Is Commercialization a Threat to the Purity of Trail Running?

mcafeeknobwintersnowPhoto: roanokeoutside.wordpress.com

Last month I set foot on the Appalachian Trail in Virginia for the first time since I took up running in 2007. For six years I had been purchasing books about the AT and accumulating hiking, fast-packing, and running gear. I completed my miles that day with Nathan handhelds, INKnBURN clothing, an UltrAspire pack, and Montrail shoes.

I can’t say how much money I have spent over the years on the sport of trail running, but I do know that as I ran along that famous trail, the last thing on my mind was what to buy next. And yet trail business is booming.

According to the Outdoor Industry Association’s annual report from 2010, the outdoor recreation industry boasts $289 billion in retail sales and services as well as 6.5 million jobs in America.

To argue that this bad-wolf commercialization is a perversion of the purity of our sport is in some ways ironic. Think about how you first heard or this sport. How many of us would be running trails if we hadn’t read Christopher McDougall’s Born to Run, Dean Kanazes’ Ultramarathon Man or watched JB Benna’s Unbreakable?

According to a study by Gary C. David and Nick Lehecka, the book Born to Run not only increased the visibility of trail and ultra running, but completely revolutionized the shoe industry. Their study quotes The Economist in 2011: “Ever since Christopher McDougall’s book Born to Run hit the bestseller lists in 2009, Zappos, an online shoe retailer, has struggled to keep up with demand for minimalist footwear.” Similarly, Vibram saw sales jump from $470,000 in 2006 to $50m in 2010.

If you have:

  • read Born to Run
  • recommended running books to others
  • read or written shoe reviews
  • accepted free gear or nutrition in exchange for a review
  • listened to a sponsored running podcast
  • paid for a race entry
  • accepted a goodie bag from a race
  • accepted a cash prize from a trail event
  • clicked on a targeted Facebook or Google ad related to the outdoors
  • bought running gear on sale
  • supported race directors making a living from well-run, well-respected events
  • worn a promotional buff
  • supported or cheered for a company-sponsored team
  • become an ambassador for a company you believe in
  • recommended a product to a friend
  • bought or read a running magazine
  • become a sponsored athlete
  • entered a running-related giveaway
  • attended a book signing
  • added a promotional badge to your blog

… then you have already participated in the commercialization of this sport. But that doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

Does commercialization prevent us from enjoying the Olympics? The Superbowl? Perhaps it does. Or perhaps we wait for the commercials with anticipation, record them, analyze them, and share them on social media.

According to ultra168.com, commercialization may have more benefits than drawbacks. “Take one look at how well the North Face 100 is doing and what it has done for Australian trail and ultra running. It has attracted the likes of Kilian and Ryan Sandes to our shores and put us on the map as a destination to come and visit. Sure the companies behind this have deep-rooted motivations to sell more gear, but should we begrudge them that if we benefit too?”

It’s trendy to speak out against commercialization but the truth is that most of us are not mountain hermits. We live in a society of mass consumerism and eagerly participate in that system. We love swag. We’ll take free stuff even if we don’t need it. Can we really compartmentalize our sport so it never touches our morning Starbucks, Mac laptops, or Amazon accounts?

As avid trail runners, our job is not to keep the money out, but to keep this sport honest. So far we’re doing a good job.

When Leadville 100 crossed the line from a respected race to a greedy money-grab, we strongly objected. Hardrock 100 removed Leadville as a qualifier for its event, accusing the race of failures in “environmental responsibility, support of the hosting community, and having a positive impact on the health of our sport”.

The popular site run100s.com removed any and all mention of Leadville 100, stating that “They’re no longer a part of the sport of ultrarunning, but simply a business venture.”

Instead of hunting down prize money, our top athletes care about and defend our sport. In a Runner’s World article, Karl Meltzer said about the new Leadville: “Life Time is in it for the money. This company is road runner, gym-based folks that do it purely to make a profit.” The gatekeepers of our trails are loyal and effective.

Another point to make is one of perspective. Although our sport has grown by leaps and bounds, it is still comparatively low-key compared to the commercialization around activities like Cross-fit or obstacle racing in the recent years. With the exception of a small handful of races, we don’t see anywhere near the bonanza of sponsors that invest in other booming events.

Still, it is not a low budget that makes our sport pure. It is the care we put into our trails. It is our willingness to move across nature with old friends and new friends, suffering when we don’t have to. Our sport’s purity lies in the value we place on resilience, determination, and giving back. We are trail runners whether we pay hundreds of dollars for gear or just head out with homemade car-tire sandals.

When I motivate people to get on trails, I know full well that my encouragement is directly contributing to a commercialization of the sport. But the payoff is worth it when I see someone finish their first ultra, win their first trail race, or grow monstrous quads.

When the crowds do get overwhelming, I can simply retreat to my backyard mountains and enjoy miles of commercial-free solitude. In a few more years, when my Montrails are completely disintegrated with gaping holes and paper-thin soles, I’ll finally descend from the mountain and buy a new pair of shoes.

 Appalachian-Trail-SignPhoto: appalachianwoman.com

 

This article is part of the April 2014 Trail Runner Blog Symposium. This month’s topic was: Is trail running becoming too commercialized?

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Should Children Run Endurance Events?

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Every time I post a photo of the Redden kids on Facebook, I see the same type of comments: lots of admiration, some shock, some concern, and some downright anger.

Seth and Sabrina Redden are the proud parents of two unusual kids. Tajh (male, 11) and Teagan (female, 9) are both avid trail and ultra runners. Last year, Teagan ran her first 100K and 100-mile distance. She was nominated for the Arizona 2013 Rookie of the Year Award at mcdowellmountainman.com. Needless to say, her competitors were older than her by a large margin…as they usually are.

Team Redden is so mind-blowingly young and accomplished that Outside Magazine covered them in an article, The Art of Raising Young Ultrarunners.

View Teagan Redden’s race results.

Like the Redden kids’ Facebook page.

