Richard Kresser Running Toward Joy

Adventure racing

Beaming with exuberance and emanating positivity, Richard Kresser is a prominent activist expanding the boundaries of running and multisport endurance adventures in the Northwest and beyond.

Richard grew up in Iowa, where he felt challenged by an older brother who demonstrated abundant athletic talent.

“Growing up, I was always undersized and slow. I wrestled at 103 pounds all four years of high school on junior varsity, and only made varsity my senior year of cross country. I was a stark contrast to my older brother, who was a star runner and wrestler. I realized I would never be able to run as fast as my brother, but what I could do to stand out was to go farther.”

Although Richard is known as an ultra runner, his first love is mountaineering.

Richard possesses another important quality: rather than viewing his exploits as a challenge or work, he views them as play.

Once he realized he couldn’t run as fast as his brother, Richard began to explore other ways to express his athleticism.

“My strength is that I’m good at suffering, a strange thing to be good at, but it has enabled me to continue to push my boundaries in endurance sports. After running a marathon, I wondered whether I could do a 50k? After I finished a 50k, I asked myself ‘could I run 50 miles?’ and ‘Where were my limits?’ It’s a natural desire to challenge yourself. I found the more I ran, the more I discovered my immense passion for ultra running and endurance challenges. As I have progressed, I discovered ways to be more creative with ambitions. Instead of just doing races with an established course, I’ve moved toward ‘adventure runs’ and ‘adventure races.’ This is where you use your mind as well as your body to make decisions, navigate, and negotiate technical terrain.”

As Richard approached adulthood, he recognized a need to spread his wings and experience the world beyond Iowa. His path led to Ranger School then to Joint Base Lewis-McChord which exposed him to the Cascade and Olympic Ranges. During his military service he was deployed to a remote mountain base in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, where the setting sun lit up the surrounding peaks.

“Those mountains called out to me, but unfortunately they were off limits.”

Richard gives a thumbs-up during his final day in the military.

When his military commitment was complete, he stayed in the Northwest.

He quickly became increasingly comfortable with suffering and confident in his skills, and he transitioned from formal races to bigger adventures and objectives.

“Races are a wonderful way to ‘learn’ how to ultra run in a supported, controlled, safe environment. If something goes wrong, there are safety systems in place to help you out. However, as I gained more experience, I desired to go out further into remote places and do bigger goals. I learned the importance of self-reliance.”

Richard’s military background is evident in that he refers to his adventures as “missions.”

“Running is really fun, but I view it as a mode of transportation. Climbing, skiing, and biking are all large parts of my life as different modes of transportation, too. I enjoy being a jack of all trades and have a varied skillset, with the object of moving efficiently over varied terrain. I pick my goals based on what inspires me, and then choose the most efficient mode of transportation from there. Sometimes it can mean a combination of different skills, such as running and climbing, or biking and skiing. I enjoy the trail racing community, but it is very one-dimensional in its objectives. Planning big mountain objectives allows my creativity to run rampant with all the possibilities of how to approach a mission, be as minimal as I can with my gear, and travel as quickly as possible.”

Highlights of Richard’s race and adventure resume include:

–First person to *run* RAGBRAI, the annual bike tour across Iowa: 416 miles in seven days alongside 20,000 bikers; raised over $20,000 for the Iowa Veterans Home.

Wonderland Trail around Mount Rainier: 27H:16M, which was then the unsupported Fastest Known Time (FKT). The current men’s unsupported FKT is held by Brian Donnelly and Yassine Diboun: 25h48m on Sept. 16-17, 2014

–Led successful independent expeditions to Denali and Aconcagua

Primal Quest Lake Tahoe 2015:
“Primal Quest returned after a seven-year hiatus and I couldn’t miss the opportunity. It lasted 10 days, and included trekking, mountain biking, climbing, kayaking, and white water rafting as a co-ed team of four. The scale of the terrain we had to cover was enormous, and made for an adventure of a lifetime. Rappelling off Lovers Leap in the middle of the night with our mountain bikes strapped on our backs, kayaking the entire length of Lake Tahoe under a full blood moon, and dealing with the team dynamics all made it something I’ll never forget.”

Richard during the RASH in 2016.

Dick’s RASH: Climbed Mts Rainer, Adams, St. Helens, and Hood in six and a half days; linked the climbs via automobile.

Bigfoot 200 Endurance Run: First place and course record

Pigtails 200: First place

Tahoe 200 Endurance Run: Swept (ran the course last to ensure everyone had finished) and drank 50 beers

–Climbed Mount Olympus in a day

Moab 240 Endurance Run: Swept and drank 75 beers

Tatoosh Traverse 12 peaks in one day: Fastest Known Time (FKT) with Gavin Woody

Richard on the summit of Lane Peak during the Tatoosh Traverse with Gavin Woody.

Richard has dubbed his big 2018 project the “Tour de Volcanos.”

“This will be the largest and longest adventure I’ve taken on yet. I’ve spent the last two years planning it. The mission is to climb all the active Cascade volcanos from Mount Lassen in northern California to Mount Baker in northern Washington and bike between them. I’ll also bike to/from the start/end from Seattle, making the entire project human-powered and self-supported. The volcanoes range from easy walk-ups like Lassen to technical peaks like Rainier. I hope to complete the climbing portion of the trip in 30 days.”

Given Richard’s exit from Iowa, and inclination for suffering in endurance events, I asked whether he is “running away from something,” or “running toward something.”

“I am most definitely running toward something, not away. In college I learned that I am a goal-oriented person. Without clear goals I become lethargic and sedentary. As the old saying goes, ‘it’s about the journey, not the destination.’ While the actual mission itself is fun, I find joy in the planning, spending hours poring over maps, researching gear, and packing. These projects keep me motivated not only in the outdoors, but help me to keep working hard in my personal and professional lives as well. Learning to become self-reliant due to necessity gives me the confidence to take on other challenges, and know I will figure out a way to solve the problem.”

Richard gets adventure running inspiration from Leor Pantilat and Jared Campbell.

“They both combine trail ultra running and climbing within their adventures and are incredibly strong athletes. Leor has done a lot of Fastest Known Times (FKTs) on peaks around the Pacific Northwest, which has stirred up a lot of ideas for future projects. They are smart, calculated, and self reliant, which is the model I would like to follow. Also, I respect both for being genuine athletes and not ‘building a brand’ around themselves.”

Richard battling classic cold and wet northwest conditions at Mt. Adams.

Richard has this advice about getting into off-the-map adventures and races:

“I would recommend folks find a good community of like-minded individuals. The people we surround ourselves with pays dividends in terms of providing direction and motivation. First off, I would suggest trail races. The trail running community is more welcoming to beginners than any other outdoor community. Having a trail running base is a foundation you can use to build a lot of other skill sets. Start off slowly, keep modifying your distance goals, and ask lots of questions!”

Just a small thing. I believe Gary Robbins has the current Wonderland Trail FKT. In 2015 he ran it in 18:52. Gary was fully supported, perhaps that distinction was not made? I loved this article!

Martin, check that link to the FKT website, which I’m assuming is the authoritative resource for such things. They do differentiate supported vs unsupported.

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