From dancer to ‘Darn Tough.’ Rachel Corrigan has been running ultras since age 16.

Rachel finished as the fifth overall woman at the 2021 Promise Land 50K.

Blacksburg’s Rachel Corrigan may have grown up near the beach but she fell in love with the mountains at an early age. She finished her first ultra — the Promise Land 50K — when she was 16 years old, an accomplishment inspired by her parents.

Rachel and her mom after the 2011 Promise Land 50K.

“I started running when I was 13 or 14. I’d just quit ballet after dancing 10 years, and needed a new sport,” she said. “I started by running a mile or two a few days a week with my parents. My mom has been a runner for a long as I can remember and started running ultramarathons when I was in high school, and my dad is very active as well. So they helped me get started!

“Spring of my senior year of high school in 2011, I decided that I wanted to run Promise Land 50k instead of running track. I had crewed my mom there the year before and romping around the mountains for 8 hours seemed so wild, especially coming from the beach! I had to do it. My parents helped me train and would do my long runs with me.”

She finished that first ultra in 7:47:22 and got hooked on the sport. And she just keeps getting faster. In April, ten years after running it in high school, Rachel finished Promise Land in 5:50:01, the fifth overall woman to cross the line.

As a sophomore at Virginia Tech, Rachel was one of the founders of VT Ultra.

“There were a dozen of us in the Virginia Tech Triathlon Club that were running trails all the time and racing ultras,” she said. “We decided to make it official and recruit other students to join us! I love to see that the club is still going strong today and that more ladies are involved.” 

Rachel says ‘Darn Tough’ socks are her favorite running gear. Sounds like a fitting description of her too.

Rachel Corrigan 

Hometown: Born in Norfolk, VA, but grew up in Mathews County, VA.

Age: I turn 27 in August.

What brought you to Blacksburg? College! I studied geology and geochemistry at Virginia Tech from 2011- 2014. I moved to Colorado for a few years for grad school, and moved back here in 2019 with my husband who is currently studying for his PhD. Blacksburg is a hard place to leave, for good reason!

Job? I work as a hydrogeologist. I work remotely for an out-of-state company.

Running background?I ran cross country for three years of high school and had a good coach.  I caught on to running pretty quickly and I think a lot of that is because of my dance background. Ballet gives you excellent core strength, single leg stability, and explosive power… which is what runners target in strength training! So I had a good base. My cross country coach gave us great workouts and strength sessions at each practice. I wasn’t crazy fast, usually running about 21 in the 5k, but I loved the sport and my team. I was captain of the girls’ team and we finished 4th at state my senior year, which was the highest my high school had ever placed at the time. XC definitely made me fall in love with running. 

I ran a few 25k’s in high school before running Promise Land. I met a group of VT Triathlon people at Terrapin and Promise Land in 2011, so I had a group of trail running friends when I moved to campus that fall. I was training for Mountain Masochist 50 miler fall of my freshman year. My running BFF, Chrissy Esposito, was training for Richmond Marathon that fall, so we’d do long runs together at Pandapas. When we’d get back to the parking lot, she would tell me to run back to campus to get more miles in! She was a senior on the Tri team, so kind of took me under her wing. I didn’t know the trails well, but I’d say “Okay!” and take off. I never got lost which was a miracle. Me and my core running group at the time did the Lynchburg Ultra Series in 2012, so this is what most weekends during my freshman year looked like. 

Rachel closes in on the finish of the Bear 100 miler in 2018.

I ran a lot of races in college, probably 5 to 8 a year. I was not consistent with training but always managed to finish. You can get away with a lot when you are 19!

What keeps you running now? I love spending time outside! Feeling free and connected to nature is very important to me. Trail running gives me that feeling, while still being within the bounds of living in the “real world” and working full time. I’ve been running trails and ultras for a while now, but I still feel like I have a lot of growth ahead of me. That’s really exciting!

Most satisfying running accomplishment? Probably having my first 100 miler go exactly as planned and getting to train for it with Chrissy. We even ran the first 40 miles of the Bear 100 together. It was really meaningful to get to share that experience with her. I was in grad school, didn’t have a huge crew, and hadn’t seen any of the course before. I even had a chemistry exam at 7 am the day before the race. So I was already super stressed, plus the exam took three hours! Maybe being distracted by school was a blessing in disguise. I remember telling Chrissy on the drive there, “The hardest part of this week is already behind me! Now I get to have fun and play in the mountains!” I have done a decent amount of long-distance backpacking as well, and I think that really helped me out in the 100-mile distance, especially mentally, to just relax and let the miles happen. I truly had fun the entire time and was so happy to be there! Definitely my most fun race experience. 