The debate as to whether children should be running endurance events rages on. However, it is not an entirely new concept. Children have been running marathons for a while now.

Data from the Twin Cities Marathon shows that between 1982 and 2005, 277 children have crossed the finish line ranging from ages 7 to 17 with finish times from 2:53 to 6:10.

Unfortunately, there is little scientific data on the effects of long distance running on children.

This topic intrigued us enough to chat with Seth and Sabrina Redden as well as a pediatrician on the Natural Running Network Podcast a couple of weeks ago. On the show, we discuss veganism for kids, thermoregulation in children, and a child’s eagerness to please his/her parents.

nevertooyoungtorun

Direct Podcast Link HERE

Here are some things that didn’t make it into the podcast:

Colby Weltland and Ed “The Jester” Ettinghausen

I had hoped to have child prodigy Colby Weltland on the show. Unfortunately, his family was traveling for a race and they were unavailable.

Colby is a 13 year old kid who has already finished several 100-mile races and aspires to be youngest Badwater finisher. I also spoke to his close family friend and pacer, Ed “The Jester”. An accomplished ultra runner, Ed has thousands of miles of experience and has mentored/paced Colby to most of his finishes.

When I asked for his insight, he wrote the following:

Just for more fodder on the subject, I know one of the concerns people have is that running at a young age will do physical and emotional harm to kids. My four kids have never run an ultra, but have run many marathons, running their first one at the ages of 8, 9, 11, and 14 (and that was because she’s a type 1 diabetic, otherwise she would have run her first one at an earlier age).

They’re all young adults now and are just fine, physically and emotionally. My 21-year-old daughter who was 8 at her first marathon just did the Disney World Half Marathon and works for Raw Threads a clothing company that specializes in running attire. She is a vendor at many of the big marathons and she still loves the running world.

I was told by many people that running a marathon at such an early age would damage her growth plates. I feel really bad now, because apparently it did stunt her growth–she’s only 5’11″!

And for me personally, although I didn’t run marathons as a kid, I did run my first two at the age of 17, and three more at the age of 18. Thirty-four years later I set three American age records: 200k, 24-hour, and 6-day, so I don’t think running long distances as a teen hurt me too much. Anyway, just thought I’d share that with you.

Oh, and one more family of young ultra runners. Brandon and Cameron Plate are from Oklahoma. They’re 12 and 13 and have both completed two 100+ mile races. Colby & I and the two of them ran together at Silverton 1,000 and ATY last year. You can find their stats on Ultrasignup as well.

Jester on . . .

Follow Colby’s blog.

Join the Run Jester Run Friends Facebook page.

Remember: There are many great programs out there like Girls on the Run and the 100 Mile Club that help introduce kids to the joy of running. They don’t have to run extreme distances to stay healthy and find a love for the outdoors.

You can check out our other running podcasts at the Natural Running Network HERE.

What are your thoughts? Should children be allowed to race ultras?
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Stronger Now

logs
I am sprinting downhill through shin-deep, unbroken, soft powder snow. Every step is an effort–like trudging through quicksand. I am on my fifth mile, running home.

I am holding a plank inside an igloo I helped build. My toes are digging into the cold ground and my clothes are covered in hay. My abs are burning.

I am hauling logs down from off the mountain for firewood. I used to carry one big log at a time, but now I can hold two. My steps are sturdier and a little faster.

I am getting stronger.

I have never considered myself to be very strong. On the contrary, I was raised with the cultural belief that men were the protectors, the pickle-jar openers, the only ones capable of lifting. Women belonged in the kitchen.

Interestingly, this didn’t bother me all that much. I could wave off the things I didn’t want to do because they were “too hard”. I didn’t have to carry heavy things or stand for very long. I was comfortable.

When I took up running in my 20s, I grew physically strong enough to challenge those gender stereotypes, but it created friction in my relationship.

Suddenly I could lift more, pull harder, stay on my feet longer than my now-ex boyfriend. This didn’t make me feel proud or happy or liberated. Instead, I felt betrayed. I had invested in this worldview and it had let me down.

Underlying that betrayal was fear. I had always counted on men to protect me–and now it was obvious they couldn’t. They were weaker than me.

It took me some time to shift my gender mindset from one of submission to one of equals. When I figured out how to do that, I no longer needed to be angry when I saw weakness. The expectation that all men were stronger was no longer there.

Men were now free to be themselves without judgement from me, and I was free to raise my personal standards. No one should have the burden of being stronger than me all the times, nor should there be a limit for how strong I can become.

Perhaps you are stronger than me. But if you’re not, that’s ok–I’m still going to be strong just on my own.

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How Taking a GPS is Like Taking a Lover

mount baldy

In my mind, I am running fast and free in my short-shorts, thunder thighs and glorious glutes. My dreads are flowing behind me in the crisp mountain air and my mind is free of mileage estimations.

I am rocking California’s Mount Baldy summit, a favorite of Southern California’s elite trail runners and the grandest summit of the San Gabriel Mountains. Old Baldy (10,064 ft) stands as the third highest massif in SoCal, behind San Gorgonio Mountain (11,499 ft) and Mount San Jacinto (10,804 ft).

Dr. B.H. Fairchild and Fred Dell built this particular trail in 1889. The men had visions of a great observatory at the summit—a dream that never materialized. The Devil’s Backbone Trail came along later in 1935 and took its well-earned place as the main route to the summit.

In my mind, this is child’s play—a jungle gym of sweeping vistas and stunning rock formations. The smells of oak, bay, fir, cedar, and pine are intoxicatingly inspiring.

In reality, I am slogging, hands-on-knees, and yelling up ahead for my boyfriend to tell me how much further we have to go. He’s the one wearing the GPS and I desperately need him to feed me some data. And how is he walking so damn fast??

baldy summit

Technology is complicated. So is love. I don’t claim to fully understand either, but after thousands of trail running miles all across North America, I’ve collected some general guidelines about each. They are surprisingly similar.

Taking a tech device out on the trial is similar to taking a lover: The idea seems great in theory but there’s a chance you’ll end up miserable.

