christian hampshire in little cottonwood canyon, ut on thurs sept 23, 2021photo by kim raff for runner’s world
Christian Hampshire running the trails near his home in Sandy, Utah, a suburb of Salt Lake City.
Kim Raff

Christian Hampshire woke up in a haze. Slowly, he made out the pinyon pine above. Sitting up, he saw the Grand Canyon spread in every direction below him like a dry, inverted Everest. His mouth hurt for water.

He’d been out for 45 minutes. For a moment, he didn’t know why, what day it was, or what he was doing. Then, details started coming back. It was May 15, 2021, the first day the Grand Canyon was open for the season. He was 20 miles into El Cuatro, his fastest known time (FKT) attempt at four North Rim to South Rim to North Rim crossings, with the greater goal of raising awareness and funds for mental health. That’s 170 miles with 45,000 feet of climb at an average of 9 percent grade through near-freezing temperatures at night and 90-plus-degree afternoons.

Things had gone south, quick. He and Rick Ballesteros, his first pacer, had been cruising when they hit Phantom Ranch, a campsite near the base of the canyon. There, Christian told Rick to refill the bottles and catch up with him; he was determined to make each crossing in seven hours. Two hours later, out of water, he was faltering up the exposed switchbacks of the South Kaibab Trail. There was no sign of Rick, who had bonked just past the ranch. The midday sun was merciless, and Christian had crawled under the scrubby pinyon and lain down. Now awake, he worried his FKT attempt was in jeopardy, and worse, that his effort might not reach those who dealt with depression and darkness; he had hoped to be a shining light, a beacon of strength. He texted childhood friend KC Stayner, the nearest crewmember, and his next pacer, for help, but then pushed on instead of waiting in the meager shade. “Only a mile and a half to the South Rim,” he told himself, still chasing a seven-hour crossing.

decorative line

El Cuatro was supposed to be a definitive stamp on Christian’s struggle with depression. The 44-year-old ultrarunner had grown up in Salt Lake City in the long shadow of his father, John, an intrepid architect and ambitious real estate agent who had bought his first Porsche and his first piece of land by the time he was 18. John was a father of few words, but was always moving, doing, setting an example. “He spent his free time on the Brighton Resort ski patrol, where he instructed novice skiers, set off charges and shot the Howitzer up Big Cottonwood Canyon to prevent avalanches,” says Christian. “He was a superman.”

Christian grew up to believe stoicism meant strength, failure meant weakness, and talking about doubt was not what men do. After years of hiding feelings of self-doubt, he had found a path to recovery in sharing his experience and helping others like him. The superhuman feat of four Rim-to-Rim-to-Rims in record time could prove his strength and support the community that had helped him become a better husband and father.

Christian always strove to impress his dad and someday be him. But achievement was expected, while approval came sparingly. In high school, Christian helped his rugby team win two national championships, and while he felt supported by his father, it was rarely communicated.

After earning a business degree from the University of Utah, Christian, who had grown up in the Church of Latter-day Saints, went to serve his two-year mission abroad. The first year was in Portugal, and severe culture shock set in. He grew confused about his faith, his mission, and why he was there. He wanted to come home. He wrote his father. “I’m done with this. I can’t understand people.” His dad replied saying we support you, but you are going to finish this.

christian hampshire in little cottonwood canyon, ut on thurs sept 23, 2021photo by kim raff for runner’s world
“I always fought through pain and discomfort and pushed myself through the deepest of lows. But I’ve learned there are some things you can’t run through, or away from.”
Kim Raff

He completed his mission and returned home in 2001 to work under his father at Sentry Real Estate. He tried his best to emulate his father’s success. And he met and married another ambitious business grad, Amber Hall. Yet he yearned to prove that he could make his own way.

Christian was in the grip of the traditional, successful-male ethos he knew. In 2010, he and Amber had a son, Kingston. The boy came early at just 24 weeks, weighing only a pound and a half. The doctors gave him little chance of survival, but Kingston proved to be a fighter and made it home from the NICU. Still on a feeding tube, he would have years of struggle ahead with possible development and learning issues. Christian blamed himself. Failure. Something in him had caused this to happen. He shouldn’t be having those thoughts, those feelings. He knew that. Kingston made it home. That was a miracle in itself. So he bottled up his unwanted thoughts. Desperate for relief—and inspired by the book Born to Run—he channeled his energy into running.

