Trail Therapy: Why Movement Outdoors is a Game-Changer

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By Gigi Griffis

About a year ago, I was having a full-on meltdown about my finances. I’d been scammed out of $350 and the whole thing sent me into a spiral of anger and panic and general gloom.

I couldn’t work. I couldn’t relax.

So I did the only thing I could do: I strapped on my day-pack, harnessed the dog, and walked onto one of the steepest hiking trails near my house, focusing on working my body and letting my upset mind focus on something else (like, you know, breathing, and putting one foot in front of the other).

It took less than an hour for my angry, whirling thoughts to settle as the noises of town faded away and I moved farther and farther into solitude.

And as my thoughts settled, I realized something profound.

I was upset about the $350 because it made me feel trapped. Because for the past few years, I work really, really hard, build up my savings a bit, and then—suddenly and unexpectedly—the expenses roll in. An unexpected medical bill. A series of vet visits. Or, in this case, a scam.

I kept thinking “I just can’t get ahead.”

That’s what caused my panicked spiral that morning.

But as I made my way quickly uphill (not quite running, but reducing a 1.5 hour hike to just under an hour), I realized that it was equally true to look at the situation from the opposite perspective:

“I’ve always had exactly what I needed.”

Sure, I wasn’t constantly watching my bank balance swing upward, but I also had never been destitute. I didn’t have to take a job I hated. I wasn’t living on my parents’ couch.

No, I was okay.

And so by the end of my hike, I was calm. Still not thrilled about the scam situation, but not railing or screaming or pulling out my hair in frustration. Just calm.

I’ve hit a lot of spirals like that. They’re usually around money or love or loss. Or losing friendships. Or wishing that my freelance business would (gosh-darn-it) succeed faster and in a bigger way.

But what I’ve noticed this year—a year that I’ve been lucky enough to get a visa to live in the Swiss Alps, with my apartment backing up to at least four challenging hiking trails and two easy ones—is that movement and nature are a deep, gratifying, and surprisingly instant kind of therapy.

It’s as if when I move up these mountains, pushing myself to go a little farther or a little faster than last time, I’m burning away all the negative, dark, and heartbreaking thoughts.

Because, in between telling myself that I can make it up the hill, noticing the perfect way the rocks spill over the hillsides, and moving away from the source of the trouble, even for just a few hours, there’s no room for those negative thoughts anymore. There’s no room to think that I just can’t ahead or that I’m not lovable or that I should give up.

After all, in that moment, I am getting ahead (quite literally). I am doing something just for me (which is the kind of thing that can’t help but make you feel loved). And I’m not giving up on the mountain, which makes me just a little more certain that I can conquer the less tangible things in my life as well.

And so I’ve begun to understand life a little differently this year.

On days that I’m frustrated, angry, or upset, I lace up my trail running shoes and run along the valley floor or wind my way, hiking, along the cliffs and up into the high alps.

When I noticed that I was feeling unmotivated in the mornings, I instituted a new routine, waking up at 7 a.m., loading business podcasts up in my iPod, and power-walking out of town in the brisk September air.

When I need a fresh perspective or just to be too exhausted to dwell on the tough stuff, I grab my jacket and I move. Up a mountain. Across a valley. Through town. It doesn’t really matter where. It’s the motion that clears my head, calms my heart, and reminds me that I can trust myself—body, mind, heart, and all.

14996296397_fe71042753_cGigi Griffis is a world-traveling entrepreneur and writer with a special love for inspiring stories, new places, and living in the moment. In May 2012, she sold her stuff and took to the road with a growing business and a pint-sized pooch named Luna.

These days, she’s hanging out in Switzerland, planning epic European adventures, and promoting her newly launched unconventional travel guides: ITALY: 100 Locals Tell You Where to Go, What to Eat, and How to Fit In and the smaller city guides for Paris, Barcelona, and Prague.

You can find more musings, travel stories, travel tips, and books at gigigriffis.com.

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About these ads

Funny Running Shirts Giveaway

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You know that favorite shirt you love so much that you wear all day, then to bed, then again the next day… for weeks on end without washing? No?… That’s just me, you say?

Well anyway, I have a new favorite tank.

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The ink is dyed into the fabric of the shirt so it doesn’t feel like bumper sticker on your chest, and mine sports a clever fact: Running Sucks. (Oh but we still love it, don’t we….)

These shirts are all hand printed by the company’s creator Matt Perret in his garage in New Orleans. They are made 100% in the USA and a portion of all profits is donated to the Good Goes Around Fund.

Here is a video with a little more info:

i Am – Not Your Average Shirt from i Am Brand on Vimeo.

FUNNY RUNNING SHIRTS GIVEAWAY

Enter for your chance to win a free shirt. Any shirt, any design from Funny Running Shirts.

To enter, simply leave a comment below telling me about a time when running really sucked for you. We all have those miles, or days, or weeks….

The winner will be chose at random on October 20th and contacted directly. If you can’t wait that long for your  shirt, use the coupon code VANESSARUNS for a 20% discount on your purchase at Funny Running Shirts.

Good luck!

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Your Dirtbag Hospitality Guide

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Are you passionate about supporting your local dirtbags, but aren’t sure what exactly they need (other than a shower, obviously)?

Worry no more!

After three years of dirtbagging experience, I have compiled this handy list of what your dirtbag needs but may be too polite to ask for.

