Meg Ayers came to long distance running, as she describes it, on a whim.
In 2004, while she was a Lady Wrangler cheerleader for the Austin Wranglers arena football team, she entered the lottery for the ING New York City Marathon in 2004.
"I had hardly run at all before that, maybe a few miles now and then, but I got picked, so I started running," she says.
Ayers, who is a business development consultant for the MMC Group, followed a 16-week marathon training program, which included one 20-mile long run, and then ran in New York.
"It was so painful running that far. I slept the whole day after finishing. Now, I can run 20 miles and go work afterwards," says Ayers.
In October 2006, Ayers ran, and won, the Marathon 2 Marathon in West Texas — a race from Alpine to the town of Marathon. Her time: 3:33:51. In 2008, she improved her marathon time at the Rock 'n' Roll San Antonio Marathon: 3:08:44.
Some runners start at the shorter distances and work their way up. Ayers started at the longer distances and has been working her way up.
She became interested in ultra races after pacing her boyfriend, Josh Hare, for the last 15 miles of the Jemez Mountain Trail Run 50K in May 2009. Pacing Hare at that event in Los Alamos, New Mexico, was Ayers' first taste of what it might be like to run an ultra, and her first taste of trails.
"It was fun. Jemez Mountain is a hard race, but I loved it," says Ayers. "I think it's good to find a balance between the trails and road. I like that you can get lost on the trails. It's a great place to think and reflect. And I like the variety of the terrain."
After Jemez Mountain, Ayers decided to compete in the Palo Duro Trail Run 50K in Palo Duro Canyon near Amarillo. To prepare, she spent time in Boulder, Colorado, running mountain trails. In Austin she trained with Teammac, a group coached by Mac Allen.
Ayers didn't just finish at her first ultra in Palo Duro. She won the event in five hours, eight minutes and 16 seconds.
"Obviously, she has a certain level of natural ability, but Meg's work ethic is off the charts. Her success is a direct result of how hard she hits her workouts — every single time. She's got the competitive heart of a lioness," says Phil McDuffee, a longtime training buddy.
Last weekend, Ayers went to Big Bend National Park, intending to run her second 50K. The Big Bend Ultra starts at 3,200 feet and drops steadily to 1,900 feet on packed dirt park roads.
Ayers changed her plans and ran, instead, the 25K race that is staged at the same time.
"I woke up Sunday morning at 5 a.m. feeling sick to my stomach, and decided to run the 25K instead," says Ayers. "I had planned on running the 50K, but I'm really glad I didn't because my stomach was so bad I just couldn't eat anything.
"I won the 25K race in 2:11:11. Other than my stomach problems, it was a great experience — gorgeous, with spectacular views."
Saturday: Austin Gorilla Run 5K, 9 a.m. at Austin City Hall, downtown Austin. See www.austingorillarun.com .
3M Half Marathon, Jan. 30. Registration open at www.3mhalfmarathon.com .
Cupid's Chase 5K Feb. 5. Registration open at www.cupid.georgetown.org .
LIVESTRONG Austin Marathon and Half Marathon, Feb. 20. Registration open at www.youraustinmarathon.com .