Meet Michael Mitchell, TikTok’s ultrarunning, Coors-drinking “rave twink”


When you go through his TikTok account, Michael Mitchell could be held up as an example of what happens when you spend too much time at high altitude. 

The videos show him carrying his slim, tan figure and wholesome, golden haircut up steep trails as fast as most of us walk a sidewalk in downtown Denver. He is always bare-chested, probably wearing a nipple ring and silver glitter smeared on his chest glinting in the sun. 

“RAVE TWINK!” he may yell, or “YEET,” probably punctuated with an F-bomb. When he’s done with the run — many times it’s 15 miles — he bites the Coors silver bullet he stuffed in his shorts and shotguns it.

In one video, he’s climbing a snowy peak in a purple Speedo. In another, he’s bombing down a ski run in the same Speedo. In a third, he’s wearing what looks like tighty whities, flying a gay pride flag on top of a summit. In one of his most recent, he climbed Longs Peak, the dangerous 14er in Rocky Mountain National Park, by what he thought was the common Keyhole route, only he climbed the Cables Route, a technical and much more dangerous and exposed way. This would have led to certain death for 95% of the people who climb Longs, but he admits his mistake in the video on the summit. He had a can of Coors up there, too.

But then there’s another video of him destroying the pack in this year’s Steamboat Marathon by a good 15 minutes. This, you’ve probably guessed, was his first marathon, something he followed no training plan for, at all. The day before the marathon, he slept in a tent and climbed Mount Elbert, Colorado’s tallest mountain, though because of the race, he was more conservative: He wore pants. Just think, he muses during a celebratory beer, how fast he could have run Steamboat had he not climbed a tough 14er the day before?

“But that’s the beauty of it,” 23-year-old Mitchell said in an interview in mid-June, during some actual time off from most of his shenanigans. “Ultrarunners run from the heart, and that’s what I do: I run from the heart.”

Runners are boring. But not Mitchell. 

Mitchell is, indeed, mostly an ultrarunner, and he’s got two big races coming up, a 50 miler in Ouray in July and then the Run Rabbit Run 100 miler in Steamboat in August. And the time off is much deserved by any standard: Just a month ago, he finished third in the difficult Quad Rock 50 miler on the trails west of Fort Collins. Yes, any 50 miler is hard, but the race had about 11,000 feet of elevation gain, or about 2½ trips up Mount Elbert. He also finished fifth in the GoPro Mountain Games 20K, a race that showed even Super Twinks can get sore and tired, as he gingerly bounced down the trails on his angry legs. 

Yet the running doesn’t take up all the space on his TikTok. You won’t see videos of him on a track, talking about Higdon repeats in between all those trails he pounds into mercy. Instead, you’ll see him at Coachella, drinking, or in downtown Denver, drunk, pointing to a bar he got kicked out of one night, or most often at an EDM rave, mascara under his eyes, screaming into your phone about just how UNHINGED he is, or, one of his favorites, “I FEEL SO GAY RIGHT NOW!” 

Mitchell doesn’t hide the fact that he likes to get wild off the mountains as well as on them. In fact, he believes that’s why he’s successful. His numbers back him up: He has more than 87,000 TikTok followers in less than a year of posting, and many of them came to him in the last few months. Two of his first 10 videos got more than 1 million views. 

Runners, he said, are typically boring, even the best ones, because they talk about training all the time. Social influencers, he said, are all doing the same thing, showing off pieces of antiseptic lives. He’s athletic, balanced and gay, in every way that word is defined. He is real. 

“I’m literally just being myself,” he said, “even all the crazy party things I do. I think that’s why my stats keep growing.” 

Brands seem to agree, so much so that he hasn’t had to work since he quit an outdoor industry job that made him sit at a desk — good luck with that — and soon, he will be working full-time in social media traveling the world, representing running and possibly other platforms. He can’t say much more because the deal isn’t done yet, but it’s very close. 