  1. Shower

Let’s start with the glaringly obvious. You can’t go wrong with this offer since a stand-up shower to a dirtbag can be as rare an ultramarathon race director in it for the money. The two things your dirtbag will appreciate the most: a little privacy and hot water. When you’re used to freezing creeks and public nudity, a hot shower is like bathing in a unicorn’s tears of joy. PS: Ignore any sobbing you hear behind the shower curtain—probably just chaffing.

  1. Wifi

Free wifi that isn’t from McDonald’s is pretty freaking luxurious. For a dirtbag, it feels like that time you got your very first email in your brand new email account that wasn’t a welcome email from Hotmail. If you really want to spoil your dirtbag, offer up wifi that’s strong enough to stream Netflix: a true gem. Please remind them to shoot an email to their poor, worried mothers who feel like they’ve somehow failed.

  1. Laundry facilities

There is only one thing that stinks worse than a dirtbag: their dirtbag of laundry. Keep in mind: these were clothes that were rejected by the dirtbag as being too dirty on their scale of extremely low standards. If you are fortunate enough to have a washer and dryer in your home (oh, the lappin’ luxury!), do the universe a favor and lend them out to the dirtbag cause. CAUTION: Do NOT attempt to load the washer for your dirtbag. They have been training for months to withstand the force of this smell. You’ll need a gas mask and/or resuscitation.

  1. Home-cooked meal

Dirbags eat. A lot. And rarely—oh so very rarely—do they get to enjoy the goodness of a home-cooked meal. If your dirtbag turns down a free meal shared amongst friends, they’re simply not a real dirtbag. Go ahead and cook up a storm. It doesn’t have to be the least bit fancy or even all that good. Oops—did the salt slip? Did you use the wrong spice? It’s already way better than your dirtbag’s last meal of cold Poptarts and GU.

  1. Leftovers

You’ve done the home-cooked meal. You’ve nailed the showers and the wifi and the laundry. Easy peasy. Now, if you really want to make a dirtbag love you, insist they take some leftovers for the road. It can be as simple as a sandwich or as easy as that old lasagna that’s been sitting in the back of your fridge for three weeks. A dirtbag will respond with enthusiastic glee. Legend has it that some dirtbags have even been offered take-home beer, otherwise known as Dirtbag Nirvana.

Remember: Dirtbags can be shy and solitary creatures. They will most likely never ask outright for any of the above luxuries, but with only a few friendly offers you may easily find yourself with a new (or slightly used) dirtbag friend for life (DFFL!).

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9 Ultrarunning Norms You Can Break

vanessaruns:

I love this girl. If you don’t know Ash, you may want to give her a follow. In the meantime, be an out-of-the-box runner and start with this list. ESPECIALLY #4 and #8. Trails and ultrarunning are a personal journey. That means you can choose your own route and do it your own way.

Personally, I love signing up for races that are way over my head and risking a DNF each time I tow the line. When I don’t finish, I learn a LOT in a very short time span. When I do finish, I’m riding that high for years.

Don’t be afraid of failure. Don’t be afraid to set your own pace. Enjoy!

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Originally posted on AshRuns100s:

I have always been a rebel. It’s in my DNA. Always has been, always will be. This personality trait is evident in every area of my life. I like to think for myself, and refuse to accept societal norms. Seeing as running is a huge part of my life, it should come as no surprise that I shattered a few running standards there. Here are a few examples of how I made running work better for me:

View original 2,268 more words

What’s it Like to Quit Your Job and Travel?

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Two things happened recently to inspire this post:

  1. Shacky and I just hit our 50,000-mile mark of full-time travel and dirtbagging North America in our little RV.
  1. I stumbled across a Quora question about what it feels like to quit your job, throw caution to the wind, and travel.

No two journeys are exactly the same and as expected, I found that my experience was different from many of the commenters. Here’s what it’s been like for me:

  1. Social

More than any other time in my life, I am social. For years I’ve identified as an introvert and although I still do, I have fond myself easily slipping into some of the benefits of extroversion. You know like, real friends. A tribe. Actually wanting to sit around chatting with people. It was a little confusing until I realized that I don’t actually need to label myself as intro/extro. I can just do what I do and be who I am.

This is the opposite of what some other travelers reported in the Quora question (loneliness, isolation). I feel this is because we have focused a lot of our travels on people. Instead of only bucketlisting destinations, we made lists of people to meet, mostly Facebook friends we felt a connection with. I copied down the names of everyone who invited us to their homes, and plotted our route to see as many people as we could. Then we met their friends and families and soon an entire network opened up across the country that we never would have uncovered from our cozy little home in California.

  1. Scary

As easy as it is to sugarcoat the glamour of our lifestyle, in reality it can be pretty scary. Pre-dirtbag days, it was hard to remember the last time I had really been afraid. My life was very routine and there was nothing to really there to trigger fear. Now I’m averaging about one fearful incident every couple of weeks. It’s not always life-threatening of course, but rather those little situations that force you outside your comfort zone and there’s some problem solving involved.

The most common culprit that elicits fear for me is weather. In the RV, you can hear and fear almost ever aspect of the elements. Sometimes being in the RV is scarier than being outside. The winds feel strong (we’re tipping!), the hail sounds louder (it’s cracking the windows!), and the heat feels deadly (the cat is panting!). Adaptation and problem solving are keys we can’t afford to travel without.

We have also learned not to turn on each other, as people tend to do when they’re stressed or hot or hungry. We are a team and our only hope of ever solving anything is to put our heads together and push in the same direction.

