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Meet Trailblazer Megan Maureen Finnesy

Today we’d like to introduce you to Megan Maureen Finnesy.

Megan Maureen, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
The Golden Gate Dirty 30 started at a time in my life when I was really struggling to find my path or what I was going to do for work or a career. I worked in several jobs that left me feeling dissatisfied, bored, and unfulfilled. I knew there was something more for me. I wanted to create something I was passionate about that used my strengths. I would have never in a million years thought it would have been a trail running race.

I had the idea in my head that I would enjoy being an event coordinator but lacking any experience in this arena I was not chosen for the jobs I applied for. I had also run a couple of trail running races and was quite disappointed to find myself running on dirt roads with cars, motorcycles and ATV’s. I wanted to be on single-track trails where I was surrounded by the sounds of rushing water of mountain streams, and birds singing. I wanted to smell pine needles, not choking exhaust and dust. On March 1, 2009, I was hiking in near-by Golden Gate Canyon State Park and thought, “this would be the perfect place for a trail running race”. I wondered what it would take to put on a trail running race. I call the park the next day and learned that all I needed to do was complete an activity permit application and pay a $20 fee. I thought, “how hard can it be?” $20 Application fee and I was in.

I did not know a lot about trail running, running or directing a trail running race. I had only run a handful of races in my life and perhaps only 4 trail running races. My big inspiration to put on my own trail running race came from volunteering at the Hardrock 100 Endurance Run in Silverton, CO in the summer of 2008. I did not know anything about ultra running and I was super curious what these runners were like at mile 91 of a hard 100-mile race. I thought the best way to witness this would be to manage the Cunningham Aid Station at the Hardrock 100. This was a life-changing experience for me. Little did I know, that volunteering for the Hardrock 100 would forever change the course of my life.

I was inspired by the strong sense of community and the connection that these runners who came from all corners of the world felt with each other. I had never experienced anything like this. I was fascinated with the Hardrock course and where it went. It was a 100-mile loop, starting and finishing in Silverton, going to Telluride, Ouray, near Lake City. It was mostly in the backcountry and very remote and super adventurous.

When I started planning the Dirty-30 I knew I wanted it to be a training run for the Hardrock 100. I wanted to create a hard 50K trail running race that was placed on the calendar and would be a good training run for those who were running the Hardrock 100. I thought it would be best to be at the beginning of June. I set the date for June 9th. This gave me 3 months to organize this race. Not having a clue how long it takes to organize a race, I thought 3 months would be enough time to put it all together. I worked non-stop, 10+ hour days for the next 3 months.

I had volunteered for the Women’s Wilderness Institute in 2001 – 2006 and really loved their mission and purpose. Their mission is to “Strengthen the courage, confidence and leadership skills of women and girls through the outdoor experience”. I wanted to tap into that somehow. I had grown so much from my outdoor experience, particularly my Colorado Trail through-hike, that I wanted other girls and women to experience that. I decided that I would not only put on a trail running race with 3 distances, 7-mile, 12-mile and 50K, but I also organized a silent auction to raise money to send Gilpin County High School girls to camps with the Women’s Wilderness Institute. We had a girls’ run club at the school that year.

Although this was a super stressful endeavor that I swore I would never do again, I could not help but figure out how to do it again when one of the racers came up to after his race at the finish line and handed me $75 cash and told me that was his entry fee for next year and that I had to put this race on again. This was the universe telling me I had to stick with it and figure this thing out.

The Golden Gate Dirty 30 just completed its 11th year. In the past 11 years, we have raised over $65,000 for its beneficiaries, of which $43,500 has gone to Gilpin County High School Athletics since 2012. They have been the main beneficiary since 2012 and play a major roll in making this race a huge success. The athletic teams manage the aid stations, serve as parking marshals and help with the post-race meal. The coaches, athletes and their parents come together each year to work this race. It builds community and it helps raise much-needed funds for their athletic teams. These extra funds allow them to send kids to camps they would otherwise not be able to afford. It also allows them to purchase new uniforms and equipment for their teams.

Dirty 30 has also grown to one of the top trail races in the country. It attracts runners from all over the world. One aspect that is unique about the Dirty 30 is the Sisu Award. Since the Dirty 30 is one of the toughest 50K’s in the country, I felt it appropriate for those who choose to run the Dirty 30 as their first Ultra they deserve a special award. I do a lot of additional things for the new ultra runners. I host Happy hour events that bring runners together, creating community and give them important information to prepare them for their first 50K. I have volunteers on the course that are there to support them and keep them moving along. They wear a different color race bib from the other runners, so everyone knows they are brand new ultra runners. They all receive extra attention. I have a 100% finish rate goal for all the SISU’s. It is amazing, we have gotten so close. This past year we had 97% finish rate amongst the SISU’s of which there were around 200 brand new ultra runners who started the 50K is past year.

I also created the Silverton Ultra Marathon 100K and 55K. It starts and finishes in Silverton, CO. It is 97% single track trails in the remote San Juan Mountains. In it’s 4th year we had racers from 5 different countries and 20 different states. This course is one of the most spectacular, majestic races in ultra running. I first had the idea of creating this race back in 2012. I had moved to Durango in 2010 and would spend my free time running in the mountains in that area looking for what I thought would be an amazing course. I first applied for a permit in November 2012 and got denied for 3 years. I had to go to Congressman Tipton’s and Senator Bennet’s office to be granted the permits for this race. It has been an arduous journey. I often ask if it is worth the difficult challenges, but when I see these runners finish and what they overcame to get to the finish line I am inspired.