Even that opportunity, though, means he can be himself: He insisted on that in the contract, and for now, all the brands don’t care if he swears or drinks or yells about being gay while crushing another trail or climbing a mountain in a way that would kill nearly everyone else. They welcome it: The craziest stuff gets the most views. 

Mitchell is gay, a mountaineer, a raver and a hell of a runner with no training plan.

“But it’s more than all that,” Mitchell said. “You should be the most authentic self. This isn’t just for the gay community. It’s for everyone. It’s a call for you to be you.” 

A safe space

Mitchell did struggle in the seventh grade with his identity and he probably knew he was gay even then, he said. His parents are athletes and his father played in the Yankees’ minor league system, so he played baseball and gravitated to running. He found a place, even as a middle schooler on the varsity cross-country team. The older guys on the team treated him well, he said, because they were his friends and because he was really good at running. 

“Running was a safe space for me,” Mitchell said. “It made me feel like I belonged, and I was good at it.” 

The ultrarunning community gives him that same safe space today, he said. 

“The community that surrounds the sport is so great, and especially the ultrarunning community is so kind to each other,” Mitchell said. “No one judges you for who you are. That’s what is so beautiful about it.” 

Running and growing up in Minnesota, one of the more liberal and accepting states in the country, means Mitchell doesn’t have any horror stories about growing up gay. His parents were supportive when he came out to them as a sophomore, and he had plenty of friends who accepted him when he came out to them his senior year (most had already figured it out, he said and laughed). His TikTok accounts are remarkably troll-free for someone with tens of thousands of followers who puts himself out there. 

“I haven’t really experienced homophobia to my face, ever,” he said. “I do think I have a very big personality, and I think homophobes may be intimidated by me. But I also think I have that frat bro energy as well, with shotgunning beers and the athletic stuff. I think I’m a good ambassador for gay people, if that makes sense. But I also know I’m really lucky.” 

Michael Mitchell dances along with a song, Grabbitz’s remix of Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill,” for a TikTok video recording. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)

There were signs that Michael was “going to march to his own drummer,” said his mother, Michele, who lives in Steamboat Springs with his father, Mark. He sat around a lot as a baby, which concerned his athletic family, until he began crawling. Two weeks later, he was walking, and then, soon after, he was walking down stairs by himself. 

“That’s how he does things,” Michele said. “He checks it out and then decides he’s going to do it.” 

Michele and Mark tried to instill a respect for others in Michael and his older brother, Matt, because they were raised that way themselves. That includes respecting who they choose to be. That philosophy, and a love for the outdoors that translated into visiting national parks for vacations, made Michael who he is today. Probably. They didn’t have everything to do with it, Michele said with a laugh. 

“Free spirit and passion and determination has been with him since he was born,” she said. “I can’t say we did any special training with him — we weren’t climbing 14ers, I will say — but he’s just truly found joy and passion with the outdoors, which is great.” 

His own path

He had a good experience running for Lehigh University, a Division I college competing in the tough but small Patriot League that includes the U.S. Military and U.S. Naval academies. He wasn’t a star. He typically scored for his team, but didn’t finish on the podium. 

This college experience, however, means he really does know what he’s doing. True, he doesn’t have a training plan, but that’s because he doesn’t really need one. And he’s not alone; other ultrarunners prefer to use alternative forms of training, such as races, to get and stay in shape.

“I’ve been around so many coaches, it’s second nature to me,” Mitchell said. “I don’t need to think about it.”

Still, a plan may have helped him last summer, when he did the Leadville 100. The longest race he’d run before was a 10K. On a track. His longest training run was 30 miles. But he was confident.

“When I was in college, I could never push hard enough where you see runners collapsed on a track,” he said. “But I can push myself to be very uncomfortable for a very long time. Not a lot of people can do that.”

No, in fact, which is why he led Leadvillle for hours and was in the top 15 until mile 77. Then his legs failed him and he stumbled across the finish line after almost 27 hours on the grueling, high-altitude trail.

People told him at the end they didn’t think he would finish. 

