Answering Patagonia: A Wild Call to an Untamed Land

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Before Alaska and before moving into the RV, there was Noble Canyon. It was while running down this much-loved, familiar trail with my good friend Christine Bilange that my eyes were first opened to Central and South American possibilities.

Christine urged me to not disregard my Central American roots so easily, to reconcile and re-connect with my father and my family in El Salvador, and to seriously consider the possibility of returning south for a cheaper and more natural life.

When my legs are tired, my mind is open, and I had 60ish miles on my legs that week. I went on to run a 100-mile training week at Noble Canyon, summiting every day for five days, and spending several of those miles thinking about what Christine had said. Before that day, I had envisioned myself living in the US for the rest of my life. Why not? We had everything here.

I had even scoffed at Shacky’s suggestion months ago that we look into Central/South American living. “Why would I want to go back there??” I demanded. “My parents worked so hard to get us out…”

But I knew that South American living was cheap, I knew that the land was still rugged and raw, and I felt a strong southern pull on my heart.

“We’re moving South!” I exclaimed to Shacky when I met up with him at the bottom of the canyon. He raised his eyebrows.

Instead, we drove north.

And we continue north—toward Alaska. But the South/Central American seed is still there. Shacky has begun following blogs of American expats who are living full-time in South and Central America. He has come up with places to visit, and spots to camp.

I have begun reading in Spanish and following a blog about El Salvador. We have discussed running across El Salvador (only 160 miles!), and I even had the brilliant idea of running from the northernmost point in Alaska to the southernmost point in South America. This would take us three to four years, but Shacky still needs some convincing (maybe include the PCT?).

This month, my dad is in El Salvador looking into charities and logistics to support a run across that country (this would be the first time it has ever been done). He’s doing the legwork as far as security and supplies, and I’m back in touch with him after almost two years of silence.

Many weeks after Noble Canyon and Christine, I found myself sitting in a Volkswagen dealership in Arizona when a Skype call from Nick Barraza came in. He wanted to talk about the Patagonian International Marathon (ultra distance available), the conservation efforts in Chile, and the Patagonian Ambassador Program. His timing was impeccable.

Listening to him describe Patagonia, I knew we had to go there. Nick took me on as a Patagonian Ambassador and I got this lovely profile page, alongside some awesome names like Krissy Moehl and Dylan Bowman. I am truly honored.

But what excites me the most is Nick’s descriptions of the conservation efforts in Chile, and the mountains there. I have a vision of us spending several months in Chile, working first-hand for this cause, and running those mountains.

I asked Nick for an interview to try to express the lure of Patagonia. Perhaps you will also feel drawn to this wild land.

Interview with Nick Barraza

NickBWhat is it that calls you to Patagonia?

As with any natural area of beauty and wonder, Patagonia speaks to the adventurer in me. The biodiversity, pristine lakes, breathtaking glaciers, and majestic rock formations make this region extremely special. In short, my inner-coyote howls for Patagonia.

How did you get involved with this race?

Now that is a long story! After completing the inaugural marathon in 2012 I had accumulated a handful of ideas along the run. Wanting to aid Nomadas International Group SA (NIGSA) in their quest to promote and aid conservation in the Patagonian region, I initiated contact with the company and offered my support and work in any form possible.

What do you hope that runners will gain from this experience?

I hope runners are inspired to come down to Torres del Paine, Patagonia and partake in this collective and international effort to spread education and inspiration around the conservational efforts taking place throughout region.

Runners will not only be able to see one of the earth’s most precious landscapes, but also dip their feet into Chilean and Patagonian culture. This event connects local Chilean runners with runners from all around the world and brings people together to celebrate the culture and preservation of Patagonia.

How have you been involved with conservation?

Studying and researching as an Environmental Scientist has always led me, in one way or another, to a conservation project.

However, it was not just my degree and path of study that led me to participate in various aspects of local and global conservation. In fact, most of my involvement with conservation has been through volunteering within local communities.

What is your favorite memory in Patagonia?

Ah, now this is wonderful question, and a very special one too! As a result of running the race in Torres (and a long story to follow), I met my amazing girlfriend and partner in crime in the heart of Patagonia.

