Dr. May’s Secret Life Revealed

Dr. May


A group of regulars and some occasional newbies show up at the local running store for an easy hour of running on Wednesday evenings at 5:30. Often this group shares mile after mile and hour upon hour of running together anywhere between downtown and the top of Mount Ashland (& beyond). Running with someone for an hour is frequently having a conversation for an hour, while running. This was my introduction to Rich May.

I got to know him first as a calm, dry humored, often smirk wearing local runner who despite his lack of collegiate aged youth, could keep up with me– no problem. Then I got to know him better and found out what he has accomplished in running. He is an ultra marathoner (a person who runs any footrace beyond the standard 26.2 mile distance) who has entered and finished multiple 100 mile foot-races as well as many other shorter running events and training runs in the past 5 years. I finally found out he is a professor here at Southern Oregon University. While many students know that about May, I had no idea. I knew him only as a runner.

Doctor May teaches as relentlessly as he runs. As proof- his Anatomy & Physiology class which is often regarded as a demanding but rich learning experience. In an attempt to get to know the academic side of Rich better, I spoke to a few of his past students. One alumni described being in a basement room lacking windows in the evening compounded by feeling overwhelmed with information.

Another student, Erik Sol studied with May before heading up and instructing the Outdoor Adventure Leadership program on campus. Erik says he learned what he thinks was a primary reason May got into running in the first place. At that time, Erik says that May was studying lower adipose fat deposits in men, or what I like to refer to as the frontal muffin top that many “dad bods” begin displaying as they age through their 20’s and beyond. Erik theorizes that May self identified as unhealthy and potentially a prime candidate for serious health issues given his age and current lifestyle. Based on his academic research which students had an active part of, May began realizing some things he could change to become healthier, and thus began running. In regards to May, Erik said “It’s inspiring to see someone applying the knowledge hes gained to his own physical and mental well being.”
Here’s a slice of what makes May experience that well being: it’s pitch black outside and you’ve been running and hiking through the woods on a skinny trail in 45 degree temperatures for the last 2 hours. Now multiple that time by 6. Yes by 6. Now you have an idea of what about HALF of Rich’s experience running The Bear 100 mile race was like. A 100 miler often takes him near 30 hours to complete, or a few hours less depending on many factors. Some factors are the elevation gain (uphill running) during the whole race which often exceeds 20,000 feet over the course of 100 miles. Another is the average altitude on the course which can be 2,000 feet above sea level like here in Ashland, or maybe 8,000 making the air much less full of oxygen. The list goes on.

Dr. Rich May would be the last person to boast about his running pursuits, so I found someone else who would do it for him. Ryan Ghelfi is a local Nike sponsored ultra-marathoner who works at Rogue Valley Runners. Ryan got to know Rich during the running store’s weekly group runs and said “You might never know it but Rich is an absolute stud runner, he can hang with the best of them”.

May’s next race is the Lithia Loop Trail Marathon in Ashland in November. He also told me that he has “… gotten interested recently in the physiology of stress, and students have been able to participate in that research. I think a really interesting project in the future would be to investigate how physical activity alters the impact of psychological stress on the body.” It remains to be seen what May might find out and how he could influence his (and my) running and studying in the future.