Ben Mead is a slow trail runner and is proud of it. But, he didn’t always feel that way. “It took me a while to come around to being proud of myself as a slow runner,” says Ben. “These days, I tell everyone who asks (and those that don’t) that I’m proud to be THE slowest trail runner in the Pacific Northwest.” Despite being slow, Ben is very competitive. “So if you think you can challenge me to that title…come at me!” exclaims Ben.

Once Ben realized he was not alone or defective, he could process why he loved being out there;  the challenge and the natural beauty. “Those are the two factors that keep me coming back for more,” declares Ben. “For those wrestling with this question themselves, I would say, let go of your pride, shed the expectations of others (past and present), and just BE YOU on the trail. You are a badass. Get it!”

Inspired by running in the back of the pack, Ben started a podcast called Chasing Cutoffs. Having completed two 50ks and several shorter races, Ben wanted to challenge himself to take on the next level. So, obsessed with Arizona trails, he signed up for Aravaipa’s Elephant Mountain 50 Miler in early February 2022 and trained all winter through rain, sleet, and snow. Unfortunately, Ben developed plantar fasciitis. “I was going to be lucky to make the cutoffs under perfect circumstances, but going into the race injured was always going to be iffy…at best,” states Ben. “The first 15 miles were amazing! Then my foot started hurting, I got lost, had GI issues, and by mile 25, I had missed the cutoff and had to take the ride of shame back to the start/finish line.” The next day Ben was feeling pretty bummed and was musing out loud to his wife that maybe there should be a podcast about this cutoff chasing experience. That’s where the idea of the podcast Chasing Cutoffs was born.

Ben loves the challenge and beauty of trail running, even at a slow pace.

There are plenty of trail-running podcasts available. However, most of them are based on coaching or elite runners. Chasing Cutoffs breaks through the monotony and tells stories that most runners can relate to and get inspired to get out on the trails, despite being slow.

Ben grew up in Gainesville, TX, met his wife of 26 years in college in Southern California, and now resides in Olympia, WA. His job in software sales allows him to meet new people and help them solve complex problems that directly impact citizens in the public sector it serves.

Like many runners, Ben got into running to get into shape after the sedentary life of working a desk job. His wife started running road races, and Ben decided to join her. The couple got motivation from a podcast called Marathon Training Acadamy. “I loved how Angie and Trevor were so encouraging to new runners,” mentions Ben. “They are very influential to this day.”

For the first several years, Ben ran alone. “I could occasionally rope a friend into running with me, but I would always wind up feeling bad because I was so slow, and they would not really be able to hit their stride sticking with me (or I’d get injured trying to hang with them!),” discloses Ben. “When I wanted to run with someone, I found myself wondering, ‘Who do I know that’s just getting into running?’ or ‘Who’s just coming back from injury?'”. Ben tried to get faster. Still, to no avail.  His wife started trail running, so now he has a partner on the trails and in life. Occasionally Ben goes running with the Oly Trail Runners, a “no drop” local trail running group. “That means they all patiently stand around waiting for me to catch up at every junction,” laughs Ben.

Ben uses his skills in his profession and trail running at the back of the pack. “I love talking with new people and especially discovering their origin stories,” comments Ben. “Each athlete I have interviewed has a really interesting background and life experiences. I loved getting to spend time with Jameelah Abdul-Rahim Mujaahid. Her story is super interesting, and the woman is an absolute beast! She’s run so many 100s I am shocked she’s not a sponsored athlete getting all her racing expenses paid. She deserves it!”

Ben’s surreal sense of humor shows up in his podcast. “I’m having so much fun flexing my creative muscle in interviewing, editing, and producing the show.” He thanks his producer, Daisy, at the end of each episode (Daisy happens to be his dog.)  He also pokes fun at trail running with sponsor ads like short-brimmed running hats. Are you looking for a perfect hybrid sun protection solution for your next big race? Look no further than short-brimmed running hats! 

Ben also does a race recap of DFL (Dead F***ing Last) runners from ultras around the country which he calls the DFL podium (the last three to finish the race.) He’ll pull quotes from those runners about how they got to the finish line just before the cutoffs.

Ben ends each interview with a lightning round set of questions he calls Fast-twitch/Slow-twitch.  Guests answer questions like “would you rather come in first of a 50k or last in a 100 miler?”

“My biggest hope for the podcast is that it inspires other back of the packers to realize they are not alone and are totally crushing it,” states Ben. “The more athletes we can reach, the better (tell a friend). I’d also love to launch a racing team called ‘DFL Elite Racing.’ Athletes would need to submit their resumes of DFL podium finishes and get “sponsored” by the show. I’d love to see “DFL Elite Racing” shirts and hats on the start line. That would be epic!”

The back end of a trail race can be challenging. Aid stations and finish lines can be torn down before arrival. It’s happened to Ben twice in the same race. “The first year, I came into the “finish line” area and wondered if I might be lost. EVERYTHING had been torn down. There were a few people milling about at the finish, and the RD was not concerned whatsoever whether I came in or not. I got mad at the race and wanted revenge (against the race…not the RD). So I went back, and DNF’d again! I’ve sworn to my wife I’ll never, ever run that race again…now I’m trying to figure out if I can squeeze it into my summer plans for a third go-round.”

Racing at the back end of the race can be fun, though. As Ben explains, “There’s nothing like making fast friends with a slow stranger. People sing, laugh, joke around, and when things get tough, we help each other. There are many stories of people sharing encouraging words, nutrition, meds, or anything they can spare. For example, my quads were cramping super bad at the Backcountry Rise 50k (the most beautiful course I’ve ever run on) and a fellow back of the packer gave me anti-muscle cramp lotion. He saved my race! It’s about accomplishing a goal, doing hard things, and finishing strong and healthy together.”

Ben at the Backcountry Rise 50k (James Holk @jamesholk).

“Trail running is a great way to discover your identity as an athlete,” explains Ben. “The moment you set foot on the trail…your athletic journey has begun. No matter how many steps you take or how quickly you move, you’ve made it. Be proud. I would encourage you to leave the word “running” and all the baggage that comes with it at the trailhead. Your goal is simply to move as efficiently over the terrain as possible. Over time you’ll hone your techniques for climbing, descending, and cruising over flat sections, gaining a little more efficiency (i.e., speed) each time.   You will grow to love rocks, roots, and all manner of trail hazards as you learn to nimbly avoid them mile after mile. Pretty soon, you’ll be standing on the start line of your first 50k, and your life will be forever changed. Keep crushing it one step at a time. Keep showing up and focus on moving efficiently through the natural beauty. You’ve got this!”

“Being someone who loves sports in general, I love that I can enjoy the elite competition as a fan but that I can also line up at those same races and have my own experience,” maintains Ben. “We have such a vibrant community from the newest runners discovering the sport to the most seasoned veterans. I think we have some amazing race organizations and RD’s out there who are working hard to accommodate all runners of all abilities. That makes me very hopeful for the future of back of the packers everywhere.”

Find Chasing Cutoffs where ever you listen to podcasts. If you would like to tell Ben your story on Chasing Cutoffs, DM Ben through Instagram or email chasingcutoffs@gmail.com