The Secret Handshake


By Gary Gellin

When I’m not running, which is more often than not the last few months (due to plantar fasciitis), I spend a lot of time discovering new music. For the last couple of years, my wife Holly and I have had a somewhat regular diet of live music gigs including a “run-cation” to the U.K. last summer, which involved a fair amount of fell running and a lot of live music. I’ve always felt there is an intensity to live music which is not unlike that of running in the woods – either at full-on race speed or at a meditative saunter.

There is a euphoria while being immersed in a mind-blowing musical performance which is similar to the intense feelings I‘ve had when breaking the tape at Way Too Cool in 2012, or crossing the line at Lake Sonoma 50 several years ago in my goal time of under 7 hours, or even after struggling slowly through the cold, dark night at the Bighorn 100 while forging on with the inspiration and support provided by my pacer, Nikki Kimball. As my friend Eric Schranz, producer of, told me recently, “There’s an electricity and dynamism to live music that is found rarely outside of that venue. I totally feel it, without a doubt. Now add to that a live recording that you’re listening to while running and you’ve reached Nirvana.”

In my forays online discovering new music, I noticed that there were a lot of posts on certain music pages from a woman named Deborah Sexton. Minimal investigation revealed she was connected also to household names in our sport of ultrarunning like Catra Corbett, Nicole Bitter, Paul Terranova, Dave Mackey and Darcy Piceu. I immediately sent her a friend request, and Deborah and I became penpals right away. Deborah is a grandmother living in Austin, Texas, and a prolific ultramarathon runner. She had a 10-plus-year stretch of running one to two ultras per month, and now participates mostly in timed events up to 72 hours. Deborah also lives and breathes music. She is an active supporter of bands from Austin and beyond, and a beloved member of that community. We met in person this year at the gargantuan SXSW Music Festival in Austin and became, in the parlance of the live music world, “gig buddies.” We both like a sub genre of alternative rock called shoegaze, which has thousands of artists world-wide, but goes back to the 1980s with the likes of Cocteau Twins, Lush and Slowdive. The term is actually an inside joke and refers to the way some musicians stared at their pedals on the stage instead of looking at the audience.

My list of friends who share a passion for both running and music has grown a lot. We may not be on the same running course or at the same concert venue, but we are of the same mindset. In a way, sharing the same musical tastes with someone is like a secret handshake, similar to telling a friend, “Yeah, I really want to run that 100-miler, too.”



  1. Gary,

    I found myself nodding my head to this article, I think we can all relate in the midst of our sub-culture of a sub-culture.