What’s a typical training week? My training peaks at 70-mile weeks with 6 runs. I average around 60 miles a week throughout a training cycle. I’ll do one or two key workouts, either hills or speed, and a long run. The rest is “easy chair pace.” Also core and strength/stability 3 times a week if I can remember.  I love training because it gets me on the trails with my friends every week!

Last race? Promise Land 50k, my favorite!

Next race? Hopefully Hellgate 100k this winter.

Hardest race? Hellgate 100k in 2019… not because of the course, but because of the 9 hours of cold rain. I fell very hard in the rain at mile 30 and busted my knee open, got super cold and shaky because I couldn’t move, then dropped out and sat in the car for an hour. Then I un-dropped and finished! I’d DNFed Hellgate twice before, in 2013 and 2014, so I knew that [Race Director David] Horton would (probably) never let me back in if I dropped a 3rd time. 

Favorite workout? That’s a tough one… probably a terrible hill workout that takes two hours, like a hill ladder with a ton of sprints at the end ☺ Or a good 4 hour long run with my friends! 

Favorite places to run? Locally, the Appalachian Trail in Giles County and Pandapas. Not locally, the Colorado Trail between Kenosha Pass and Breckenridge. So smooth! 

Advice for new runners? Celebrate the little things, like not falling on your face running down Gateway trail!

Proudest running moment(s)? Hellgate, Highland Sky 40, the Bear 100, and Promise Land 50k in 2011 and 2021 all stand out in my memory as well executed or hard-earned races, so I feel proud looking back on those events. But I probably feel the proudest of myself after getting in my workout every day. Making that time to get out in the woods and breathe is so important. 

Rachel and her husband Fletcher hiked about 2,100 miles of the Continental Divide Trail in 2019.

Crewing my now-husband, Fletcher Meadema, at Grindstone 100 in 2014 is also a very proud running memory even though I didn’t run at all. He likes to say that he’s a hiker first and runner second, but he is a super strong runner! He smokes me on the downhill and can hike up hill way faster than me. He had a really great day at Grindstone and I was so excited to get to help him throughout the race! 

Hobbies beyond running? Hiking, backpacking, and gravel biking! Fletcher and I love backpacking together and have spent about a full year of time backpacking all across the country. We thru hiked the Pacific Crest Trail in 2015, the Tahoe Rim Trail in 2017, about 2,100 miles of the Continental Divide in 2019, and just hiked the John Muir Trail last month. I love that it lets us experience gorgeous places and meet amazing people that we never would have seen or met otherwise! Long trails have an amazing community. We’re very fortunate to have been able to spend so much time in our twenties exploring. But it has made it hard for me to sit still!

I also love gardening, baking (not cooking), and searching thrift shops for interesting stuff.

Any running superstitions or rituals? I always run with my hair down! I get a headache if I have it up in a ponytail. I like to think that it makes me faster.

Favorite pre-run fuel? Right before a run, usually a Honey Stinger waffle. I’ll eat oatmeal with chia seeds one hour before a long run.  

Favorite post-run recovery/reward meal? A cold seltzer water and a cheeseburger always hits the spot!

Fact most people don’t know about you? I was homeschooled by my dad through 9th grade. My brother is a year older than me, so my dad taught us together and I ended up a grade ahead.

Running goals in the next few years?I’d love to get in Western States 100! I’ve also been tootling with the idea of a SCAR (Smokies Challenge Adventure Run) at some point. But even more so than race goals, my number one goal is to stay healthy and balanced so that I can keep enjoying the trails for as long as possible. 

You might also like these stories:

105 racers started the Looking Glass 50 miler. Just 63 finished. Emily Hutchins was 1 of them.

Grit, determination (and lots of soda) fuel Brett Sherfy to Western States finish

Hokie Half champ credits hill training and positive thoughts for strong finish

Skip Slocum: From occasional 5K to 50K in one year

Jordan Chang shares his passion for running and community.

Danny Rau: ‘Running is a cruel mistress’

Jenn Fleming’s comeback story continues with win at Holiday Lake 50K

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s