Matt Lipsey, known on Instagram as Matthias Lipshitz, is bringing a fresh sense of creativity to trail running through his personal style as well as his drawings and sketches. Lipsey, a two-time Team USA member in Skyrunning and snowshoe racing, has always enjoyed drawing, but didn’t see it as much of a path until he was unexpectedly diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disorder that forced him to put his training aside, and allowed him to refocus on his previously dormant passion for drawing.
Now on the mend, slowly increasing his training and using his drawing as a form of rehab and therapy for his nerves and muscles, he is combining his passion for trail running and the arts in a way he never could have imagined.
The following images and comments from Matt highlight the quirky and creative personality that makes him a great artist and fuel his passion for trail running. We can all take inspiration from this incredible person who is willing to find laughter and positivity in tough situations and see the light at the end of the tunnel.
[TAYTE POLLMANN] What’s the story behind your nickname “Lipshitz.”
[MATT LIPSEY] I created the alias “Matthias Lipshitz” for the interweb way back when, and since then it’s run amuck. Now I’m along for the ride just like everyone else. The name has really logged some miles and earned quite a few laughs. Sometimes I’ll find people I’ve known for years who think “Matthias Lipshitz” is my real name. Sometimes I let that slide, so it’s partially my fault. Mail has even shown up to the house addressed to “Matthias Lipshitz” so often that the post office required I put it as a secondary name on my change of address form.
[TAYTE] When did you start drawing “cartoon-style” art?
[MATT] I’ve always loved to draw goofy stuff. I made comics when I was a kid with one of my best friends and we’d sell them on the playground for a quarter an issue. I drew in the margins of nearly every homework or test paper that came my way in high school. I also kept graphic journals throughout college. These were basically small sketchbooks where I committed to drawing two full pages each day of interpretations of things that I saw or heard while I people-watched in the library. Besides a few doodles here and there, I put the sketchbooks down to focus on running and other things…though mostly just running.
[TAYTE] What are your favorite race distances?
[MATT] I like to run hard and fast, so I’ve always preferred hilly and technical distances between 5 and 25 kilometers. I’ve got a lot of favorite trails, but I’m partial to the Hyner View Trail Challenge 25k course in Pennsylvania. Steeper races over shorter distances, like the Vertical Kilometer, are right in my wheelhouse.
[TAYTE] Where are your favorite trails?
Harrisburg has numerous wildly fun Appalachian Trail Spur Trails. Take your pick and you can grab 1,000 feet of vertical gain in a mile. Of course, then you’re at the top but then you can just pick another one and come back up. Hawk Rock is my favorite local place. Technical and steep, it’s perfect for Skyrunning training. Zach Miller and I came up with a training loop called “Halfpipe Earth,” which goes up Cove Mountain to Hawk Rock, comes back down through town and over a bridge to cross the Susquehanna River, then climbs to the top of Peter’s mountain and back down through town and back to Cove Mountain. We call it “Halfpipe Earth” because the route is shaped like a halfpipe and it is also totally RAD!
[TAYTE] You’ve had some health challenges recently. Tell us about them.
[MATT] In August of 2020, I noticed grip strength problems with my left hand while I was doing pull-ups. Each day, this small strength discrepancy became more and more pronounced no matter how much rest I took. I noticed my average running times for my training routes were slowing down, and my running motion also felt more difficult. I couldn’t explain it. On the soccer field, I was unable to place the ball or kick it as hard as intended during games. I found myself unable to full-tilt sprint. Then, during a bike ride/run workout with Zach Miller, I felt something horribly, terribly askew.
I finally went to the doctor the next day. My muscles were filled with visible electrical spasms and twitches. The neurologist I self-referred to didn’t have any answers. At this point, I was no longer strong enough to run and was riding my bike. The weakness and lack of answers from doctors was frustrating. I became so weak that I could no longer ride the bike, not even on flat asphalt. I didn’t have the strength to stand up out of the saddle. Stairs were becoming impossible feats of strength. I would take my car keys and credit card with me down the apartment stairs when I had to get the mail because I didn’t know if I’d have the strength to make the climb back up the six steps to my front door.
When I no longer had the strength to carry two small bags of groceries up the stairs, I made the executive decision to move back home with my parents. I needed help. My feet slapped on the ground when I walked. I kept getting worse and worse, still without any answers. A single step became insurmountable without the use of a handrail. I grew so weak that I could barely stand upright and keep my balance. My legs hyperextended to keep me upright. I spent 98% of every day for two weeks sitting in a chair. I could no longer do push-ups or even sit-ups. My wrists were drooping and I had to use my pointer fingers to type on the keyboard. It was becoming difficult to hold my fork and feed myself. Putting my socks on was a chore. I was so weak that I could not tear a single sheet of paper in half.
Eventually, and ONLY because I banged on the door of every doctor I came across, I found my answers. I was diagnosed with Chronic Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy (CIDP). This basically meant that the reason for my weakness was that my own body was attacking itself, destroying the insulation (myelin) surrounding my nerves which allowed them to carry signals to my muscles. With my doctor, I put a plan together to get me back to normal, or as close to normal as I could get it. It’s been a long road, and I’m still on it.