Little did I know that three months after the race we would both end up leaving our respective jobs to set out on a three-month backpacking excursion through Chile, Argentina, and Peru.

Our journey changed my life in ways I would have never thought possible. The magic of Patagonia is responsible for harboring our initial connection and for that I am eternally grateful.

What is your favorite Patagonia wildlife and why?

Well, I am a big fan of foxes, that’s why I have a dog that looks just like one! However, I am going to go with the region favorite on this one and say guanacos. Let’s just say they have very intriguing personalities and tend to showcase these personalities through spitting at passing trekkers. They are very amusing creatures! Google them!

Besides attending the race, how can people get involved?

For people that cannot make the event, we invite you to join us in our quest to spread education on the sustainable initiatives taking place in the Patagonian region. Connecting with the event on Facebook, Twitter (@PatagonMarathon), and helping us share and promote the race and organizations the event supports.

Also, we invite anyone and everyone to post blog entries, pieces in magazines, local newspapers, etc., to help get the word out there. If you do decide to do this, please let us know, so we can feature your piece on our site and social media networks!

We have also created the Patagonian Ambassador Program. Which seeks to partner with runners, writers, filmmakers, and any one else who is inspired and passionate about our event and conservation in Patagonia. You can view the program HERE.

If you are interested in becoming a part of this amazing team of ambassadors please get in touch with us at info@patagonianinternationalmarathon.com

Patagonian International Marathon Video

Direct YouTube link HERE

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Noble Canyon 5-Day Challenge Report

NobleCanyon

Last week I ran my first 100-mile week that didn’t include a 100-mile race. I did a 20-mile summit every day for five days, and had such an amazing experience. I wanted to write a report and encourage others to create their own endurance challenges.

Here’s what I did:

Why This Challenge?

Ever since Transrockies this year, I’ve been fascinated by multi-day challenges. Transrockies covers 120 miles in six days, through the Colorado mountains. At the time, I had never run more than 100 miles/week, and not on six consecutive days. I had no idea how my body would hold up to a multi-day challenge of significant climbs.

As it turned out—my body held up great. In fact, it was significantly easier than running 50 or 100 miles all at once. The ability to rest, eat, and relax after each day left me feeling 100 percent.

This inspired me to look for more difficult multi-day races, and I was considering Transalpine. This race runs through Europe, covering 155 miles in eight days. Then it occurred to me: Why wait for Europe? I can do multi-day challenges now!

The one thing I loved at Transrockies and wanted more of was climbing. I remember one steep section at Transrockies—the couple behind me was complaining, but I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. I was in my element.

So I knew for my multi-day challenge, I would have to summit every day.

Why This Course?

I picked Noble Canyon in the Laguna Mountains because that is where I ran my first ultra, the Noble Canyon 50K. It’s a challenging and technical 20-mile out-and-back summit. There was camping nearby, I knew the trail well, and it was dog-friendly.

The Goal

My goal was to run my first 100-mile training week, stay vegan, and nail my recovery every evening. I didn’t worry about time, but wanted to wake up each morning eager and ready to run again.

The Routine

Before the trip, we hit up a few farmer’s markets and stocked up on fresh fruits and veggies. We slept in the RV at a nearby lookout spot, got coffee in the morning, and made the 10-min drive to the trailhead. I had a quick breakfast, then took off.

I expected that I would be running on my own for the most part, but I was lucky to have company every day, on top of Shacky and Ginger, my trusty trail buddies.

After the run, we would eat from the RV, then drive to a spot with wifi for some web surfing. We’d buy some dinner for the dog (raw meat), then drive back to the lookout for an early bedtime.

The Runs

I didn’t expect this challenge to be so fun. We had friends come out to run with us every day. We ran into hunters, found more wildlife, and I saw horses out there for the first time. Julie and I even ran into a couple of guys with a map, prospecting for gold.

