October 20

My Friend Matt

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The man who inspired Vacation Races, and the man who created Ultra Adventures and Trailfest is gone.

Matt was a visionary who LOVED the Grand Staircase and wanted to share it with the world, but only if you could run 100 miles with lots and lots and lots of climbing. He started Ultra Adventures in 2012 with the Zion 100, and had developed a series of 8 races in total (Zion, Bryce, Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, Antelope Canyon, Capitol Reef, Tushars, and Trailfest) in just a few short years when Vacation Races took over in 2016.

Seeing Matt start a race just outside Zion was the inspiration for the Zion Half Marathon in 2013 (launched in 2012) and ultimately for the entire National Park Series of races we offer today.

Matt was one of the hardest working people I have ever met and easily the most resourceful. The success of Ultra Adventures is improbable due to Matt’s shortcomings. It is all the more remarkable given that Matt overcame those shortcomings through his passion, resourcefulness, and hard work. Matt’s passion for the areas he ran and for his desire to use his events to help others had a depth that I could never hope to experience.

Matt helped champion our Zero Waste efforts. Not only did Matt create the compost toilets we use, but he also proved that even a race with 3000+ people could send effectively nothing to the landfill.

Professionally, we parted ways in 2018 when Matt went back to teaching school in an effort to find some stability in his life. However, we continued to work together as Board Members of Wander Project. Matt was our conscience and was constantly trying to cut through the bullshit to make things better.

In 2015 while running the Inaugural Tushars Ultra, one participant used the hashtag #mattgunnwantstomakeyoucry. Whether it was the challenging course, the incredible beauty, or the tears shed from actually crossing the finish line it was clear that Matt Gunn was out for tears. The hashtag continued its relevance when Matt proposed to his girlfriend Toby at the Inaugural Trailfest.

Matt took his own life this weekend. In addition to the bouts of depression Matt had, the last 10 years were a whirlwind of struggle for him. He posted this on Facebook 2 days ago:

“My game plan and what I’ve learned from life perhaps does not resonate with everyone. But it’s who I am and it’s all that I know. Just a dirty hippy at heart ❤️. Be kind. Then look out for yourself. Sounds contradictory. Try to make those two things coexist. Sorry, it’s hard.”

This was one situation where even Matt couldn’t out-work the problem. I love that even in the depths of his own sorrow, Matt was trying to push kindness out into the world. He also wants to make you cry. We love you, Matt. We will miss you. #mattgunnwantstomakeyoucry

- Salem Stanley

If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts and/or depression, you are not alone. Please find someone to talk to or call 800-273-8255 to talk with a counselor.

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We would like to create a sponsored athlete fund or a scholarship fund in Matt’s name to give back to runners as he would have. If you’d like to contribute to that fund, you can make a donation here: https://www.wanderproject.org/donate/

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Please feel free to share stories and memories of Matt in the comments.


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  • I was there for Matt’s first Zion 100 race director gig. It was such a beautiful and challenging course, and Matt was so passionate and excited about sharing that part of the world with others (I’m from Alaska, and hadn’t done much running in the Southwest until Matt’s races). Matt was a good human who cared about our environment, and he cared about making the world a better place. His energy was infectious. I went on to do The Antelope Canyon and Monument Valley races-bringing other Alaskans along for the incredible events Matt put together. It breaks my heart that the world has lost this beautiful soul-yet I do believe his goodness will live on in each footfall we make.

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