[TAYTE] How did having this disease affect your art?
[MATT] Because I was still spending most of my time sitting down, I needed something to do to pass the time. I found my old college sketchbooks at my parents’ house and I decided to get back into it. Turns out, the fine nerve stimulation required for drawing was basically physical therapy for my hands. Plus, it was a lot of fun. I decided to share some stuff online back in November 2020 and it had a good response so I decided to keep it going.
Run PA, a company which has supported me since its inception, reached out around this time requesting a t-shirt design after seeing some of my work. I drafted what I thought would look cool on a shirt and Run PA allowed me to take the full proceeds from shirt sales to help with my medical bills. The shirt sold well enough that it helped me cover the majority of my costs — which I can tell ya weren’t cheap.
I also had a ton of people reach out and make donations to help me get back on my feet. I feel truly blessed and loved by the generosity of others. After all the help I was given, I see it as my responsibility to treat creating art like it was my second or even full-time job. I’ve decided to knuckle down, work my ass off, and get better so I could get back out and live a normal life in some capacity.
Finally, Steve Pagano, a chiropractic doctor and owner of Trail Runner Tune-Up, reached out and put me through a series of physical adjustments that helped to speed up my recovery process. I am truly grateful for his generosity.
[TAYTE] How would you describe your style of drawing?
[MATT] As far as my drawing style goes, I don’t think there’s a name for it. I’m kind of just pouring raw thoughts out of my head onto the page. I like to use a lot of negative space in my drawings so the person looking at it can fill in the blanks with their own imagination. Kind of like reading a book and imagining what the characters look like rather than watching a movie and seeing someone else’s interpretation.
[TAYTE] You recently drew 18-time US champion Joseph Gray. What’s the story behind this drawing?
[MATT] I did draw Joe! Allie McLaughlin, trail runner, video producer and founder of MUTWiLD apparel reached out to me to create a couple designs to use as a fundraiser for the US Mountain and Trail Running Teams. This drawing of Joe was just something fun that spun out of my mind based on our conversations.
[TAYTE] Where do you go from here with your trail running artwork?
[MATT] I’ve been taking design requests pretty steadily since I got back into it, and it’s been a ton of fun. I’m just happy I can make people smile and laugh. I don’t really see it as a business per se, but it’s one heck of a fun side hustle and I’m along for the ride, wherever that may lead.
[TAYTE] How can can people connect with you and see your trail running art?
[MATT] Feel free to find me on Instagram or Facebook and shoot me a message! I usually post things there that I’ve drawn that I think are cool, weird, fun or a bit of all three. I’m always open to sketching up new race shirt designs. I get a lot of bizarre design requests for sure, but I think that might be my favorite part of it all!
[TAYTE] What are your future plans for running and racing?
[MATT] Right now, I’m stoked that I can walk and ride my bike normally again. I was strong enough to start running again 4 weeks ago. I started with 1.1 miles a day, slapping my feet to the stop sign and back, barely making it. Now, I’m running 2.5 miles each day, and I’m sometimes able to get a few paces below 6:00 per mile pace which is a true blessing since I’m still not firing on all cylinders. I do some of it off-road and in the snow on my old soccer training loop.
I don’t have the speed I once had, but I improve each day and hopefully I can get the hammer back. I’m going to do a victory lap at the Mount Tom Challenge in the “Pennsylvania Grand Canyon” over the coming weekend. Mount Tom is a free event where you try to run as many laps up and down Mount Tom as you can within a two hour limit then we all go to the Burning Barrel Pub for pints and epic burgers. It’s an up and down 2.5 mile loop with 1,300ft of vertical gain.
Hopefully, I can get back into some resemblance of my former self and give it a proper slap in fast conditions sometime this spring or summer. For now, being able to do a loop is such a huge blessing so I plan on embracing the simplicity of the suffering and being lucky enough to be back out at all.
[TAYTE] What kind of art projects are you working on?
[MATT] As far as art goes, I’m working on some more collaboration efforts with my pal, Craig Peterson. He is a fellow artist and trail runner as well. Check him out at Artwork on the Run. He is phenomenal at watercolor pieces. He has a signature “coffee art” look going, where he incorporates coffee into his work as a medium. Craig painted a mountain goat that Allie McLaughlin was interested in using for a MUTWiLD T-shirt design.
My latest collaboration effort is a 2 foot x 3 foot ink sketch I made of a coyote howling with two pups. Craig is going to paint it. This will go to my buddy, Brian, who asked for the drawing because he has two young sons and coyotes sing nearly every night in their backyard. I tried to capture all three of them being savages and having fun together.
As far as solo art projects, I’m working on illustrations of North American bear species and even a guy pooping in the woods for an upcoming issue of a new trail running magazine called “Eat Clean, Run Dirty.”
[TAYTE] Anything I didn’t ask but should have?
[MATT] My favorite color is blue! Not really important, but I like to lead with that sometimes so I figured I could use it to close this time…haha. I also like to use ink pens, because if I screw something up it forces me to be creative and make it work, rather than allowing me to go back. It’s just more fun that way.