Ginger finds a lizard

Ginger finds a lizard

About to summit with Elizabeth & Dave

About to summit with Elizabeth & Dave

Holly and me at the summit

Holly and me at the summit

Holly and Shacky post-run

Holly and Shacky post-run

The Recovery

I never slept less than nine hours each night, and I stayed away from all junk food. I ate a lot of fruit and veggies. For carbs, I had pita, granola, couscous, and bagels. I believe the combination of clean eating and a lot of sleep contributed to a full recovery. On the run, I fueled with Vi Fuel Endurance gels, and we carried hot dogs for Ginger. She drank water from several creeks and water crossings along the way. (Ginger ran 83 miles!)

Create Your Own Adventure

The beauty of organizing your own multi-day challenge is that you can adjust it to your abilities. It should be challenging, but not impossible. Slightly harder than what you’ve done before.

It can be as many days as you want, and it doesn’t have to be consecutive. Get creative! The distances can adjust around a work schedule if necessary. I strongly recommend putting the word out and getting others to support, crew, or join you. It makes a huge difference to have company and accountability.

Multi-day runs can teach you to run self-supported, and get you across longer distances. You can run on your own terms and explore the trails in your area.

Here are some other challenges we are planning:

  • Summit all of Colorado’s 14’ers (mountains at 14,000 feet)
  • Thru-runs of the PCT and/or Colorado Trail
  • Trail run across California (and Colorado and Utah)

See you out there!

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Final Thoughts Before Noble Canyon 50k


This Saturday I’ll be running Noble Canyon!

I’ve only done a timed ultra, so this will be my first real ultra distance trail race. I’m super excited because this is my favorite type of race – long, challenging trails. I’m going into it without any expectations. I’m just going to enjoy the day, have fun, and take in the experience.

I hope I make the cut-off, but I sincerely have no idea if I will. The last couple of training runs I’ve basically had to walk the entire way up the mountain. So I’d love to at least get a little more running in.

I think it’s cool that this is the first race where I know so many of the people running or crewing or volunteering. In Toronto I always experienced races alone – starting and finishing alone, no one I knew cheering, and no one I knew running. Racing was fun THEN, so I can only imagine how much better it will be now. The ultra running community is completely different than road racing, and I’m enjoying the shift.

I had a little mishap on my run at Torrey Pines yesterday. I got a little overconfident running down the side of the canyon and I was going much faster than usual. I stepped on a rock with what I thought was a steady step, but my foot shifted off of it and slid down to the ground. I didn’t fall or miss a step – I didn’t actually feel any pain at all. I just kept running. But Shacky said it sounded bad, and about 40 strides later it started to sting. So I took a look.

I had sliced off a bit of my sole, so my skin was flapping and the wound was filling with sand. It wasn’t a big cut, but it was deep. I ran to the beach and soaked in salt water to clean it out. Then I borrowed Shacky’s shoes and finished up the run. I was hobbling a little, but it was much easier to run than to walk. I actually ran faster because it was getting dark and the faster I ran, the less time I would spend putting pressure on my wound.

When I got home I washed it up again, put on some socks, and went to bed. In the morning my skin had started to re-attach. I used some Neosporin, and it looks like it’s going to be ok. I’ll probably still bandage my foot for Noble, just in case.

I’m trying to come up with things to think about to stay motivated during this run. I feel like it’s going to be a mind game much more so than a physical feat. I know I have the strength in me to finish strong, but it’s just soooo easy to walk!

I’ve been inspired lately by Shelly, who just finished a 50-miler, and we’ll be running our first 100 miler together soon! So I’m sure I’ll think about her.

I’ve read on a couple of blogs about how people decide to dedicate a mile of their long races to people who have inspired or helped them, and I thought about doing that. If I do, here are some people I admire that I would definitely include:

