Athlete Spotlight: Jessika, Endurance Athlete & Appalachian Trail Class of 2021

Meet Jessika, aka Jess, a local athlete who has run some of our very own iDaph events and hiked the entire East Coast! Check out her brave story below from dieting and exercising for “show” to living a life full of vitality and strength.

“Running is a slippery slope…”

That it is, Jess. We couldn’t agree more! What started out as a bodybuilding fit journey to lose weight morphed into endurance running for performance vs standing on a stage for a show to hiking the Appalachian Trail in 2021 which brought her to tears a few times with the iconic views and enjoying road races along the way. Her journey is anything but dull. Her story is full of adventure, big dreams, goals, and advice on how you can set out to do anything you dream up.

What got you started on the path of running? Have you always been a runner?
I started running when I did my first obstacle course race in 2014 (Tough Mudder) with my sports medicine class. No, I have NOT always been a runner. When I was out of shape at the age of 21, I focused more on nutrition, weight loss and began weightlifting and lost roughly 30 pounds of alcohol and poor diet weight. In 2016, I competed in my first bodybuilding show and realized I loved performance sports and endurance instead of aesthetics and only looking good on a stage. I wanted to eat well and perform at my maximum potential so quickly fell in love with the process of marathon training! To date I have completed one road marathon - Next in March for the iDAPH Asheville Marathon - five ultra marathon distances, and hiked the entire east coast from Georgia to Maine along the Appalachian Trail! I love feeling strong and powerful!

I see you complete the full hike on the Appalachian Trail! That is an incredible feat. Do you prefer trail to road running?
Both! I like to switch up my training and incorporate both road and trail runs. If I had to pick, I’d probably pick the road because it is less technical and I can always pump more miles out.

What one major (or minor or both!) life lesson did that experience (hiking the AT) teach you?
The Appalachian Trail taught me to never take myself too seriously. We are on a floating ball of rock in the universe and NOTHING is as serious or important as they feel in the moment. Breathe and find stillness in your body in order to find peace to connect back to your purpose. One step at a time (literally) is all it takes to reach your goals and we all have setbacks.

What are you most excited about for the rest of 2022? Any fall races coming up?
Very excited about the Asheville Off Road Duathlon (my first race ever incorporating the bike) and the Oktoberfest Half Marathon. I will be completing the Spartan Beast and Sprint in North Carolina, as well as the Trifecta weekend in December in Florida.

You’ve run quite the number of distances now. Which your favorite race distance?
I’d have to say my favorite distance is a half marathon. Long enough to feel warmed up and get into a groove, but short enough to get on with my day yet feel accomplished.

Speaking of races, which iDaph event has been your favorite to date and what made it so special?
The RAD Half Marathon. I signed up the night before and was happy to see that although it wasn’t a PR, I still had it in me to cruise into a half marathon. The course was marked beautifully and clearly, the medals were AWESOME, and the post race festivities at Wedge Brewery were so fun !!

What advice would you give to anyone dreaming about doing something epic like quitting your job and hiking 2,000+ miles!?
One sentence- JUST DO IT. There will always be excuses you can think of “I can’t afford it, I’m too old, I’m not in shape”.. Etc etc, and there is no time like the present to live your dream and get outside. Do something epic that WILL change your life and learn more about yourself.

Do you feel you’re intrinsically motivated? And if so, where does that inner drive originate from?
I am still learning to pinpoint where this drive comes on. I’d say it’s a mix between two of my grandparents. My Oma is reaching her 94th year and is a stubborn, independent woman who has taught me a lot about being self sufficient. As well as my grandfather was a Boston Marathon-er and dedicated runner.

Music or no music when running? Playlists?
Yes music- Only one earbud in order to stay alert of surroundings
I love all genres! I like running to anything upbeat- examples: Odesza, hippie sabotage, post malone, A R I Z O N A, Taylor Swift, MGK, Imagine Dragons, Lizzo
• Marathon Playlist:

• Ultra Marathon/ 12 hour endurance race Playlist:

Favorite running season?

Favorite running shoe?
I love my XTRM 2’s by VJ RUNNING (Trail Shoe)

Running solo or with friends?

Favorite way to give back to the running community?
I love attending running groups that are local to support small businesses as well as promoting on social platforms different races in the area in order to spread awareness.

Where can folks connect with you? Social handles?

Instagram : @ Tapsandtrail

Youtube: Taps and Trail