2014 Javelina Jundred Race Report

2014 Javelina Jundred Race Report


So honored to have paced my girl Holly Miller to her second 100-mile finish at Javelina Jundred! Here’s her race report. Fingers crossed for Western States….

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Check out my book: The Summit Seeker

Stay tuned for my next book: Daughters of Distance

Originally posted on Holly Fitness:

I have participated in the Javelina Jundred for the last few years. Not as a runner but as a spectator, a volunteer, and a pacer. This was the year I would go the distance myself. As Western States upped the ante on their lottery race qualifiers, I would no longer be able to run a 50M to get into the lottery. Fortunately, JJ100 is a qualifier- it’s in my neck of the woods, I know the course well, and I can represent Team Aravaipa! (Aravaipa Running puts on the race)

This has not been my best year as far as running and racing is concerned. December of last year had me sidelined with plantar fasciitis and a bone spur was discovered in Feb. I dialed back my running to a few miles a week and put a heavy emphasis on cross training- specifically spinning. My Boston Marathon was another ‘fun…

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4 Trail Beards You’ll Want to Fondle

By Ethan Brown

beardeityA beard in the ultra world is an authoritative tool utilized by many. It’s almost like the thought of running an ultra can spur the body into instantaneous facial hair growth so potently powerful that any woman within a five-mile radius will experience quivering ovaries.

On the pro level, the bearded champions tower over the “lesser beings,” or clean shaven winners, like a Kodiak grizzly bear over a sickly deer.

Here are some beardeities to worship this month:

1. Anton Krupicka

Anton Krupicka has one of the most widely known beards in the elite group. His face fur is primal with a slight hint of maintenance that says, “Hey, don’t let this iconic dude-growth distract you, my eyes are up here.” Tonybeard could terrify the soul of a rabid mountain lion.

2. Rob Krar

Another beard with the power to sway the masses belongs to the artist known as Rob Krar. Rob’s cheek forest is as pure as nature itself: gentle locks that sway back and forth in a compassionate mountain breeze and secretly possess the power to erupt into a blast of pure, unadulterated, testosterone-filled, savageness. When Rob goes fishing he doesn’t need a net, but simply dips his beard into the water to catch fish.

  1. Dominic Grossman

On the west coast, runners are under the spell of a mandible pelt of unimaginable viciousness. Dominic Grossman is an effervescent face magician. One minute he’s rocking a beard GQ-worthy and the next he’s got a mustache that would automatically make him a wild-west town sheriff. His well maintained dude growth is so fantastic one could confuse it with a pristine putting green.

  1. Graham Kelly

Another man possessing the raw sexuality to swoon a great white shark is Graham Kelly. Graham’s chin kilt is such a masterpiece; the Mona Lisa frowns in jealousy. Fueled by moisture of the Scottish highlands and whiskey distilled from the sweat of day laborers, this growth infiltrates our very spirit to soothe our fears and calm our minds.

The firm roots of facial hair seem to interweave with a person’s soul and to not only inspire brilliance in every aspect of the word, but also push these athletes to complete badassery.

Happy Movember.

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7 Reasons You Think You Can’t Run an Ultramarathon (When You Can)

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Check out my book: The Summit Seeker

Stay tuned for my next book: Daughters of Distance

In Defense of Disney Princesses (Okay, just the Little Mermaid)

1 I didn’t grow up with Disney dolls. I was one of those lucky kids that grew up surrounded by books with free reign of the outdoors. I didn’t live on the glamorous side of town either—it was government housing and the books were from the library, but I had a rusty slide nearby plus a rope swing. What more could a kid really want?

I didn’t have the types of parents who intentionally meant to shield me from a patriarchal society or the socialization of young girls (keep your faces pretty and their opinions to yourselves, girls!).

I’m sure if my mother could have afforded it, she would have drowned me in princess gear. As it was, she simply took me the park and I swung on the monkey bars until my hands were calloused. Then I stuck a needle through the scabs for funsies. I didn’t even know Disney existed.

I do, however, clearly remember the first time I encountered Disney. My parents were vising the apartment of a friend and she had her nieces and nephews over. For them, she had purchased the then-complete collection of all the Disney movies: Cinderella, Snow White, The Fox and the Hound, Aladdin… They were all there. To keep us annoying kids entertained, the adults popped in a movie and left.

I. Was. Dumbfounded.

What kind of sorcery was this?? The other kids were restless and wandered off to play with toys, but I was glued to the screen. I couldn’t take my eyes off that freaking mermaid.

First of all, I had never seen anything so pretty. Hello? Red hair? I had never in my life seen anyone with red hair (it wasn’t exactly a Caucasian neighborhood), much less with long flowy locks like this fine piece of ass. My fingers were itching to braid her.

Secondly, what a pretty voice! I wanted to hear her. I wanted to sing like her. I wanted to be her.

