Helen Summerford MUTS organization

Helen Summerford is president and race coordinator of MUTS, the Mississippi Ultra and Trail Society. Summerford has a degree in classical studies from Millsaps College and a degree in physical therapy from the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC). The Ridgeland resident recently spoke to Senior Staff Writer Anthony Warren about the nonprofit and its efforts to raise awareness about running in the community.

 

How did you come up with the name MUTS? When I first heard about it, I thought MUTS dealt with animals.

“A few of us did a 100-miler in Florida four or five years ago, and we saw a bunch of stickers that said, ‘FUR – Florida Ultra Runners.’ We thought it would be neat to have a local club called MUR, Mississippi Ultra Runners. But we quickly changed that to MUTS, which is catchier.”

 

What all does MUTS do?

“What most people see us doing is holding four races throughout the year. Three are trail races and one is a paved race in Fondren, just through the neighborhood. We organize those and put them on what is called, ‘Ultra Sign Up,’ where people can sign up to participate in ultra and trail races. We are a member-driven club, so members do pay … and that money goes to our trail work in the area. We go where no trails have been done and work to maintain trails that are already existing.”

 

How many members do you have?

“Currently, we have 100 members.”

 

Describe a typical member.

“Not every member is out there running 100-mile races. Most people became interested in joining because they were doing 5ks and wanted to challenge themselves or had a friend who was doing trail races. We find that once they get off the road and start doing trail races, they love it. One of our goals, our main mission, is to grow trail and ultra running around the area. When you get outside of Mississippi, trail and ultra races are huge.”

 

Trail races seem self-explanatory, but what is an ultra?

“It’s any race that is over the marathon distance. A marathon is 26.2 miles. Your typical ultra starts at 50k, which is 30 miles. Typically when you see Ultras (advertised), they will include 50k, 50-mile, 100k or 100-mile distances. Those are your more standard differences. We have lots of marathons around – people are familiar with those. When you start talking about ultras, they have no idea what you’re talking about. Then, after they do one, they’re hooked on them.”

 

Are there any ultra races in Mississippi?

“There is one in Laurel, called the ‘Mississippi 50.’ It began in the late 1990s and was the first one in the state. There was a prominent person in the area who was a distance runner. He passed away and (organizers) continued the race in memory of him. It’s a 50k and a 50-miler and is run every March. It was my first 50k years ago.”

 

How do you get people to do an ultra?

“We found that middle-agers like to push ourselves by setting new goals and wondering, ‘what if. If I finish a marathon, could I do a 50k?’ It’s self-motivating. I’ve never told anybody they’ve needed to run an ultra. All I do is tell them what I do and go do it. You get people interested and people will get hooked on it. A lot of times, they’ll have several friends doing one, so they’ll do it with them. People tend to flock together and that helps a lot, too. If you’ve done a marathon, tacking on five more miles isn’t that daunting.”

 

What type of training is needed for a 50k?

“Typically, it’s like a marathon training plan. When you train for an ultra, most programs will have you running more miles on the weekend. You’ll do up to a 20-mile run on Saturday and six to eight miles on Sunday. You’ll up your weekend miles and do two longer weekend runs back-to-back to get used to running on tired and sore legs. Typically, you’re running 40 miles a week on average for a couple of months.”

 

Have you done a 100-mile race?

“I’ve done four.”

 

What thoughts go through your mind in a race like that?

“A lot goes through my mind. I mainly stay focused on running to the next aid station. When I start, I can’t think I’m going to run 100 miles. I break it down very simply. I always think I’m going to finish. You can never let doubt come in.”

 

Let’s talk about some of the projects MUTS has taken on.

“As far as trails, we have a couple Yockanookany Trail, which runs along the Natchez Trace. People hike it, walk on it and run it. We have a race on it, the Frosty 15, which is run in February. We have gone in groups to do trail clearings – cutting branches, removing limbs and trees. Being a federal park, there are very specific (rules) on what equipment you can use. I went through a volunteer program in January … (and) am now a certified volunteer. At Buddy Butts Park, there is (also) a pretty extensive trail. We did a project there this summer when we built a bridge over a creek. We bought the lumber and MUTS paid for the bridge (construction).”

 

What are some of the trail needs in the metro area?

“I think MUTS is helping (provide) what is needed. We have a Web site and a pretty large Facebook and social media following. We are able to raise awareness of the actual trails that are there. The main thing is introducing (runners) to them.”

 

When it comes to trails, are there any hidden gems in the metro?

“The perfect one for Jackson is Mayes Lake. It runs down in the woods around the Pearl River. The main entrance is behind the North Jackson baseball fields. They have a security guard and camp ground, two beautiful lakes and a nature trail. You can run three or four miles right there in Jackson and you don’t know you’re in Jackson.”

 

When you do trail running, what precautions should you take?

“The main one, if you’re by yourself, (is to) always take your phone. Just in case something as simple as turning your ankle (occurs), you can call somebody. Other than that, make sure someone knows where you are when you start, just so somebody’s aware.”

 

When it comes to trails, are there any hidden gems in the metro?

“The perfect one for Jackson is Mayes Lake. It runs down in the woods around the Pearl River. The main entrance is behind the North Jackson baseball fields. They have a security guard and camp ground, two beautiful lakes and a nature trail. You can run three or four miles right there in Jackson and you don’t know you’re in Jackson.”

 

What safety precautions do you offer for trail runners? 

“The main one, if you’re by yourself, (is to) always take your phone. Just in case something as simple as turning your ankle (occurs), you can call somebody. Other than that, make sure someone knows where you are when you start, just so somebody’s aware.”

 

When is MUTS’ next race?

“October 27 at a place called Wray’s Bluff in Canton. It’s a 50k, a 25k and an eight-mile. It’s a great introduction to (trail racing). It’s not very technical and there’s super scenery. A true road runner can come out and get a taste of trail running.”