Photos Jay Dash Photography
Athlete spotlight: Matt Meredith
Skiing. Running. Biking. Inspiring.
Mountain athlete Matt Meredith knows a thing or two about doing things his own way. He’s adapted his own style of skiing, mountain biking, and endurance trail running, having been born with one arm—and plenty of imagination. Based in Salt Lake City, he embraces not only the creativity needed for adaptive athleticism, but he loves cooking up new ideas and mountain goals to challenge himself.
Our Geartrade crew recently caught up with him this fall after he completed an epic trail running (/scrambling) route famous in the Wasatch, the Wasatch Ultimate Ridge Linkup (WURL). He did it unsupported, which, to his knowledge and ours, is a first. Most athletes enlist an entire support crew and hatch an elaborate logistics plan to get water and food cached at various points along the 36-mile route, which ascends a total of 20,000 vertical feet in one outing. Simply completing it is a commendable feat—the terrain is challenging, rocky, and exposed at many points.
But Meredith had the goal of quietly doing it his way, at his pace, and on his own. Forty hours in the mountains, with just his pack, headlamp, food, running shoes, and a water filter to top off at a few lakes along the way. There was a simple beauty in the plan, and a chance to break from the herd of athletes constantly trying to one-up their times using the same approach to the same objectives. (You can read Matt’s full blog post detailing the outing here; it’s been submitted as an official Fastest Known Time or FKT for this route unsupported.)
“Of course I knew that if it got too hard, I could bail if I needed to,” he says. “But on ultra distances, you learn to tap into the strength of what you’ve achieved before. You can tell yourself, ‘I know this hurts, but I’ve been here before, and I kept going then, and I’m going to keep going now.’ You develop a good feel for your body and get into a certain head space.”
An objective like the WURL does indeed depend on years of experience not only with navigating the route but also with huge days of mileage, vertical gain, and route-finding. It takes familiarity with that exhausted-but-giddy-and-clear headspace an ultra runner learns to tap into, and Matt’s honed that headspace over years of immense mileage and vert. (As a trail running training exercise, for example, Matt “Everests” various routes around the Wasatch—running up and down a peak over and over until he’s logged 29,000 vertical feet in one go.)
When it comes to the WURL, there happen to be many bail-off points, since the route makes a giant U shape along the ridgelines encircling Little Cottonwood Canyon. If you’re totally fried or getting scared, you can retreat down the nearest navigable drainage. The option to bail forces committed WURL runners to keep their focus on the goal.
“There was a moment when I was on the summit of the Pfeifferhorn, with just 400 calories left and two liters of water. I thought, ‘Ok, I’m 30 hours into this. Am I good to finish this off?’ It was the last good point where I could bail. As you pass the ‘give-up’ points, you assess how much food, energy, and water you have. And you decide if you’re going to keep going,” Meredith explains.
He did decide to press on from the Pfeifferhorn, pressing through the hours and clocking off miles one by one, staying focused on the challenging ridgeline scramble between the Pfeifferhorn and Lone Peak.
“Ultras teach you to know your body’s different gears and just ride in them,” he says. Having completed both The North Face 50k in Park City and the Speedgoat 50k in Little Cottonwood, he’s learned that distances around 50k feel good. Maybe it’s “his” distance and an interesting zone to play in.
“I do see in trail running, there’s a trend toward pushing distances to higher and higher extremes. Now 100-milers are totally a ‘thing,’ and some races are pushing distances beyond that. Which is amazing, but I’m having fun exploring local peaks and besting my own PRs on them. There’s always a challenge close at hand if you look.”
Currently recovering from shoulder surgery (speaking of challenges, that’s quite a challenge when you have one arm and it’s in a sling), Meredith is taking the time to ponder his next adventures. The ideas are as ranging and endless as his imagination. Tetons, Haute Route, Denali, crazy bike-packing routes, The Grand Traverse. But he knows that any objective will have a common theme: there were so few adaptive athletes in the spotlight when he was growing up, he didn’t have enough heroes or trailblazers to look to for inspiration. He wants to change that.
“There was one one-armed baseball player in the major leagues when I was growing up-Jim Abbott. And he was the only idol I had,” Meredith says. Even though he played soccer, not baseball, he had a hero in Abbott.
“I’d love to be an example to some kid out there who has mountain dreams and ambitions, and show them what can be done. I want to give them the benefit of the knowledge that I’ve gained. And I want to talk about the tough moments. In the adaptive world—and people in general, too—we need to communicate our successes and failures. Be vulnerable,” he explains. There’s such humanity in that.
“It’s amazing when everything comes together and you manage to achieve your goal. You do it. Or, you learn what not to do,” he adds with a laugh.
Whether you check your objective off, or it qualifies for the try-again list, it’s there for the doing. And the dreaming. But you can always go higher and farther than you think. Take it from Matt Meredith.
Follow Matt’s adventures on Instagram and keep up with his story on his blog.
Beth Lopez is a seasoned writer and creative director who loves to tell tales of adventure and discovery—and finds writing a powerful way to give a voice to people, causes, and places. Beth runs amok in the Wasatch mountains when untethered from her computer. She believes there’s no such thing as a bad ski day and considers animals her favorite people. Don’t tell her mother about her Instagram mountaineering photos.