Everyone is aware of the dedication and determination that accompanies running a marathon. The time spent training and mentally preparing to run 26.2 miles is certainly no easy feat. In late January, Carson Mann ’25, Greyson Hurley ’24, and James Gilbert ’23 took on an even larger challenge and participated in a 50-mile ultramarathon in Wilmington, North Carolina.
The ultramarathon, which consisted of a 10-mile loop completed five times, caught the interest of Carson and Greyson during the summer of 2022. “We had watched too many David Goggins videos,” Greyson says. “Carson found the ultramarathon, and about 10 minutes later, we had signed up.”
Back on the Hill that fall, James overheard Carson and Greyson discussing their preparations for the ultramarathon. After a summer in Montana where he had developed a love for trail running, James was in too.
“I had read a lot about people participating in ultramarathons while becoming interested in trail running,” James says. “I have always enjoyed pushing myself, and I was really looking forward to this new challenge.”
Although they were all once Hampden-Sydney Rugby teammates, the three have different backgrounds in competitive running.
While participating in various sports growing up, James never considered himself a competitive runner until he found a passion for physical fitness.
Though he admitted that he disliked running growing up, Greyson pushed himself to become a runner when he joined the Army ROTC program at Hampden-Sydney to prepare himself for after graduation.
Starting at a young age, Carson competitively ran cross country and track throughout high school with the hopes of becoming a Navy Seal like his inspiration, David Goggins.
With the support of each other, they pushed themselves in the months leading up to the ultramarathon. “My high school coach, who was a professional marathon runner, provided a 10-week training plan that was 10 weeks from the day of the event, so we started training intensely in mid-November,” Carson says.
While running upwards of 50 miles per week, they found mental motivation through visualization and grit. Considering how far they had come, and the amount of training put forth, they all knew they were going to accomplish this milestone. “I felt nervous leading up to it, but when the day came, I was calm,” James says. “We had a lot of support from our families, and the thought of quitting was not in our minds. We knew nothing was going to stop us.”
On January 21, 2023, the trio headed down to the coastal salt marshes of Wilmington, North Carolina, for the Southern Tour Ultra. Known as the Woodstock of the Southeast, the Southern Tour Ultra held numerous events over two days, including the 50-mile ultramarathon, a 50k, a Last Man Standing event, and a 50-mile relay along with live music, camping, tailgating, and an all-day bonfire.
“The whole day was a really positive experience,” James says. “It was sunny, and the vibe was good. There was live music, cold drinks, and a fresh atmosphere.”
Feeling calm and rested, the trio took off at 6 a.m. with the other participants. “The terrain changed a lot throughout the race,” Carson says. “At different points we were running past people’s backyards, then engulfed by trees in the woods, then surrounded by the marshes.” The beautiful scenes certainly provided motivation, but the other participants were a major motivating factor throughout the ultramarathon.
“The culture of ultra-running was astonishing,” James says. “If someone saw you with a 50-mile bib, they knew you were going through it. One woman participating in the 50k offered me words of encouragement, and I nearly burst into tears. That simple gesture kept me going.”
Greyson added to these sentiments, saying, “During the ultramarathon, I was extremely excited and grateful to be there. I hit two walls throughout, but persisted and felt a major sense of accomplishment.”
The encouragement and determination paid off in the end. Carson, Greyson, and James were the three youngest people to finish the ultramarathon. Carson finished in 9 hours and 1 minute; James finished in 10 hours and 21 minutes; and Greyson finished in 11 hours and 16 minutes. “This had been in the back of our minds for so long, and there was so much build-up to it,” James laughed. “But in the end, it was a big sense of relief to finish strong and complete it together.”
Though the physical challenge was steep, James, Carson, and Greyson made it through, thanks to their individual dedication and the encouragement of their Hampden-Sydney brothers.