Southbound 400

5k's are a showcase of speed. Marathons are a test of endurance. But ultramarathons, rather than a test of your running ability, are a test of pain tolerance and mental fortitude.


Last month, a group of local New York City runners came together for the inaugural running of Southbound 400, an ultramarathon down the Empire State Trail from the border of Canada to Battery Park. Over 3 days, the inbred grit and determination of New Yorkers was indeed on full display. But what truly stole the limelight was the obvious camaraderie and support between teams and racers; the "I got your back" that is unspoken but obvious in the concrete jungle (Remember that time some random guy held the subway door open for you?).  


MOTIVNY had the pleasure of being involved in multiple levels of the race, from the organizing body to team captains and runners. On this week's blog, we highlight the best moments and thoughts from each of the MOTIVNY team that was involved in the race. 


JESS (Team Captain, Outdoorsy)

There was certainly a sense of pride and accomplishment when I finished the NYC Marathon last year, but those feelings were nothing compared to what I felt when I crossed the finish line of Southbound 400. Coming from a team sports background, Southbound felt like a return to the familiar home turf of "I'm relying on you, and you're relying on me." The team spirit, the act of feeding off of one another's energy, was one I didn't realized I had missed so much until this race.

I entered this race with the lowest mileage base and the slowest projected race pace of anyone on the team, and yet each time I finished a segment, my teammates were screaming and yelling their excitement for me. We were united behind a common goal of chasing other teams down and racing to the best of our abilities, but we also recognized that even just completing the distance itself would be no small feat. By day 3, we were all suffering. As I looked around my van, I could see the same internal dialogue being played out across my teammates' faces: "I cannot possibly run another mile, but if I don't then someone else has to." But each of us continued to get out and run, and that pushed the next person to push through and keep running as well.


Those seemingless endless days of studying strava segments, finding trees for nonstop bathroom emergencies, and sleeping (or not sleeping depending on who you ask) on the hard ground together bonded me to my teammates in such a way that I was willing to sacrifice anything for them. Southbound 400, but more importantly Team Outdoorsy, helped me realize a level of determination and grit that I wouldn't have otherwise found chasing individual goals by myself. And so if I could offer one takeaway from my experience, it's this:


The sport of life is not meant to be played alone, and running is the same. Seek out a run group. Meet people. Learn from the vets. Grow alongside the rookies. Find your people. And maybe, along the way you'll accomplish crazy things you'd never thought possible before. 


GREG (Team Captain, Champs Only)

Southbound was one of those races that leaves a mark on you. A mark that sticks for a while and probably forever. The race consisted of 400 miles along the Empire State Trail, the teams consisted of 8 runners and up to 4 crew members. I was lucky enough to captain a team we called Champs Only. We chose to split the team evenly and have 4 women and 4 men running with 4 crew members. For the most part the team only knew of each other through Instagram and the running community but nothing more than saying hello walking down the street. That's not how we left the race. 


Being the inaugural year, nobody knew what to expect besides what we were told. We knew we would be camping, we knew the route/terrain from looking at a map and some of us have run other relay style races such as TSP, HTC or Ragnar races but nothing that added up to 400+ miles. That made it exciting but seriously scary to be entering the unknown with a group of runners who had never hung out for more then 2-3 hours at a time together.


The race itself was not the goal for our team; the goal was to cross the finish line without any regrets, without arguments and with the feeling of accomplishment. As I sit here writing this, I can successfully say we completed that task, punctuated by the fact that my phone is vibrating from an overly-active Champs Only text chain. The route along the Empire State Trail felt imaginary in parts; the terrain being so picturesque, it felt surreal that we were still in New York State. Probably one of the most thrilling parts of the race was seeing the city skyline getting closer and closer as the miles grew.


For me the best part was the bond that the team made along the way. Being a captain I got to see it firsthand; I had the most robust relationship with each runner beforehand, so that gave me the chance to sit back and observe everyone else coming together between the two vans and really enjoying the journey. We had a hard time leaving the vans at the end of the weekend. It really was the ultimate running experience. 



DAVE (Race Organizer)

Designing an entirely new concept and putting Southbound 400 on the map meant anticipating every possible issue plus a flawless execution. Or at least that’s what I carried around for the four months we had to organize this race. Along with eight other organizers, we dedicated what felt like every free moment to ensure this wasn’t just another idea but a core memory for everyone involved. 


When the Empire State Trail finally reopened after the Pandemic in 2021, we naturally wondered if it was runnable, and if so, who has the FKT? Months later, after getting waitlisted for another popular relay race, the idea of racing this new trail ended up on a What’s App chat group and from then on, the rest was history. Chat groups became weekly video calls, workouts became brainstorming sessions, and quickly, friends became race organizers. There’s so much of the story left to process and tell, but from my end, this race was a feat in more than one way.


I’m sharing a little behind-the-scenes because I had a very different experience than my fellow race organizers. I had every intention of being physically at the race but as life would have it, my son, Jade, was born exactly when the race commenced - on the hour. I was actively following every moment of the race through our shiny live tracker, social media, and probably 10 different chats, all while waiting for Jade to complete his own southbound race out of the hospital. Jade, I can’t wait for you to meet all the crazy people that agreed to run this race and hear all their insane stories.


Southbound 400 sounded a like a pipe dream when we created it, and still does as I’m writing about it. There’s a lot more to be written but I couldn’t be happier about the end product, the people that it brought together, and all of the emotions and learnings along the way.