  • Shacky – cause he’s always there for everything
  • my birth mom – cause I miss her
  • Eli – cause she’s the bravest lady I know
  • Emma – cause I love her and miss her
  • Angie – cause she’s a supermama and strong lady
  • Shelly – cause she kicked ass at her last race
  • Jason – cause he writes the stuff that needs to be said and finished Western States in under 24 hrs
  • Pat – cause he’s my cool record-breaking uncle
  • Kate – cause she’s a cute little runner and climber who never gives up
  • Cat – cause everything about her inspires me
  • Caity – cause her podcast is the awesomest podcast in the universe
  • Krista – cause she’s got ninja moves
  • Christian – cause he taught me how to get everything for free
  • Michael – cause he suggested a long time ago that I try running barefoot…
  • Robin – cause she’s my fellow badass Canadian ultra runner
  • Carlos – cause he makes me laugh and he pushes some impressive speed/mileage
  • Jeff – cause he always gets back up when he falls
  • Theresa – cause she’s insanely supportive
  • Christine B – cause she’s a super strong lady and great runner
  • Nadia – cause she’s always trying new things to stay active
  • Nate – cause he’s not afraid to be himself

I don’t really have any other ideas as far as motivation, so I think I’m just going to go into it and see what happens.

Wish me luck!

 

6 Must-Haves for my 20-Mile Trail Run

On Saturday I ran/walked/crawled 20 miles of Noble Canyon in training for the fast approaching Noble Canyon 50k. Every run out there kills me out. It’s a beautiful route that basically consists of running down a mountain, running back up, and running a few stretches at high elevation. It’s a run that you can both love and dread. Incredibly challenging.

I’ve tried to experiment with hydration, fuel, and footwear out there. In the process I’ve found some products I like. Here they are, from toe to head:

1. VIVOBAREFOOT Neo Trails    

VIVOBAREFOOT has been good to me and I’m impressed with their high customer service quality. They’re quick, I feel like I’m dealing with a real human being, and they generously rushed two free pairs of new Neo Trails for me and Shacky to use on Saturday’s training run.

I should point out that I haven’t worn shoes for running (minimalist or not) in almost a year. My previous Noble Canyon runs have been in Invisible shoe huaraches (more on those later). So I had no idea how I would handle a run in VIVOBAREFOOT’s product.

I was very pleasantly surprised. First of all, they look awesome. I was also very surprised by the ground feel. I was expecting little to no ground feel, but I felt the rocks a lot more than in my Vibram KSOs. I like that because I feel closer to being barefoot. I still felt like I had to watch my step and plan my strides. Post run, my feet suffered no ill effects.

Here are some stats on the Neo Trail:

  • Sole thickeness = 2.5mm base and 4mm lug height
  • Weight = Men’s 248g, Women’s 198g
  • Hydrophobic mesh (non toxic, lightweight, water resistant thin mesh)
  • Toe guard

Shacky tested the hydrophobic mesh with some creek crossings, and we were surprised at how long it took for the water to soak through the shoe. He basically had to stand fully immersed in water for a minute or so. Running, they wouldn’t get wet. However, once they WERE wet, the sloshiness was hard to dry out.

I’d like to get a few more trail miles in these and then post a more thorough review. So far I’m very much enjoying them. I think the fact that I could go from completely shoeless to running in these for 20 miles without an issue, says a lot about the quality of this shoe.

2. Injinji socks 

Already a staple for barefoot and minimalist runners, I mostly wanted to mention this to direct people to the great Toe Salad Injinji giveaway that’s going on this week. You can enter HERE. Injinjis are awesome and if you haven’t tried them yet, definitely do.

3. Dirty Girl gaiters

Until last week, I didn’t even know what gaiters were. I saw my trail buddy Christine wearing them and they looked super cool, so at first I thought they were just for style. Then I saw several people wearing them at the Stairway to Heaven 15k so I asked what they were for.

Gaiters are basically funky looking sleeve things (Kate called them ankle warmers) that prevent stones and pebbles from falling into your shoes. Trail runners use them. You don’t need them when you’re barefoot.

Because we’ve been testing out some trail shoes on very rocky terrain, Shacky was kind enough to pick up some gaiters for us. He got Dirty Girl gaiters which I loved because they’re all made by hand. He got me the scissors print which I was SO EXCITED about because I have a shirt that says, “I run with scissors,” and for a while I was.

Back in my woods in Toronto I would carry scissors on my runs so I could forage for dandelions and other greens. I’d use the scissors to cut into the dirt for wild dandelion roots. Running with scissors is badass and my scissor gaiters make me feel hardcore. Dirty Girl has so many awesome prints, it’s hard to choose just one favorite.

