 13,000-foot peaks.

But Nelson is not a full-time runner. The father of three holds down a day job as a physician’s assistant, and spends a lot of his “free” time on public-lands advocacy work.

If he can find time to train everyday, we all can.

You had a busy summer taking on numerous races, mountain challenges and travel. What were the highlights, for you?

I had an amazing summer. My four-day traverse of Bears Ears, establishing a new FKT for the Utah 13ers and completing Nolan’s 14 stand out the most.

You’re obviously a very goal driven athlete—so what’s next?

First and foremost, I plan to take some time off from running. I have found that taking a few weeks at the end of the season is very important for my body and mind to reset. In the mean time, during my break from running, I am going to dedicate more time to work that will help protect public lands.

You’ve taken numerous trips to Bears Ears National Monument and travelled the country speaking about the importance of protecting it. Why?

Bears Ears is an amazing cultural treasure. I have never experienced anything quite like it. The more I have explored it, the more obvious it has become how fragile and at-risk it is. Furthermore, it is the first national monument to be created with the combined support of five Native American tribes. Prior to monument designation, Bears Ears was a under hodgepodge of different management types and protections; the national-monument designation will unify the management and protection and keep the land preserved for future generations. I think a reduction or modification of the monument is short sighted, playing into the hands of a few small interest groups.

How do you make time to train? What’s a typical day like?

I make time to train by making it a priority. It is as important as going to work. My day typically starts very early, with a run before work. Often, I train after work as well—sometimes right after work, other times late at night. Then I often need to spend an hour or two doing work on the computer before bed, which probably results in not getting quite enough sleep. Then, I do it over again!

What are your best tips for other runners balancing training with career and family?

Number one: plan. The only way you can tackle a career, professional running, family and activism is to have things scheduled. Second: be flexible. Take your plan as more of a suggestion than a rule, and be kind to yourself if you have to adapt. Finally: remember to have fun. Staying positive can be hard when you have a seemingly endless to-do list. It is amazing how uplifting a smile or laugh can be.

Do your kids ever run with you or go to your races?

My kids have grown up spending weekends at trail races all over the western U.S. Seeing them grow up around a community of such amazing people, and having their support has been really cool. Having young kids at a race can be challenging, and my lovely wife Tanae handles it like a rockstar. Trail running is a family affair for us.

What’s your favorite song to get pumped for a mountain running adventure?

Lately I have been blasting Soundgarden’s Rusty Cage.

If you could run with any band or singer who would it be and why?

Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam. His voice has been the soundtrack to much of my life, and it would be really cool to meet him and show him some wild places.

CALL FOR YOUR STORIES—Jaybird supports athletes from all walks of life in chasing their running dreams around the world. Jaybird also wants to hear your stories. Share your motivation for running in a short story and hashtag #whyirunjaybird on Instagram for a chance to win weekly prizes including earbuds and a chance to be featured on our social channels.