PHOTO ESSAY: Why new ultramarathon participant Greg Brunner won’t stop running | Pittsburgh City Photos | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

PHOTO ESSAY: Why new ultramarathon participant Greg Brunner won’t stop running

click to enlarge Greg Brunner completes a speed workout on the Millvale River Trail on Aug. 10, 2021. - CP PHOTO: KAYCEE ORWIG
CP Photo: Kaycee Orwig
Greg Brunner completes a speed workout on the Millvale River Trail on Aug. 10, 2021.
“I knew I could run a half marathon. I knew I could run a marathon. I didn’t know if I could run 100 miles,” Greg Brunner said to me when we sat down to reflect on his first ultramarathon, a 50.3-mile race on the Baker Trail.

In fact, the Baker Trail Ultra Challenge — a footrace on the north section of the 134-mile trail that traverses six Western Pennsylvania counties — was not just the Millvale resident’s first ultramarathon, but his first official long-distance race ever.

Before stepping up to the start line of The Baker Trail at 6:30 a.m. on Sat., Aug. 28, Greg’s legs had only ever endured 20 miles in a single run. About nine hours of running later, Greg made it over 46.7 miles to the ninth and final aid station before the finish. After walking that final, stormy five-mile stretch with his dad, Greg came to the car shivering uncontrollably, saying, “I feel like I’m going to pass out.”
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click to enlarge Greg Brunner poses for a portrait in his home in Millvale. - CP PHOTO: KAYCEE ORWIG
CP Photo: Kaycee Orwig
Greg Brunner poses for a portrait in his home in Millvale.
click to enlarge Greg Brunner lifts weights in preparation for the race. - CP PHOTO: KAYCEE ORWIG
CP Photo: Kaycee Orwig
Greg Brunner lifts weights in preparation for the race.
click to enlarge Greg Brunner prepares himself before the 6:30 a.m. start time on race day. - CP PHOTO: KAYCEE ORWIG
CP Photo: Kaycee Orwig
Greg Brunner prepares himself before the 6:30 a.m. start time on race day.
click to enlarge Runners gather across from the start line in Summerville, Pa. the morning of the race on Aug. 28, 2021. - CP PHOTO: KAYCEE ORWIG
CP Photo: Kaycee Orwig
Runners gather across from the start line in Summerville, Pa. the morning of the race on Aug. 28, 2021.
click to enlarge Greg Brunner drinks water and gets cooled off at aid station two at mile 10.3 of the Baker Trail Ultra Challenge. - CP PHOTO: KAYCEE ORWIG
CP Photo: Kaycee Orwig
Greg Brunner drinks water and gets cooled off at aid station two at mile 10.3 of the Baker Trail Ultra Challenge.
click to enlarge Greg Brunner embraces his dad at aid station number 3 during mile 16 of the Baker Trail Ultra Challenge. - CP PHOTO: KAYCEE ORWIG
CP Photo: Kaycee Orwig
Greg Brunner embraces his dad at aid station number 3 during mile 16 of the Baker Trail Ultra Challenge.
click to enlarge Spectators watch as Greg Brunner runs into aid station number 4 at mile 22.2 of the Baker Trail Ultra Challenge. - CP PHOTO: KAYCEE ORWIG
CP Photo: Kaycee Orwig
Spectators watch as Greg Brunner runs into aid station number 4 at mile 22.2 of the Baker Trail Ultra Challenge.
Greg’s dad, Kevin Brunner, and his strength coach, Donny Donovan, helped him into dry clothes, got him more water, and allowed him to lie down in the trunk of the car, but Greg wasn’t able to recover and finish the race. The head volunteer at that final aid station had experienced Greg’s symptoms before and urged him to drop out and go to the hospital. And it’s a good thing he did. At the hospital, he discovered that he was suffering from hyponatremia, or a salt deficiency. His sodium levels were at 110, the lowest they could get before things got much worse.


When I saw Greg next, two days later, he was fully recovered and already thinking about his next race. For Greg, this story is far from over. Running had given him a purpose, and he had the right people to support him along the way.

Greg’s running journey began in February 2020 when he and his dad set out to run three half marathons, three days in a row around the Grand Canyon. Although the COVID-19 pandemic canceled those plans, Greg’s passion for running had already been sparked, and two of his best friends were already equipped to help him continue his journey. Matt Mauclair, Greg’s current running coach, started to train Greg. Donny, his former bandmate in the local band Hearken, became his strength coach soon after. It seemed to me like a beautiful coincidence, but Greg corrected me: “I don’t think it’s a coincidence … these people were in my life for a reason and that reason happened later on.” Those people found him, Greg says, just like running found him.

Before running, Greg had suffered through years of chronic pain, which kept him from hanging out with people and experiencing life. “It wasn’t until I started running,” Greg says, “that I really started to feel like I was getting out and actually getting back to that pure version of who I am and who I was made to be.” For Greg, it became clear that he was made to run, so his journey didn’t stop at that ninth aid station or at the Punxsutawney Area Hospital. He says he feels that his technical “failure” to reach 50.3 miles was, in fact, not a failure at all. He is grateful for the experience he gained from those miles on the Baker Trail and is now taking what he has learned into future races.

“100 miles is the goal,” says Greg, “and that was the goal from the start.”
click to enlarge Greg Brunner walks into his final aid station at mile 46.7 with his dad, Kevin Brunner. - CP PHOTO: KAYCEE ORWIG
CP Photo: Kaycee Orwig
Greg Brunner walks into his final aid station at mile 46.7 with his dad, Kevin Brunner.
click to enlarge Greg Brunner lies down after 3.6 miles from the finish line at aid station 9 of the Baker Trail Ultra Challenge before dropping out of the race for health reasons. - CP PHOTO: KAYCEE ORWIG
CP Photo: Kaycee Orwig
Greg Brunner lies down after 3.6 miles from the finish line at aid station 9 of the Baker Trail Ultra Challenge before dropping out of the race for health reasons.
click to enlarge Donny Donovan and Kevin Brunner assist Greg Brunner walking into the hospital following his ultramarathon. - CP PHOTO: KAYCEE ORWIG
CP Photo: Kaycee Orwig
Donny Donovan and Kevin Brunner assist Greg Brunner walking into the hospital following his ultramarathon.
click to enlarge Greg Brunner’s hospital discharge paper, showing his diagnosis of hyponatremia, a salt deficiency. - CP PHOTO: KAYCEE ORWIG
CP Photo: Kaycee Orwig
Greg Brunner’s hospital discharge paper, showing his diagnosis of hyponatremia, a salt deficiency.
click to enlarge Greg Brunner’s watch shows the 47.39 miles and farthest distance he’s ever covered during his ultramarathon. The distance shows longer on his watch than where he ended on the course because he went the wrong way once along the course and had to backtrack. - CP PHOTO: KAYCEE ORWIG
CP Photo: Kaycee Orwig
Greg Brunner’s watch shows the 47.39 miles and farthest distance he’s ever covered during his ultramarathon. The distance shows longer on his watch than where he ended on the course because he went the wrong way once along the course and had to backtrack.
click to enlarge Greg Brunner goes for a run. - CP PHOTO: KAYCEE ORWIG
CP Photo: Kaycee Orwig
Greg Brunner goes for a run.

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