The PA USATF cross-country season concluded with the championship meet in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park a week ago, over at Lindley Meadow, very near where we were when we ran the GGP open in September. This time around, we had just a few noticeable differences: women ran two laps of the 2 mile-ish course (for 4ish miles), whereas the men ran 3 (for 6ish); we started and finished in the grassy Lindley Meadow, which was closed and thus, off-limits for us in September; and finally, we spent very little time running on the polo fields’ track and had a slightly different course coming into and out of the woods that abut the polo fields. Having run the September course, I had an inkling of an idea about what to expect for the day, but I nonetheless went into the race without thinking too much about it. If I’ve learned anything this autumn from doing XC for the first time in my life, it’s that a) this shit’s hard, and b) it’s unpredictable. Even if you run the course as a warm-up, everything still feels so different — and so much more challenging — when you’re trying to run it fast. (Einstein realization, I know).
Unfortunately, the ladies Wolfpack contingent has been struggling a bit this year due to the usual suspect of reasons: injuries, people relocating, scheduling constraints, and the like. Due to some weird, extenuating medical stuff that I’ve been dealing with, Lisa and I didn’t decide that I’d run until sometime the day before the race, so I was really happy to be there. I had no idea how I’d fare — hence, that aforementioned XC is so unpredictable sentiment — but I was happy to at least have the opportunity. With just a little time before our ladies’ race started, we had a complete team — hooray! — and we were ready to roll: Lisa, Claire, Megan, Lalida, and me.
The gun went off, and suddenly a sea of women began sprinting over wet (and probably muddy) grass before we left the field and picked up a dirt-path straightaway that ran parallel to the road in GGP. Just like in many of the other PA races, there aren’t chip-timed starts, so it behooves you to start as close to the starting line as possible. I hung a couple rows back at the line out of self-preservation mode more than anything else, maybe a 1 or 2 second difference, and I figured I’d go with the flow for the first lap, aiming to negative split on round two, just as Lisa had suggested. Once we were off the meadow and onto the straight, I avoided riding the downhill hard and just tried to stay put, working with the women around me and actively not passing anyone. (Shoutout to all the masters’ women around me here. For the first mile, mile and a half, I was pretty boxed-in by women who were 40+, 50+, and even 60+ years old. The only reason I knew their ages was due to the numbers they had to wear on their backs, demarcating their masters’ statuses, but hot damn: all I could think was god I hope to be kicking as much ass as they are when I’m their age).
Between miles .5 to 1.5, as far as I can remember, we went through the same little woods, singletrack, mud, sand, and grassy area that we did during the GGP open in September. These areas are especially tricky because of the quickly-changing terrain, and the narrow passageways, but at the same time, if you’re trying to run conservatively, getting boxed in isn’t the worst thing that can happen to you, either. Once we got close to the polo fields, we ran just a few strides on the track before hopping off and making our way into the same woods where we ran at GGP. Here, though, instead of running into the woods, making a hairpin turn, and running back down, we ran straight through, cresting the little mini-hill, and descended fast and furiously to the other side, where we then hung a hard left and began making our way back to the meadow — think running through woods, followed by running on pavement, followed by running on wet grass, thick with mud — before doing the same thing all over again for round 2, miles 3 and 4. It was a ton of fun, but shit. Cross country is hard. Trying to run fast while getting a bit “lactic,” as Robin said (perf description!), while oh yeah running through fucking mud or sand is crazy — crazy hard but crazy fun.
True to form, I didn’t look at my watch during the race and barely caught my splits when my alarm sounded. I was aiming for the this should feel pretty hard sentiment for the duration of the race, but on the second lap, I tried to open things up a bit and begin to cautiously and still somewhat conservatively pick-off women around me. At the end of the day, I finished in about a 29:16 for 4.06 miles — so nothing blazing — but with a negative split that left me pretty stoked. I’m pretty sure I played it a bit too safely out there — I think I should have gone harder, earlier — but with CIM just two weeks’ out from the XC Championships, my eye was on the bigger prize.
