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Former Messiah runner tackles the Alps: finishes third in ultra marathon

Brandon Newbould

Brandon Newbould, 2004 Messiah College alum, recently completed the Gore-Tex Transalpine Run. The race takes off in Germany and winds its way through the Alps to Italy, totaling 189.5 miles in just eight days. This 189.5-mile ultra marathon is a two-man team race; Newbould partnered with Brenton Knight.

How he got there
Newbould developed his passion for running in seventh grade in his Alaska hometown, when he joined his mother on a short fitness run as a trial to see if he might enjoy competing in cross country. He enjoyed the run so much that he asked to keep going, and while his mom went home to make dinner, he got lost on the trails and finally made it home well into the night.

This “love at first sight” relationship developed all throughout high school and continued as Newbould participated in cross country, indoor track and field, and track and field at Messiah College. Reflecting on his time as a Messiah athlete, Newbould says, he valued his time with his teammates and coaches and enjoyed many memorable races.

Running grew from being a passion to a career for Newbould, and soon he found himself preparing for the Transalpine Run. To train for this race, Newbould relied on common sense and documented experience and advice from his friends because no formal training has been established for this grueling race. He trained like he would for a normal marathon and modeled many stages of the run by increasing distance and elevation.

The race
The Transalpine Run provided many ups and downs for Newbould: both the actual hills and valleys of the Alps and the highs and lows of physical and emotional exhaustion. Although the run was competitive, winning was not Newbould’s main concern. He and Knight went into stage three, the longest stage at 28 miles, and placed fourth overall but still did not focus on racing for position.

During stage four, they reached the highest elevation of the race: 8700 feet. They plowed through meter high snow banks and struggled to breathe in the thin air at the top of the mountain and still managed to finish the stage with a six-minute mile pace and a minute behind the second place team.

Stage five presented a new challenge: the course had to be re-routed due to a landslide which had destroyed a portion of the course. This added an extra five kilometers of trail and 300 meters of ascent and 300 meters of descent.

One of the most challenging moments of the race came during stage seven. Newbould was running with a strained muscle in his left leg and experiencing a fatigue he had never felt before. The distance before them was a full marathon with two large mountains, and he was afraid of not being able to finish. However, his teammate bent down and picked up a stick and offered to pull Newbould up the mountain.

“I was so humbled and grateful that I burst into tears with five kilometers remaining, along with my teammate. We were again overcome emotionally when we finished the race. I will never forget what that felt like,” says Newbould when reflecting on the experience.

Brandon Newbould

They finished the race and took third place overall. Although Newbould had to make many sacrifices, including raising financial support and fitting in four- to seven-hour training runs, crossing the finish line is an accomplishment that outweighed it all, he said.

What motivates him
Running and racing is a lifestyle for Newbould; it gives him quality time with his son (in a stroller) and his wife (on a bike) who accompany him on some runs. He can also use that time running for prayer or reflection.

Even though running is his lifestyle, there are still moments that pressing forward seems impossible. For Newbould, finishing a run is never a question, so he has to figure out how to maintain intensity through pain.

“I use process goals to stir up my competitive gumption in a race, and those goals are rooted in deep convictions for me. Competing is a way for me to practice certain values that I pursue as a follower of Christ. Those values reflect peace and love in various forms, although it’s hard for some people to understand that,” Newbould shares.

In the final stage of the TransAlpine race, when he finished “on one leg,” one of the members of the Swiss team that caught him told him “Jesus will give you strength.” This encouraged Newbould and allowed him to finish one of the most grueling races he had ever been a part of.
When looking towards the future, Newbould plans to continue to compete in marathons, however, he is not sure if he would take on another big stage race like the Transalpine.

“I’m not a thrill-seeker, and I’m not out to prove anything to anyone either. I’m grateful if any of my athletic achievements have encouraged anyone out there, but I do not aspire to that in my goal-setting,” says a humble man who has the potential to inspire many with his remarkable God-given talents.

Story by Emily Mohler `13. Photos courtesy of Brandon Newbould `04.

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