Ray Pugsley: Elite Runner and Potomac River Running Co-Founder


Ray Pugsley’s Story

Ray Pugsley is a former elite runner, who ran professionally on a post-collegiate racing team for Reebok and regularly won DC-area races. In 1996, he qualified for the Olympic Trials in the 5,000 meters on the track.

He became a household name in the running community. Ray and his wife, Cathy, also a talented runner, loved the sport so much that they co-founded Potomac River Running (PRR) with Brendan and Margie Shapiro. 

A running store owned and operated by those passionate about the sport is the best combo a runner can hope for. All four co-founders are runners, were extremely invested int he local running community and participated in competitive running sports in high school. 

In 2013, Eight injured service members kicked off the Army Ten-Miler in Washington, D.C. ten minutes before the open start, racing in wheelchairs or running using prosthetic limbs. The same day, Ray Puglsey was the top masters racer, finishing the 10 miles in 53:01. 

What is Masters Racing? 

A Masters racer is a runner over the age of 40. Because our bodies reach a peak, athletically and physically speaking, runners can’t be expected to continue improving their speeds. Thus, the Masters category was created to allow elite runners to continue their competition as they age. 

This simply means that during a race, one’s time and position is compared to others in the same age group category. Masters age group categories include are usually determined in 5-10 year increments

Ray Pugsley: Back Pain and Running

What Ray didn’t know when he was winning races and co-founding PRR was that he would experience back pain problems. This is what led him to the National Spine Health Foundation. 

At one point in his running career, Ray suffered a herniated disc in L5 S1. He ultimately underwent a lumbar discectomy at L5/S1 for a herniated disc, and then an anterior lumbar interbody fusion (ALIF) at L5/S1. 

His surgery and recovery was successful and he was soon able to get back to running. Post-surgery, Ray continued to run personal records in all of his events, surprising many people. Many aren’t aware the back surgery doesn’t mean you will be debilitated for a lifetime. In fact, it is often the key to getting back to the life you life. 

Back Surgery Is Not a Death Sentence 

Ray’s surgeries were so successful that he became passionate about advocate on behalf of other spine patients. He joined the board of the National Spine Health Foundation and continues to encourage people to get the help they need for pain. 

We spoke with Ray about his experience and why he believes so much in the mission of NSHF. You can check out that interview here — and learn more about his story in this video as well. 

“I’ve learned how to do the necessary steps to take care of myself,” said Ray.  “I learned that early so I can stay on top of it, and people that don’t address it probably continue to deteriorate.” 

Back surgery can be life-saving, but those who have dealt with spine issues should be diligent about pro-actively protecting their spines through regular physical therapy, strengthening exercises and a basic healthy lifestyle that includes proper nutrition, rest and mental wellness.

As Ray says here, he’s always been able to “thrive and recover” — and he wants to offer that hope to others. 

Ray Pugsley story is inspiring and we are so thankful to have him as a member of our Board, to help advocate on behalf of patients.

Photo courtesy of Charlie Ban, Editor in Chief of RunWashington.com. More on this here. 

Watch more of Ray’s story in the video below: