Junior Joseph Ellefson is always up for a good challenge. His idea of a “good challenge” might be more extreme than it is for others, however, proven by him signing up for and competing in a 50-mile race this past weekend. Not only did Ellefson finish the race, he placed second out of 106 competitors — a testament to both his perseverance and his desire to compete “for the glorification of God.”
Ellefson, who hails from New Mexico, has been running competitively since sixth grade. Over the years, he has done numerous races that were a 5k distance or below, but he was intrigued at how far he could push his limits.
“I like a good challenge, especially when it comes to endurance sports,” says Ellefson, who is an English language and literature major at Christendom. “Over the years, I had met several people that had completed ultramarathons (races that go beyond the standard marathon distance of 26.2 miles) and always wondered if I would be able to compete at that level. I signed up for a 50k (31 mile) race last year and did well, placing fifth overall and first in my age group. I really enjoyed training for and completing the 50k last year and going into this year I wanted to set another goal. I googled ultras in my area in the spring semester and landed on this 50-mile race.”
Since arriving at Christendom in 2019 as the Class of 2023’s Thomas S. Vander Woude Scholarship recipient, Ellefson has been a part of the college’s cross-country team, honing his skills under the tutelage of his head coach and sister, Rebecca (Ellefson) McMahon ’14. While with the team, his desire to push his limits was given a deeper purpose as well, helping drive him to compete not only in the 50k last year but in the 50-mile race this spring.
“I’ve always enjoyed distance running and being on the team at Christendom has helped me to appreciate the sport even more,” says Ellefson. “The emphasis that Christendom places on competing for a higher purpose and the glorification of God has considerably aided my mindset for races and life in general.”
With that purpose in mind, Ellefson arrived at Blue Marsh Lake, northwest of Reading, Pennsylvania, on Saturday, April 2. It was chilly to start the day — a particularly brutal 30 degrees — but the temperatures did not cool Ellefson’s drive as he began the 50-mile race, running along the trails surrounding Blue Marsh Lake. The race consisted of two 25-mile loops with about 11 aid stations along the way. Rolling hills made the race a particular challenge, with the up and down nature of the trails amounting to approximately 5,000 feet of elevation gain.
Going into the 50-mile race, Ellefson was just focused on finishing and ideally placing well. It was not until he reached the 40-mile mark that he heard from one of the volunteers that he was currently in second place. That information was all he needed to remain strong the rest of the way, finishing the race without giving up his spot and earning a second-place finish in the grueling race. 38 competitors were not even able to finish the course, but Ellefson’s drive and determination helped him last the seven hours and fifty-four minutes it took to reach the finish line.
Ellefson’s “good challenge” proved to be a brutal test of endurance and will, but also a testament to how far one can push themselves in pursuit of a higher purpose. Years of practice, combined with the mindset-shift provided by his time with Christendom, helped Ellefson reach a goal many would think impossible. Even better, this “good challenge” will not be his last.
For more information on Christendom’s athletics department, visit christendomathletics.com.