Amid the COVID-19 pandemic and Black Lives Matter movement, some Orange County community members are getting creative in how they contribute to the fight for racial equity.

On October 21st, one Orange County man will be attempting to run 77 miles of North Carolina’s Mountains-to-Sea Trail as fast as possible to raise money for a local non-profit. His goal is to raise at least $5,000 dollars to go towards supporting youth of color in our community

Nathan Toben is a 35-year-old ultrarunner and an endurance coach with The Endurance Collective in Durham. He has been a long-distance runner for about eight years now.

Because Toben has family members who are at high-risk for serious illness from COVID-19, he said he is unable to attend protests and other public forums to contribute to the fight for racial equity. His creative solution to this turns to ultrarunning for the answer.

“It kind of came about organically,” Toben said. “My partner and I were following the news, following the protests, following the shootings – and we’re sitting there in our house outside of Chapel Hill and we’re feeling all the things that everyone’s feeling, but were also feeling completely detached.”

This October, Toben will be completing a charity run to raise money for Triangle BikeWorks, a non-profit based in Carrboro that provides youth of color with opportunities to engage in organized cycling and have access to educational bike tours throughout the southeast.

Triangle BikeWorks group photo. (Photo via Nathan Toben)

Because of COVID-19, Toben said he has to be very consciences about how and where he runs – which is how he stumbled upon Segment 10 of North Carolina’s flagship trail, The Mountains-to-Sea Trail.

“Along the Eno River, in Hillsborough as it comes towards Durham and then even past Durham, there is a section of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail that is almost entirely single-track trail for 77 miles right here in our backyard,” Toben said. “For someone like me who is a trail runner, this is like finding gold.”

After being inspired by this stretch of trail, Toben realized this was an opportunity to get involved in the fight for racial equity from a distance. From there he started asking around and communicating with different people of color to see how he could best serve the community with his specific skill set. That’s when he was introduced to Triangle BikeWorks. The nonprofit provides all the gear, transportation, training and counselors necessary to provide access to educational bike tours for youth of color.

Toben said the pairing of this nonprofit with his charity run all felt very natural, because biking is also something he has personal ties to. After watching the U.S. Cycling Team on TV during the 1996 Atlanta Olympics as a kid, Toben vowed to pursue bike racing and make it to the Olympics.

Although he never turned pro, Toben said he wants other kids to have access to the same opportunities he had growing up.

“You know my dad was in a position of being able to afford a personal trainer, of being able to afford a thousand-dollar bike, of being able to afford to travel and such for me to go these races and not everyone is able to have that access,” Toben said. “I just think there’s something about self-powered travel that is just unique and educational and builds such a deep sense of self-belief.”

In an attempt to raise more money for Triangle Bikeworks, during his 77-mile trek this October, Toben is trying to set what is called a Fastest Known Time – which is a peer-record of a pre-established route. Simply speaking, if the Fastest Known Time board approves a route, an established racecourse has been created – which runners like Toben will tackle while wearing a GPS tracker so others can watch his progress in real-time.

“So I hope to set this 77 mile route – Segment 10 of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail – in 14 hours,” Toben said. “That’s holding about 10-minute miles for 77 miles. So that’s going to hurt a lot but I think I can do it if my training continues to go well.”

For Toben’s fundraiser, people have the opportunity to pledge money for each and every mile Toben completes. Every cent will be given to Triangle BikeWorks and their mission to level the playing field and inspire youth to conquer fear and achieve audacious goals. So every mile, and every penny counts.

“If they pledge a quarter per mile and I ‘crap out’ at about 25 miles, well I’ll still raise some money, but not as much as if I were to finish the course,” Toben said. “So when I’m out there, I’ll be thinking ‘maybe one more mile I can raise 60 more dollars for Triangle BikeWorks. So it kind of puts into my mind the significance of each step I’m taking forward and it’ll really spur me to run the full course.”

To learn more about Toben’s story, or to donate to his fundraiser, click here.

“You’re going to run past your limit – that’s what ultrarunning is about,” Toben said. “At some point your legs are going to be dead, your arms are going to be dead and you’re running just basically with your mind – moving forward, asking yourself  ‘do I want it?’ and ‘why am I still doing this?’. So, it’s such a fascinating culture because it’s so dependent on having a deep ‘why.’” does not charge subscription fees. You can support local journalism and our mission to serve the community. Contribute today – every single dollar matters.


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