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From Overweight to Ultramarathons, Joe Randene Is Out To Prove Anyone Can Run

Fleet Feet manager Joe Randene looks at a map before a trail run

Ultrarunner Joe Randene is the General Manager at Fleet Feet High Point and Greensboro, North Carolina. He already finished two 100-mile races (among many races of other distances), and is chasing down the goal to compete at the Western States 100-mile trail run.

If you looked at Randene today, you wouldn’t guess the now 48-year-old was 130 pounds overweight in 2014 and in fear that his always-working, barely-moving lifestyle would send him to an early grave.

He couldn’t run 100 feet much less dream of running 100 miles one day.

He might tell you that running hasn’t just changed his life; it is his life. After he took up trail running, Joe quit his high-stress senior executive job and went to work for Fleet Feet.

“It’s been an amazing journey. I’m the happiest guy in the world,” says Randene. “I wake up every day and I have time to run and train. And I work for a store that supports people being active.”

In a phone interview with Fleet Feet, Randene talks about his transformation, why he runs ultras and how he wants to use running to help other people change their lives, too.

Ultrarunner and Fleet Feet manager Joe Randene looks at a map to plan his trail running route

You came a long way, from fearing for your life to running incredible distances. How did you get started?

I weighed 333 pounds and I had an epiphany. We lived in Italy at the time. I was packing for a work trip, and couldn’t button my shirt. I thought to myself, “You’ve got a great job, a beautiful wife and kids and you’re going to be dead because you’re not taking care of yourself.”

I had this old pair of running shoes. I threw them in a bag with a pair of shorts and a shirt. I went off on my business trip, and that night I went out for a run. I made it about 100 feet.

I went straight back to the hotel and Googled “how to start running.” I found a Couch-to-5K program. I started the run/walk thing, started to eat better and drink less alcohol. By the end of the program I could go for a 35 to 40 minute jog, and the pounds were coming off.

How did you stay motivated after the Couch-to-5K program?

A buddy suggested I sign up for a 10K charity run so that I could continue to have a goal. I signed up for the Great North Run in Manchester, England, with no idea that it’s the largest 10K in the world with more than 60,000 people. It was such a rush to be out there with so many people cheering you on. I was hooked. Next I signed up for a half marathon, and finished in under two hours, which I was really excited about. I signed up for a marathon in Florence, Italy, which was where we lived at the time. I ran that in about four hours.

How did you make the switch to trails and ultra running?

One day these guys that I ran with in Florence asked if I had ever run on trails. I didn’t even know that trail running was a thing.

One Saturday morning we met at a coffee shop, and we ran right up this mountain. It was so different. Road running felt like a lot of checking splits and worrying about workouts. With this group on the trails, though, if we ran 30 minutes and saw something cool, we stopped to take pictures and joke around. Some people didn’t even stop their watches.

That was it. I went home and said, “I don’t care about Boston, I don’t care about roads. This trail thing is awesome.”

Ultrarunner Joe Randene rests during a trail run

What do you tell others who want to make a change but struggle to do it?

It’s never too late. I’ve watched 75-year-olds finish 100 milers. If you’re still breathing, it’s never too late. You don’t have to run 100 miles. You can improve your life by walking one mile a day. We can always do more if you stop selling yourself short. You can do it. You can go after big goals.

What shoes do you like to train and race in?

All I run in is HOKA. In 2016, I wore the Challenger ATR. In Florence I had to run on concrete to get to trail, so an all terrain shoe was the best for me at the time. I did my first ultra in that shoe.

In Greensboro, I switched to the Speedgoat. The Speedgoat 4 is amazing. I did the Indiana Trail 100 in one pair of Speedgoats. I was going to change shoes and socks, but it was dry and cool so I stayed in the same ones. I don’t get injured in HOKAs. I love the rocker and the cushion.

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By Kate Schwartz. Schwartz has been running competitively for 20 years, and she currently runs with the Asheville Running Collective. She lives in Asheville, NC, with her husband, Alex, and their cat, Clementine.

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