All told, it ended up being 12 and change for the day between the race, warm-up, and cooldown miles, and it was a lot of fun to have a little team picnic in the park after the guys’ race. Watching and cheering for them was also a ton of fun (as evidenced by the 100+ pictures I got of our team running). Abundant inspiration, friends.
The Championship race was only my third XC event of the season/my life — the other two being GGP and Santa Cruz — but I’m looking forward to next year’s XC season already. It’s such a different type of running — you’re inherently going to be slower than you are on roads, but it’s also not like you’re trying to sprint up something relentless and crazy steep like Monument Peak for miles on end — but the challenge is extremely gratifying. I guess you could call it a different opportunity to red-line. 🙂
I know I’ve said it before, but seriously, if you have the chance to do XC — even if you’ve never done it before in your life (hi!) — take the chance. It is such a good time.
I should have known otherwise, though, when one of the first emails we got was addressed to the Women Who Fly FAMILY! (caps and exclamation mark included).
As I scrolled through Instagram sometime earlier this year, I saw a Hoka One One post about a sweepstakes as part of their “Women Who Fly” campaign or initiative. As much as I can remember from January of this year, once you “liked” the image, you were instructed to visit the website that they featured as the link in their profile and provide your name, email, and IG handle. Doing so would ostensibly get you on their email list, but it’d also ultimately connect you with a free training program of your choosing, from the 5k to an ultramarathon, that was designed by one of the Hoka pro athletes (including Devon Yanko, Steph Bruce, and Magda Boulet). I adore Magda, the “marathon plan” coach, so while I didn’t necessarily need a marathon training program, since I wasn’t doing a spring marathon, I like her and wanted to support her. I’m a fangirl; what can I say? I didn’t think much about this sweepstakes thing — whatever that was, anyway — but what the hell. I like every Hoka athlete I’ve ever met, and I sure like their shoes, so why not? If nothing else, having a marathon plan designed by an Olympic, professional marathoner would be a good thing to have.
And then, I learned I won. I was going to be part of the Women Who Fly.
Eventually, I learned that along with five other women (Jess, Lyssa, Lauren, Rachelle, and Maggie) from across the country, I had been selected for this Women Who Fly contest that Hoka sponsored and won an all-expenses-paid trip to Santa Barbara, California, very near where Hoka is headquartered, over Columbus Day weekend in early October. Once we were in Santa Barbara, Hoka lodged us all at the incredible Ravenscroft Estate in Montecito — and fed us all weekend long, courtesy of @runningonveggiesLottie and her sous chef, Mary Miller. It’s seriously the understatement of the year to say that we were under the utmost care and attention from Hoka for the entire weekend.
Though Hoka sent an itinerary in advance of the Friday-Monday weekend getaway that included a run along the coast and another in Romero Canyon; standup paddleboarding; a trip to the renown farmer’s market in SB and a cooking class led by Farm Belly back at the estate; tons of quality time with Hoka athletes Steph Bruce and Dani Moreno; two completely different on-site yoga classes; (and LOTS more stuff that I’ll try to describe later), I still went into the weekend pretty curious about the whole thing.
Truth be told, when I found out I had won — by way of an email and a direct message from Hoka on Instagram — I thought it was a scam, like some internet weirdo had hacked Hoka’s account or something. Who would do such a strange thing? I read, and re-read, and re-re-read the correspondences and even asked my husband to read them as well. It seemed much too good to be true, like there was some catch involved, like I’d show up for one experience and have something completely different and be trapped, unable to easily escape (think: the hell that is timeshare presentations). I’m obviously not a professional runner; I’m a hobby jogger, at best; and shoot, in the world of social media, I’m microscopic. What in the world would this major company, apparently doing this incredible and awesome thing, want with me?
