Dawn Lisenby Stumbled Into Her Passion As An Ultra Race Director


Today’s guest is someone that eats, sleeps, and breathes running.

She’s a runner herself along with being a running coach and a race director. Running dominates both her personal and professional lives.

Needless to say, we will have plenty to chat about on my easy run with Dawn Lisenby.

Dawn Lisenby

Not Her First Choice

Dawn Lisenby didn’t enjoy running while growing up.

Her background was initially as a ballet dancer and then she transitioned over to soccer in college.

She was always active, but once she became a mom, finding an activity that fit with her schedule was proving to be a challenge.

Her brother was a runner and that gave her the idea that the sport she had avoided for so long may actually be the perfect fit.

Dawn started with intervals and once she became more comfortable running she joined some local group runs.

She was immediately hooked after the first group run.

Dawn ran through each of her pregnancies and 5 years after she first began, she ran her first marathon.

Learning The Ins And Outs

After completing her first marathon, Dawn began to be pulled in the long-distance direction.

She had a strong urge to complete an ultra, but her body had other ideas.

All the extra miles that Dawn ran for marathon training, resulted in a serious injury.

In hindsight, she realized that her injury resulted from her doing things the wrong way.

Ultimately her mistakes led her to get certified as a running coach and a trainer.

She wanted to know the how’s and why’s of training and prevent others from making the same mistakes she did.

Dawn Lisenby

Staying Consistent

In early 2010, Dawn was diagnosed with a labral tear.

The first doctor that Dawn went to said that without surgery she wouldn’t even be able to walk around Disney with her kids.

Dawn wasn’t willing to accept that answer and in response got a second opinion.

The second doctor re-iterated that it was a serious injury but there was another option besides surgery.

A labral tear will never completely heal, but consistent and focused strength training can make running possible.

Dawn was willing to put in the work to ensure that she could continue to do the sport that she loved.

The process of rehab was long and lasted for months, but she did eventually get back to running.

In the same year she received her diagnosis, she also successfully completed her first 50k.

Pushing Past Her Fears

Running far after her injury also came with a significant amount of fear.

Dawn was worried that she would re-injure herself trying to run far.

Her weakness required her to be stronger in various other areas.

Continuing to go far was her ultimate goal, therefore Dawn had to stay focused on keeping her body strong.

If an athlete wants to run 50 miles and above, skimping on strength will ensure that they will get injured.

The farther Dawn began to run, the more confident she was in what her body could accomplish with correct training.

She then let herself set her sights on her first 100-mile race.

Keys 100

Dawn signed up for the Keys 100, a point-to-point race in the Flordia Keys, as her first attempt at 100 miles.

Even though she is a coach herself, she hired a coach to ensure that she had an outside perspective.

Her training went smoothly and she was confident heading into the race.

During the race, it became clear that Dawn didn’t focus enough on her nutrition plan.

She also had some issues with her feet that she would need to address in future ultras.

Dawn did complete the race in just under the allotted time.

Completing her first 100 miles taught her a lot, including the power of her mind and the mental strength needed to go far.

Five years later, Dawn applied those lessons learned and shaved 5 hours off of her time.

Dawn Lisenby

Running Requires Strength

Running requires strength.

In order to perform optimally and avoid injury, strength is a critical part of achieving both.

Functional strength and running mobility should be key parts of all running routines.

It is also important to do exercises with the correct form, otherwise, you won’t be training the muscles you intend to target.

Strength routines should progress over time to ensure benefits are being gained.

According to Dawn, strength training doesn’t have to be complicated.

There are a few key exercises that can be done in numerous variations including:

  • Balance (simple all the way to more involved)
  • Squats (2 legged/single leg)
  • Bridges (variations)
  • Lunges (multi-directional)
  • Upper body (push/pull exercises)

In Memory Of Her Brother

Dawn never envisioned being a race director until she lost her brother.

He was attending a Georgia veterinary school at the time of his death.

The school put a plaque up in memory of him and Dawn had wanted to give back to the school.

As a runner, she came up with the idea to hold a trail ultra with the proceeds going to a scholarship for the school.

The inaugural race was held in 2008 with a little over 30 runners participating and running a 1-mile loop.

It would be a few years before she made any money to donate for a scholarship.

Since that initial $300 scholarship she was able to increase the amount to $2,000 due to the increased interest in the event.

The race has taken place for over 10 years and it has been a way for her brother’s legacy to live on.

Ultra Family

Over the years Dawn has added three more races to the first one she began.

After directing races for over a decade, she has come to realize that the participants become more like family.

It’s not uncommon for the same people to show up at the same races year after year.

Directing races is not typically a lucrative career and the person in charge must be passionate about what they’re doing.

Even a relatively small race often takes months in the making and can be exhausting.

It is Dawn’s goal that every runner is successful and feels supported throughout the race.

Runner safely is of utmost importance and she takes every precaution she can to ensure it.

Finding volunteers can often be a challenge, so if you love to run races it’s important to give back to the community.

Dawn Lisenby and Her Aid Station Volunteers


Mentioned In This Episode:

Stay connected with Dawn Lisenby by following her on InstagramFacebook, and/or East Coast Trail Racing.


Dawn Lisenby actively avoided running for much of her life, but she couldn't avoid it forever. Now the sport is a huge part of both her personal and professional life. Click To Tweet


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