For the next year or so I would incorporate the mermaid into my imagination time (imagination time = all the time). This basically consisted of me twirling around the house screeching “LOOK AT THIS STUFFFFFFFF…. ISN’T IT NEEEEEEEAT” and trying to brush my hair with a fork.

Some time passed and I forgot all about the Little Mermaid and the rest of her Disney crew. I grew up (that’s debatable), became a writer, and started working on this book about female empowerment in sport (cue Daughters of Distance plug).

As part of my research I read Rebecca C. Haines’ The Princess Problem: Guiding Our Girls Through the Princess-Obsessed Years and was surprised to discover that Disney princesses were not pretty and harmless after all, but actually quite evil and brainwashy.

Whaaaaat?! Even the Little Mermaid? MY Little Mermaid??

As it turns out, the Little Mermaid may actually be the worst offender for screwing up little girls. After all, she literally gives up her voice for a man.

But the thing is… I didn’t get that when I watched The Little Mermaid all those years ago. Could it be that as adults we nitpick and read too deeply into entertainment in a way that kids just don’t? Or did I only narrowly miss having my life ruined by princesses?

I’ll say firstly that I did enjoy this book very much and I agree with many of its points. I think it’s wonderful that parents are concerned about this stuff even though it’s so foreign from the way I grew up: basically send your kids outside and if they don’t die, you’ve done a great job.

I suspect that if a kid has the type of parent who cares enough to read a book about the potential negative influences of the Disney princesses, their own parental influence over that child probably far outweighs any Disney movie. I mean… those parents probably actually spend time with their kids and shit.

That said, although I found the book fascinating, I’m afraid I cannot—no way, no how—think poorly of my little mermaid. She opened up the world for me instead of shutting it down.

Here’s how:

I never for one second, as a child watching this, thought that Ariel gave her voice up for a man. If you remember correctly, she wanted to get her ass on land even before she met the prince dude. (First, she had to literally get an ass.)

The way I remember it, Ariel had a dream of traveling and existing outside of the confines of her world. She didn’t want to stay where she had been born. She didn’t want to limit herself to the ocean. And by the way, she’s a fish. If that’s not thinking outside the box (err, fishbowl), I don’t know what is.

And here’s something: THE ENTIRE FREAKING OCEAN WAS TOO SMALL FOR HER. The world is what… only 70% water? That’s a girl with pretty big dreams.

In her sing-song words: “I’m the girl who has everything…. I WANT MORE.”

Although she could have spent the entire movie flicking her fins and singing about the world above, she had the balls (vagina, eventually) to actually go after what she really wanted. She sacrificed EVERYTHING for her dreams. Not for a man. Not to be a housewife. For her goals. Her ambitions. What she wanted out of life. And for a vagina.

“What would I give if I could live out of these waters… Bright young women, sick of swimming, ready to stand… And ready to know what the people know. Ask them my questions and get some answers.”

A light bulb went off in my little brain: Holy shit. I don’t have to stay in this world. I don’t have to live in government housing forever. I don’t have to stay near my family and have more kids and watch them play on the same rusty slide. I can like…. explore a new world. And vaginas are fucking great!

I also knew it wouldn’t be easy to follow my dreams. How did I know? Because it wasn’t easy for the little mermaid. She had her tail split (pretty painful, I imagine) and lost her entire family, pretty much. Then she had to deal with the not having a voice thing.

The prince, in my little mind, was inconsequential. Kind of like a rung in the ladder, easily replaceable, a stepping stool. It could have been any man; he just happened to be in the right place at the right time and girlfriend needs a hot shower and a warm bed. Granted, not the healthiest way to view a relationship, but that was my honest interpretation. The prince was wallpaper, but the dream was hers. The dream was what mattered.

Plus honestly, after all she went through with the octopus, do you really think she was going to stick around and let the prince be a jerk to her for the rest of her life? She didn’t even stay with the people (ok, fish) who were nice to her under the sea.

It’s hard to say what my life might have been like had I:

a) Been exposed to more Disney or

b) Never seen the Little Mermaid

I probably got the perfect Disney dose.

I’d like to think I would have still wobbled out of my kiddie pool and done my share of running, jumping, strolling, dancing where the people are.


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Check out my book: The Summit Seeker

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Trail Therapy: Why Movement Outdoors is a Game-Changer


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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Funny Running Shirts Giveaway

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.

Here is your chance to also be the proud owner of my favorite tank… or another shirt of your choosing with the potential to be your favorite.

Enter Funny Running Shirts.

Made with a tri-blend fabric, they are extremely soft to the touch and super light. As in, I feel like I’m topless when I wear it. Yay, topless!

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.


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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Check out my book: The Summit Seeker

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Your Dirtbag Hospitality Guide


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


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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Check out my book: The Summit Seeker

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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:

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


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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Check out my book: The Summit Seeker

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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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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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