  1. Easy

Chores take no time at all. When we go camping, we sit around and watch our friends set up their tents, haul out their luggage, set up their little camp stoves. We don’t have to do any of that. We are where we are and what’s in the RV… that’s all we have in the world. I can clean our “house” in ten minutes, tops. We have two bowls, two plates, two sets of silverware. Sometimes a little extra for a guest. There’s no planning ahead for groceries (who knows where we’ll be?) and certainly no buying in bulk (who has the space?). This is a very liberating feeling. There’s no fluff. No time-filling details. No busywork.

  1. Focused

Another benefit of the lack of busywork is that there’s more focused, fulfilling work. Real work. The kind of work that produces results, like published books (my particular chosen focus) or music or artwork. Imagine having all the time in the world to create something. No pushing papers, no filing the day with meetings, no chipping away at emails. It’s just you and a blank canvas and all the freedom in the world. It’s every bit as glorious as it sounds.

  1. Flustered

The downside to all this freedom is that sometimes the options seem limitless. At any given time, there are one hundred things I want to do. I have learned to focus them into seasons and years. I can do anything, but I can’t do everything at once. I can’t be on every trail and I can’t run every race. Instead, I create challenges for myself, like climbing the four highest peaks in the Continental USA in three weeks, or writing a book. Upcoming challenges include thruhiking several longer trails and writing a second book. If I’m not intentional in my goals and planning, it’s easy to get flustered and lose track.

What is dirtbagging NOT like?

For us, it has never been boring.

It has never left us in need.

We have never been unloved.

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How a Road Runner Learned to Stop Fearing Snakes and Embrace Joy on the Trails

gordoncoverBy Gordon Harvey

August in Alabama. The heat is unrelenting and the humidity unbearable. I was being dragged through the Talladega National Forest along the Pinhoti Trail near my home in East central Alabama and I felt like I was going to die.

I was not a trail runner. The road was my domain. I considered trail runners to be a special kind of nuts. Why in God’s name would anyone want to run on dirt, over stumps, past snakes, and through spider webs? What kind of warped idea of fun was this?

I was then in the early stages of my weight loss journey and beginning to reclaim my health. In 2007 the doctors discovered that extremely high blood pressure had afflicted my 5’8″, 262-pound frame: I was a stroke waiting to happen.

Fear took the first ten pounds off of me. Running and eating healthy did the rest. I started a podcast and a blog to share my journey to running my first marathon in 2009 at Disney.

By the time I ran with Mark, I was still over 210 pounds but healthier than I had been in a while. Now I’m 100 pounds lighter and no longer take blood pressure meds. I have a level of good health that the bigger me thought impossible to ever attain.

Mark was a trail runner, had run several 50Ks, and was training for a 50 miler. He was a friend and a listener of my podcast. Mark wanted some time on the Pinhoti and convinced me to come along.

I thought I was going to die. The climbs, the humidity, the total concentration on the trail, the spider webs… it was killing me. After we finished, we shared a meal, I said goodbye to Mark, and I decided I’d likely never set foot on that trail—or any trail—again.

A year later I found myself pacing a friend at Burning River 100. Part of a crew, my segments on the trail with him was only six miles at most, but I found myself running at night though the Cuyahoga National Forest. I loved it. I enjoyed the traveling caravan atmosphere of the crews as we went from aid station to aid station along the course. This was exciting and alluring, but I never considered myself a trail runner. Six miles on a trail does not a trail runner make. I was a marathoner helping a friend: the roads were my home.

From November 2010 through December 2012, I raced six marathons, two half marathons, a 70.3 triathlon, and a bunch of shorter distances. I grew as a runner, but was mentally wasted.  My mind was mush from the never-ending, self-inflicted pressure to get faster with each training cycle. I needed a break.

So I signed up for the Mt. Cheaha 50K. I figured, “Hey, I can run a marathon easy now, so a 50K should be no biggie, right?”

Yeah, right…

I hit the same trail that Mark dragged me along to four years earlier. I bought new gear and shoes. Trail running was so different than anything I expected.

Mind. Blown.

The 2009 experience was such a blur that I couldn’t process it, nor did I choose to remember much of it, but spending hours on the Pinhoti Trail system and running ultramarathons has taught me a few things about trail running, about being a runner, and about the way I have to approach life.

First, it’s all about time.  

I learned not to stress over how many miles I did or did not get, but to appreciate time on my feet, time on the trails, time away from civilization.  After my first big training run on the Pinhoti, I struggled to come to terms that I had been on the trail for three hours but had barely covered 14 miles. Geez, I can run a marathon in not much more time than that. I freaked.

I was used to accumulating tons of miles in short period of time. What was wrong with me? I had to learn that when I am on the trail, time is my friend—not miles. Time away from everyday life and the bustle that it has become. Time for peace.

Second, trail running is a journey to a different world and an experience of body and mind.  

On the road I can zone out, listen to music and let everything fade away. The trail has stumps, rocks, snakes, and bears. It also has tremendous beauty and an otherworldly atmosphere.

I have to stay alert so I didn’t face plant every ten steps, or step on a snake (more about snakes later), but I also let my mind soak in what is tantamount to crack for the senses: the sound of water rushing through a stream, the birds chirping in the trees, the crack of a limb as it comes underfoot, the crunch of fallen leaves as I run, the way the snow creaks under my feet.

Third, I learned to embrace being me on the trail.

Marathoners can compare themselves to other marathoners. Most courses are not terribly different. They have pavement; they have aid stations. Oh, sure, there may be some hills here and there, but it’s easy to make comparisons.

