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Crossing the finish line of the High Bridge Ultra 50K, Jason Church thrust his arms in the air and shouted – “I’m an Ultra Runner.”  He shed tears of happiness as he hugged race director Steve Englund. The clock read 8:52:23.

It was a special moment, not just for Jason but for all of his friends in the Blacksburg running community who admire his determination and are inspired by his tenacity to overcome a broken foot that left him homebound and depressed for weeks in 2017.

Jason’s journey from new runner to ultra runner was fast – just over three years – but plenty challenging.

Seven years ago he weighed over 400 pounds and struggled with depression. In 2014, he was labeled diabetic. On July 20, 2015, he started running, quickly becoming a regular at Runabout Sports’ Wednesday night pub runs and finishing his first 5K three months later.

Hometown: Born in Pound, Virginia; now lives in Pearisburg

Age: 41 but feel and probably act like I’m 30!

Why did you start running? I started running to help become healthier and help control my diabetes. I was “labeled” diabetic in 2014 and running helped lower my A1C (a blood test that reflects your average blood glucose levels)from a 10 in 2014, to a 5.5 of September of this year. Also within 4 months of starting 25K training in 2015, I was able to come off one of the diabetic medications that I was on at the time.

Running also has helped me lose a lot of weight, of course. Through many ups and downs and also battling depression, I lost weight and would gain in back. With running the weight has stayed off. I could go on and on about why I started to running!

When was your first race? My first race was The Night Soul Glow 5K in Norton, Virginia, in October 2015.  I had originally planned to do the Hokie 5K as my first race, but I was so eager to run a race that I ran The Night Soul Glow 5K the weekend before I ran the Hokie Half 5K.

When and how did you break your leg? I broke my right foot two miles into a run on Poverty Creek Trail at Pandapas Pond on October 2, 2017. The orthopedic surgeon called it a Jones Fracture, but it was broken completely in two. I actually have pictures of the X-rays to help motivate me.

How did that make you feel? It made me feel defeated, depressed, and helpless. I was unable to even drive for 6 weeks due to it being my right foot and I had to wear an Air Cast that went from my foot to my knee. The only time I could take it off was to shower. Since I live by myself, I had to learn how to get around the house on crutches and learn tricks on how to do simple tasks like preparing meals and also how to take my dog out when he needed to go out. This is also another topic I could write a thesis on, but basically battling the depression while being confined to my house was the worst part of it.

When did you sign up for High Bridge? I signed up the first day registration opened up, which I believe was January 1, 2018. I signed up before the orthopedic surgeon released me to start back running, which was in the middle of February. I was going to volunteer at High Bridge 2017, but I broke my foot the week of it, so I figured why not sign up for the 50K — lol.

How much weight have you lost since you started running? I’m currently 295 pounds and I’m proud of it. I know I will continue to lose weight as long as I keep moving forward and challenging myself in my running. I don’t have the typical runner build, I’m short and have always been “big boned” all my life, but I have finally started to discuss what my weight is currently. I can talk about this for hours as well.

What’s your job at Celanese? How does working shifts affect your running? My job at Celanese is C.A. Operator. My job entails a lot of different things and some days I can easily be on my feet moving and standing for 8 hours or longer and I work in a very hot and humid environment.

Shift work makes my running schedule chaotic! I usually run after I get off work so I run at 7 a.m., 3 p.m., and 11 p.m. ; of course, my running varies with my schedule and I can try and discuss my schedule in depth if you want. There are often days I have to work overtime, which ends up being a 16-hour shift. When this happens and I have a run planned, I don’t get to run. Of course, I try and plan my long runs on my days off from work.

What was the hardest part during High Bridge? Trying to keep my nerves calm the week up to the start of the race was a challenge — but the hardest part once the race started was all the time running alone, which was often. I had to keep my mind occupied and stay focused on the finish line. I listened to music, listened to motivational albums on pushing myself and defining myself with running, and I did talk to myself as well. I know a few times while I was on the trail, I would scream out loud that I’m doing this and I’m awesome, and that I’m going to be an Ultra Runner!

What does it feel like to have completed High Bridge? I have found an inner peace in myself that I have never felt before. I don’t see a need to be stressed about things, I feel calmer! I can go on about the emotions and feelings when I finished!

Your next running goal? I’d like to run 1000 miles in 2019 – and  possibly a 50 miler

You are an inspiration to many — who inspires you? I’m still humbled that I’m an inspiration to others, but so many of my running family inspires me! They accepted me and believe in me. Honestly I have so many stories I could tell about how my running family has inspired me!  I wanted to give up running in August 2017 because I wasn’t getting any faster. So many individuals from my running family reached out to me and talk to me and I didn’t quit! Now that I look back to that time, if I had given up, I wouldn’t have achieved my first 50K and I wouldn’t feel this joy.