At any rate, I had all the information in front of me, but I was completely clueless before the big weekend. In the preceding months, before the WWF weekend, the other WWF winners and I connected on Instagram and thus knew a little bit about each other — as much as you can glean from social media, anyway — but I essentially arrived to Santa Barbara Friday night feeling like I knew next to nothing about … well, anything. I guess we’ll be staying in a fancy house somewhere in Santa Barbara? Maybe Steph Bruce would be there? I guess the other winners and I will be running some?Sounds like we’re going to do some touristy stuff in and around SB? Even when I’d tell my friends that I was going on this “thing” — a retreat? from a contest I “apparently” won? kinda? sorta? maybe? — I hedged my hedges because I was so uncertain about the whole thing, like I was waiting for the killer GOTCHA! moment that was surely coming any day now. Though I felt like I knew nothing, I was still super excited. I arrived into SB with no expectations or goals for the weekend beyond just being there and showing up: in essence, that whole “be in the present” thing that you often hear has died a horrible, torturous death since social media has overtaken our lives in earnest.
An aside: I’m coming to learn that there’s something to be said for going into experiences, situations, or life in general with open arms, without much anticipation (or trepidation, for the matter). I feel like I’ve devoted lots of blog space this year to writing about simply being open to the seemingly impossible, and particularly so when it comes to running and racing. For what it’s worth, before, I’d balk at audacious goals or paces in races or workouts and basically fail before I even tried because I wouldn’t give myself the opportunity to try to do well (or to fail, for that matter). It was always easier and more convenient to assume that hell would first freeze over sooner than I’d be able to deliver on XYZ goal that I/others had set for me. Gratefully, my mentality is slowly shifting away from lol I’m supposed to run what how?! to alright, well, sure, let’s see what happens if we try it this way for once.
It appears that this notion — whether you want to call it being less afraid of failure, or becoming more comfortable taking risks, or simply getting comfortable with the idea that I’m capable of more than I give myself credit — is beginning to seep into other non-running aspects of my life, too. This huge running brand wants me for this retreat thing? Out of literally thousands of other runners who are much more accomplished or talented or have legions of followers or (insert any other reason here)? I mean, ok! Sure! Why not?! Let’s see what happens.
It’s also worth noting that this long weekend getaway came, of course, with some extenuating guilt on my part. I mean, my husband had just recently had surgery and was still in major recovery mode; my daughter’s school situation was still reeling in shitstorm status; I felt like I was burning the candle at both ends; and here I was about to gallivant off to what sounded like would be an amazing weekend because… why, exactly? What qualified me as a Woman Who Flies? What made Hoka select me and put me in the company of these other seriously fantastic women? I’m not fatalistic, nor am I someone who believes that everything happens for a reason. Despite that, I thought that maybe there was some underlying something or other that put me there, in that place, in this experience, for some reason. Hell if I knew. Maybe I’d find out.
After arriving to SB around 6pm, following some quick introductions with some of the Hoka staff, our on-site coordinator for the weekend (Zohe), and some funny and probably awkward recognitions among the WWF ladies — it’s always weird to meet people from social media in real life, if you’ve been following each other for a while, since you kinda already have an idea about the other person but don’t want to come off as knowing too much — the other WWF ladies and I shuttled over to a wonderful vegetarian/vegan place in SB, Mesa Verde, for dinner. The drive south from SJ to SB was relatively uneventful (though very pretty), and I was happy to be starting this nebulous weekend at last.
Meeting us at dinner was a flurry of Hoka staff, many whom had coordinated the entire weekend’s activities, and some who cultivated the entire “Women Who Fly” program idea from conception over the past two years (!). Joining us at dinner was the super gracious Hoka pro Steph Bruce, who’d also be staying with us all weekend long in Montecito, in the thick of her NYC Marathon training, as well as SB local and trail running badass/Hoka athlete Dani Moreno, in the thick of her SF North Face Endurance Challenge training, in addition to Brand President Wendy Yang. This was some impressive company we were keeping.