But the best part is probably the woman behind the gaiters. I was told that Dirty Girl once opened her shirt and asked Kirby (fellow Dirt Devil runner) to pour ice cubes into her boobs during a race. To further solidify her awesomeness, a quote from her website regarding design prints: “There is no such thing as too much leopard.” And regarding shipping: “Slow is the new fast.”

I am honored to wear Dirty Girl’s gaiters and would buy a thousand more.

4. Zensah calf compression sleeves

I don’t like to trail run without my compression sleeves. I already wrote about these, so you can read more HERE.

5. Sport Kilt

This is the company that sponsored me and Shacky to race Noble Canyon. I didn’t wear the kilt on my training run, but I will be wearing it for the race. Last year, Shacky raced this in a non-Sport Kilt kilt (another company’s kilt), and overheated. I love the kilts because a) They’re super cute and b-f) They’re light weight, easy to wear, and ideal for runners. I also love the deep, discreet pockets. And they keep you cool.

6. Navitas Power Snacks

 

Nutrition is a never ending experiment for me. I tend to shy away from the mainstream runner’s gels and aim for whole foods as much as possible. Convenience is obviously an issue – I need to find fuel that is both natural and compact. Easy to carry and tastes good.

I am pleased to report that the new Navitas Power Snacks fit all of the above criteria. Not only are they natural, the ingredients are also Paleo (fruit and nuts), so Shacky was happy to fuel on them as well. He was pleased with the fat/protein ratio and the fact that they were low in sugar. They are also gluten and dairy free.

We had some Navitas Power Snacks at the midway point of our run and shared with some other runners in the group. Then later we sat down again on the trail and ate more.

The snacks are small, bite-sized pieces. I packed a few in a ziplock bag and carried them in my hydration vest pockets. They were easy to pull out and eat while walking or running. I also loved the texture. They weren’t as hard and chewy as a bar, but not as watery as a gel. They were soft and easy to break down, but didn’t leave you with a mouthful of sticky goo.

I received two flavors from Navitas – Citris Chia and Cacao Gogi. Shacky liked the chia and I loved the gogi. We’ve almost finished both of them.

Here is some more info I received from Navitas via email:

Offered in an 8-ounce re-sealable and recyclable pouch for a SRP of $8.99, Navitas Power Snacks are chewy, bite-sized nuggets that provide robust flavor.  It is a healthy bonus that they contain no refined sugar, and are gluten-free and dairy-free. Navitas Power Snacks and other Navitas products are available at a wide variety of retail locations throughout North America including Whole Foods Markets, Wegmans and HEB, and at many online stores such as Amazon.com and NavitasNaturals.com.

The mission of Navitas Naturals is to provide premium organic superfoods that increase energy and enhance health.  Nutrient-rich whole foods are at their best when they are produced via organic agriculture and minimal processing methods.  That is why all Navitas Naturals products are certified organic, and use methods such as freeze-drying to ensure maximum nutrition.  Food safety is very important to Navitas Naturals, which is demonstrated by the rigorous third-party testing of their superfoods.  Since its founding in 2003, Navitas Naturals has been committed to socially responsible business.  Their direct purchasing partnerships expand fair trade opportunities for farmers in developing regions around the world.  For more, visit www.navitasnaturals.com.

The experiment for optimal gear and nutrition continues for me. I’m lucky to have so many great friends and companies willing to help me find my place on the trail.

I may be a future Luna girl.

A lot of my running friends have blogs where they regularly review minimalist footwear. Because of this, they get free shoes and running gear from various companies. Although I’ve dabbled in reviewing minimalist shoes, the result hasn’t been great for me. The first shoe I reviewed cut both my feet and that scared me off.

Although I prefer to run completely barefoot, sometimes that’s not possible. The terrain might be too rough, the sidewalks too hot, or my soles might just need a break. But I don’t want to stop running. So I really need something – a thin layer between my feet and the earth – to allow me to continue doing what I love.

I’ve had my Vibrams since October and I now have 1104kms on them. They don’t fit me anymore because my feet have grown longer and wider. I tried cutting off the straps as well as cutting slits into the sides so they will expand, but they’re still uncomfortably tight.

