Ethan Newberry, YouTube Ultra-runner, Conquers Doubt, Nipple Blood

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Undoubtably, shameful laziness is one of the emotions you’re going to experience when reading this interview with Ethan Newberry, one of YouTube’s best fitness/life advocates. But you shouldn’t let that stop you from trekking to the end of this monster of an interview (what can we say, the guy talks like he runs — a lot!) with the self-termed “Ginger Runner.”

Ethan was once like you … feeling lazy and incapable of achieving “the impossible” — but no more. His life’s work now is to make a giant allegory about confronting the idea that you can’t do almost anything you want in life. Ethan is an ultra-runner, one of those humans (I would say superhuman, but that would fly in the face of Ethan’s very message) taking on endurance foot races of 50 miles — or more! He wasn’t always a superior athlete; it took a large dose of training and a larger dose of confronting doubt in himself.

To put it simply: Ethan’s channel is an ode to the possibility that lies within all of us. And the reality of that message is exciting. You might not be a runner yourself (I’m more about winning some sort of contest for eating the most cheese fries), but damned if you can’t apply Ethan’s words and videos to your own life in some context. You don’t have to get out and start running — just get out and start living.

Isn’t there a less taxing method of conquering “doubt” than running 50 miles?

Ethan: I’m positive there is (and it was 81 miles, but who’s counting)! The whole idea is that all of us are faced with doubt in our lives. It could be doubt about a job change, a move, a relationship, what we want to eat for dinner. It’s constant and sometimes deafening. But the message is to tackle doubt head-on, to destroy it and let it feed you rather than petrify you into indifference. I promise that I was not remotely capable of running 81 mountain miles with over 18,000 feet of vertical a year ago. Hell, I couldn’t run more than a handful of FEET a number of years ago. But telling myself I couldn’t or doubting the fact I had the ability moved me in the wrong direction. It’s about changing the mindset and proving to yourself – constantly – that things ARE possible. It sounds cliche, it sounds like one of those stupid desk calendar phrases, but I am living proof that sometimes despite all your feelings saying otherwise, we can do impossible things.

Seriously, isn’t that ultra-marathon stuff really bad for your body?

While runners deal with their fair share of injuries, they’re never as bad as the risks to the body when you’re NOT getting out there and moving. I often get told, “Man, you shouldn’t run so far. You’ll destroy your knees!” Well, I run anywhere from 50 to 100 miles a week, know people who run double that, have talked to people who race every weekend, and while injuries are not completely absent, they certainly aren’t the norm. Ultra runners tend to have a hightened sense of body awareness. When there’s even the SLIGHTEST tweak in a muscle or joint, it’s to the ice bath and salt soak, the foam roller and the compression sleeves. It’s all part of the game.

Do you just go to the bathroom down your legs or what?

Nothing like the warm trickle of leg-pissing to wake you up in the morning! In reality, this is the #1 most asked question for most ultra runners it seems! When you’re on the trail and you have to go, no matter what number, you have to listen to that urge. For number-ones, stepping off trail and relieving yourself in a bush is the norm. It’s actually pretty freeing seeing as your view tends to be on the “epic” end of the scale rather than a poorly wallpapered bathroom or starbucks stall. When it comes to number-two, there’s a certain protocol that ultra runners SHOULD abide by (but don’t always, unfortunately) and that’s to travel farther off trail to do the biz. I’ve learned the hard way to always carry some “squares” should the need arise, but I’ve heard horror stories of socks, shirts and ROCKS coming to the rescue. Conversations amongst ultra runners tend to touch on trail shitting at some point and there’s always a good, though graphic, story!

Did you feel it was important to highlight the “ginger” aspect of your being because it was a message to all people that gingers can/do achieve amazing things?

Having a mutant gene hasn’t been all “x-ray vision parties” and “adamantium ragers”! When I was younger, I was tormented by my peers for the color of my hair. Pretty terribly at times. Growing up it was really difficult to have zero control over something and constantly battle bullying because of it. I remember dyeing my hair at times to try and hide the fact it was red – but it never worked. We can try to hide the color of our hair, but we can’t hide our glorious translucent skin and vampire complexions. As I started to get older and the term “ginger” became more mainstream – especially with hate speech – I made a choice to change the word personally. I wanted to remove the venom from it. By bringing light to the term and building a brand off of it, I’ve learned to embrace it and others have to. While I still get the “no soul” joke regularly, people don’t throw quite as much anger behind it. I now have viewers who are buying and sporting “Ginger Runner” shirts despite having NO RED HAIR ON THEIR BODY. I think that’s pretty cool!

Do you have to tape down your nipples to keep them from bleeding?

Yes. Oh definitely yes. I use bandaids. Nipple blood is the WORST!

You have a pretty inspirational channel — what is a YouTube channel that you watch to give you inspiration?

What’s crazy is that I don’t consider myself as an inspiration. I’m still in the midst of my journey, still working hard to be better, faster, to run farther, so it confounds me when someone says I am their inspiration. Like my viewers and many athletes and non-athletes alike, I’m constantly searching for my own inspiration. Ironically, it’s those who tell me I’m their inspiration that inspire me. I now get stories DAILY where people tell me about their journeys to lose 200 lbs, to run their first mile, to walk their first half marathon, to attempt their first ultra, to summit their first marathon, the list goes on. It’s INCREDIBLE to see people believing in themselves and making a difference in their own lives. That’s the shit that inspires me. Oh, and JacksFilms.