What drives me to do this? I am driven by what these races give to people and what they can accomplish. I help people reach goals they never thought possible. I help people find new limits. These races are some of the toughest races in ultra running. It really means something when you finish these races. These races have been turning points for people and this inspires me to keep doing the hard work to make them happen.

This year, the Dirty 30 is teaming up with Adidas Terryx to create some big things for women in ultra running. I want to inspire more women to join ultra running and find new possibilities for them. We will be offering big prize money to women only… which is not seen in running races.

I could go on and on about these races. Please reach out for more details is you need.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
No. It definitely has not been easy and it is not easy now, even though I have grown a successful trail running race business. It seems there will always be challenges to overcome. Perhaps my biggest struggles were born in my own head. I was hard on myself and worked hard for some sort of perfection and had a hard time with criticism. I invested so much heart and soul and worked tirelessly to create amazing events. It was very hard to see that even one person was disappointed. Dirty 30 Running has been a great teacher for me. I have been learning over the years that it is not my job to please every single person. I have also been so attached to every aspect of the events that it has been extremely hard to delegate and allow others to help. Again, Dirty 30 has been a great teacher. It has grown so much that I can no longer do it all by myself. I need to learn to trust others as well as myself. I need to trust that I am able to find good help and that I can train them well so that things continue to run smoothly.

Each year there has been a different set of stresses and challenges to overcome. Each year I threaten to quit because I think the stress is too much. I am so grateful that I have persevered. Things often feel so much harder and overwhelming than they are. When stress is high and doubt and uncertainty set in, just take a step forward. You may not know what to do, but just take a step and then another step. The way will reveal itself.

We’d love to hear more about Dirty 30 Running.
I am a race director for two mountain trail running races in Colorado. I created the Golden Gate Dirty 30 and the Silverton Ultra Marathon. The Golden Gate Dirty 30 just finished it’s 11th year and has grown into the 4th largest 50K in the country and 7th or so largest ultra marathon. It attracts runners from all over the world. There is a 50K and a 12-mile distance. The Silverton Ultra Maraton just completed its 4th year. There is a 55K and a 100K. Still, in its infancy, this race is growing significantly.

What makes these races special is the spectacularly beautiful and super challenging courses. My motto is, “If it were easy it wouldn’t be worth it”.

The Dirty 30 is one of the toughest 50K’s in the country and I thought anyone who finishes this race as their first ultra running race, (an ultra is any distance longer than a marathon) deserves special recognition. I created the Sisu Award in 2015. These runners wear a green bib and get special attention from race volunteers while out on the course. I also created a handful of Happy Hour events to bring these newbies together and provide them with valuable info to help them be successful at their race. I have a 100% finish rate goal at my races. Last year we had 97% finish rate amongst the Sisu’s and 95 or 96% overall finish rate. That is exceptional for a hard trail running race like this. I am known for the connected, supportive and fun community I have created. I also am known for all the work I do to set up trail workdays, recruit trail crew leaders and lead trail work. Dirty 30 Running and it’s volunteers have completed over 2,026 hours of trail work since 2014.

Another aspect that makes the Golden Gate Dirty 30 so great is the relationships I have developed with our beneficiary, Gilpin County High School Athletics. The athletic teams run the aid stations, Parents serve as much needed parking marshals, the school buses transport runners to the start from the shuttle parking lot. The athletic director marks 17 miles of the course each year. I donate a big chunk of money each year to their athletic program which allows them to send kids to camps, purchase need equipment and buy new uniforms. Dirty 30 has donated over $60,000 of which over $40,000 has gone to Gilpin County Athletic department. This is the biggest event in Gilpin County and it brings this community together. There is a lot of pride and camaraderie.

Another thing that makes my races so special is I insist that the course be mostly single-track trails and a single loop course. There are lots of trail running races out there where the course is multiple loops or out and backs, which can get boring or monotonous or uninspiring. The Dirty 30 is 98% single track trails and the Silverton Ultra Marathon is 97%. Running on single track trails is so much better than running on dirt roads where you are sucking in the dirt from cars, jeeps, atv’s and motorcycles. My races take you into the backcountry and into remote places, especially the Silverton Ultra Marathon. Logistically this is much more difficult to organize and put together, so it is not as common.

I am proud that I go above an beyond to put these races together. It took me 3 years to acquire the permits for the Silverton Ultra Marathon. The forest service kept denying me. I had to enlist the help of Congressman Tipton’s and Senator Bennet’s office to get the permits. Having a spectacular, phenomenal course that is mostly single track trails was important. I did not want to settle. This year the race was jeopardized because of the heavy snowfall in the San Juan Mountains. With the help of a couple of people, I cleared an avalanche path off the road to one of the aid stations so Aid Crew could access the aid station, as well as in several sections of the course. This work was well above and beyond what would have ever been expected of me as a race director, but it was very important that I did everything in my power to make this race happen. I am known for this level of commitment to my participants and partners.

It seems like it is common for races to now offer men’s and women’s specific race shirts. This was not so when I started. I made sure that women got shirts that fit them well and looked good. Other races provided really cheap shirts that did not fit well and look horrible. I would like to think I was a leader in making sure racers received shirts that they loved to wear.

I guess it can be summed up as I don’t overlook the details. I am committed to creating a fun, supportive and connected community. You can definitely tell this at my events. I want everyone who comes to feel they are supported and important. I want to celebrate you and your accomplishments. I know these races are super tough and your finish really means something.

I am most proud of the community I have created.

Do you recommend any apps, books or podcasts that have been helpful to you?
I have a subscription to audibles and listen to YouTube videos regularly. I really like listening to Brene Brown. I really love her work on vulnerability. I am currently listing to the Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck. This book is been helpful in keeping me out of the mind traps that keep me stuck.

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Image Credit:
Bob Manthy

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