A good GPS is like a good romance: reliable but not promoting obsession, motivating but not overly demanding, and consistent while still allowing for spontaneity.

A bad tech device is a bad lover: screaming at random times for no particular reason, making you feel terrible about yourself and your abilities, and confusing you with incomprehensible buttons and triggers.

As enamored as we are with the ideal image of that powerful and gadget-less trail runner bounding nearly-nude over mountains with his beard flowing three feet behind him, chances are we have more in common with the huffing mid-packer trying to decide which hills to walk and glancing nervously at his beeping GPS while he scarfs down yet another gel.

A tech device can only take away from our transcendent trail experiences if we allow it to. Our tools should propel us forward, not hold us back.

Running technology should worry about the details so we don’t have to, clearing our minds to drink in the scenery and stay in the moment. It should help us share a particularly beautiful route with friends and help us plot our next adventure together. It should teach us to be more aware of our bodies and motivate us to do our best.

If your tech device does none of these things, it’s time to consider a new relationship. Kick it to the curb and run away without ever looking back.

If you are lucky enough to have a healthy relationship…. err, GPS…. then you already understand that these things are not surgically attached to you. Every once in a while, let out your hair and go alone. Take a day where adventure trumps athleticism and speed bows to solitude.

I don’t care what your projected pace is—there’s always a day to watch the sunrise, turn over a rock, and forget what time it is.

mt baldy

This article was selected as Editor’s Choice for the February 2014 Trail Runner Blog Symposium. You can view it HERE at trailrunnermag.com.

This month’s topic was: Are tech gadgets more help or hindrance on the trail?

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Moisturize Your Penis and Other Extreme C-C-Cold Weather Running Tips You Won’t Find in Runner’s World

igloo
Yes, we went there.

Learn how to keep your arse cheeks from freezing, how to prevent your iPhone battery from going south, and what to do with that muffin top. Hey, we can’t all be Runner’s World models.

Listen in as Heather “I Can’t Put My Arms Down!” Wiatrowski lets us in on the nitty gritty details of her recent winter 50-miler (Beast of Burden) through Lockport, New York’s bitter temps.

Our podcast interview yesterday was recorded live from my igloo and full of awesomeness. Have a listen: Running in Extreme Cold Weather

natural running networkBelow are three of my personal bonus tips we didn’t get around to mentioning:

1. BUFFS!

I love these things for cold weather–I use one as a scarf, one to cover my head, and an extra one tied to my pack as a snot rag. Just don’t mix up the one for your snot with the one for your head….

2. Sunglasses

You wouldn’t think it, but these are invaluable in the cold weather if you don’t want the snow and its reflections to cause you permanent (ok, temporary) blindness.

3. Lip balm

If you forget it, you’ll regret it. Also works great as emergency lube for any type of chaffing.

And a couple things on my “To Try” list courtesy of Runner’s World (see, no hard feelings):

“When it’s raining, I slip my stocking feet into plastic baggies, then put on my running shoes,” says Darryl Dalcerri of Lompoc, California. “The baggies keep my feet dry even when I run through puddles.” Most Port City Pacers rotate pairs of shoes. If you have to dry shoes overnight, crumple up newspaper and cram it tightly into your shoes, with the insoles removed. The newspaper soaks up the moisture. (Source)

I loved this circuit workout from Jenny Hadfield. It says indoors, but I’m thinking it would be killer in deep snow:

  • Warm up walking for 3 minutes and running easy for 10 minutes
  • Repeat: 4-5 times
  •  5 minutes at tempo effort
  •  60 Seconds of slow-motion squats
  •  60 seconds of alternating lunges
  •  60 seconds of wall chair sit (exactly how it sounds)
  • Cool down with 10 minutes of easy-effort running and 3 minutes walking.

(Source)

Jenny Hadfield came to my house once:

jennyABOVE ALL….

Be kind to yourself in this polar vortex, folks. Everything feels harder because it IS harder.

According to a recent article in the Globe and Mail (eh?): “For every calorie of energy your muscles burn, only a quarter is translated in motion, while three-quarters is emitted as heat.”

Read the rest of the article to learn what the Olympians do to stay warm outdoors.

If you don’t have goosebumps yet, check out this cool (haha… “cool”) Newsweek link about the badass Yukon Arctic Ultra.

I wish you the joys of frosty eyelashes and frozen beard hair!

Here is a full video tour of my igloo:

Direct YouTube Link HERE

And to all our friends in sunny California: You bastards….

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2013: A Year of Travel Across North America

2013 vanessaruns
“Life is full of beauty. Notice it. Notice the bumble bee, the small child, and the smiling faces. Smell the rain, and feel the wind. Live your life to the fullest potential, and fight for your dreams.” – Ashley Smith

What could you do in one year if nothing were holding you back?

This is the question I asked myself at the beginning of 2013. My quest to answer it has taken us 40,000 miles across the continent. We began in California and drove north to Alaska. In the fall, we drove across Canada, then dropped into Pennsylvania for the winter at The Wolfestead. We have explored 2,000+ miles of trails and there is an urgency I feel when I tell people to stop putting off their ambitions. There is nothing holding us back.

2013: A VIDEO YEAR IN REVIEW

Direct YouTube Link HERE

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Vulnerability and Catcalling in Bear Country

vulnerable

“Hey! What’s a pretty girl like you doing back here?”

I jerked my head to spot the shabby homeless man. I had walked right past him and hadn’t noticed. He sat on a park bench with an old green grocery bag leaning on his side like a dirty man-purse.

He looked weathered and tired, but his expression betrayed amusement at my unexpected presence. His black hair was disheveled and he refused to drop the piercing gaze of his black eyes.

He appeared to be in his mid-50s, but could have been much younger. I couldn’t tell if his dark skin was his natural hue, or if he was just really dirty. I could smell him.

He had the features of a Native American, and he wore three layers of tattered clothing, even though it was fairly warm outside: a black shirt, a black sweater, and a stained, brown jacket. I was wearing my short pink running skirt and a light green tank top.