Trail is different. No two trails are alike. I have friends in Northern California who run on soft dirt paths with not a lot of technical terrain. Here, we run on sharp rocks and small round rocks that move as you step on them. We climb a mile straight up on our hands and knees.

It is futile and not a bit smart to compare myself to others, even in the same race. I have learned to appreciate who and what I am as a runner at that given moment. Races are more fun that way. Life is more fun that way.

Fourth, trail runners feel like family.

There’s something fundamentally different about trail events compared to road races and triathlon. The former seems so collegial, so welcoming to all runners no matter if they run fast like Rob Krar’s beard or slow like my bald head. Before races, we all gather together at the start with no elite corrals, no waves. Just us. Waiting to run.

At the finish, we all commiserate over that blasted hill at mile 28 or complain about the sadistic nature of the race director who is there laughing along with us. It’s like being with family. I love that I can interact with trail running elites on Facebook or through their blogs. I love that they’re so accessible and accommodating to people like me. That’s a far cry from road racing elites who have one-sided conversations with us, primarily to sell us something or thank a sponsor.

Don’t get me wrong, trail elites have sponsors and do need to earn their ride, but they talk to us. They say hi to us. And we don’t have to win a contest or buy their shoe for them to do acknowledge us. I love that.

Fifth, I learned to embrace the fact (still dealing with this a bit) that snakes are more afraid of me than I of them.

While I don’t always believe this, I am internalizing it more and more. Snakes. Yes, I know there are creatures on the trails that are imminently more dangerous and aggressive than snakes. Bears and crazy redneck hunters are the biggest danger around here. Nothing gives you a little pucker more than seeing a bear warning sign as you get to a trailhead, or to hear a nearby shotgun blast during hunting season. But for some reason I’ve fixated on snakes. Maybe it’s all the images of rattlers that trail runners post on Facebook? I guess if I saw more bear selfies, I’d fear them more.

I’ve learned that if I pay attention and don’t treat every stump as a venomous aggressive snake-monster whose sole mission in life is to kill me, then I will be OK. I’m still working on this. That’s one of the advantages of being a slow trail runner: all the leaders have cleared the spider webs and scared the snakes away from the trail.

It’s funny. In 2007 I told my brother-in-law that I would never run a marathon. Shorter races were fine by me. “I’m a 5K guy,” I’d declared.

Since then, I’ve run 10 marathons and three 50Ks and am about to do my first stage trail race, a few more 50Ks, and a 50-miler in March. My mind has already started to mull over something I swore I’d never in a million years think of doing: a 100.

Why? I think it has to do with the unknown. The adventure. The question of how much can I accomplish. Moving to the uncharted territory of my running life and then going a little farther in mind and body and distance. I figure if I can lose a hundred pounds, I can run a hundred miles? No matter the distance, the trails are calling.

To paraphrase Forrest Gump, trail running is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gong to get. But boy, does it taste good.

Follow Gordon Harvey at thisrunninglife.net

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Check out my book: The Summit Seeker

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RACE SPOTLIGHT: Running Wild – The Polar Bear Marathon in Churchill

Polar Bear Seal River Lodge

 Photos and story by Birgit-Cathrin Duval

Minus 41C wind chill (-41.8F) and a polar bear alert.

Most ultrarunners worry about hitting the wall. If you’re running the Polar Bear Marathon you will face an even bigger fear: running into a polar bear.

So how’s that for a challenge? Running in cold arctic air with wind chill factor up to minus 40 Celsius through pristine polar bear country?

Churchill is a tiny town located at the edge of the arctic in northern Manitoba, Canada. It’s a truly Arctic community and it’s only accessible by air (approx. two hours from Winnipeg) or by train, which takes about 36 hours—often more.

Every year in October and November hundreds of polar bears begin their move from their summer habitat to the Hudson Bay where they eagerly wait for the ice to form. Once the bay freezes the polar bear will have a feast and go hunting for ring seals.

It’s the time of the year when Churchill gets busy. All hotels and B&B are booked and tourists from all over the world come to Churchill to see the polar bears.

You can book a day tour on a tundra buggy or stay at a remote lodge outside town or book a couple of days in the Tundra Buggy Lodge which is located in the midst of the tundra with nothing but polar bears around.

On November 22, 2014 you can run with the polar bears. There will be an Ultra Marathon (50 km), a Marathon (42,195 km) a half Marathon (21 km).

The course is set amid rugged wilderness along the flat icy coast of Hudson Bay. Local volunteers will drive beside the runners, carrying food, water, extra clothing, and of course, guns.

The first Polar Bear Marathon took place in November 2012. I was coming back from Seal River Lodge where I was on assignment writing and photographing a story on polar bears. I decided to stay a few extra days in town to document the first Polar Bear Marathon in history.

In the early morning on November 20, 2012, 14 runners from Canada, USA and Germany gathered in front of Gypsies, the local coffee place. A shot from a bear gun was the signal for the start and off they went.

One of the runners from the US, Mike Pierce of San Diego who calls himself “Antarctic Mike” after running a marathon in Antarctica, has a unique way of preparing for the run: he trains in a commercial freezer.

Eric Alexander of Vail, Colorado is an experienced mountaineer who escorted the first blind mountain climber to the summit of Mount Everest. It was Eric’s first attempt at a full marathon.

Albert Martens, 67, of Steinbach, Manitoba is the organizer of the Polar Bear Marathon. He is a veteran of 50 marathons and more than 10 ultramarathons, including the 217 km Badwater Ultra in Death Valley, California, which is known as one of the toughest footraces on earth.

