Dr. Russ Reinbolt: Wisdom from an extreme ultramarathoner

two men in white shirts and sun hats walk on the side of the street in Death Valley
Dr. Russ Reinbolt in Death Valley with a pacer.

What some call “crazy,” Russ Reinbolt calls “extreme,” namely his penchant for participating in ultramarathons at triple-digit distances.

Reinbolt in Death Valley with a pacer.

The La Jolla resident and traveling emergency room doctor is currently preparing for his next ultramarathon, having just published his first book to help others translate his challenges into their own successes.

In early February, Reinbolt will attempt the Montane Yukon Arctic Ultra for the fifth time, a 300-mile race through northwest Canada in the middle of winter.

Extreme distance

He completed the race last year – which measures 430 miles in alternate years – having unsuccessfully tried the 300-mile version thrice previously.

Not only was that Reinbolt’s first time finishing the Yukon ultra, it was his longest distance ever. 

“I didn’t give up [after the first three Yukons] and went back, probably fool-heartedly, and tackled the longer distance,” he said, adding that of the 25 others who started the race with him, about half finished.

Finishing 430 miles (actually, Reinbolt ran 438, somehow tacking on an extra few) involved getting to checkpoints every 40 miles “ where one can get aid, load up their water bottles with hot water, get a meal, maybe take a sleep.”

Most race entrants, however, sleep outside on the trail in a tent and sleeping bag with all the provisions that they pull with them on a sled.

Last year’s race took Reinbolt about 12 and a half days, moving about 18 hours a day and sleeping four.

Extreme cold and solitude

With temperatures down to about 45 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, the Yukon Arctic Ultra is “ridiculously cold,” Reinbolt said.

“The first year, I got spooked by the cold,” he said. “It was my first time out there coming from sunny Southern California. I was just shocked by how cold it really got.”


Reibolt hit the panic buttons on his GPS tracking device; a snowmobile evacuated him off the course the next morning. 

Now that he’s better at handling the cold – with the help of expedition-quality gear – the challenge is isolationism: “Basically you’re just out in the bush, … 40 miles away from the next human being, when it’s that cold and you’re entirely dependent on yourself [with only] those stupid playlists on your phone that you’ve heard over and over again, if your battery is still working in the cold.”

The solitude taught Reinbolt the race is “more of a mental challenge than physical.”

The mental “fortitude it takes to not think about how much farther one has to go” is a burden Reinbolt took years to overcome, he said.

Extreme satisfaction

So why freeze in the Arctic alone?

“It’s the thrill of the chase,” Reinbolt said. “Almost all of us who do these … events are chasing our limits. We just get tremendous satisfaction from setting [an] arduous goal and attaining that goal.”

And once the goal is reached, “it resets and we want to push ourselves a little bit more,” he said, whether that push is in distance, time or weather.

To that end, Reinbolt has finished the Death Valley Badwater 135 ultramarathon five times, through extreme difference in altitude in 125-degree heat.

“I’m not competing against other people out there,” he said. “My goal is to not only have a wonderful experience out there, but just perform at my best level.”


To achieve that requires extreme mental discipline, Reinbolt asserts.

Training involves “everything possible, to the extent possible living in San Diego,” he said, from wearing a 40-pound weighted vest on runs and for strength training in his garage to engaging in temperature and altitude trainings, along with “Mental Toughness Training” with a mental skills coach to prepare for the solitude.

Extreme opposites


Training for an ultramarathon means preparing to wait for the next leg or the finish, Reinbolt said. “The only way it comes is by continuing to move forward. We can’t speed up time at all, we can only change our perception of time.”

This is in direct contrast to his 23 years working in emergency rooms, where waiting for anything can spell disaster. 

“You have to make things happen,” he said.

Coupling his lessons gleaned from his work as a doctor with those from his ultra adventures, Reinbolt was “encouraged by a lot of people to write a book; … I tell people so many stories as a result of my races and my job.”

He began with a blog to share the stories, moved later to develop a motivational curriculum using the four most important words to him: patience, persistence, dedication, and discipline.

“The P2D2 method,” as Reinbolt called it, “are the foundational pillars [for anyone] trying to achieve their own personal greatness.”

He uses all four qualities in both ultramarathons and his work as a doctor, he said.

For the book, “In Pursuit of Extreme Greatness: An ER Doctor and Ultramarathoner’s Prescription for Elevating Your Life Beyond Limits,” Reinbolt aligned various stories under the four pillars that best demonstrate each.

He also used the book to emphasize the importance of altruism, he said: “I realized how valuable and pleasurable and beneficial it is to try to help other people as much as possible.”

To watch Reinbolt’s progress during the Yukon Arctic Ultra Feb 4-12, visit arcticultra.de. 

Picture of Elisabeth Frausto

Elisabeth Frausto

Elisabeth Frausto has been reporting on and writing about La Jolla since 2019. With dozens of local and state journalism awards to her name, Elisabeth knows the industry as well as she knows her community. When she’s not covering all things 92037, you’ll find her with coffee in hand staring at the sea.
Picture of Elisabeth Frausto

Elisabeth Frausto

Elisabeth Frausto has been reporting on and writing about La Jolla since 2019. With dozens of local and state journalism awards to her name, Elisabeth knows the industry as well as she knows her community. When she’s not covering all things 92037, you’ll find her with coffee in hand staring at the sea.

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