I felt naked as he leered at me, waiting for my response.

“Um… hi,” was all I could manage.

He caught me off guard. I had jogged there from the park where we were playing ball with Ginger, off to the left of the Fairbanks visitor’s centre in Alaska. This was our first big Alaskan town and we were kicking off a much-anticipated summer of exploring Alaska’s trails.

I was heading to the visitor’s center to check the movie times for a documentary film I wanted to see on the Aurora Borealis. Instead of walking to the front door, I thought I could get in through the back. I didn’t know anyone was there.

He continued to pursue conversation and my discomfort grew. I was sharply aware of his intruding eyes on my body. My heart rate began to instinctively rise and I felt a warm wave of anger wash away the smile I was wearing. I responded with more mumbling and walked away. No way was I going to let him see me run.

Once I was safely out of his line of vision, I walked dejectedly to the front door. I didn’t care about the movie anymore. I was mad.

I was mad that I couldn’t jog away from my boyfriend for two minutes without being the recipient of unwanted attention. I was mad that I was minutes into my epic Alaskan adventure, smiley and excited, and this guy ruined it. But most of all, I was mad that my first reaction had been to deflate and flee the scene.

I saw flashbacks of myself years ago—in my 20s, and in my teens—being called at, leered at, and yelled at by strange men on the street of Toronto. I felt that same old wave of fear and panic I had always felt, not knowing whether those men carried weapons, whether they would follow me home (some did), or get angry if I didn’t respond.

I live a different life now. I have grown stronger and wiser, and most importantly I have gotten away from those shitty neighborhoods.

I have struggled to educate myself. I was the first in my family to graduate from University. I have finished 100-mile races and uncovered new strengths in both my body and my mind. I have written a book and traveled to the most remote state I could think of… yet none of that mattered.

Here on the edge of the world, there was still anger and fear and poverty, and an old man on a bench in his shit-stained coat could still make me feel like a nobody.

Why wasn’t I stronger, I raged to myself as I stormed into the visitor’s center.

Later that morning, an older man stood in the park and watched me do yoga. Under normal circumstances I would have thought nothing of it, but now my senses were on high alert.

Shacky sat nearby with Ginger, but that didn’t matter. I could feel the man’s eyes watching me.

Downward dog….

Now plank…

Every alert system blared in my head as I shifted positions. My skin crept with that instinctive itch all women experience when they know they are being sexualized.

I WILL NOT LET YOU STOP ME FROM DOING MY YOGA!! I screamed at him in my head. This time I would be strong.

Every position was now a rebellion, shooting defiance and indignation in his direction.

Keep your face calm, I told myself. Don’t let him see that it bothers you.

Warrior 1…..

Warrior 2…..

GO AWAY GO AWAY GO AWAY GO AWAY!!!!

I finished my yoga and stomped off.

Less than an hour later, I had to use the bathroom but there was a man lying on the sidewalk, blocking my path. I didn’t want to walk past him, so I asked Shacky for the key to pee in the RV.

“He’s fine,” Shacky assured me. “He’s here with his family. He’s not homeless. His kids were just here.”

Really? Were my instincts off? Was I being oversensitive and paranoid?

I headed toward the bathroom. As I passed, the harmless guy stretched himself across the floor of the sidewalk to look up my skirt. I rushed into the bathroom and peed, seething on the toilet seat.

I was helpless and weak, hiding in the girl’s bathroom just like I did on the first day of middle school when I couldn’t find my computer classroom. Then again at lunch when nobody would sit with me.

I tried to brush it off. Certainly, I had endured much worse. Still, I couldn’t shake my disappointment in myself. How could men I didn’t even know still have the power to make me feel frightened and objectified? I hadn’t changed at all.

I was off my game for days. Nothing noticeable, but subtle frowns mixed with streaks of paranoia. When a man approached us to ask about Ginger a few days later, I tensed up. The little things made me feel a lack of control.

Fairbanks wasn’t what I had hoped. An unexpected heat wave forced us to keep the dog in the RV with the A/C running. When we tried to explore the trails, starving herds of mosquitoes bombed us repeatedly like angry wasps.

Unprepared, we had no bug spray. Our dog would run back to the RV after only a few minutes outside, covered in red welts. She’d nip at the air and swat her own face until we finally had the sense to leave town. Unreasonably, I blamed those men. They had ruined the entire city. Fuck them.

A few days later, the beautiful town of Anchorage lifted my spirits and I decided to approach this issue the same way I always handle things that trouble me: I research them.

I wanted to understand why men acted this way. Did they want attention? Did they genuinely believe this was an effective way of finding a mate? Did they think women enjoyed it?

And what was the most effective way to react? Ignore them? Humor them? Shout at them? Out-creep them? I didn’t want to give them the satisfaction of reacting exactly the way they wanted. I didn’t want them to know they had gotten a rise out of me.

Most of what I found online was directed at men—a lot of “Stop it, guys!” and little analysis. Then I stumbled on an essay in The Atlantic by Ta-Nehisi Coates examining manhood. Coates argues that men street harass women as a means to feel more powerful. They are not terrible people, but simply powerless men who lack opportunities to display dominance in other areas of life.

Men who are validated and respected do not need to catcall. Men who are trampled, disrespected, and overlooked get a rise out of making a woman squirm. When the powerless man watches a woman drop her eyes or shuffle away in embarrassment at his call, he feels powerful. She has noticed him.

Alyssa Royse offers another perspective. She believes the unfortunate cause is society’s habit of demonizing male sexuality. “It starts young,” she writes. “Girls are told that boys are predatory and somehow out of control. The corollary there is that boys are told they are predators, and out of control. Therefore, not a desirable thing, but a thing to defend against. From the get-go, we are teaching our kids to fear male sexuality, and to repress female sexuality… It’s sad. It’s insulting. And it’s damaging…This way of looking at male sexuality conflates sexuality with predation.”

As far as street harassment prevention, many women on online forums seem to embrace a concept known as “bitch face”. They brag that the reason they are not harassed more often is because they go through life wearing a “default bitch face”.