Martens, who crossed the finish line in just over six hours in his first Polar Bear Marathon adventure, says that bear attacks don’t worry him. “We rely on the locals to keep an eye out for us,” he says.

Though the first Polar Bear Marathon started in mild conditions, the Arctic soon bared its teeth, bringing snow, strong winds and numbing cold

Late in the afternoon, Eric Alexander and Gary Koop of Steinbach became the first to cross the finish line. Neither of them had encountered a polar bear, but they were out there. We had several reports of locals that encountered polar bears on the road. In fact, one bear threatened the race. An armed volunteer scared it off by firing a noisy “cracker” shell. When the bear heard the explosion, it ran.

But it’s not all about adventure and polar bears. Albert Martens’ intent is to use running to connect with others and to raise support for charity. With the Polar Bear run the runners will be supporting the Native (First Nations people of Canada’s North) ministry of Athletes in Action (AIA) Baseball camps. To find out more about their work go to Albert Martens’ website at www.albertmartens.com.

Last year’s marathon was won by Sven Henkes of Germany. The race took place in minus 20 C and a wind chill factor of minus 41 C. All runners received a soapstone carving from a local First Nations artist.

Here’s a video about the Polar Bear Marathon.

Direct YouTube Link HERE

For more information about the Polar Bear Marathon contact Albert Martens, www.albertmartens.com

For more information on Churchill: www.everythingchurchill.com

For more information on Manitoba: http://www.travelmanitoba.com

Birgit-Cathrin Duval is a freelance journalist and photographer from the Black Forest in Germany. Having travelled to all the provinces and territories in Canada, which still draw her continuously back she has fallen in love with the arctic and the polar bears. Her work is published in a variety of newspapers and magazines in Germany and Switzerland.

Self Portrait 2.06.2010In 2013, her story on the polar bears at Seal River Lodge in Churchill has won the GoMedia award for best international print and online story, in 2014 she won the GoMedia Keep Exploring Award of Excellence for her outstanding work of travel stories on Canada. When she is not travelling in Canada, you will find Birgit exploring the trails and mountains of her native Black Forest. She works for newspapers and tourism organisations always on the search for new stories to be told. Presently she is working on a book about the Black Forest.

Birgit-Cathrin’s website: www.takkiwrites.com

Twitter: @takkiwrites

Facebook: Birgit-Cathrin Duval / Birgit-Cathrin Duval Photography

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Two Women Beat All Teams at TransRockies Run

Magda

We need more female role models in sports, and it looks like Magdalena Boulet and Caitlin Smith have stepped up to the plate. Together, they won the Women’s Open Division at the PepsiCo TransRockies Run yesterday.

They won each of the six stages of the TransRockies, and took first in the overall teams and the women’s division with a cumulative time of 18:47:32 for 120 miles and more than 20,000 feet of elevation gain. They beat every single team, every single day!

The race course included a mix of single-track and forest road through the heart of the White River and San Isabel National Forests, reaching altitudes of over 12,500 feet.

Magdalena Boulet is a 2008 Olympic marathon competitor, ultra marathoner and GU Energy VP of Innovation, Research & Development.

Caitlin Smith is a 2012 Olympic marathon trial qualifier and holds 42 first-place ultra marathon finishes and 26 course records.

Congrats, ladies!

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Whitney Weekend Run Report: High on Life

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Summit: Sunday, July 27, 2014

Elevation: 14,505 feet (highest point in the lower 48)

Distance: 22 miles

Time: 12 hours

Summit Buddy: Robert Shackelford

Prep and Training

A few months ago our friends the Hassetts secured a few Mount Whitney permits and invited us to summit with them along with 20 other friends. We immediately accepted and began doing training climbs. We spent a week at Mount Baldy doing repeat summits, one Mount Gorgonio summit, and another week or so going up and down Noble Canyon. My first few peaks felt sluggish and I wasn’t sure I would be ready by the end of July. As time progressed, I grew more confident and our last summit of Mount Gorgonio the week before Whitney left me feeling strong and excited.

In retrospect, although those other summits were fun, they did very little to actually prepare for Whitney. Life above 12,000 feet is a completely different experience and until you climb that high, you really don’t know how your body will react. All those other summits were like running a bunch of 5Ks to train for a marathon. Of course, that’s the best training most of us have in the SoCal area.

I attribute some valuable conditioning to switching to a standing desk. I do a lot of writing and I work from a laptop. For the past several months I have done all my work with my laptop sitting on a box on our tiny RV cupboard. Between writing and running, I was on my feet sometimes for 12 hours a day. I felt a huge physical change. It was challenging the first week (my legs felt wiped out, as if I had raced a marathon), and then I got used to it. Now I only sit while driving or eating. I truly believe this helped immensely on Mt. Whitney where I was on my feet for 12 hours.

Before Whitney, I had only been above 12,000 feet once: at Hope’s Pass in Colorado as part of Transrockies 2012. I didn’t have any elevation issues and other than a slow climb, I felt wonderful. I was able to bomb the downhill although I was gasping for breath at the exertion.

For Whitney, I planned to take it a little easier, but I still wanted to test my limits and do my best.

Friday

On Friday morning we dropped Ginger off at the doggie kennel, a sad event we must endure if Shacky and I ever want to run together. (She had surgery a few months ago to repair a torn CCL ligament and she can’t run until October.) Ginger was distraught and so was I, but I knew it would be worth this epic weekend. Shacky later told me that sometimes people got in trouble for tying their dogs up at the top of the 99 Whitney switchbacks (at the National Park border) and continuing to summit Whitney without them (dogs are not allowed in the final 2 miles). WTF?? That’s a terrible place for a dog with very volatile weather that can change fast. Disgusting.