The vegan food was amazing — natch, it always is — and it was interesting to begin to get to know the women with whom I’d be sharing this whole weekend experience, pros, staff, and WWF women alike. We were all there, that weekend, for different reasons, but we were all going to be in it together.
Sometime during dinner, we had an opportunity to briefly introduce ourselves and share the usual suspects, like our names and our hometowns, but it was also really intriguing to hear everyone’s varied answers to the simple question what gets you up each day to run?
Think about it yourself for a moment. How would you respond if someone — presumably another runner, someone else who “gets it” — asked you that innocuous question? What would your answer be — or rather, how might it be different — if a non-runner asked? How do you qualify (or quantify, perhaps) your own sentiments toward (your) running?
The depth and variety of answers I think helped set the tone for the weekend and kinda underscored how and why running plays such a central part in people’s lives (and in particular, in women’s lives). Next time we’re on a run together, I’d love to hear your response; seriously. I’m really interested.
Not long after we returned to “the Hoka house” after dinner, we retired to our respective bedrooms for the night, and it was a good thing that we all turned in relatively early, too, because we were going to have a busy day on our hands on Saturday.
Lottie and Mary had been cooking up a storm while we were out to dinner on Friday night, so even with our early wake-up on Saturday morning, we already had a “light breakfast” spread laid out for us — and seriously, pretty much every meal we had all weekend long was like Thanksgiving (albeit a very healthy and primarily vegetarian, if not vegan, thanksgiving #winning). As the other WWF ladies and I hung out in the kitchen, sipping on our coffees/teas, we began to work out the details of the run that we’d soon be doing along the beachfront in Santa Barbara. One of the really cool things about this WWF group was that our preferred distances and paces were really all over the place; we had women who were solely devoted to posting fast and furious 5ks, whereas there were others on the opposite end of the spectrum, women who are happiest in the woods throwing down 50ks-100milers. Some of the women had been running for a long time, while others had just recently gotten into it, and shoot, even some women had expressed that they had been feeling pretty burnt-out or in a rut with their running of late and were looking to hit refresh. Our experiences and speeds were all over the place, but when it was time to go, we all happily went.
It’s worth mentioning, again, the depth and range of our running experiences and speeds simply because those are aspects that many runners get hung up on when it comes to running with other people. It can be really intimidating to run with someone who has more experience than you — seemingly or actually — or someone whom you deem to be “so much faster” than you — but if you listen to pro athletes talk about their training, I think you’ll be hard-pressed to find someone who says that she gains nothing from running with others. Throughout the course of the WWF weekend, it was fascinating because we rarely (if ever) talked about PRs or goal times; even when we talked about our running goals, most of us didn’t describe them in terms of time on the clock. In fact, if memory serves, most of the time when we talked about our running goals and long-term dreams, everyone usually couched them in qualifications like working harder or smarter or becoming stronger or tougher.
Anyway, with a beautiful and uncharacteristically warm SB morning before us, we all bussed over to the beach, about 3 miles from the Hoka house, to begin our run. People decided to run anything between 3-10 miles, and we all started our run with Dani, the lovely Hoka staff, and Steph joined some folks partway through (as part of her marathon that day – no, really, she ran a marathon that day as part of her NYC training). I had a workout that I wanted to attempt — one that I had put-off earlier in the week due to some scheduling or sleep complication — and the scenery and the company made it quite enjoyable. I don’t think I’ll ever again in my life have the likes of Steph or Dani cheering me on mid-workout or tell me that I looked strong; that’s something I’ll bottle for sure. Admittedly, I felt conflicted about breaking off from the others to go do a hard workout, yet at the same time I figured that if I wanted to try to do a hard workout, why not do it in the backdrop of a gorgeous setting and surrounded by so much inspiration? I warmed-up with the group; broke off to do my thing; and finished up right when others were doing the same. Perfect.
