It’s 5:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning and Patrick Creel is up early to run 40 miles. Not four miles, and not 40K, but 40 miles. In the dark. On trails. Yeah, Creel is one of Austin’s cadre of ultra-runners—known to run extreme distances on gnarly trails. This is a guy who’s done 26 miles worth of repeats on Austin’s infamous Hill of Life, just for a workout.
That’s right, besides his endurance hobby, Creel, 43, is a classically trained musician (french horn; piano), who performs professionally in the Austin area. Additionally, he is a professor of horn and wind chamber music at Southwestern University, and teaches about 45 students a week in the AISD.
Creel first caught the running bug after moving to Austin in 2007.
“I decided to head to the Town Lake trail. It was July, 2:00 in the afternoon, and I found myself on the trail attempting to run what I could,” said Creel. “I was immediately taken aback at how many people were using the trail and how fit everyone looked. I was so inspired and tried my best to run along with some people. I think I made it 1.25 miles before feeling like I was going to die. I drove back to the apartment and told my wife, ‘I’m going to be a runner and I am going to run a marathon’.”
Creel made good on his promise, running the Austin Marathon in February of 2008. He later progressed to triathlons (including the Ironman distance) but kept a strong running core. In addition to running 60-80 miles a week, he still swims around four miles a week.
“I was fortunate enough to work with two wonderful coaches, John Schrup and Steve Sisson. It was through their guidance and the group runs/workouts that I really embraced this life of running,” said Creel, who’s gone 3:18 for the marathon.
Eventually, in 2014, he gravitated towards trail running, hooking up with Erik Stanley’s Trail Roots. His debut ultra was the Big Bend 50 miler.
“That race was everything and more of what I expected,” said Creel. “To this day Big Bend has the largest impact on me and how it shaped me into who I am as a runner.”
Big Bend was followed by the Javelina Jundred in McDowell Mountain Regional Park in Arizona as well as numerous 50 milers and 100k’s in Colorado, Squamish B.C., Texas, Arizona, and Utah.
“Finishing my first Hundo (100 miler as it is called) in Zion National Park was a memory that I will never forget. It took everything in me to see it through, all emotions were brought out and tears at the finish line,” said Creel. “What sticks out most to me with the Zion experience was the crew who came out to Utah. They met me at every aid station and paced me from mile 50 to the end. I have been lucky to have that experience at multiple races and my gratitude is never ending. I think that is a huge part of what I like about trail running, the people and the sense of community.”
For the last two years Creel has run the Grand Canyon R2R2R and considers it a yearly pilgrimage.
“As long as I can go to run it, I will find a way to do it,” Creel said of the R2R2R runs. “It is like a complete restart of all the stresses and events life throws at us. I leave them feeling spiritually refreshed and with the clearest of mind. In fact, that is what I treasure most with trail running, it is like free therapy.
“I still don’t know what drives me to extremes, there is something in me that always seeks that out,” said Creel. “So much of what I do in running and sport stems from my routines established in musical journeys and practices where it can feel like it’s never enough. I always strive for perfection in music, and that tends to drive me towards the same thing in running. Every trail run gives me a sense of clarity, healing, gratitude, and inspiration. I always find one thing to take from a run that is positive.”
News Flash! Austin marathoners Will Nation and Sarah Jackson made big strides at the California International Marathon last week, both running personal bests and breaking through to the next level. Creel popped a 2:13:24, while Jackson ran a six-minute PR of 2:42:27.
Upcoming Races: Saturday, January 1, Resolution Run 5K at 9:00 a.m., Gregg Clarke Park in Kyle. Sunday, January 2, the Decker Challenge at 8:30 a.m., Circuit of the Americas, Austin – One lap around the track-3.4 Miles; Two laps around the track- 6.8 Miles; and Three laps around the track-10.2 Miles.