Mama Kitty stayed in the RV as a bear-guard (or was it bear-bait??). In any case, she made the trip with us. Mama Cat sat by the window and enjoyed the views all the way up to Horseshoe Meadows where we camped on Friday night. It was a long and hot road, and we had to stop a few times to let the RV cool. Much like Shacky, our little Rialta doesn’t do well in extremely hot temps like, say… around Death Valley in July. We had to drive most of the climb without any AC to keep the RV as cool as possible and we were all glad to finally see Paul Hassett waving us down at the Horseshoe Meadows campground.

We hung out with our friends for a bit while they set up camp. We went for a short walk, played some cribbage, then shared a dinner of hot dogs and salad and cherries. After that we played some Cards Against Humanity and went to bed.

We were camping and sleeping at about 10,000 feet to help us acclimate and I found that the elevation didn’t seem to really bother me. I attributed it to spending time on Gorgonio just a few days ago. I could jog normally on anything flat or downhill, though uphills still left me winded.

Poor kitty didn’t know what was going on. She continued her regularly scheduled exercise regimen of running insanely fast laps around the RV and over our sleeping bodies at around 2am, but after one lap she would have to stop and gasp for breath for a few minutes. When she recovered, she’d start again. Run, gasp. Run, gasp. It was a good demonstration of what we would be doing on Sunday.

Saturday

The next morning, we drove to Whitney Portal bright and early to try and get a walk-in campground at the Family Camp. We ran into the camp host Lee at around 8am and he was extremely helpful and accommodating. We had about 15 people and one RV (ours), and we wanted to camp together if possible. Lee somehow worked his magic and we ended up sharing a site with Bill and Christine.

As soon as we got settled, Shacky and I emptied all our food into the bear locker, which was quite a feat since the RV is our home and we carry a lot more food than normal camping folk. We had dog food, cat food, cat litter, a million little scented things… We almost took up an entire enormous bear locker. On the bright side, it was a great inventory of what we had and we ended up giving away a lot of edibles we didn’t really need.

I was still really nervous about bears because I was sure there was still some sort of scent in the RV. Kitty bats her food around all over the place and there’s always some crumb. I cleaned up as best I could and crossed my fingers

As soon as the food was up, Shacky and I jogged / hiked to Lone Pine Lake. The views were so spectacular I got caught up in taking photos and running and aweing at everything. I was having a blast. The lake was breathtaking (literally). The hike did a great job of testing my lungs. I jogged some uphill, let myself get winded, and pushed my elevation potential to get an idea of what my limits were. I got back from the hike wanting more and I was confident I could do well on Sunday.

We went to bed right after an awesome group dinner of carne asada tacos. I filled my belly knowing I wouldn’t be hungry at our 2:30am wake-up and went to sleep with the sun.

Sunday (Summit Day!)

Many in our group had trouble sleeping at elevation but I had zero issues. I fell asleep quickly and on Whitney-eve I got a solid six hours. I shot up when the alarm went off at 2:30 am, excited to start the day.

After getting dressed, I emptied the kitty’s cat bowl while she slept. She would have to make do with no food until we were finished hiking (I couldn’t leave any cat food in the RV due to bear break-ins). It would be a long day and she’s not used to waiting for her meals, so I was a little worried about what she’d do when I failed to feed her in a timely manner.

Our friends were slow getting around, so we waited for them and got to the Whitney trailhead at around 3:30am. Our entire group except for three people had already left. I was with Shacky and our friend Jon. After they used the bathroom, we began a steady climb in the pitch dark.

I decided not to force myself to eat or poop in the morning, which is the opposite of what most people do. I knew I wouldn’t be at all hungry or needing to go that early and I really wanted to eat by feel. I had no idea how my body would react up there, but if I tried to stuff myself with food, I knew it for sure it wouldn’t do well.

Not pooping in the morning was a bit of a risk since Whitney has a pack-it-out rule. If I got the urge to poop on the trail, I would have to carry my poop with me the entire day in a special poop-bag. My hope was that I just wouldn’t feel like pooping at all.

About a mile into the trail, my handheld light started going dim. I had forgotten to swap out the batteries. I fell into pace in between Shacky and Jon who both had really strong headlamps and mooched off their light. Soon we passed Bill and Christine, then sometime later Rachel and the rest of the girls. Elizabeth was with them and she hopped on to our train. We hiked along with Elizabeth, Jon, Shacky and myself. Paul and Allen stayed ahead of us.

At Lone Pine Lake I started getting hungry and Shacky wanted to eat as well, so we stopped and I pulled out my sandwich. I was sad we were missing so many awesome views in the dark, but I knew we’d catch them on the way down. I ate my sandwich plus a Salted Caramel gel and felt much better. I was carrying a 3L Camelback bladder in my UltrAspire Omega pack as well as an extra handheld stuffed in my bag. I was drinking a lot of water, to thirst.

I didn’t hydrate well the night before. I meant to, but then I had a Lime-arita instead. When I peed in the morning, it wasn’t that clear. It was pretty warm in the morning as well, so I expected it would be a scorching day. I was drinking like crazy.

After our snack stop, we continued into uncharted territory. Everything after this, you needed a permit to hike. We all had our permits on our packs and we could vaguely start making out the outlines of the rocks and lakes as it got lighter and lighter. The sun never fully came out. It got light, but overcast. I was glad for the cloud cover.