After we each completed our runs, we bussed back over to the Hoka house to have more breakfast — again, like Thanksgiving, god it was so good — and get cleaned up before going to the farmer’s market with Michelle Aronson, farmer and chef, from Farm Belly. Farm Belly had graciously given each of us FB canvas bags, along with $10 coins for us to redeem at the farmer’s market on “something fun.” Along the way, Michelle gave us pointers about the ingredients we were going to be purchasing for the lunch we were making, questions to ask of the vendors, which farms/organizations were her favs, the importance of taking samples (yes, please!), and general, very useful information about how to shop at a farmer’s market.
Apparently, Santa Barbara’s farmer’s market is one of the biggest around, particularly on the weekend, and farmers/vendors are often on a years-long wait-list to be able to sell there on Saturday morning. It was super colorful there and a lot of fun to just walk around, people watch, and buy some delicious food. (In case you’re wondering, I purchased a container of spicy pepper with harissa hummus that was made in nearby San Luis Obispo. Worth it!). Oh, right, and the lunch we made — green power salad (with french lentils, persian cucumbers, toasted pepitas, and local apples), roasted local root vegetables with maple tahini sauce, creamy vegan polenta, and pumpkin spice energy truffles, all of which was understandably amazing and really accessible to make. Kudos to Michelle for teaching us how to do it and for giving us the recipes to take home. It was all wonderful.
By mid-day on Saturday, we had run a bunch in the morning, eaten a bunch more at the Hoka house, and after lunch, returned back to the SB beachside for some ocean kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding with Dani, Steph, and many of the super sweet and gracious Hoka staff. I had never kayaked or SUPed, so I didn’t know what to expect — aside from being pretty certain I’d fall headfirst into the ocean — but I’m happy to say I remained out of the water the entire time. Victory! It’s a pretty calming activity, and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. Granted, I’m sure if I would have raced molasses, molasses would have won — I was slow as hell! — but that was part of the fun of it. How often do you ever give yourself the opportunity to try something new and welcome the fact that you’re going to be horrible at it!?
Another aside: this is something where I think we have a lot to learn from our children; kids generally don’t shun the opportunity to try something new, and when they do, and when they’re terrible at it, they can laugh it off because they’re having fun — maybe because they’re so terrible. I think many of us — and I’ll own this — get in our heads about wanting to reach expert-level status right away at stuff, and if/when we don’t, we stop trying. I mean, my god, while SUPing, while I managed to not fall into the ocean, I did, however, manage to run into two different stationary objects because I couldn’t figure out how to maneuver around them quickly enough. Remember, molasses would have won in a race … and yet I still couldn’t figure it out. Once I knew I was going to run into the buoys, I literally just stood there and let it happen, laughing at my idiocy in the process. The other Hoka women were seemingly miles away from me in the ocean, kayaking or SUPing away, and I had barely made it away from our starting point on the dock. For real: it was great.
As evening fell, we returned to the Hoka house and had our first on-site yoga session, this one with Pixie Kastrup(@pixieyogaflow). After a hard workout in the morning and then SUPing for an hour in the late afternoon, my body was happy to welcome a 90 minute yoga session into the mix. For me, yoga is one of those things that I feel like I know enough about to get by but not enough to really get into it. I did more yoga when I was pregnant the second time around than arguably any other time in my life, but since then, it’s been really touch-and-go; if my body is feeling stiff or beat-up from running, I’ll find a likely-reputable YouTube “yoga for runners” video and have at it in the comfort of my living room. I’ve never been one to take yoga at a studio because of the inconvenience and because it’s hard for me to turn off my mind for long stretches of time. Pixie’s yoga was really challenging in all the right ways though — my hamstrings had their work cut out for them — and mentally, it was a refreshing way to begin to close down the day. Pixie’s passion for her work was palpable, and she didn’t hesitate to (gently) correct us when our form left something to be desired. Again, it’s kinda like that feeling I talked about earlier toward SUP; when you know you’re really horrible at something, it behooves you to lower the stakes and just enjoy it for what it is. Laugh at how bad you are, and more than anything, have a good time.
