Ultra Empower runner encourages other women

Aneta Zeppettella didn’t have a plan when she started running.

If you’ve finished a marathon foot race — that’s 26.2 miles — then you are a member of a rather exclusive club. According to the U.S. Census, only about .17% of the global population has run this long-distance race. An even smaller number, though, continues to push themselves to run what are known as “ultra” marathons — anything greater than a traditional marathon with many races being 100 miles or more.

Washington Twp. resident Aneta Zeppettella is a member of this elite group of runners. Growing up in Poland, Zeppettella never set out to be a long-distance runner. She first came to the US in the 1990s with an exchange program and eventually worked as an au pair in Washington D.C. It was there she met her husband Dave, a scientist working for the U.S. Department of Defense.

“We got married in 2000,” Zeppettella said. “I became of U.S. citizen in 2005.”

The couple moved to Dayton when Zeppettella’s husband transferred here for a job at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. In 2006, their daughter Carla was born at Kettering Medical Center.

“We really didn’t plan to stay here longer than a few years,” Zeppettella said. “But after Carla was born, we decided it was a good place to grow roots.”

Zeppettella worked part-time as a substitute teacher and at the Centerville Washington Twp. Library while her daughter was small and started running for exercise.

“I didn’t really have a plan,” Zeppettella said. “I bought my shoes at local discount stores and would just go out and run.”

Zeppettella met another mom who was training for marathon races, and she became intrigued with the idea of running longer distances. She decided to start training. She ran several local races including the Air Force half marathon and the Flying Pig Marathon in Cincinnati.

“My friend would go for a longer run that would take six hours,” Zeppettella said. “I thought there was no way I could do that, but I decided to try.”

After running trails at local parks like Caesar Creek, she was hooked and started working up to 100-mile distances. Her endurance improved the longer she ran. She became the first woman in Dayton to run the BadWater 135 in Death Valley, California — also known as “the World’s Toughest Foot Race,” covering 135 miles — in July of 2022.

“I ran the BadWater in the summer heat and it was challenging,” Zeppettella said. “But the main thing is, I never quit.”

Determined to model resilience and strength for her daughter and for other woman, Zeppettella trained hard and pushed herself to complete other challenging races.

“Overall, 100-mile races are about 80% men and only 20% women,” Zeppettella said. “But more women finish than men,” she said.

Armed with that statistic, Zeppettella and her friend Jennifer Russo decided to start a company together, designed to empower all runners to be the best they can be by. “Empower Ultra” was officially launched in the fall of 2019.

“Jennifer and I met in 2016 when we were running together and training,” Zeppettella said. “I mentioned that I had been volunteering for races and that I could put on my own event, and she wanted us to do it together.”

The women decided to become business partners and work to make their ideas for foot races come to life. They scheduled their first race for the fall of 2019 at Caesar Creek State Park on the trails.

“The whole idea was to do something different — something maybe people haven’t done,” Zeppettella said. “We decided to do this race at night.”

That first race sold out after the partners spread the word on social media and among running groups. It offered a 10k, half and full marathon course to runners who completed them overnight.

“We made it very safe with lights and food and hot drinks,” Zeppettella said.

Excited for what was to come, the partners pressed ahead to 2020 but their spring race, scheduled for April, had to be converted to a virtual race because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Then in March of 2021, the partners revived in-person races at Majestic Farms in Batavia.

This year, the partners are hosting five races and a retreat designed especially for women. “EmpowHER” was held for the first time last year at Red River Gorge in Kentucky, and featured seminars on topics ranging from running safety to training tips and the attendees also ran together on the trails.

“We’d really like to grow this retreat and get more people interested in our races,” Zeppettella said.

And on April 19, Zeppettella will be attending the premiere of a documentary about her life and her racing. “Nettie From Ohio,” will be part of a film festival at the Neon Theater in Dayton. The film is the first documentary by Jessica Vandenbush, herself an ultra distance trail runner.

“Anyone can do what I’m doing,” Zeppettella said. “I don’t feel I’m extraordinary. I’m just fortunate enough to have a lot of support at home.”


Online: More information about ultra races and endurance races at empowerultras.com.

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