A while ago I was lucky enough to win a pair of Unshoes from my friend Christian’s blog, which I’ve been wearing as sandals. However, when I try to run in them, they just don’t work well for me. So I’m down to zero minimalist shoes.

Two weeks ago I took on a job where I was required to wear dress shoes. I thought fine, no big deal. I ransacked my closet and pulled out all my old pairs of shoes from before I started running barefoot. To my horror, it was a scene from Cinderella. I was the ugly stepsister who couldn’t get her fat foot into anything.

Suddenly it dawned on me: I have no shoes. I have NO SHOES I can wear outside. Literally zero. I’m like a real live hobo.

My employer already scolded me for wearing my Unshoes to work, so when I emailed him recently and told him I couldn’t meet the dress code again for my next shift because I had no shoes, he thought I was the weirdest female on earth. I later learned that my employer personally owns over 100 pairs of shoes. And he’s a dude. He shakes his head at my shenanigans and mutters, “You and your running…”

Somehow I manage to stumble through life without any real shoes. When I was in school, I’d run to class in my Vibrams. During class I’d throw on these dirt cheap slippers that looked like boots on the outside, but had no soles. So I couldn’t step outside for lunch or anything because it was winter and they’d get wet and everyone would see they were just slippers (not actually boots).

Then one day I gave a presentation on barefoot running in class, and after that I could get away with walking around in socks. By the end of the school year, a few other classmates were also walking around in their socks and I thought that was awesome.

For work recently, I managed to find a pair of black sandals I could slip into. I wore black socks underneath so they kind of look like a shoe, and nobody notices that they’re not. For running though, I still have a problem.

I wrote to both Merrell and Luna this week to see if they could send me some shoes to review. Merrell was pretty quick to turn me down in what looked like a form letter. It made me wonder whether anyone had read my email at all. But Barefoot Ted responded to me personally and generously offered to send the next version of the Original Luna Sandal – the same sandal that my uncle Pat Sweeney runs in.

I’m really excited about the Lunas because I’m going to be doing a lot of running in sunny California this fall, and I have a feeling the Lunas could be a perfect fit. Plus Sweeney is one of my idols.

I recently read my friend Christian’s incredibly detailed review on seemingly every minimalist sandal known to man and thought, what can I possibly say that hasn’t already been said in a shoe review?

I mulled on that question for a bit, and here’s what I came up with:

1. I can put shoes through hell and back.

I trash shoes. I run them on mud, through tall grass, on gravel, on roads, pavement, dirt, roots, I even climb trees. My feet are where shoes come to die. If a shoe can survive me for a week, it’s a damn good shoe.

2. I can put shoes through incredible mileage.

In a short time, I got my Vibrams up to over 1104 km and my mileage is only getting higher. I could run forever in a shoe and see if it actually holds up. I can take it beyond the shorter trots generally used for review purposes. I can test what it’s like when running for 5+ hours on rougher trails and uneven ground. I can tell you if it’s going actually stay on your foot for an ultra or if it’s going to break your heart at mile 30 (my last shoe review ripped and cut me at 34 miles).

None of the minimalist shoes I’ve tried have lasted very long when put up to the mileage and terrain that I really need them for. So I’m eager to test the new Lunas.

Yesterday Christian posted a review of the new Luna Equus sandal where he stated that Luna products get better with age. I want that to be true about my footwear.

If all goes well, I plan to use my Lunas to run the Noble Canyon 50k this fall, as well as to climb Mt. Whitney, just like Barefoot Ted did back in 2007.

I’ve admired Ted from afar for a while now, so climbing where he took some of his barefoot steps in his shoes (literally) will be an experience not lost on me.

I seem to be slowly finding my place as a barefoot/minimalist runner and I think Lunas might be part of my development. I’m lucky to be part of such an inspiring community.

HOLISTIC NUTRITION BOOK GIVEAWAY WINNER

The winner of last week’s Holistic Nutrition Book Giveaway is….. KRISTIN OVERTON!

Congrats Kristin! Email your address to vanessaruns@gmail.com so I can send out your prize!

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