Here is the scholarly definition according to Urban Dictionary:

bitchface

I am horrified by this concept. I worry that if I wear a bitch face all day, I will soon become a bitch in real life. I need my default face to be a happy one. I need to smile until I have a good reason not to.

In my world, defaulting to a bitch face would allow random men to hold me prisoner to my own fear and skepticism. It would ruin not only the days they call to me, but also the days they don’t. They would sentence me to walk through life with my guard up, a burden I cannot accept.

I may not be able to control the comments of every man on the street, but I can protect my instinct to smile. No matter how often I am made to feel uncomfortable or self-conscious, I can preserve my faith in the inherent goodness of humanity and tear through every corner, laughing and running in a short skirt as though nothing unpleasant has ever surprised me. I can choose to stay vulnerable—on purpose.

Brené Brown recently intrigued me with her TED Talk on the path to vulnerability. She stumbled on the concept of vulnerability in her research on connection and shame, and like many of us, she was terrified by it. “In order for connection to happen,” she says, “we need to be seen—really seen.”

After six years of deep research that included hundreds of interviews and thousands of stories, Brown isolated a breed of people that she describes as “whole hearted”. These people had found connection, love, and belonging. They were living to the fullest.

Brown took a magnifying glass to their lives and found two common threads:

1. They were courageous.

There is a difference between bravery and courage, Brown stresses. Courage, from the Latin word cor (meaning heart), was originally defined as telling the story of who you are with your whole heart. “They were willing to let go of who they thought they should be in order to be who they were,” Brown says.

2. They were vulnerable.

Not only where these people vulnerable, but they embraced vulnerability. It was important to them, and they believed it made them beautiful. They talked about vulnerability as something that was important, not excruciating. They were willing to say, “I love you” first, and they were willing to invest in relationships that might not work out.

This data started Brown down a long and difficult path of learning how to implement vulnerability into her life. She came to an important conclusion that perfectly describes why bitch face is so tragic.

“You cannot selectively numb,” Brown says. When we try to stifle feelings of anger, grief, and despair, we numb everything. “We numb joy, we numb gratitude, we numb happiness.”

Bitch face is a numbing. It’s an armor shielding against unwanted attention, but also against anything good that may cross our paths that day. It protects us from catcalling, but it also protects us from unexpected kindness, motivational encouragement, and spontaneous hospitality.

I spent the rest of the summer practicing vulnerability in Alaska. This mostly manifested itself in me being a nerdy goof (read: being myself), talking to strangers, and singing to the bears. I took more chances than usual and climbed steeper hills.

I learned to approach each new experience with a fresh expectation of success, though yesterday may have ended in disaster. And every new man gets a clean slate.

Brown’s TED Talk on the Power of Vulnerability

Direct TED link HERE

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Q&A Uncensored: Answers to Your Questions

VanessaRunsPhoto: Denali National Park in Healy, Alaska

In my previous post I presented an open invitation for anyone to ask me anything—no topic was too taboo or too personal. Here are the questions I received, and their answers:

Do you and Shacky ever fight? You are living in a very small confined space and have to be totally flexible with your lifestyle, so when and if issues/disagreements come up, how do you resolve them? You really do seem like a love conquers all couple (I know that sounds corny). – Corina Smith

It sounds crazy, but we have never fought. Both of us have a very similar temperament: laid-back, calm, and low maintenance. We also both love this lifestyle and we don’t have the typical stressors that other couples balance: debt, work, time management, children.

Many of our challenges involve working as a team (e.g. researching places to go, organizing travel details, navigating new terrain). This has produced an “us against the world” mindset that motivates us to cooperate and compromise.

I attribute the peace in our relationship to simple living combined with compatibility. That said, things like hunger and heat can make us both very grumpy. Although we may experience a moody discomfort, we tend to be angry at our circumstances or other people (bad drivers, etc) rather than each other.

I recently read a great quote from Gunter Holtorf, a 75-year-old world traveler who has driven his car (and lived in it) for more than 820,000 kilometres all over the world. He traveled with his wife until she passed away. He writes:

“When you live in a car for nearly 20 years, it’s not a normal situation of a couple living in a home. Living in the car, and doing all that travel over all those years is like living as Siamese twins. When you travel like that, you can’t say, ‘I’m going to go read a book in the garden.’ You are stuck together, 24 hours a day. The only splits would be if one of us went shopping, or if you go behind a tree to use a toilet. You are bound to be together.”

What do you think about the competition element of ultramarathons? – Katie

I strongly support competition.

Back in San Diego, I volunteered for an organization called Girls on the Run. They do a lot of great things, but this was one topic of disagreement I had with them.

I was a volunteer running coach for a group of middle school girls. They were at that age where socializing and boys were more important than physical activity, and they were reluctant to participate. We coaches brainstormed about how to motivate them.

We agreed on the idea of introducing a sense of friendly competition and felt confident that this was the missing spark. Our idea was squashed by the higher-ups. We were told the organization didn’t believe in competition because it might lead to some girls feeling excluded. Although their arguments sounded great on paper, I knew the girls were being cheated.

One of the worst things we can do is to teach our young girls to associate a strong and healthy competitive drive with negativity, exclusion, and/or bullying. On the contrary, competition brings out the best in us. This is true not only in running but in life.

Competition is that fire in our bellies and that extra push in our legs. It teaches us to handle both victory and defeat, and sets us up–not for always winning–but for trying our best every single time.

VanessaRuns2Photo: Battery Point trailhead in Haines, Alaska

Did you know that your writing career would flourish when you started to do it for yourself, or is this a happy side-effect of your lifestyle, and having more time to follow your passions?  Was spending more time writing one of your goals? – Katie

I did expect that my writing would flourish. I believed in myself wholeheartedly and in the full potential of my talents. Embracing that type of confidence is the only way I was able to survive the insurmountable negativity of my past. I am still my own #1 cheerleader.

