As a Cincinnati native and all-around awesome individual, Harvey Lewis enjoys himself a good run every now and then. Nothing too crazy, just casual strolls like the 135-mile Badwater Ultramarathon in Death Valley, which he won with a time just shy of 24 hours.
The Badwater is often considered the World’s Toughest Race—and rightfully so—as participants are forced to trek, non-stop, through the scorching heat of Death Valley, with temperatures well exceeding 100 degrees and elevations topping-out over 8,000 feet.
But that’s just another day at the office for ol’ Harvey, and only one race on an impressive resume of ultramarathons over the past 20 years. We recently caught up with Harvey at Red River Gorge to capture some footage in his natural habitat and ask him some hard-hitting questions.
Talk about your running roots and what made you decide to start training with such determination.
I really love to get out and explore remote areas. To me, it’s exhilarating to experience new places and experience them while running. There’s something about lacing up your shoes and just getting out there. You may not know exactly where you’re headed, but the entire experience is priceless. It’s something that’s zen, it’s relaxing, and it energizes me for the other things in life.
Describe the trail. What is it that pulls you in, that makes you want to run?
The trail is a place where you can go and escape the noise, all of life’s challenges that are pulling at you from different angles—your work, your responsibilities, your bills, the Big City—you get out there on the trail and get into that moment that's just perfect. It gives you the opportunity to reflect on life, to think about where you’re going, to just be one with the nature around you and be happy. It's an amazing experience that's entirely free.
You’ve run in nearly 90 countries. What is one of the more memorable experiences from your travels?
One of my most memorable experiences is definitely going to Portugal. I almost have a second family there—my good friend, Carlos—and the Portuguese people are entirely warm and welcoming. Every summer I take people from America over there to do running and hiking holidays. We have an amazing experience every year, out there exploring.
Have you ever wrangled a wild horse while in Portugal?
Hah! That’s a good question. We actually see wild horses every year in Portugal. We run on these Roman roads that are two millennia old, and you see these bridges that look like they were built in the last decade—they’re as fresh as when they were constructed by the Romans, and we often find wild horses out there roaming in the mix.
What is your go-to tip for trail running, or running in general?
The number one thing about running and trail running is having fun. I recommend getting out there on your own sometimes so you can get that meditative quality, by being out there in nature. But you should also get out there with friends or with your running group. There’s something special about that, too—it’s motivating.
You’re a super nice guy. Have you always been this nice?
Hah, no! Just ask my students! I have my moments, like everyone, when I’m challenged. What I try to remember in those moments is to remain positive. That’s what ultra running has taught me. Going out there and doing a race that’s 100+ miles—like Badwater—you experience things that are unbelievable at times, that are excruciating. But I embrace it and I stay positive.
You’re somewhat of a celebrity in the Cincinnati area. Why do you think you’re inspiring to so many people?
It’s a humbling experience to have the opportunity to impact people. I think part of it is that I’ve been able to have these adventures on such a shoestring budget. A lot of other professional athletes, that's what they do full-time. But I recently ran the Big Backyard Ultra, over 240 miles, and then ran to teach high school the very next day!
The Flying Pig Marathon is near and dear to your heart. Tell us why that is.
The Flying Pig is one of the best races in the whole world. It has brought so many people into running that never would have otherwise. You can’t go anywhere on the weekend without seeing these running groups taking over the city. Cincinnati, at one time, was ranked as one of the least healthy cities in the country, but the Pig is changing that! People come from all over the world, from every state, to run in the race. And this year they’re celebrating their 20th anniversary!
So what’s next for Harvey Lewis?
Well, I have something really big on the horizon this Summer. I’m not going to give it away just yet, but it’s going to be really big and involve a lot of people ... and ROAD iD, as well. I’m super thrilled about it.
Lastly, what does ROAD iD mean to you and your family?
ROAD iD is a layer of security. I’m big on going out in remote places. I’ve traveled to 89 countries, to all the continents, and I’m often in the middle of nowhere, maybe in China, for example, in the Gobi Desert, where the nearest human is a long ways away. Having a ROAD iD is one additional layer of comfort for my family and friends. That way, if something were to happen, someone could at least know, “Hey, this is Harvey.”————
Harvey Lewis is a teacher and ultramarathon runner in Cincinnati, Ohio. He has competed in more than 50 ultramarathons over the past 20 years, specializing in races greater than 100 miles that range from extreme heat to extreme cold, and from mountainous to the roads. Recently, he won the 2017 24 Hour National Championship in which he ran 241 miles in 58 hours at Big's Backyard Ultra. He also takes people on running/hiking holidays with the company he founded, RunQuest Travel. He has run in 89 countries and has a dream of exploring every country while running.
Follow along with Harvey on his many journeys at the links below. And for some additional wisdom, check out Harvey's 11 Safety Tips All Runners Should Know.