ST. GEORGE — For Cory Reese, pounding the pavement opened a pathway to overcoming depression and turning trauma into growth. These experiences are chronicled in the ultramarathon runner, social worker and author’s third book, released in June.
Named as one of the 20 best new books of 2021 by Men’s Journal, “Stronger Than The Dark: Exploring the Intimate Relationship Between Running and Depression” weaves together Reese’s signature humor with lessons learned over a decade of testing his physical and mental limits in ultramarathons. It’s raw, vulnerable and more deeply personal than anything he has published before.
Reese said the book’s themes resonate within the ultramarathon community. Over the years, he has met many people who turn to running to navigate the ups and downs of life, and others who have used it to work through depression and addiction.
“From what I’ve heard from readers so far, it connects with feelings a lot of people have,” he said. “Especially coming out of the pandemic, a lot of people are experiencing challenges with mental health.”
Reese lives in St. George with his wife and their three children. He spent several years recording his inspiring and often hilarious ultrarunning adventures on his blog, Fast Cory. It was Steve Hooper, owner of the St. George Running Center, who encouraged him to share his stories with a broader audience by writing a book.
“Nowhere Near First: Ultramarathon Adventures from the Back of the Pack” was released in 2016 and follows Reese’s journey from his first marathon through five years of endurance races. “Into the Furnace” followed in 2018, which details the harrowing experience of finishing the notorious Badwater Ultramarathon in Death Valley.
“Cory writes in a way that I feel like anybody can relate to him,” Hooper said. “Running has turned into an outlet for him. It’s been amazing to watch him transform as a person and as an athlete.”
While drafting his third book, Reese initially started writing about checking another extraordinary race off his bucket list: the Vol State 500K through Tennessee that he completed in 2019. But along the way, he experienced a crisis of faith that ultimately led to him leaving The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He also faced a diagnosis of common variable immunodeficiency, an immune system disorder that depletes protein levels critical to fighting infection. He now undergoes weekly infusions to boost his immune function, which he’ll likely continue for the rest of his life.
“Those two things put me into a kind of depression that I had never experienced before,” he said.
“Stronger Than the Dark” reflects on the Tennessee race, during which Reese realized with clarity the link between running and mental health. In the book, he shares tools for working through depression that he has discovered on trails, roads and decades of helping others.
Reese has been a licensed clinical social worker with the University of Utah Health dialysis program for the past 17 years. The patients he works with have varying degrees of physical ability; for some, just walking to the mailbox is a challenge. Running has allowed him to empathize on a deeper level with the struggles they experience every day, and he strives to empower them to set and achieve new goals of all sizes.
“It’s about pushing yourself and challenging yourself to go a little farther and do a little more, wherever you’re at,” he said. “That’s where strength and growth comes from.”
Staying in ultramarathon shape and training for an upcoming race is all about getting time on your feet, so Reese seldom stops moving. Sometimes he’ll go out and walk all night long. Or when the kids are at school, he’ll hit the trail and run for the better part of the day. He once ran 100 miles around the deck of a cruise ship while on vacation – just for fun. If he’s training for a hot race like Badwater or the Vol State 500K, he tries to spend as much time as possible outside during the peak heat hours.
“Our bodies are amazing,” he said. “They adapt and adjust.”
Always up for a new challenge, Reese recently finished a self-guided walk around Southern Utah he dubbed the “St. George Sizzler.” With the goal of taking in as much of the area’s spectacular natural beauty as possible, he walked a total of 101 miles day and night, sometimes through 115-degree heat.
Reese finds himself continually inspired by the running community and the bonds he has forged with fellow ultramarathoners over many long, hard miles. Regardless of the challenges that lay ahead, pushing on in the face of adversity is always worth it.
“I love the sense of accomplishment that comes from working really hard for something and not giving up,” he said. “Even when you have that voice inside saying, ‘It’s too hard and I want to quit.’”
“Stronger Than the Dark” is now available on Amazon in paperback form, as an audiobook or to read with Kindle.
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.