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Meet Trail Runner and Army Veteran Ben Altenes

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Ben Altenes is a photographer, veteran and father who always goes the extra mile (or 1K of vert). Altenas, 35, of Salt Lake City, Utah served 10 years in the U.S. Army throughout the Middle East. When he came back, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) nearly destroyed him.

Altenes was already a runner, and he brought his running shoes with him across the world, through various tours of duty. Now transitioned back into civilian life, running has become something more than reaching fitness goals. It’s therapy, a way to manage the anxiety and anger that come with his PTSD diagnosis.

What are the most memorable places you have run?

The most memorable place I have ever run is Afghanistan. I was based in an area where I could safely run on trails, roads and in the mountains. Hearing the muslim call to prayer from numerous mosques on evening runs was an incredible experience.

In some locations, I ran a minimum of eight miles a day. In others, I would go scrambling over a mountain in Afghanistan or Kurdistan.

What’s it like to run in a wartime setting?

Running overseas was different from running back home for many reasons, and not just because I was in a hostile environment. I felt invincible when I was overseas, because I was kicking in doors and handing out lotto tickets.

Running in the mountains here in Utah has its own threats—some of the cliffs and trails have given me the right balance of adrenaline and peacefulness that keeps me coming back for more, just like the wars did in the Middle East—but being subject to my children and friends daily, I know that life is delicate.

How do running, nature and music go hand in hand for you? 

Trail running, or just raising my heart rate and working up a sweat in any way, has been my number-one tool to ease the anxiety and effects of PTSD.

Music has always traveled with me around the world. Having the ability to listen to those songs while on the trails now allows me to reflect on the memories I acquired during my 10 years of operating around the Middle East. It helps me realize that I am still alive, and I still have a path here at home.

How do you integrate your passion for running and the outdoors into family time? 

My son is five and my daughter is three, and while they may not run like a “runner” (yet), they enjoy coming to races. It’s pretty cool to see your own offspring excited to see you finish running up and down a mountain. Their mother and I try to share our passion for the outdoors with them.

What’s your favorite go-to workout during a busy week? 

My favorite go-to workout is a local 23-mile road cycling route through a few towns I grew up in, because I can knock it out in an hour. Cycling is my favorite cross-training activity.

As a photographer, what tips do you have for other runners looking to take a killer photo out on the trails? 

Go the extra mile, or the extra 1K of vert, to get the shot you imagine. Most of those awesome backcountry trail-running shots aren’t taken just off the road.

Also, pack an actual camera—a smart phone can get a good shot, but a camera makes a big difference.

What song is stuck in your head on most runs these days? 

The Blaze by Juvenile gets me focused, pumped and motivated.

If you could run with any music artist, dead or alive, who would it be? 

OZZY Osbourne is one of the classics I grew up with in the 80’s. I think it would be a riot to have someone cuss more than me on the trail.

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.