The next year, he entered the notoriously difficult Speedgoat 50K in Utah’s Little Cottonwood Canyon. Though he’d never attempted anything close to a marathon, he was certain he could finish on willpower. After nine hours and nearly 15,000 feet of vert, Christian was greeted by a firm handshake from race director and ultrarunning legend Karl Meltzer as he crossed the finish line. But the satisfaction was fleeting.

Christian just came out with it: “I said, ‘I’m thinking about killing myself.’” There was a pause. “He texted back that it would be a shame ’cause my kids were so cute,” Christian says. “I never heard from him after that.”

In March of 2015, he took a risky career jump. He’d already moved on from his father’s company, but left a secure job managing a call center for a position at a startup, PurePredictive. With a broad patent on big data and machine learning, the belief at PurePredictive was that their software service could become the next unicorn, amassing a billion-dollar valuation. Christian ran sales and marketing and was told if he signed up 30 companies to the software in 90 days, his future was bright. He worked day and night and brought in more than 100 in three months.

But many startups like PurePredictive believe they need to hire fast and fire faster to grow. “It was the Hunger Games,” Christian says of the daily dismissals. “People would make shooting sounds every time someone was fired.” Eventually, PurePredictive was acquired for its patent, and the staff was shredded from 50 to five.

“Got a second?” The CEO knocked on Christian’s door and smiled as if he’d heard a joke. It was a June morning in 2016, and Christian wasn’t nervous. Getting fired never seemed like a possibility, until it happened: “Hey, we’re shifting focus and not really emphasizing sales right now.”

Dumbfounded, Christian was packing his belongings into a box when he stopped to look at the photos on his desk given to him by his wife, Amber. There was Mowgli the dog, Amber, and his two kids, Kingston (age 6) and Mazie (age 3). He was supposed to provide for them. Failure. The word echoed in him. Failure.

decorative line

One month after being fired, Christian found himself atop Lone Peak, his head spinning, a step away from a 500-foot drop. His daily run had taken him up a steep incline to the 11,260-foot-high sheer granite ridge just a few miles from his home. At the summit, vertigo struck. Shaken, he saw how thin the line was between life and death. One step.

The run was the first piece of the routine Christian adopted: Run in the mountains, drink beer, repeat. The solace was temporary but an improvement from the first weeks of unemployment. Too ashamed to tell Amber he’d been laid off, Christian pretended to go to work before heading off to run trails in the Wasatch Range. He had sent out resumes hoping to land another job quickly, but he got no bites. When he couldn’t hide it any longer and finally came clean, Amber tried to be understanding but was shocked by the lack of communication.

Christian, afraid to share his deeper feelings of inadequacy, tried to compensate. “He surprised me by bringing home an English Cream Retriever,” Amber says. “I was pissed. You’re unemployed and you bring home a puppy?” Christian thought she would like it. He didn’t get that she was going into her busiest months of the year at work, that they were probably going to have to let the nanny go, and the puppy was chewing up the furniture.

Christian took his mounting losses hard. He told Amber he didn’t know if they were going to make it. The couple talked about taking a break. Amber was hurt; she felt maybe he didn’t want her anymore, and she didn’t know how to reach him. She sensed something deeper was going on. Kingston and his sister Mazie felt it too. “They started to cling to me more,” Amber says.

A path out of failure came into focus. From almost every room in their house, he could see it in the distance, Lone Peak. One extra step. It would look like an accident, an innocent mistake. They would find his body on the scree like a broken doll. It would be selfish, yet loving in that he could provide for his family.

He still desperately wanted to be a model father but continued to take setbacks like final judgments on his worth. At the Cub Scouts Pinewood Derby, where fathers help young scouts turn a block of pine into a car that races down a ramp, Kingston came in last place. Discouraged as he walked out with his dad, he threw the car into the trash. Seeing Kingston’s grimace was devastating. Failure.

He couldn’t admit that he was depressed. That equaled failure and talking about it would only expose his weakness to the world. But he had never known this kind of desperation, so he reached out to one of his oldest friends, Eric. They had known each other since middle school and used to share everything.