Sometimes people confuse a lack of confidence with humility, or confuse self-love with narcissism. I believe you have to love yourself fully in order to love others well. George Sheehan once wrote, “I have met my hero, and he is me.” Be a person you can be proud. Be your own hero.

Why IS everyone going to work all their lives and missing all this wonder and beauty in the world?! – Katie

I don’t think working necessarily means you will miss all the wonder and beauty in the world. “Work” can be seen as a dirty word in nomadic circles, but that is a mistake. In reality, I work much harder now than I ever did for an employer, because I am more motivated and passionate about what I do. My paycheck just isn’t as large or as steady.

I love this quote by Howard Thurman: “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

If you find what makes you come alive, your world will always be filled with wonder and beauty, regardless of employment.

I’m wondering what you eat and if it’s changed a lot since being on the road. – Tam

We’ve experimented with everything from paleo to vegan. I felt best eating mostly raw vegan, but I’m not strict about it. I try to fully experience the places we travel to, and that includes local foods. For example, on the West coast we ate a lot of fresh seafood, and in Alaska we ate wild game.

Food for me is highly social and I believe in long lunches, lots of sharing, and homemade meals with good friends.

What has traveling taught you? – Kristin

It has connected me to who I am and what I love to do. It has also reignited my faith in humanity. There is still so much goodness and generosity in the world. Once we get away from our digital screens and start talking to real people, it’s easy to see that the good far outweighs the evil out there.

If you had to run one 10-mile portion of trail for the rest of your life, where would it be? – Scott W. Kummer

The Los Pinos hill climb of the Los Pinos 50K course. This was the first stretch of trail that broke me, and I didn’t meet the cutoff at the top of the hill. It’s a brutal, exposed hill.

After it defeated me that first time, I went back and completed it three more times. The weather is always extreme and unpredictable. It’s a real challenge to carry enough food and water, and a real danger if you run out.

The original race director, Keira Henninger, gave it up because she didn’t feel she could keep runners safe on this climb. My friend Carlos Quinto, with Keira’s blessing, has recently resurrected the event. The first time we took Carlos out there, he had to beg some bikers for spare food and water. It’s a glorious challenge.

HERE is my first race report at Los Pinos.

VanessaRuns3Photo: Flattop Mountain in Anchorage, Alaska

How do you deal with others judgment of you and your decisions? I grew up in a people-pleasing environment and this is something I struggle with. It seems like you are very strong in your decisions and beliefs. – Alena

I used to be surrounded by naysayers and it took a lot of courage to separate myself from them. I have deleted online friends, broken off in-person friendships, and even cut contact with certain family members. The transition was difficult and awkward, but since then my life has evolved so much faster and my confidence has soared. I strongly support a ruthless purging like this for everyone.

Of course, this doesn’t mean you disassociate with people who don’t agree with you, but rather say goodbye to people who wish you ill and poison your life with their misery. Life is to short for negativity and toxic relationships.

People still make judgments of course, mostly online (you will never escape that), but now they are not people who are close to me. I can review their points, and if there is no validity there, I can easily shake them off.

What do you miss about having a fixed address and “regular” job? (I’m sure the answer is NOT “nothing” — every living situation has its good and bad features, even if it’s just the great Mexican restaurant down the road from your old house.) – Robyn

I really miss the familiarity of running the same trails over a period of months. Familiarity makes it easier to note physical improvements, and to mentally push myself to do better over time, especially with something like hill repeats (it helps to have the same hill!). It’s also lovely to watch one trail change with the seasons—I miss that. Finally, I miss going out for breakfast or coffee with old friends.

If you could change ONE thing about yourself as a person, what would it be? – Jen S.

I would give myself a better sense of direction. I am constantly getting lost while others seem to have a natural compass in their brains. I’d love to be able to go somewhere and automatically know how to go there again on my own, instead of having to look it up. I’m getting better, but it’s definitely challenging since we are constantly visiting new places.

What advice or tips would you give to someone who was considering giving it all up in order to live a more simple, nomadic life? – Katie

 Don’t wait to simplify your life—do it now. There are many ways you can start downgrading to make the transition easier. This can include giving stuff away, selling things, or cutting out non-essential expenses. We waited until the last minute, and it became overwhelming to get rid of so many things. In retrospect, we should have started much sooner.

What’s the weirdest sexual act Shacky has requested since hitting the road? – Jason

Our sex life isn’t that weird, sorry to disappoint! I feel like we’ve both had enough experiences to know what we like, and we pretty much stick to our favorite acts, which happen to be fairly standard.

While “What’s the weirdest sexual act Shacky has requested since hitting the road?” is hilarious, dare I add… Where?! – Jen S.

Always in the RV, everywhere from San Diego to Alaska to Toronto! Sometimes beautiful locations like mountains or glaciers, and other times just Home Depot parking lots. The RV has great cover so our biggest challenge is to not kick the pets.

vanessarunsPhoto: On the ferry from Haines to Skagway, Alaska

Do you make any money directly out of your running—through sponsorships or any other way? 
Or do you just run for the love of it? – myrunspiration

I don’t make money directly from running, but sometimes I get free race entries. I also get a small income from blog ads (WordAds via WordPress) and income from my book, The Summit Seeker. I will sometimes get free gear, like clothes or shoes in exchange for blog reviews.

I’m not fast enough to win races and even if I were, ultrarunning is not very lucrative. I definitely run for the love of it and usually pay to do so. I don’t keep my medals or race swag since space in the RV is limited. I give everything away to volunteers who were exceptional that day.

Do you worry about health insurance or medical costs? – Anj

Not as much as I should. I do have coverage in Canada (I’m Canadian), but that doesn’t necessarily help me outside the country. We’ve been looking into a few options and I’ve been scolded about not making it more of a priority.

How many states have you visited since you took off? How long have you been on the road now? Can you tell me the month and year you left for this trip? Any idea how many different trails you’ve explored or run during this trip? – Kristin

We have been on the road for one year (since August 2012). We’ve explored countless trails and run 2,000 miles, driven 30,000 miles, and visited 17 national parks (2 Canadian, the rest American).