After yoga, Mary and Lottie treated all of us at the house to yet another wonderful, Thanksgiving-like mostly-vegetarian meal — seriously, so delicious — and following dinner, we all piled into the “movie room” in the estate to watch Hoka’s Women Who Fly videos that the company had recently released a month or two prior. If you haven’t yet watched them, I definitely encourage you to because they are hella inspiring. While the Hoka athletes featured in the films share really brutal stories — tales from their personal lives of events that transpired that could have led their lives down a completely different direction — it’s really fascinating to consider how these women, too, use (or have used) running in really productive ways in their lives. I think there’s often this weird thing with running because when runners talk about running — why we do it, what it does for us, what compels us to keep at it day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year, even through all the rough patches — it can come off like we’re treating this activity — a hobby! a literal series of repetitive motions! — as this sacrosanct, inviolable entity, which admittedly is kinda weird. Surely you’ve heard of the Church of the Long Run, yeah? We runners tend to conflate our running to near- (or actual-) spiritual dimensions, and understandably, I think it can be really hard for non-runners to understand. We can sound fanatical; shit. We do sound fanatical. My point: the short Hoka films did a fantastic job of illuminating how running can alter people’s lives, even after really shitty things have happened to them. Call it salvation, if you want — again with the religious undertones — or call it a transformation. Either way, the videos showed how big a deal running can be and how much it can change the course of our lives, provided we let it and are open to the experience.
Following the films screening, we piled outside for a fireside chat led by Rachel, the Hoka staff who had conceptualized the Women Who Fly initiative years ago, and Steph. There, we learned a bit behind the history of Women Who Fly, why it matters, and what it signified. We all had several opportunities to talk more about our lives, our running, and the intersection(s) therein, and again, it was so incredible and fascinating to hear how and why running manifested in everyone’s life and the importance and role(s) it plays/has played/is playing. I mean, if you run and you talk to other runners about their running, you probably have heard similarly incredible stories: about the person who found running after a shitty life circumstance, the person who found running through parental pressure as a prepubescent kid, the person who found running as a result of sobriety, the person who found running after loss, and so much more. Again, the depth of this community — what has helped shape runners into runners, in the first place — just blows me away. Again with the religious undertones, but honestly, I feel like one of the common currents with running is that it can give you — and you can get from it — whatever you need, whenever you need it. People’s relationships with running are fluid and dynamic, changing as their life changes, and it’s all but assured that your relationship with running will evolve. There’s incredible beauty and comfort in that.
Eventually, the WWF group and I, led by Steph, talked a lot about our goals — be they in running, in our careers, or whatever — and what hindrances are precluding us from being successful. This couldn’t have come at a better time, as this subject has been on my mind for a while now. It’s probably worthy of another post (that I’ll likely forget to write, let’s be honest), but setting goals has become something of a struggle for me since I’ve decided to stay home with my kids. Setting running goals is pretty easy because there’s a process in place and a quantifiable (or qualifiable) feedback loop. As a stay-at-home parent, however, it seems like my goals are limited to “create and raise amazing children” — which is super important and meaningful, hard as hell work, don’t get me wrong — but it’s also really hard because the feedback loop isn’t so easy to quantify/qualify. Another post for another day…
Anyway, I focused most of my fireside banter on my running goals, and the more I thought about it, the more I came to realize that my biggest hindrance is the space between my ears. I tend to get very fired up about realizing my goals, and I often say that I’m enamored with the process and committed to the work — which I am — but then I tend to undermine myself because … well, I think because it’s convenient and quite easy. It comes down to the stuff I’ve talked about many paragraphs ago in this entry — convincing myself I’m failing before I even give myself a chance to fail (or succeed) — and it’s a work in progress. Being cognizant of it — and really owning the reality that I tend to do this to myself — I think will help shift my mentality accordingly and hopefully help me begin to view myself in a more positive, capable light. I don’t think it stems from a self-loathing or a self-esteem issue; again, I think it’s more of a convenience thing, a belief that I’m more likely to fail at a running goal than I am to realize it, so why not save myself the trouble/struggle? I think it ventures beyond self-deprecation territory and wanders into self-sabotaging territory. Being part of this weekend, and being surrounded by women — and supported by a running shoe company — who wholeheartedly believe in me, who are seemingly more certain of my potential than I am — both has helped and is helping me transition to this new way of thinking about myself. I walked away from this pretty intimate conversation with my WWF peers feeling completely inspired by everyone’s stories and with my own internal wheels beginning to turn. My description here doesn’t do this moment justice, but if the point of the conversation were to leave us feeling fired up, it definitely succeeded.
