Do you love running?
Maybe it’s your go-to form of exercise to stay in shape. Maybe you love running for the endorphin rush known as the runner’s high.
Or maybe you love running, because it feeds your soul, forces you to dig deep, and reminds you of what you’re capable of.
And even if you love running, how do you keep going mile after mile?
WeeViews Ambassador runner and athlete Brynn Cunningham shows you how it’s done…
When 11-year-old Brynn Cunningham headed outside for P.E. during the fifth grade, it seemed like an ordinary day.
She chatted with friends. She listened to the coach and teacher give instructions. She looked down the trail surrounding the school grounds.
And then it happened.
Arms pumping, feet churning, she ran.
Everything else seemed to drift away into the background, and she felt something.
“I remember that day so vividly,” says Brynn. “That was the day I fell in love with running, and I was only 11 at the time. I ran home and told my dad, ‘We can’t drink Pepsi anymore,’ because I want to be a runner.”
That day changed everything. She started running miles on the dirt road near her house, and she’s never looked back.
It didn’t take long for Brynn to become a standout athlete thanks to help from her parents, teammates, and coaches like Joe Everhart.
“The first track meet I ever competed in, I swept every event,” says Brynn. “Except for one race, I was running with my twin sister. I turned back to look at her, and she passed me.”
And Brynn’s twin sister Tara Morris has been there every step of the way.
“It comes naturally to her,” says Tara. “We grew up running through the woods, she gravitated toward its structure in school, and the rest is history. It's her outlet, her definition of a good time, and she's built for it, physically and mentally.”
As a high school athlete, Brynn dominated sprint-distance running events in track and field.
That day as a kid running through the woods was never really far away. But running longer distances didn’t seem possible, until another one of those pivotal moments.
“Brynn, you should run cross country,” a high school coach suggested.
“There’s no way, I’m not built for that,” Brynn contested. “I can’t do 10-mile training runs.”
But deep down, when you know you love running, it has a way of finding you, even if you’re resistant at first.
She agreed to go on a practice run with the cross country team to see if she could go the distance.
“I couldn’t run as far as they could at the time,” says Brynn. “It was pretty awful. I even stopped at a McDonalds during the run to get water and said, ‘They’re trying to kill me.’”
But somehow, running always brought her back to the day in the woods. And she kept going.
And the coach who gave Brynn a nudge all those years ago? His name is Joe Everhart, and they’re still friends decades later. Brynn even helps him coach cross country runners periodically.
“She has a unique ability to communicate with young athletes and get them motivated for the upcoming season,” Says Joe. “She helps them feel competent, worthy, and positive about themselves. She creates an attitude of success for our student-athletes.”
Ever heard of the Mount Summit Challenge? It’s a 3.5 miles uphill run in Hopwood, Penn.
To run this race, you have to hammer your way up 1,200 feet of vertical gain. And for most newbies, finish times are typically a personal worst...not best...because it’s so challenging.
“My dad told me about this race,” says Brynn. “But he was too sick to see me run it.”
With her dad’s encouragement, Brynn decided to give it a try. When you love running, you’re willing to put in the work, even suffer a little, because you know there’s always a reward.
But it wasn’t easy. Her dad died in 2013 just four weeks before her son was born. She needed time to grieve. She needed time to get used to being a mom. And she needed time to train.
Eventually, she raced up Mount Summit, earning a second-place finish.
“By random draw, by chance, my bib number was 52, my dad's birth year,” says Brynn. “He was born Feb. 15, 1952.”
When she returned a year later, she won the race, hammering her way up the mountain at a sub-9-minute-mile pace.
The podium win was thrilling. But it was emotional, too. By random chance two years in a row, her dad seemed to be watching over her again.
Her race-bib number: 152.
“The day (15) and year (‘52) of my deceased father’s birth,” says Brynn. The digits always seem to come up in my races since he died in 2013.”
“My dad told me about the race,” says Brynn. “He wanted to see me run it. It was pretty emotional. As much as I love running, this wasn’t really about winning, a fast pace or finish time. This race means a lot more to me than that.”
When you love running, you’re always up for a challenge. Even better when it’s in your hometown. Right?
Brynn is a familiar face at the Laurel Highlands Ultra 50K.
It’s in her backyard in Ohiopyle, Penn., and the race follows the Laurel Highlands Hiking trail, climbing 6,490 feet in elevation to end 31 miles later in Jones Mills.
Earlier this year, she won this race in an unexpected upset, finishing first in 6:12:50.
As thrilling as it is to win, it’s not why Brynn loves running.
Her "why" is much bigger than winning races. Her twin sister understands this better than anyone.
“She inspires me and so many people, especially women, to be strong, self-sufficient, and relentless in pursuing happiness,” says Brynn’s twin sister Tara. “She makes it happen. She's not out to prove anything besides doing what makes you happy and being true and kind to yourself.”
Brynn has been running races, adventuring, chasing goals, and lifting other people up along the way ever since that grade-school run in the woods.
When you love running, the finish line is never really the end. It’s just the beginning of the next race, next run, and next adventure.
What’s the longest distance you’ve completed?
Laurel Highlands Ultra 50K
What do you think about when you’re running?
Life. Problems. Sometimes nothing. The trees and how different they look at every race or trail. Sometimes I wonder if I’m going to see a bear or rattlesnake. Sometimes I pray, or think about writing.
Running the Big Savage Mountain for an FKT (Fastest Known Time) record with 203 downed trees and poor trail markings.
Running in freezing-cold temps and a foot of snow on a training run on the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail. I got disoriented. My hands were freezing. It was so cold my water bottle froze. I was really scared, and finally found the place where my husband was waiting to pick me up.
Last book I read
Running with the Kenyans: Discovering the Secrets of the Fastest People on Earth by Adharanand Finn.
Last movie I watched
Jumanji (the original) and Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle
Favorite running snack
Favorite running drinkCarborocket and Beet Juice
Your pre-race rituals
Yoga and a pre-race dinner of rice, chicken and broccoli.
Advice to keep goingFind something outside of yourself to help you keep going. Make it personal.
Bucket-list raceHighlands Sky 40, West Virginia
Running is like brushing your teeth
Tara Morris: “Brynn latched onto something that worked for her,” says Brynn’s twin sister Tara. “To me, it's such a normal part of her existence that I'm like, ‘Oh, Brynn's running another race like she's waking up and brushing her teeth.’ It's just a normal part of her routine. She makes it happen with consistency and hard work.”
What makes Brynn a great runner?
Coach Joe Everhart: “Brynn has that rare combination of pure talent and unwavering determination. There is nothing that can stop Brynn from succeeding- not just in sports but in life.