Does the RV ever smell due to lack of showering? – Jakehat

Not from our bodies (we can keep up pretty good with at least a wet wipe), but sometimes if the dirty laundry piles up, it will smell like… dirty laundry. Also, when the cat takes a poop, we all smell it for a few glorious seconds until she covers it up.

If we don’t clean and put away our gear after a long run, a running funk will develop. I’m in charge of cleaning and I normally stay on top of it, although it’s surprisingly difficult to sort, clean and store all your gear immediately after a 100-mile race. In those cases, we surrender to the funk for a day or two.

vanessarunsPhoto: Spending the night just outside of Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada

What do you feed ginger on your long runs together? I’m training with my dog and figure if I am eating something, she should be too. – Dustin Heath

We will carry any of her favorite foods. She loves hot dogs, jerky, and peanut butter. She seems to enjoy burritos as well. When she ran a 50K with me she enjoyed potatoes from the aid station. Almost anything she is willing to eat, we will feed her. She is a picky eater so we trust her instincts.

Do you ever listen to the weakerthans? – Jakehat

I had never heard of them, but just checked them out online. Not bad! I’ll get Shacky to download more of them. We’re currently on a Johnny Cash binge.

When can we all go for a run on Brown Mountain?! – Rob G.

Not sure where that is? :)

I always picture you and Shacky driving around singing Queens Bohemian Raphsody. What are the lyrics to that song? – Istomsl

Shacky prefers this version.

vanessarunsPhoto: Kathleen Lake in Yukon, Canada

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Check out my book: The Summit Seeker

Q&A Uncensored: Your Chance to Ask Anything

Photo: The breathtaking Bow Lake in Alberta, Canada

Photo: Bow Lake in Alberta, Canada

Two years ago I participated in an online Q&A game via my blog. Because my life has changed so drastically since then, I thought it would be awesome to do it again. Here are the rules I posted two years ago:

You ask me anything. About anything. No question is too weird or strange or stupid or personal. Post your questions in the comment section and I will answer them ALL. It’s that simple! And hopefully fun.

You can ask as many questions as you’d like, and no topic is off limits. Here are the answers to the questions I was asked in 2011:

You asked, I answer! Part I
You asked, I answer! Part II
You asked, I answer! Part III

To get us started, below is a Q&A I did this week for an online publication called Sensa Nostra. They are writing a three-article series on tiny homes and home-free living.

Here’s what they wanted to know:

SN: You gave up a successful writing career in an office to live in an RV and travel the land. Was it difficult giving up all that you’d achieved in your job after working so hard to get there?

VR: On the contrary, I was excited to write for myself as opposed to a news organization or media outlet. I have a journalism degree, and I can write anywhere. I had stories to tell outside of my job and I wanted to write a book. I also never made an obscene amount of money as a writer or editor, so I was used to a very low-budget lifestyle. I felt I had little to sacrifice.

It was harder to convince my boyfriend to give up his job as an electrical engineer for a major biotech company. He has been there for more than 10 years and his income was much higher than mine. There was more for him to lose, and although we both wanted to travel, it was scary to make that jump. We delayed his quitting for several weeks simply because we kept getting cold feet. Once we made the leap, it wasn’t as bad as we imagined.

The experience reminds me of that Indiana Jones scene in the Last Crusade where Jones has to jump across a large chasm and there’s no way he’ll make it. It turned out that after he jumps, there’s actually an invisible bridge. In the same way, we didn’t end up falling into a terrifying abyss, but making that initial jump still took some nerve.

SN: Why did you choose to buy and live in an RV? Did you want to travel, or were you radically changing your life and choosing a minimalist path? Or was it a way to save money once you’d given up your job?

VR: This lifestyle was a dream come true for us. Yesterday, we spent 6+ hours on the Superior Hiking Trail, a 275-mile footpath in Northeastern Minnesota. One month ago, we were running in Alaska. In my old life, I would have spent those days at the office.

We wanted two things when we bought the RV: to travel freely, and to live minimally. Our 22-foot Rialta RV is tiny by most standard. Most people use this RV for day trips or camping, but not for living. I love it because it forces us to keep only what we need and use, and it encourages us to spend more time outdoors.

We also wanted a vehicle small enough to fit into a regular parking spot. We didn’t want to spend any time or money at RV campgrounds. Since we bought it, we have never paid to spend the night anywhere.

SN: Can you tell me more about your day-to-day life in the trailer? Did you expect to be living in this way when you first moved in, or are you constantly discovering many pleasant aspects of this way of life?

VR: We essentially drive from trail to trail. Both my boyfriend and I enjoy trial running, so we visit a lot of national forests, national parks, and state parks. He loves water and I love mountains, so we look for places that combine mountains with waterfalls/streams/lakes.

We have no set plan in our travels and no deadlines. Sometimes we are out in the wilderness all day, and sometimes we find a good wifi spot and settle down to catch up with the rest of the world. Because our wifi time is limited, I spend most of my time pre-loading articles to read later, downloading podcasts I can later listen to offline, or copying emails into documents I can access later. I type the responses when I have more time, and the next time I get wifi, I just send everything off.

We had no idea what to expect when we moved into the RV, so we are constantly learning and making new discoveries. It keeps us on our toes!

SN: Is this a short-term break, or a new way of life?

VR: I don’t see myself ever going back to owning or renting a home, or working a traditional job, but I would never say never. It’s a big world and I still have many more years to live and experiences to experience.

SN: Do you feel that your writing career has actually become even more successful since quitting your office job?

VR: Absolutely, a thousand times over. I finally have the freedom to follow my instincts, write about what I know and love, and dive into research and interviews that truly interest me. My writing has improved drastically, and it is much more personally fulfilling.

SN: What does ‘success’ mean to you? And what do you value most in life?

VR: I love this quote: “Success is the certain knowledge that you’ve become yourself, the person you were meant to be from all time.” – Dr. George Sheehan

To me, that is true success. The freedom to be yourself at all times, never compromising to please a boss or a spouse or society in general.

