September 09, 2021

He’s 50 years old, but age is just a number, and how one lives life is merely a state of mind.

If you have ever met Matt Van Horn, you know a truer statement has never been written. And on September 10, he will prove that statement once again by tackling the prestigious Wasatch Front 100-mile Endurance Run. The goal he has set for himself is to run the course faster than he ever has before.

And that’s not an easy feat.

You see, Van Horn has not only completed the Wasatch 100 six times before, but he has a personal best time of 22 hours, 19 minutes and 17 seconds, which was good enough to place second overall. That personal best time was in 2016 at the age of 45. Yet, at the age of 50, Van Horn says he’s fit as ever and ready to run.

Matt Van Horn sitting on truck holding Ben and Jerry's Chunky Monkey ice cream.
Secret training food favorite - Ben and Jerry's Chunky Monkey. - P.C. Rob Urry

“My goal is to run a personal best, which would be under 22 hours,” Van Horn said. “I know that’s a tall order. I’m 50-years-old now, but I want to find out if a 50-year-old me can run faster than a much younger me.”

You may assume that this caliber of an athlete has experience on his side to draw from. Perhaps he was a collegiate athlete or even a weekend warrior in his twenties and thirties. But, that is not the case. Not even close.

Van Horn began running just 10 years ago at the age of 40.

“Before I started running, I was what I’d call an acceptable hiker and mountaineer,” Van Horn said. “I enjoyed being in the mountains, and I wanted to be able to see more of the mountains. I wanted to get light and fast and go farther. I wanted to go fast over the mountains and get to the peaks quicker, and running was a way I could do that.”

Matthew and Peter Van Horn on Freemont Peak in the Wind River, Wyoming mountain range.
Matt and brother Peter bagging Freemont Peak. - P.C. Matt Van Horn

Van Horn quickly made a name for himself as a man of the Wasatch Mountain Range, capturing crowns on Strava and even winning trail and ultra running events. In fact, right outta the gate, he was snagging podiums in races like the Pony Express 100 and the Antelope Island Buffalo 100.

But running hasn’t always just been about running, bagging peaks and taking home awards. To Van Horn, it has become a way of life that has helped him cope with life’s challenges. Running and the running community has been a vehicle for him to pursue a career in photography and filmmaking.

In fact, Van Horn produced his first feature film, “Broken to Breaking” about fellow ultrarunner Michael McKnight that he not only edited, but he single handedly filmed the entire thing, running upwards of 70 miles of the Colorado Trail with McKnight with camera in tow. Van Horn credits his ability to run with how he has been able to cope with life’s challenges and move forward with purpose.

Matthew Van Horn walking on Antelope Island, Utah carrying a camera.
Deep in thought: "I hope Brad takes a good picture of me!" - P.C. Brad McDonald

“Running has been a confidence builder, a way to counter depression, and a way to discover myself,” Van Horn said. “I don’t know the science of depression; all I know is that I think everyone gets depressed. I’ll wake up some days and feel sad, so I decide to go for a run. I feel less sad when my body feels good.”

There was one time in Van Horn’s life about seven years ago, however, when he feared that he might not ever run again. In fact, it was around this time in 2014 when he found himself plagued with a knee injury and afraid he’d never run again. During that time of despair, he wrote the following that was published on a local news site, in a piece titled, “When running is easier than not running.”

“How long is this process? When can I run again? Will I ever run again? Can I at least go hiking?” Can I even call myself an "ultra-runner" anymore?

There are no definite answers other than “maybe you can do some short runs.”

Matthew Van Horn wearing snapback trucker hat.
At the start of Speedgoat 50K. - P.C. Matt Johnson

This is my claim: Running 100 miles is easier than not running 100 miles. There is no set distance to cover. It is uncertain. There are no time cutoffs. There is no finish line. You can’t stop when you want to stop. There is no rest from it. There is aid, certainly, and the people manning the tent there are the ones who really love you. And they suffer too. It is hard for them too.

I would rather run 100 miles than endure this. I would rather run 1,000 miles. Then I understand that now is the time to apply all those lessons I learned as an endurance athlete and apply them to real life.

It’s just running.”

Aerial view of Titcomb lakes in Wind River, Wyoning mountain range.
Drone shot of Titcomb basin in Wind River mountain range. - P.C. Matt Van Horn

Looking back on this time, and having gone through extensive chiropractic treatments that he says have allowed him pain-free running, Van Horn said that he will never take running for granted again. He said that he is grateful for a healthy body that is allowing him to still train hard.

Going into Wasatch 2021

Training for the Wasatch 100, Van Horn said, has been an enjoyable process. He said that he has worked hard on specific areas of the course that he hopes will help him gain an edge over his competitors.

Matt Van Horn in trail runner's gear in Wind River, Wyoming mountain range.
Another day at the office - Freemont Peak in background - P.C. Peter Van Horn

“I’ve been doing a lot of training on the course itself, particularly a 15-mile section through the central Wasatch,” he said. “This particular section is at altitude, about 9,000 feet with a lot of single track. I have been training myself to run this section strong, with the goal of being able to pick up some time on the course, and hopefully move up.”

With just a day to go before the race, Van Horn said he feels strong and ready to go. And unlike many other competitors, he won’t be relying on a crew other than his wife Jana.

“My wife is my crew, and I carry light,” he said. “I am in and out of aid stations as quickly as possible, and I don’t take pacers with me. I enjoy the journey by myself. I don’t need anybody to encourage me to keep going.”

Sunset vista looking out over the pony express trail from Simpson Springs, Utah.
Looking out at the Pony Express trail from Simpson Springs, Utah. - P.C. Rob Urry

And so there it is. With age on his side, a stellar ability to be intrinsically motivated, and a strong mind and body, Matthew Van Horn is ready to tackle the Wasatch Front 100-mile Endurance Run for the seventh time.

And we here at Kogalla wish him the best of luck!

Author Arianne Brown is a mom of nine and a lifelong runner competing in anything from 5K to 50-mile races. She loves the written word, and using it to share stories the world needs to hear. For more of he writings, follow A Mother's Write on Facebook, @ariannebrown on Instagram.

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