Christian just came out with it: “I said, ‘I’m thinking about killing myself.’” There was a pause. “He texted back that it would be a shame ’cause my kids were so cute,” Christian says. “I never heard from him after that.”

He thought about going to their family doctor. He needed someone to hear what he was going through. But the doctor knew his father well. Everybody did. So he tried a therapist at a clinic on the outskirts of town. The session ended when the doctor suggested he could have a chemical imbalance. Medicine might help some people, Christian believed, but not him.

Isolated, he looked to running to prove himself to the world, and set his sights on the 2016 Wasatch 100 in September. Of all the trail races in his area, with its 26,636 feet of unforgiving climbs, it was the one his buddies talked up the most. If he could do this, he thought, he could do anything.

More than a third of the field, 121 of the 334 racers, failed to beat the 36-hour cutoff, with some projectile-vomiting along the course. But despite having never raced 100 miles, Christian finished in 28 hours 8 minutes. At the finish line, he embraced his son.

To his friends, he was a beast, the image of success. But inside, Christian still didn’t feel that way. Within a day, he was blank again, all sense of accomplishment gone. Maybe it wasn’t as tough as everyone made out, he thought. No longer buoyed by his goal, he was emotionally adrift. His ideas of achievement and success were lost in a foggy limbo. So, he looked out his window at Lone Peak and made a plan: to go back to the summit, pretend he was on a training run, and throw himself over the edge. It was just a matter of when.

christian hampshire with his family at their home in sandy, ut on thurs sept 23, 2021photo by kim raff for runner’s world
Kingston, Amber, Mazie, and Christian at their home in Sandy, Utah.
Kim Raff

decorative line

In January of 2017, Christian was surprised by a job offer. He took it without hesitation, but it was another startup with a hire fast/fire faster model, and Christian was tasked with letting people go. He couldn’t take it and quit. Lone Peak still loomed in his mind. But with a friend’s introduction, he found another position with a software company.

Christian had been at the new job just over a month when he walked into the break room and noticed one of the developers at the counter beside him as he prepared his coffee. She looked sheepish and shy. He’d heard through office gossip that she had recently attempted suicide. A compulsion to approach her had been nagging Christian. He wanted to see if there was anything he could do to help. But what would he say? What would she say? Nervous, he started, paused, then asked, “Hey, got a second?” Pensive, she looked around, then nodded.

They retreated to his office and his story of failure and desperation flooded out. He told her everything he’d been going through, and how he felt disconnected, alone, with no one to understand. She was taking in his words. Still, she seemed uncomfortable. When he told her that he was raised not to talk about weakness, she shifted in her seat.

“Thank you. I needed to hear that,” she said. She relaxed and shared her own trials. She had tried to overdose on pills just three weeks before and hadn’t been able to confide in anyone.

They talked for an hour, and Christian remembers the last thing she said as if it were tattooed on his forearm. “I just don’t want people to know,” she had said, “because I don’t want people to think I’m not normal or broken. I’m just dealing with something.”

A thought hit him. “Suddenly, I felt like I could help people,” he says. He started writing his story down and dictating it into his phone. In April 2019, he released his podcast, Embrace Your Vulnerabilities. People reached out to him through social media from all over the country, mostly men who felt he was speaking for them. In 2020, Christian was invited onto Hope to Recharge, a podcast where guests share their experiences with mental health issues. But it wasn’t until he wrote a long post on Facebook in May of that year that his close friends and family learned what he’d been going through.

The outpouring of support from friends, old coworkers, and running buddies was overwhelming. Amber, as always, was fully in his camp. And though they haven’t actually spoken about his mental health, his mother sends him self-help books. But his father, now 79, has dementia. Christian isn’t sure he knows about his struggles.

In exposing his thoughts and feelings, Christian felt pangs to achieve something heroic to go with his revelation. The Wasatch 100 hadn’t been epic enough—he’d returned in 2019 and finished 10th. He needed something more impossible and found an obscure FKT for four Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim crossings of the Grand Canyon. Perhaps by breaking the record, he could raise awareness for mental health.

decorative line

KC Stayner plied Christian with Gatorade. He had found him a mile from the South Rim. Now back at the trailhead, Christian drank from a gallon jug of water until he could pee. But, says Stayner, it looked like diluted Coca-Cola.