In life, I most value freedom. That doesn’t translate into everyone being jobless and traveling the world, but it has a lot to do with never feeling like you have to settle. Freedom means being able to construct and live your life on your own terms, whether that is raising a family, starting a business, or working in a career you are passionate about.

I spent so much of my life trying to live on someone else’s terms, and I think many of us do to some extent. Freedom means embracing your own path, whatever the cost.

SN: Have your values changed since moving into the trailer? Do you see the world from another perspective that you’d never previously imagined?

VR: I see the world with much more enthusiasm and excitement. My values–compassion, transparency, and selflessness–have deepened. I feel child-like in my ambitions, like the world is there for my taking.

I can read about a place that sounds interesting, and immediately GO there. I don’t have to put it on hold. I don’t have to ask for vacation time or permission from my family. I don’t have to write it down in a bucket list. I have the freedom to move and travel wherever my whims take me. I feel in complete control of my life–it is truly liberating.

SN: Why do you run? And why do you run ultra-marathons? Was this always your goal?

VR: I fell in love with running in 2007, and when I discovered trail running I never went back to road. I always loved long distances. Ultra running fits well with my personality. It requires a lot of drive, dedication, energy, and mental strength. I love things that are hard and demanding, but low-profile. I love being alone in nature, drinking in the mountains and pushing my body to its limits.

SN: Can you tell me more about barefoot running?

VR: I embraced barefoot running as a way to connect with nature. I love the feeling of mud, bark, soil, and grass under my toes. It goes back to that child-like freedom of running wild, with no cares in the world. It brings me back to that place of bliss.

SN: Are running, writing and living in a trailer all inter-connected for you? Does one influence the other?

VR: They are all things that I love, so in that sense they are inter-connected. I don’t know if I will always live in a trailer. I can just as easily live out of a backpack, or a van, or a bicycle. What matters is mobility and freedom. Writing and running I believe will always be a part of me.

SN: Are there any negative aspects to living your lifestyle?

VR: There are definitely inconveniences. Things like showers, laundry, and chores look very different than they used to, but I can’t say they’re negative. Is rinsing your clothes in a stream more negative than throwing into a washing machine? I think it’s just different.

SN: What does living in this way allow you to do that your old life never could?

VR: Travel full-time.

SN: What are your goals for the future?

VR: I would love to run across El Salvador next year, a distance of approximately 160 miles. I was born in El Salvador and I haven’t been back in years. This will be my way of coming back, making my mark, and reconnecting with a community long-forgotten.

I have a love-hate relationship with my cultural upbringing that drove me to separate myself from Hispanics in the past. My ex used to accuse me of thinking I was “too good” for my culture, but in many ways the cultural values I was raised with damaged me, especially when it came to the role of women and female expectations.

I was raised to be submissive and subservient, always sacrificing my own needs for the men around me. I was also raised to depend heavily on men, both emotionally and financially. My current boyfriend is my first “white” relationship, and the dynamic is very different than what I am used to, and to be honest pretty amazing.

I recently reconnected with my dad after a long time of not speaking. One of the first things he said to me was to thank my boyfriend for “taking good care of me” while I was away from home. I know this is my dad’s way accepting me and my new relationship, so I take it as a positive response. However, it also perfectly reflects what I was raised to believe: that I am useless without a man and incapable of taking care of myself. For the first time in my life, I now have the courage to believe otherwise.

Going back to El Salvador for me would represent a re-birth and a coming out. Kind of like facing an old bully that tormented me for years. I want the country to see who I am and what I have become–that I am so much stronger than they thought I could be and I have bigger balls than most of their men by doing something none of them have dared to attempt. I also want their women and girls to see an example of female strength, courage, and independence. I want them to know they can do whatever the hell they want with their lives.

SN: It’d also be interesting to talk about money – whether you have any, how you earn it and how you use it.  And what your perspectives are on what we ‘need’ and what society says about it all.

We started off our travels with a small base of savings, and then I immediately started working on my first book. Now my book and other writings are my only source of income. It’s not a lot, but it’s enough to support our simple lifestyle. I am working on my second book, but it doesn’t at all feel like a job. It’s a labor of love, and I’ve been lucky enough to work because something interests me, not because I need the money. This is the first time in my life I have been able to say that, and it’s a result of living simply, not being rich.

Got more questions for me? Leave a comment below.

tamati

Photo: Flattop Mountain in Anchorage, Alaska

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Check out my book: The Summit Seeker

Black Canyon Trail 100K Race Entry Giveaway

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Aravaipa Running is launching the inaugural Black Canyon 100K this winter, a trail point-to-point ultra from Spring Valley to New River, Arizona. They have generously offered up a free entry for a giveaway ($110 value).

The Coury brothers behind Aravaipa Running are well-known for organizing a series of exceptional races such as Across the Years and Javelina Jundred. Their events are must-dos for anyone who has not yet experienced some Coury magic (and for those who know it well!)

RACE STATS

Date: February 15, 2014
Terrain: Single track, non-motorized jeep trail, old stagecoach route
Start Location: Mayer High School, 17300 East Mule Deer Drive, Mayer, AZ
Finish Location: Emery Henderson Trailhead,  New River Road, 3.0 miles west of I-17

Perks:

  • Well-stocked aid stations every four to eight miles
  • Post-race food (soup, fresh fruit) & socializing

More Info
UltraSignUp Registration Link
Facebook Event Page

TO ENTER

Simply leave a comment below answering the following question:

“What mental trick(s) do you use to dig deep

when you are struggling on a run?”

For additional entries, share this post on Facebook, Twitter, your blog, or anywhere else online. Each additional share = one extra entry. For example, if you comment below as well as share on Facebook and Twitter, that’s 3 entries. Remember to mention where you shared in the comments below.

The winner will be chosen at random on September 30th and contacted directly.

Good luck!
Round-Color

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Across the Years 24 Hours Race Report

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Check out my book: The Summit Seeker

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