The views, as we started to see them, were amazing. We weren’t stopping much to rest either, keeping a steady pace uphill, sometimes chatting and sometimes just walking. We passed several hiking groups and I was really pleased with our progress. Jon and Elizabeth were awesome company and all was fun and games until we got to the Trail Camp right at the foot of the 99 switchbacks.

I had never been to Whitney before, but I had heard of the 99 switchbacks. At first, I was confused about why people would count 99 switchbacks on one particular spot, when there were clearly switchbacks before and after as well. It was more obvious when I saw what they looked like: just one relentless straight-up climb.

Elizabeth started counting the switchbacks, which was helpful because I didn’t want to count them myself, but I wanted to know where we were. A few of the turns were tricky and it was hard to tell what counted as a switchback. Elizabeth kept us motivated to calling out the milestone crossings.

“30 switchbacks! … 50 switchbacks!”

We had to stop twice on the way up to catch our breath and drink water (it was hard to swallow and breathe at the same time). I was the only one with a GPS so I watched our elevation climb and called out our milestones.

“Twelve thousand feet! … Thirteen thousand feet!”

I later learned that the elevation was hitting Shacky hard and he was struggling not to doze off. He got really sleepy and said later it helped him that Jon was leading.

Jon did a great job. He was walking slowly which was about as fast as we could handle, stopped for two short breaks, and then pushed on ahead. Elizabeth called 95 switchbacks and I thought, “OK! We got this! Only four more!”

Except that 96th switchback felt about a mile long, and it started getting steeper. We stopped for the third time after only about five minutes of walking, recovered, then found the trail crest. We had made it!

We had miscounted the switchbacks: we were already at the end of them. What a pleasant surprise! I was hoping if we had miscounted it would end up this way instead of the other way around: counting to 99, then realizing you still had a few more to go.

At the trail crest we saw the sign for Sequoia National Park and it was mostly a scramble after that. We were near-bouldering up and down rocks until we got to the 1.9-mile sign. Less than two miles to go!

I knew those last two miles would take us about an hour, but I didn’t expect them to be the hardest two miles of the day. There was no real trail – it was mostly a bed of loose rocks strewn with larger boulders. We scrambled and climbed and scrambled and climbed. So near yet so far….

We stopped a lot to wait for Jon and Elizabeth to catch up. They both had their cameras and were taking some awesome shots. Our camera had broken in the first mile, but we were planning to steal their photos so we were glad to wait for them. We kept seeing people way off in the distance and it felt like we would never get there… until all of a sudden I spotted the cabin. We made it!!

We found Paul and Allen waiting at the top. They had been waiting for two hours and Paul would wait until Rachel and the girls made it to the top.

The summit was windy and cold, but when you lay on the rocks and the sun peeked out, it was glorious. Lots of photos were taken and we took our time to chat and eat. We saw Carlos and Leslie summit, then Bill and Christine.

Finally, we decided it was time to head back down. Jon and Elizabeth followed us on the gnarly descent. We ran into Rachel and the other ladies. They looked the way that we had felt going up, but we assured them they didn’t have far to go.

I was in great spirits on the descent. Finally some downhill! After we left the girls, it started to hail. At first it was just a little bit and it didn’t bother us at all. Then it got harder and harder until it was just pelting us. I put my hand up to my face to stop the hail from slapping my cheek and that’s when I spotted Deborah. She was the last in our group still heading for the summit, and she had been waiting for the storm to pass, trying to decide whether or not to push on. It was tough to chat with the hail-attack, so she hoped behind Shacky and I and started following us down.

The hail seemed to get worse. I wrapped my extra buff around my face and turned off the trial to try and find shelter. There was none. Shacky got in front of me and we both knew our only choice was to haul ass (safely) downhill. We got to the 99 switchbacks and the hail was still pelting. It stung my skin as it hit my wet jacket and it now covered the trail like fresh snowfall, only it was mostly ice-slush.

The wet rocks were extremely slick and soon the switchbacks had turned into a mini-river. Snow, water, and hail were gushing and flowing down the trail, racing us down. I was uncomfortable, but not particularly cold. As long as I kept moving, my core temps stayed high and the adrenaline kept me descending fast. We passed almost everyone we saw, even managing to run on some of the less-slippery spots.

We lost Jon and Elizabeth somewhere, but didn’t want to wait in the hailstorm. It turned out they had hung back with Deb and descended together.

Shacky and I forged on past the trail camp and over more rocks. We were doing the fastest hike/jog we dared on the slippery, soaking trail. Although we each slipped a few times, no falls were had and I was impressed with our descent considering the weather. Shacky had never run in hail before as it doesn’t rain much in San Diego, but he stuck right by me. I had experience with both and I actually preferred this to the boiling heat I had been expecting.

It was awesome to take in the views we had missed in the dark and my spirits were high. I stopped to eat, but the hail forced me to keep moving. Thankfully, I found my ability to chew and breathe at the same time had greatly improved. I ate an avocado and turkey sandwich as well as a pack of shot blocks while ooh-ing and ahh-ing at the views. I was so thankful for the downhill. It felt like gravity was doing all the work while we just cruised.

The hail turned into rain and then just a drizzle. While a lot of hikers were still trying to keep their feet dry, we charged through the creek crossings and soaked ourselves to the bone. As long as we were pushing the pace, I stayed warm. I was having a blast.

