Michele Yates is one of the top female ultra runners in the world. She is known for wearing camo in races, is extremely fast, has a “go for broke” mentality in every race she competes in, and holds several course records. She holds a degree in Kinesiological Sciences and was the female Ultra Runner of the Year in 2013. Michele resides in Conifer, Colorado where she owns/operates her own coaching business – Rugged Running. At Rugged Running, Michele is devoted to providing clients with the motivation and knowledge to chase their dreams and accomplish their fitness goals. She does this through online coaching and creating custom plans designed specifically for each client based on their ability, experience level and available time commitment. Michele was kind enough to sit down with The Mule Deer Hunter for a short interview so that our readers could get to know a little bit about her.

TMDH: First of all Michele, thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule to do this interview. Before we dive into your ultra marathon running career, as well as your successful coaching business, can you tell us a little bit about your running background?

Michele: No problem! I grew up in northern Michigan where I started running in middle school and continued through high school and into college at UNLV (I took a quick stop at NMU and played collegiate soccer for them as well). From Las Vegas, I asked my brother to loan me $1,000 and help me move up to Colorado to pursue my running and exercise science careers.

I’ve been in Colorado for 13 years and during that time I competed in road marathons, shorter distance trail races, and ultimately ultra trail running. My continued determination earned me Ultra Runner of the Year 2013, various wins and course records with all distances, team member of several World Champ and NACAC teams for USA, and 4 National Champion titles at the ultra trail distances.

TMDH: 2013 was definitely your breakout year when you took the ultra scene by storm. During that year, you took first place female in 6 of the 8 events that you participated in and you were awarded the prestigious female Ultra Runner of the Year award by UltraRunning Magazine. Was there anything you changed that led to that amazing year? Did you simply became more focused on running ultras? Change your training?

Michele: I’ve always focused on quality over quantity with my training, however, the one thing that did change was that I could actually afford to pursue trail running. As we all know, it can be very expensive and lacks prize money to make up the expenses compared to the road. Financially, it was challenging, but lucky for me, I had just gotten married at the end of the year in 2012, settled into a nice home, and had consistency and balance in my life. I think those aspects are very important to be able to stay focused and compete to your personal potential. 2012, was the first year I tried ultras, and I became hooked, so 2013 was just a snowball effect to where I kept wanting more!

On another note, I cleaned up my nutrition even further. I went to mostly plant based (in which I was eating really healthy but still included a larger amount of gluten free complex carbs), actually took my supplements and just overall took better care of myself. It was a big difference for me.

TMDH: In 2012 you DNF’d the Run Rabbit Run 100 mile trail race in Steamboat Springs, CO. Then, in 2013, you returned and not only took first place female, but you absolutely crushed the course record with a blistering time of 20 hrs 16 minutes. How did you go from a DNF one year, to a new course record the next? Were there any lessons learned the first time around that you applied during your record performance?

Michele: My attempt in 2012 was only my second ever ultra run (I competed in a 50 miler earlier that year).. so there was a lot of things learned. Unfortunately, I was one of the many elites who got lost A LOT on the RRR course that year due to poor marking (HOWEVER!!!! THE COURSE NOW, IS MARKED TREMENDOUSLY WELL AND IS BY FAR A WORLD CLASS EVENT!! ..it was their first year putting it on so I think we all need to cut them some slack for 2012). I had run 62 miles at the actual 48 mile mark and once I got there, the aid station crew told me I would never make the next cut off. So as naive and stupid as I was, I believed them and didn’t push on. I regret that. I should have kept going until they physically made me stop 🙂

So of course with all of that, I came back with vengeance. My husband and I camped a lot that summer leading up to it so I could memorize the correct course, prepare better for the climbs and descents, and better execute. Of course there is always something to learn every time.. rookie like- my hubby and I forgot to change the batteries in my head lamp when I left the last aid station I would see him at… that ended up costing me a lot of time up top between Summit and Long Lake. So 2013 was great, but I can still make improvements and know as long as my body cooperates, I can totally go sub 20 if not sub 19 on that course.

TMDH: It should come as no surprise that you hold several course records because within the ultra community, you are known for your “put the hammer down and keep it down” approach when it comes to racing. Can you share your thoughts on how you approach a race?

Michele: You only live once and how are you ever gonna know unless you try?! I certainly don’t ever red line, however, I try my best to make sure i’m the fittest and fastest possible starting each race. So with that, I feel one should race to their potential (again not redline, you shouldn’t be sucking wind so bad you can’t catch your breath and your heart rate is out of control), keeping the pace as steady and solid as possible while taking care of themselves nutritionally throughout the entire race. I’m the type of person that would much rather run to my best and possibly fail, then take it easy and have a lot left over. Although I am competitive with others, I am far more competitive with myself and this is where the hammer down approach really stems from.

TMDH: As we all know, when running longer ultra marathon races, the mental side is just as important as the physical side. During a long event such as a 100 mile run, pretty much everyone will hit a low spot at one point or another. It can be tough to convince yourself to continue pushing forward when you have been running for 24 hours straight, it is dark and cold, and you simply want to go to curl up under a tree and go to sleep. Unfortunately, many people choose to quit during tough moments such as this. Do you have any advice that you could share that may help others push through low points that they will undoubtedly encounter at some point during a race?