What is some advice you have to keep new runners from quitting?

That’s the doubt I was talking about earlier. There are always voices that tell us to stop, to slow down or to quit, in races and in life. They are very strong voices and sometimes they’re really easy to listen to. The trick is to push through these moments and prove to yourself you are stronger than the voices, that you’re stronger than doubt. This applies across the board, not just to running. I like to remind myself that the rewards at the finish line far outweigh the pain you’re currently feeling — or more simply, the ends will justify the means. It will always be about the greater journey, not just the here-and-now. For new runners, I often get told that they HATE running long distances. They get bored or injured or just dislike the experience. I agree with them. It does, to a point. There was a time for me in my training long ago when I hated running. But there was eventually a moment where everything shifted, when my hatred of running waned. It was when my body started to allow me to shift into longer distances (over 10 miles) and my mind kept me moving. It eventually happens with every runner that I’ve talked to where the thought of running long no longer instills fear and anxiety, but rather joy and excitement. It’s a pretty cool phase as a runner!

Do you imagine that “Chariots of Fire” theme song every time you get near a finish line?

Actually, I compose all of the music for my films and love listening to it when I’m running or racing! I’ve released a full album, “Ginger Runner GRINDS” (top 15 electronic albums on iTunes for its first month of release), and now release a new single with each film. The locations I race in inspire me – from the lush rainforests of British Columbia and waterfalls of the Gorge, Oregon to the bustling cityscapes of Los Angeles and San Francisco. I love being able to create tunes that instantly take me back to those moments in those locations, it’s one of my favorite aspects of the channel!

If you weren’t YouTubing about running, what else would you YouTube about?

Weirdly enough, TheGingerRunner is my second attempt at YouTube. I started back in 2006 with my original and main channel, TheSampler, doing sketch comedy, music parodies and bits. I was in the inaugural YouTube NEXT UP class a few years back, managed to collaborate with some of YouTube’s biggest names, and realized YouTube was a legitimate choice for me as a content creator. But YouTube is tough. It’s a hustle and the community has changed exponentially since its origins. As the years went on, I started to lose the passion to constantly create comedy that failed to live up to my expectations. When you’re on a YouTube schedule, you’re driven to do at least a video a week (even now that’s not enough). In comedy, that seems easy – how hard could it be to write a sketch a week, edit it and post it? Well, it was difficult for me in that my bigger ideas would get pushed by the wayside. I had to limit my creative scope in hopes of meeting an arbitrary deadline that would get subs and views. Also, the comedy space on YouTube was changing, vlogs became the “content of choice” by younger audiences, and I was losing inspiration. This led me to performing more live improv comedy around town – my roots – and allowed me more free time to run.

That’s when the idea came to create something like TheGingerRunner – a mix of education, information and entertainment. But it was so vastly different than anything I had done at that point that doubt took over and I believed there was no point in it – who would my audience be? Was it worth starting over from scratch? Were there others out there, like me, that wanted this kind of content? Despite the doubt, I created the channel and started putting out content, not really telling my comedy world what I was up to. Now, a few years later, I have embraced TheGingerRunner 110% and am blown away by the response. My passion for creating awesome content is deeper than ever and more rewarding than I could have ever imagined. This is a full 180 from where I was a few years back and I’m riding it until the day I die. I absolutely, wholeheartedly love every second of it.

What’s your craziest story from your running experiences?

Every trail runner tends to have a crazy story or two. From wild animal encounters (I’ve seen bears, rattlers, tarantulas, deer and wild dogs on the regular) to near death experiences (I was nearly knocked off a cliff last weekend by some douchenozzle trail rookies). Most ultra runners have found themselves deep in wild country without food and water for way too long. I have stories like that because I was an idiot. We also all fall from time to time and get some serious trail gash that should get immediate attention but won’t due to our distance from civilization. I still have the scars. I’ve seen people run 100 mile races, seemingly on the verge of death, turn their whole day around and run stronger to a finish than they started. I also distinctly – and unfortunately – remember two women once sat back-to-back in the middle of the trail during a race to shit with each other. Yes, that actually happened.

But I will always remember my first ultramarathon in 2012 at The North Face Endurance Challenge Championships in San Francisco. The night before the race I was a bag of anxiety and cake-eating nerves. The weather had turned from bad to the ABSOLUTE WORST as torrential storms were expected. The race organizers sent an email to all participants at 11pm that the race would still go on, but the courses would change due to flooding and dangers. All night, sheets of rain and insane wind wailed against the window as a huge storm rolled in. Needless to say I barely slept a wink as my heart raced all night and my mind worried I would die the next day in the Marin Headlands just north of San Francisco. Once at the startline, I was concerned that not being able to see more than 10 feet in front of me from the rain and fog that plagued the landscape was a bad sign. Despite wrapping myself in as many storm-proof layers as possible, I was soaked for every second of the race as the inches of rain, sleet and wind devoured us. Any hill we faced had turned into foot-thick slop with zero traction and treacherous descents. It was an absolute shit-show. And I loved every damn second of it. I will never forget crossing that finish line and embracing my now fiancee – who had waited for hours at almost every aid station in the weather just to greet me – and absorbing that I had done what I never thought I could. Very memorable day, that’s for sure! They ended up cancelling the shorter distance races the following day due to weather and the fact the trails had been absolutely destroyed by the storm.

Amazing, right? And to think when you started reading this interview you didn’t think there was any way you would finish it. You conquered doubt. Now share this thing with everyone you know.