Before we knew it, we were at Lone Pine Lake again. My legs were starting to get tired, but it was only 2.5 miles to the finish. We started talking about what we would eat at the Whitney Portal Store (they serve awesome burgers and a kickass breakfast). Shacky decided he’d have a burger and I wanted an ice cream bar. We chatted and jog / hiked all the way down. I was high from this awesome experience, absolutely in the zone. I was so proud of us.

A few yards from the finish we saw a couple walking two dogs and I stopped to pet them. They had questions about the summit, so we chatted with them for a bit. We started seeing people with zero supplies just going for a stroll, so we knew we were super close. And then we were done!

Big high five! We weighed our packs at the finish. I had started with 13lbs and I was down to six. I didn’t finish all the water I had brought, though I did eat most of my food.

(Thanks to Jon and Elizabeth for all the following photos!)

Everything was wet back at camp. Shacky and I had been trying to outrun the rainy spots, assuming it was due to elevation, but it had apparently rained everywhere.

Shacky got a burger and a beer at the camp store, and I got ice cream with an iced tea. After enjoying our food, we made the half-mile trail trek back to the campground and Shacky went right to sleep.

The first thing I did was feed kitty. She was indignant, but didn’t appear to have visibly lost any weight.

I peeled off my wet clothes, gave myself my regular hobo bath (full body cleaning with no running water), and then ate some watermelon. I felt refreshed and energized. I couldn’t settle down. If someone had offered to take me for another run, I would have gone in a heartbeat. I was buzzed from our summit and I couldn’t wait for the others to finish. What an epic day. I was completely in my element. I always knew I preferred mountains and elevation, but this really sealed the deal for me.

Other than feeling breathless when I tried to run / speed hike uphill (which happens even in non-elevation), I had zero issues. No headaches, no nausea, no sickness of any kind. At one point I felt a slight throbbing my temples, like feeling your heartbeat in your head, but it didn’t hurt or bother me.

I can’t take credit for any of this—I didn’t do anything special as far as training or acclimation. I feel like I’m built to be in the mountains. My body wants to play there, forever scrambling summits at altitude. I’m learning that it’s a big part of who I am and where I belong, not just what I can do.

Monday

Recovery was flawless. I slept well, ate well, and my hydration levels are back to where they should be. I am so, so thankful for this body, not forgetting for one second how blessed I am to enjoy these physical freedoms and what feels like limitless potential.

I weighed myself today and I only lost one pound. That makes me confident that my decision to eat by feel was a good one. I ate much less on this summit than I normally do in a 12-hour stretch, but it felt right, and I’m glad I went with my “gut” (haha). I didn’t end up pooping on the trail, but all is back to normal on that front as well.

We left camp early to have breakfast and pick up Ginger as soon as possible. She was thrilled to see us, but she had a cut on her nose from constantly nudging her food away. Ugh. We both get separation anxiety…

I had to scold the cat today who had come to believe that Ginger’s bed now belonged to her, so therefore it was okay to attack Ginger upon her return. She’s sitting in her box right now, sulking at this unforeseen turn of events.

Next Up

We’re driving to Huntington Beach today to pick up our friend Pat Sweeney and his beer. Then we’re taking all of us to Colorado where I plan to get my butt on more mountains. The plan is… no real plan at all, except to thru-hike the 93-mile Wonderland Trail around Mount Rainier in Washington at the end of this August.

Sometimes I wonder if I’ll just wake up one morning and my whole body will have gone to shit and I won’t be able to do any of this awesome stuff anymore. But it appears that today is not that day… so I might as well go climb something.

Happy trails!

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Caballo Blanco Documentary Run Free: A Call for Support

A documentary about Caballo Blanco, his race, and his legend is in the works. We now have a chance to be a part of it.

This is a story about the Copper Canyon Ultramarathon race through the eyes of its founder Micah True (Caballo Blanco). Because Micah has since passed, this is the only footage of Micah telling his own story in his own words. The footage has been filmed over the course of five years, but we need help finishing it.

From Kickstarter:

WHY WE NEED YOUR HELP

So far we’ve made three trips overland into the canyons and four flights across the USA which resulted in more than 60 hours of interviews and race footage. All of the footage has been logged and digitized. We’ve created a rough cut and our movie is now in the final editing stage. We’ve done everything on our own up until this point but we can’t continue without your help. We are looking for funds that will enable us to pay our crew, equipment rental, graphics, titles, music licensing, audio post production, color correction and distributing the movie through a website and film festivals.

Please consider supporting our fundraising campaign through Kickstarter and remember – if we don’t hit our goal we will receive NOTHING!

LUIS ESCOBAR PHOTO GALLERY

HOW THE FUNDS WILL BE USED

  • FIELD PRODUCTION 15% – Crew, equipment and travel
  • POSTPRODUCTION 60% – Personnel, Edit Suite Rental, Graphics, Color Correction, Music Licensing, Sound Mix.
  • MARKETING & DISTRIBUTION 15% – Photography, Film Festivals, Website, Online Distribution
  • Kickstarter Fees 10%

FROM CABALLO BLANCO’S PAST

Sometimes great stories are missed or overlooked because there isn’t a budget for them. We only have one month left to raise the necessary funds on Kickstarter. Help us tell Caballo Blanco’s story.

Back this project on KICKSTARTER.

Thanks in advance for your support.

RUN FREE MOVIE TRAILER

Run Free Movie Trailer from Noren Films on Vimeo.

VIDEO FOOTAGE OF 2009 RACE START

Direct YouTube Link HERE

BEHIND THE SCENES MOVIE PRODUCTION

Back this project on KICKSTARTER.

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