When Art DeGraw was in high school, he was told he'd never be a great mountain biker.
"After I turned pro, I didn't do too much more with mountain biking,” said DeGraw. “I was ready for something new.”
They say that a goal made is a goal lost.
DeGraw, who has a Ph.D. in mathematics, could probably quantify this theory in greater detail, but the short story is that he got on with his life. After completing his bachelor's degree in mathematics at Union College in upstate New York, DeGraw completed his Master's degree and Ph.D. at SUNY Albany. He was quickly hired as a lecturer in actuarial science and mathematics at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff.
He also began running more and riding less.
"On a bike, you are on the trails but you are on a machine. When you are running, it's just your own two feet. I love the freedom of that.”
DeGraw was immediately hooked on the sport of trail running and completed the Leadville Trail Marathon in 2010, which hits elevations of over 13,000 feet. Unfortunately, he was injured soon after.
"I had the engine from mountain biking but not the legs," he admitted.
This year, he's been blazing the trails at the XTERRA Arizona Trail Series. Last March he won the XTERRA Black Canyon Half Marathon by six minutes. In October, he won the XTERRA Estrella Mountain 20K by almost 11 minutes, in November, he won the XTERRA San Tan 14-miler by 10 minutes, and in January he won the XTERRA White Tanks 20K. Last weekend, at the XTERRA McDowell Mountain 15-miler, he won again, this time by a cool four minutes.
"Art is just dominating the series," said race director Shannon Lindner. "At the XTERRA White Tanks run, he averaged sub-seven minute pace in the 20K. He's a phenomenal runner."
"Shannon's races are on such great courses," said Art about the XTERRA Arizona Trail Series. "Arizona is such a beautiful area of the country and I love the access to the outdoors that Phoenix has. Not everyone knows the network of trails and parks that are really close to the city.
DeGraw currently runs for the Aravaipa Racing Team, which consists solely of Arizona-based ultra-runners who are performing at a high local and national level. He first ran with Aravaipa at the 2013 Flagstaff Sky Race and claimed a win in the 50km.
This year, DeGraw will continue running on the trails and pursuing ultras and skyrunning, which is defined by the International Skyrunning Federation as, "mountain running up to or exceeding 2000m, where the incline exceeds 30 percent and where the climbing difficulty does not exceed 11 degree grade."
If he is the XTERRA Arizona Trail Series regional champ, he will win a free bid to the XTERRA Trail Run National Championship in Utah in September.
"Even if it hasn't been a bad day, there is nothing like running on the trails to bring you clarity and a sense of peace."
Photo Credit Action Media Photography