An Orange County man ran 77 miles in a record-breaking time to raise money for local nonprofit Triangle Bike Works.
On Oct. 21, Nathan Toben ran segment 10 of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail in 12 hours and 24 minutes, raising over $7,200 for Triangle Bikeworks.
Toben is an ultra-runner, meaning he runs distances that exceed a marathon distance of 26.2 miles. The sport varies from 50 kilometers (31.07 miles) through mountain ranges to 24 hours looping around a track.
However, for Toben, ultra-running is not just physical exercise, but a test of mental fortitude. He first discovered the sport when he found a video by well-known ultra-runner, Rob Krar.
“He was talking about how when he ran these very long distances, it gave an opportunity to get closer to his depression and stare down his depression,” Toben said. “So when he went into these dark places very late in the race, it was an opportunity to have a safe interaction with his mental illness, and that really resonated with me as someone who has depression himself.”
Today, Toben is a seasoned ultra-runner who most recently inspired local children in the Carrboro area by partnering with Triangle Bikeworks.
Toben said he was looking for a creative way to stay motivated in his training and engage with the Black Lives Matter movement while following COVID-19 safety guidelines. He said he owes a lot to the time he spent cycling as a child and the mental strength it instilled in him. His partner, Carina Gibson, said Toben was searching for an intentional way to give back.
"It’s easy to have money and give it to a blanket cause like a big organization, which is really great, but I think there is something to be said for finding something that is local and direct and something that you can also relate with, as he does with biking,” she said.
Triangle Bikeworks is a nonprofit that provides organized cycling opportunities to inspire young people to conquer their fears, achieve audacious goals and discover who they want to be, Itza Salazar, the program manager of Triangle Bikeworks, said. The program provides adult mentors, social and emotional education and bike tours for children to retrace historical paths such as the Underground Railroad and Trail of Tears.
She said the nonprofit's goal is to help youth discover history told from the perspectives of people of color.
Salazar said she found that Toben’s run paralleled the feats these children completed throughout the year and illustrated to the children that they could do anything.
“As we told the youth about what Nathan was doing, they were all like, 'Oh my goodness, he’s crazy!'" she said. "And it was funny to hear this being their reaction, because the youth get the same reaction when they are out telling people about the trip they are going to be taking."
Toben and Salazar both believe physical exertion has a profound impact on individual growth.
Toben said he thinks there's an interesting connection between safe suffering and self-awareness and confidence. He said he believes having a safe environment where you can bring your body to its limits can lead to self-growth.
"I think there is this alchemy that takes place that not only encourages self-growth, but connection to wherever you were when that type of suffering took place," he said.
Salazar said the physical and mental challenge of biking allows the children a source of mindfulness and accomplishment.
“I like to tell them they get to go through bike therapy because you have so much time with just yourself and to reflect," he said. "No one is pedaling the bike for you, this is all you, and when you accomplish something like that, it gives you a new perspective.”
To contribute to Toben’s fundraising, you can go to pledgeit.org and type "77 miles" to find the donation webpage. To contribute to Triangle Bikeworks directly, you can either donate through its website or volunteer directly.
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