Sunday morning arrived quite early thanks to a flurry of text messages from my Chicago friends, beginning to banter about the marathon that morning, and it was exciting to be watching the Chicago Marathon in the estate kitchen with a pro runner (Steph) and a bunch of other runners, with everyone providing commentary and feedback about what was transpiring. Mary and Lottie again outdid themselves with our “light breakfast,” and before too long, we all bussed over to Romero Canyon for a trail run with Dani and some of the Hoka staff, many whom were training for the North Face Endurance Challenge (TNF) races up in the SF Bay Area in mid-November.
Dani gave us many options for routes and distances, and just like it always is, it was a ton of fun to go off the beaten path and work for some views that are otherwise inaccessible by anything but your own body. Trail running is just fantastic.
I hadn’t run trails like this in a few months, so I happily hung at the back, taking pictures and enjoying the scenery and the climb. SB again treated us to beautiful weather that morning, and I had a blast along the way chatting with the other WWF ladies and Hoka staff. Getting reacquainted with dirt for 5 miles, 5 miles and change, was awesome, just as I’d expected it would be, and I was elated that I avoided faceplanting on the descent.
Soon after, we bussed back to the estate for yet more delicious food from Lottie and Mary — again, so.much.good.food — and after getting cleaned up (and hoping that our food would digest), we had another round of onsite yoga, this time from Rachel Simone Wilkins (@razzwilkins). She describes her practice as “intuitive vinyasa flow,” and while I can’t thoroughly (or sophisticatedly) compare her type of yoga to that of Pixie from the day before, I can say that I really liked what Rachel did. Both women’s yoga was very helpful for tired and tight-muscled runner bodies, but their approaches were completely different. While Pixie’s class felt more spiritually-focused, I think Rachel’s felt more athletic, if that makes any sense. At any rate, I was grateful to have both opportunities and especially so given how active we were during the entire weekend. I’m lucky to spend 15 minutes a day doing any sort of dynamic stretching; I don’t think I’ve ever in my life done two 90-minute yoga sessions on two consecutive days.
Following the morning’s run, breakfast, and yoga, we bussed off-site for lunch at Lucky Penny, a very cute local place in downtown SB. After a morning of go-go-go activity, it was nice to sit down and regroup with everyone. I was chatting with Hoka staff (and super sweet human and incredible runner) Kamilah and got the run-down on Hoka One One’s origin story, which was really fascinating. For starters, the company name itself is based on a Maori language saying (and isn’t pronounced how it looks… no “Won Won” here!) loosely translated as “fly over the earth with me,” which, when you think about Hoka’s marketing — time to fly, women who fly, let’s go Hoka, their little logo that looks like a mid-flight bird or a plane — and the flying sensations that many runners talk about — makes a lot of sense. This Competitor piece from a few years ago further elaborates on Hoka’s origin story, and it’s interesting to see a) how far the company has come in the past few years and b) how successful they have been, despite (or because of?) launching in an era of running shoe footwear that was marked by as much minimalism as possible, a time that eschewed anything “maximal” or moonshoe-looking as being intrinsically inferior. Truth be told, I didn’t begin wearing Hokas until I was pregnant with my second child in 2014/2015, and once I started wearing them, it was basically a done deal for me. I have never been loyal to a particular brand or a shoe — most of the time, my preferences change every year or so when shoe companies update their models and unnecessarily screw up something good — but man, seriously, after I started wearing Hokas in 2014, basically any other running shoe that I’ve worn has felt inferior and more than anything has just been a buffer, a necessary rotation in my shoe repertoire, to extend the shelf life of my Hokas. Provided an update doesn’t destroy the good stuff they’ve got going, I think Hoka’s got a lifer in me now.
