Meet ATRA Trail Ambassador – Dawn Lisenby

Please welcome our newest American Trail Running Association (ATRA) Trail Ambassador presented by CamelBak. We’re proud to introduce you to Dawn Lisenby, a trail runner who builds community through coaching, race directing, and volunteering.

One of those volunteer projects is coaching for the Police Athletic League (PAL), in her local community of Flagler Beach, Florida; a featured ATRA Trail Town. Lisenby, has two young boys – 12-year-old Jack and eight-year-old Jude – and both are in the program (although her younger son also enjoys soccer, a sport his Mom played semi competitively while attending the University of Florida). Lisenby, an accomplished runner at age 49, shares her love of the sport through PAL as well as many other programs in which she is involved.

Like many getting into the sport, Lisenby started running with the “run a minute…walk a minute” plan. Her inspiration was her brother Jack, himself an avid runner, who passed away in 1997. Lisenby started out on the roads, and began trail running in 2002. “I did my first trail race in March, 2008, a 16 miler, that was part of a well-established 50k race,” she said. “I came upon the ultra community and fell in love with their support, and enthusiasm. I decided I wanted to start an ultra trail race.”

That fall, Lisenby founded Jack’s Trail Race honoring the memory of her brother who had been a student at the University of Georgia studying veterinary medicine in the class of 1999. The first race was held on a one-mile trail loop run 31 times for the 50K distance. The inaugural event attracted about 20 people. The race has since moved to a new venue with a six-mile trail loop for distances of 10K, 30K, and 50K and sells out the 150 spots annually. Through the race, Lisenby set up a scholarship at Jack’s alma mater, with the first awarded in 2011. The scholarship amount grew from $300 the first year to $1600 which was awarded this year.

Another in Lisenby’s race directing portfolio is the River to Sea. This event offers 6 and 12-hour options and has a cap of 100. The final race she directs is the Swamp 10k/50k/100k Trail Race. “All my races are intentionally small,” says Lisenby. “To me it is about staying old-school style…focused on community. Race directing for me has never been all about making money or recognition, it was something I started doing as a way to deal with my grief over my brother’s death and to find meaning from it. In the process I became passionate about giving back to a sport that has given me so much strength and happiness.”

As part of giving back, Lisenby donates funds to a local trail organization to help maintain the trail system. She also gives back through her coaching business, which she started in 2010, and now includes a manageable number of athletes ranging in age from the late 20s to 65. “I coach a mixture of men and women, really every type of runner from road to trail to ultra,” said Lisenby. One of her mantras for her athletes who wanted to finish a 100 miler goes like this, “You need to be strong, both physically and mentally, to run a hundred miles.”

To that end, Lisenby conducts clinics where she helps runners with their strength and mobility in order to improve their form, both of which are foundations of running. “I want to keep people mobile and strong,” said Lisenby. “I’m also passionate about helping runners overcome injury and achieve their goals.”

Bill Zulas, who is coached by Lisenby, wrote in his nomination letter, “As a coach she guides and leads us to find the best we have within ourselves. She brings out our strengths without driving us to the point of burnout or injury. She trained me to my first – and to date only – 100 mile finish. I’m a stronger, leaner and wiser ultra athlete because of her.”

What’s next for Lisenby? In the near term, she is crewing a friend at Badwater and then volunteering at the finish line aid station for the Hardrock 100. “Hardrock is my dream race,” offers Lisenby who is registered to run Grindstone 100 this fall as a qualifier to get into the 2018 Hardrock lottery. “I have a friend who has run Hardrock many times and will do so again this year. He is a testament that a Floridian can run Hardrock, and run it well.”

Future plans for Lisenby may not include more events on her race directing calendar. “I don’t see myself adding another race,” she says. “I have one almost every quarter now and am content with that.” However, what she does envision is getting more children into trail running. “I would like to get kids off the roads, and onto the trails. I think this is an even greater gift to give them. Getting kids out in nature will get them to appreciate it more. We don’t want to lose trails…we want to protect them. Inspiring kids now will help secure the future of our trail systems.”

Inspired is what those who come in contact with Lisenby will feel. She has shown that you can find meaning and direction from someone’s memory. “I would give anything to have my brother back, but I found a great way to honor him through running,” says Lisenby. “I have a lot of responsibilities & commitments with my children, my races, and my coaching. Being on the trail is my ‘me time,’ and where I find quiet and peace. I used to dance when younger (in fact Lisenby almost went to performing arts school), when I run on the trail I feel like I’m dancing again – it’s a form of creative expression for me.”

To learn more about Lisenby’s events and coaching, visit her newly released website at