Michele: You have to want to do it for YOURSELF in the first place. Although it’s awesome to bring others on board (like charities, or do it because your friends are, or you want to see that part of the country), bottom line is, you have to really want to do it. Once you have decided that, then proceed with the training as well as the mental preparation. I think the mistake most people make, is not realistically thinking that an ultra IS GOING TO HURT AT SOME POINT, YOU WILL HIT LOWS, YOU WILL BE HUNGRY, CRANKY, TIRED.. .. you WILL NOT feel good the whole time (for the most part 😉 … so once they come to that conclusion, they need to be prepared to battle those negative thoughts. In doing so, i’d suggest taking a piece of paper before you race, writing down all of your negative thoughts, and fire back with positive thoughts. For example: I didn’t train hard enough for this I should just drop out. I did train consistently for this, I followed my plan as much as possible, and I am stronger than ever!!!

TMDH: Recently you have battled medical issues which have resulted in you having to dial back your running. With this, you now do a lot of mountain biking and are now competing in several mountain bike races. Can you tell us a little bit about the medical issues that have forced you to change directions as well as give us an update on how the cycling career is progressing?

Michele: Yup, dang it.. I found out my bones grew the wrong way and had to have double hip surgery this past year to see if we could preserve them as much as possible. I do need total hip replacements because unfortunately, for me, no one noticed and it’s too late but I’m beating the odds with just the little cartilage I have left and the scopes we did. We don’t know how long they will last, but the longer the better and they have already come out with new technology for hip replacements! Therefore, the impact of running, well just hurts. So it’s really just how much I can take and for how long. Mountain biking has been a great outlet for me because 1. It’s exceptional cross training for running 2. It keeps me in the mountains which is one of the reasons I love ultra running 3. It allows me to feel free again and dance over the rocks and roots when my hips hurt too much!

As far as the progress with mtb, shoot, I just cracked some ribs so that stinks, but even when I did it I still got back on and road 10 more miles! It will be a bit of a setback again, but it was fun while it lasted! I’m pleased to find that God has given the talent to do mtb as well, even though I fall once in awhile 😉 I have already entered the pro scene with that, however, I do feel I need a little bit more experience to be really competitive in the pro scene.

TMDH: If some of our readers want to follow you this year, what events can they expect to see you compete in?

Michele: Well, with the cracked ribs, plans may change some… but here it is:
Whiskey off Road Grand Junction mtb- 5/20 (not sure I will do pro or amateur if I can ride due to ribs)
Whiskey off Road Carson City mtb- 6/17
Leadville 100 mtb- 8/12
RRR 100 run- 9/8
TNF 50- 12/3
*** some more shorter local mtb races, as well as maybe Bailey 100 mtb, and I’m considering going after my 5th national title at the Mountain Trail Champs 10k- June 3rd but with the rib thing we will see because I know I will be breathing hard to keep up with those ladies!
*** and of course, join me for RUGGED RUNNING THE CAMP August 3-6th!!! In the Gunnison National Forrest!

TMDH: In addition to your running and cycling career, you also have your own successful coaching business where you assist others in achieving their own personal running/fitness goals. Can you tell us a little bit about your coaching business and the various camps you run?

Michele: Sure I coach the most awesome, understanding, friendly, inspirational clients!!! No they aren’t all elites, they are REAL, mom’s, dad’s, cancer survivors, disease battlers, …just like you and me. I coach them the same way I coach myself, with a holistic approach. The plans are personalized based on their schedules, needs, realistic goals, and other life demands. I take everything into consideration when preparing them to accomplish their ambitions. I run several camps: for information on Rugged Running “The Camp” click here, for information on the Rugged Running Boot Camp, click here.

TMDH: We know that there are a lot of our readers who most likely feel they don’t need a coach/trainer because they are not competing at a high level. Can you explain to our readers some of the benefits of hiring a trainer/coach even if they don’t run/race?

Michele: Injury prevention and longevity in the sport is one. I’m not one of the coaches that insists you be coached by me until we die. I hope that you can learn from me, take some breaks from structured training, and use my gifts when you need too at any level!!! Of course secondly, if you want to take yourself to the next level, it’s a good idea to fill the holes that you may have in your training, whether it be nutrition, strength, mobility, or any of the other aspects that one would need to build a solid foundation for execution.

TMDH: The majority of our readers are hunters and a good percentage of them prefer to hunt the backcountry. We all know this can be extremely difficult given all of the elevation gained while hiking up and down the ridges at very high altitudes. If there was one single workout, or type of workout, that you think would benefit backcountry hunters, what would that be?

Michele: Strength training. It doesn’t have to be crazy heavy weight, as a matter of fact just the opposite, it should be higher reps less weight and you can then work yourself up in weight. Strength training demotes injury, increases bone density, helps with overall better body mechanics. If you are training without it, or not doing anything at all, it’s the number one recommendation by me!

TMDH: Lastly, you have been known to wear camo at times while racing….is there a story behind that?

Michele: Stealth mode 😉 hehe. A few reasons actually! 1. Is the stealth mode aspect. If one wears bright colors while competing with others, then they become an easier target for the people behind them. If I have a bright red shirt to follow, i’m going to be locked in and fiercely determined to catch that bright object, as opposed to someone who I don’t even see up in front of me. 2. Hunting gear is now made for backwoods performance. They have better heat gear, snot wiping gloves, and protection unlike most running gear even. It’s what I choose because then I don’t have to buy a bunch of hunting gear to go hunting too!!!