A New Modern Norm. Joshua Stevens (@tumbleweedultra) tells us about his lifestyle of ultra running and a plant-based diet.

Joshua Stevens, 47, is highly decorated retired lieutenant colonel of 24 years. His heavily tattooed arms are covered by a soft hoodie while bright blue eyes smile up through his coconut milk latte and a bushy red and grey beard during a coffee-shop interview.


Now, as a retired vet, his lifestyle revolves heavily around two things: ultra running in Boulder, CO and a plant-based lifestyle, which he says go hand-in-hand for himself. However, the road to his current situation is peppered with a few unexpected twists and turns.


Origins: Service, Injury, Opioids


Multiple brutal injuries easily forayed into the acquisition and regular use of a cocktail of opioids. As a man who self-describes his early years as “clean-cut,” he found himself heavily addicted to painkillers.


Getting Clean


This is where ultra running makes an unexpected debut into Stevens’ consciousness. The final straw to break the opioid cycle actually came when he watched a documentary called Unbreakable, detailing the 2010 revered Western States 100 race. He finished the documentary incredibly inspired and wanted to start his own journey with running. But, one big thing needed to change in order to do that.


It was time to get clean.


“I was too ashamed to ask for help,” he said.


So, Stevens’ version of breaking his cycle with painkillers involved locking himself in a guest room of his house. Without the assistance of other medication to help alleviate the intense symptoms of withdrawal, he weathered seven excruciating days in that guest room before emerging to start again.


Finding Running


Once he got through the initial agony of intense opioid withdrawal, he began to run. Not at an impressive clip or distance, but with silent persistence and consistency.


Though once told he would never run again from injuries and surgeries he had sustained from his time in the military, Stevens kept chipping away at running. He eventually ran his first ultra race on his 44th birthday. After that, he signed up for a competitive 50k.


“I never looked back,” he said.


As he continued competing, he began to climb the ranks of the ultra world and garnering more attention. Eventually he gained enough traction to allow him to glean some sponsorships that turned his training and racing into a professional reality. As he dove deeper into intensive ultra running, his connection to the land grew more profound, leading him to adopt a plant-based diet. And, In December of 2017, he was able to use running as a platform to raise money in an effort to fight opioid addiction with a 24-hour treadmill effort.


Through it all, he remains humbled and inspired.


“I consider myself still new to it and still learning every day,” Stevens said. “I shudder to be considered an expert.”


Coming Home


Stevens’ 2016 arrival in Boulder, CO carried a tremendous “feeling of returning home”. From the plethora of trail options, to a thriving ultra community, and a culture that embraced a plant-based lifestyle, the area has proven to be a sound fit.


Stevens feels that he’s found his forever home in Colorado, largely because of the endurance-focused community. He looks up to other runners, like highly-touted ultramarathoners Sage Canaday and Scott Jurek, for both achievements on the trails and within the plant-based athletic realm.


“I’m standing on the shoulders of giants,” Stevens says. “That’s one of the main reasons that I moved to Colorado.”


Though Stevens has adopted the plant-based diet partially for it’s nutritional benefit, he also feels a strong ethical and moral pull to his approach, and is passionate about opening conversation with around the dietary decisions we all make.


However, beyond his achievements in the military and his more recent decent on the trail scene, there is one quality that sets Stevens apart: radiating positivity.


“If we’re not positive, we’re wasting our time,” Stevens says. “Happiness is a choice.”