The race, however brutal, sparked a love for the trails. He left the track for good and began running up “stupid rocks,” as he calls mountains, and 15-mile jaunts up dirt. His performance at Quad Rock meant his training paid off, but he expected to do well there. He didn’t have any expectations for the Steamboat marathon.

“I just felt good,” he said about the day, “and when I took the lead, I kept it.” 

No training plan may, in fact, be best. He hasn’t been hurt despite a grinding race schedule, and he believes fairly strongly that the joy he feels for the outdoors (he will typically scream, once per post, “I LOVE NATURE”) and for running does him more good than tracking splits with a Garmin. 

“The marathon went really well because I was having fun with it,” he said. 

He’s getting more serious offers from brands, with more money, now that he’s proven he’s wild and crazy and extremely legit. Winning Steamboat probably helped get him his full-time job, he said.

TikTok motivates him to run and get out on mountains, but he admits he’s still surprised at the number of strangers who tell him he motivates them. 

“There aren’t running influencers,” he said. “But what I hear from so many is, ‘You make running look like so much fun.’”

A unique brand

When Mitchell quit his job and began posting on TikTok, he didn’t see it as a way to replace his income. But he hoped it would. He had a degree in journalism and could make good content with those skills, such as editing video, being creative and, most of all, connecting with people. His family was skeptical this path would lead anywhere, but Michael didn’t have a solid plan to make a career, either. It just worked out.

“Now is when you can do this, right?” said his mother, Michele. “He’s young. We both feel people are lucky when they can do something they love. If we can make a living doing it, more power to you.” 

He recognizes that he’s in a good position now.

“Influencers are still so new, brands don’t know how to capitalize on them,” Mitchell said, “but they have these incredibly high followings, and I think more of them are replacing traditional advertising. They are now hiring teams to work with influencers.”

He believes he’s unique, and the numbers continue to back him up, showing him people are paying attention. TikTok banned his account for a couple weeks, calling his work overly sexualized (which confused him given that, one, it isn’t, and two, the swearing, drinking, difficult mountaineering and posing nearly naked in a Speedo on 14ers are all much more problematic). But other major influencers on the platform went to bat for him, talking to those high up in TikTok’s chain, and got his account back. 

Michael Mitchell running at North Table Mountain. The TikTok ultrarunning influencer has two big races in the months ahead, but no formal training plan. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)

It’s been fun to see him grow so fast, said Liz DiLoreto of Denver, whom Mitchell calls his best friend, though the two only met in February. She said she finds this unsurprising because of his authenticity. 

“A lot of people get the wrong idea about him,” she said. “As a person, he’s one of the most kind and authentic people I know. That’s important for queer visibility too.”

His content provides a lift to the LBGTQ+ community, DiLoreto said: Most of her friends are gay men who respect his work. 

“A lot of queer people don’t feel like they can be their most authentic selves,” she said. “They have to have some sort of control over it. But he really goes for it.” 

And yes, he really is the way he is on TikTok, with a slight exaggeration, DiLoreto said. 

“When we’re at a rave, I don’t bring earplugs for the music,” she said and laughed. “I bring them for him.”

Mitchell can relax, she said, and loves sitting down and talking about nothing and deep stuff for hours. But the account doesn’t lie.

“He’s always rallying the troops,” she said. “My life has been very busy since he’s been in it, and I love that.” 

He never forces it, which he believes is his key. He doesn’t use the trending styles, such as sounds or songs, or storytelling approaches that take a significant chunk of space from creators.

“It’s hard to be big on TikTok if you’re trying to be really big,” Mitchell said. “But I didn’t curate this to be anything. It’s literally just my personality. It’s who I am. And the biggest creators are successful because they are just being themselves.” 

Still, everything has a shelf life and there’s always a chance his followers could move on. So he’s thought about what he wants to do with the iron now that it’s hot. He’s thinking about positivity, the kind with perhaps with a defiant edge to it.

“I want people who be whoever they want to be,” he said. “No one should judge you for being yourself.” 

And at this last point, he pauses before unleashing a grin that reveals his perfect white teeth. 

“If they do,” he said, “well, fuck ‘em.”



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