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While hoping to help LGBTQ+ youth take the weight of the world off their shoulders, Kirsten Beverley-Waters carried a very heavy load (literally) in her attempt to set a new ultrarunning world record.
But by the end of her three-week running journey in and around Portland, Maine, she said she felt much lighter—physically, mentally, and emotionally—from the important messages and authentic joy she was able to share and spread.
The 37-year-old queer, nonbinary trail runner (Kirsten uses both she and they pronouns) completed her 22nd straight day running 50K (31 miles) on June 25 as a means to raise awareness for The Trevor Project, the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ+ young people.
Kirsten says her biggest challenge was carrying a heavy running pack with recording devices and back-up batteries needed to record every segment of every run, required by Guinness World Records. The pack not only rubbed the skin raw in places, but it also caused considerable pressure on her abdomen that resulted in her diaphragm spasming and continual upper GI issues.
But amid a few projectile vomiting incidents and the inability to keep any food or liquid in her system, she persevered to complete each day’s 50K route between 5:40 and 8:20. But enduring all of that—as well as the entire 684 miles of running—was worth it, she says, because of all of the good conversations and positivity she shared with so many individuals.
“Overcoming each challenge made me realize that the challenges of this experience weren’t trying to break me. They were there to break me open,” says Kirsten, who is also a fitness coach, yoga instructor, and motivational speaker. “I feel like my mind and body found new limits each day. I watched my inner dialogue evolve. I worked through old wounds and experiences I have long held as a queer athlete. I felt like I found my stride not just on the trail but in myself. The world record is amazing, but the conversations about LGBTQIA+ issues were the greatest joy of this process. I also feel a great sense of joy to represent nonbinary runners.”
Kirsten has been a vocal and passionate advocate for the LGBTQ+ community as an adult, but suffered from anxiety and depression about her own identity when she was a teenage runner. Her ultimate goal was never about the prodigious record, but instead to have conversations about breaking down gender stereotypes and assumptions attached to athletic achievement. She also wants to help normalize the opportunities for LGBTQ+ young people to find strength, comfort, and clarity in their true identity.
The Trevor Project estimates that at least one LGBTQ+ youth between the ages of 13 and 24 attempts suicide every 45 seconds in the U.S.
“If someone told me when I graduated from high school that in 20 years, ‘You could authentically run as yourself, share a message to help other people, and achieve this,’ I don’t think I would have believed them,” she says. “But to have this now feels like a really wonderful personal accomplishment, if for no other reason that I got to spend 22 days running exactly as I am for a cause that is very near and dear to me.”
Her legs and feet generally held up just fine, with only one small blister on one of her toes for the last two days. She started wearing Topo Ultra Fly 3 shoes, but wore a pair of Hoka Speedgoat 4 for the majority of her runs.
Kirsten had to re-do many of the running routes she had planned in advance so she could set up an impromptu aid station at her house in order to reduce the amount of food and liquid she was carrying to stay fueled and hydrated. Her stomach finally calmed down after about 10 days, but she still had to be careful with what she consumed.
She wouldn’t have been able to carry on without the support she received from her wife, Korrie Beverley-Waters, an osteopathic physician who specializes in manipulation acupuncture. She helped with meal preparation, on-course nutrition, and various medical needs, while also offering encouragement whenever Kirsten was feeling low.
Korrie monitored Kirsten’s data on the Garmin Connect app and several times pedaled her bike and Burley trailer to meet her with frozen popsicles or hot broth (the only things Kirsten could keep down regularly) and other necessary items.
“It was a team effort, for sure,” Korrie says. “With this journey, not only is it a record, but it’s the amount of awareness that it has brought to the LGBTQ community and number of conversations it sparked about the Trevor Project and LGBTQ issues in general. With all of the strangers who have reached out to her through Instagram about their experiences and questions they have about their loved ones, it’s been really rewarding for both of us.”
Kirsten completed her mission while running on trails, roads, and bike paths near Portland. She will be submitting her data and video documentation to the Guinness World Records for verification soon. Her effort surpassed the existing Guinness records for consecutive days running 50K for both women (11 days) and men (21 days).
Numerous runners came out to support Kirsten and share stories and conversations during her daily runs. Mairi Harvey, a school nurse from Connecticut, drove up twice to support her, while another friend, Leslie Rosen Socol, came from New York City. Others connected with her on Instagram or via her website.
“It was wonderful to have those connections and those conversations,” Kirsten says. “That’s why I was out there. The bigger goal was to extend the conversation about The Trevor Project and about LGBTQIA+ youth and mental health, and I think that’s something that I have achieved and that feels good.
“As far as I know I am first non-binary ultrarunner with a world record. So it feels like a win for the queer and trans community as well.”