An hour later, Christian was determined to push back toward the North Rim, and the two departed. He rallied on the descent of the South Kaibab Trail, but after crossing the Colorado River and beginning the North Kaibab Trail ascent, the run turned into a death march. “Once he got behind on his hydration, he just couldn’t catch up,” says Stayner.

At two in the morning, the pair limped into camp at the North Rim. It had taken them 10 hours, and Christian was now peeing blood. Stayner and crewmember Jeff Spencer pleaded with him not to go back down. Christian didn’t want to quit. Failure. But his pacers refused to go out with him.

“Having to stop was very challenging for Christian,” Tedi Searle says. “He is such a fighter.” An ultrarunner and coach, Searle was on the eight-person crew, mostly composed of strangers brought together by Christian’s story. Searle suffered from anxiety and ADHD, and another crewmember had lost a friend to suicide.

Over breakfast, an idea began spreading among the crew. Mental health is not about one person, it’s about all of us. So, six of the crewmembers decided to finish El Cuatro as a team. Each took turns running, pacing, and crewing. More than 130 miles remained, and few of them had ever run in the Grand Canyon. Methodically, they ticked off each Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim pass.

christian hampshire in little cottonwood canyon, ut on thurs photo by kim raff for runner’s world
Christian prepares for a trail run in the Wasatch Range’s Little Cottonwood Canyon, east of Sandy, Utah.
Kim Raff

With one out-and-back left, 71-year-old Marge Hickman and 62-year-old Jeff Spencer departed the North Rim and ran through the night. They finished the double crossing in a rain shower after 16 hours 20 minutes. It was a special cause for Hickman. Her mother had lived in and out of institutions, and Hickman has spent a lifetime managing her own mental struggles via medication and running.

Christian was in a hotel room recovering and beating himself up when he heard that they’d completed the run. He was speechless. Though he hadn’t reached his fundraising goals or raised the level of awareness he was hoping for, the fact that they’d cared enough about him and the cause to finish it was cathartic.

“I tend to push through things on my own, and as strong as you think you are, you can’t do it alone,” he says. It was an important realization and a long time coming. Where he thought he had failed, he had inspired. And where he had been weak, he had made others stronger. He didn’t feel alone; he was supported.

decorative line

In July, Christian was laid off in the economic fallout of the pandemic. But his time at home looked different this summer. Christian and Kingston set up a solar panel system for the house, bonding over electronics and trips to Home Depot. Christian makes it clear to his son that he can talk to him anytime, about anything. Being a father to Kingston is no longer a test of failure and success; it’s a privilege and a pleasure. “He and Christian have a special bond,” Amber says. “Before, he only wanted mom to help him. Now, it’s daddy.”

By September, Christian was negotiating a new position, targeting January’s HURT 100, a 100-miler through a Hawaiian rain forest, and pacing Stayner through the Wasatch 100. Stayner is 47 miles in when Christian greets him at an aid station. It’s his friend’s first 100-miler, and he’s fallen an hour behind his goal-pace to break 30 hours. “I had just puked and was in a bad spot,” Stayner says, “but when I saw him, I knew I was going to make it.”

The rain falls in sheets as they head out. The early-race heat had been scorching. But as the rain passes, the temperature drops into the low 40s. Christian keeps Stayner positive. “You got this,” he says. “You’re cruising up this climb.” Stayner gradually picks up his pace.

Together, they reach mile 70, the last aid station to drop at. Runners lie on cots and shuffle around in states of doubt and pain. Stayner is good, recovered enough to challenge the 30-hour mark. Success. Christian’s job is over, and as his friend heads out with his last pacer, he grabs ahold of him and hugs hard.

It’s a reflective moment for Christian. He’s not there to prove anything. He just wants to help. That’s his new mission in life. He’s started a website, Band2gthr, with a friend, hoping to create a community that empowers and elevates mental health prosperity. He wants to let others know that depression is not a fault, and that it’s okay to talk about it. And that sometimes we help others when we do.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress. Call 800-273-8255.