After Lucky Penny, we browsed around at some local shops (including Santa Barbara Running Co.) before heading back to the estate for our first and only downtime of the entire Women Who Fly weekend. We had a couple hours to do as we wished — sleep, swim, whatever — before we were treated to on-site massages and a photo shoot (!!). After the weekend’s jam-packed schedule of activities — in addition to being in the thick of marathon training for CIM — I gladly welcomed a massage, and it was as great as I’d hoped it’d be. The photo shoot, on the other hand, was about as awkward as you can imagine. I don’t necessarily shy away from the camera, but aside from the annual Christmas pictures with my family (or random shots my friends take while we’re out on runs together), I, uh, never have had someone take pictures of me doing random stuff like pretend yoga, pretend running, pretend conversing, or pretend reading. I was as about outside my comfort zone as I could have gotten, ha! I figured that somewhere along the line, Hoka would want to take pics of us to use in their promo materials, but man… talk about Imposter Syndrome! What the hell was I doing here?!
After the hilarity that was a photo shoot with a bunch of women who mostly felt completely ridiculous, we settled in for our final meal together at the house, another amazing smorgasbord of incredible (nearly all vegetarian) food prepared by Lottie and Mary. By this point in our long weekend together, breaking bread together was somewhat bittersweet, as we all knew that this would be the last time all of us would be together. Even though in the grand scheme of things, we all spent such little time together — only since Friday night — time seemed to have both sped up and stood still over the preceding 48 hours. We had both done a lot and shared a lot over the past couple days. It was sad to think that our time together was almost over.
Following dinner, we retreated for our final fireside chat of the weekend, this time led by Dani. The conversation was a fitting end to our weekend together in that while we talked about our individual running (and our running-related goals) some more, we didn’t fixate on it. I’ll explain. While all of us in this Women Who Fly community were foundationally related, for lack of a better phrase, through our passions and interests in running — in our own running, in our peers’ running, in the greater running community — running is but one brick among many in that bedrock. We talked for a long time about what our perfect happiness is, and again, much like that initial question we answered on Friday night, about what gets you up to run each day, the depth and scope of responses was great. I wouldn’t do justice to recapitulate everyone’s answers here, but it’s safe to say that each woman’s replies were multi-faceted and quite fascinating.
This idea of your perfect happiness is another thought experiment about which I’d love to hear your feedback on our next run together. I guess just like anything, at its face value, it’s a pretty innocuous question: what makes you happiest? As runners, the general assumption is that running makes us happiest, right? A strong run, one wherein we feel like we are indomitable, wherein we feel like we could run forever and actually have to force ourselves to stop — those are the runs that we all train so hard to attain and are the runs that we hope in earnest will manifest on Race Day, the day that we decide matters most. However — just like a lot of things — the face value of this type of question belies its complexity. Sure, as runners we care about our runs, and we care about improving, and getting/staying healthy, and getting stronger, and getting faster, and going harder, and going longer. That said — and this may be blasphemous — running isn’t everything. You can pride yourself on being an amazing, kick-ass runner who throws down and takes names — and who works hard to get yourself to that position — but it’s okay to not let your running define who you are as a person. Your Perfect Happiness can be that amazing run, but it can also include the feelings you get when you have a meaningful conversation with your life partner, or when you see your child for the first time each day, or the pain you get from belly-laughing so hard when you spend time with your BFF. Having passions — things that comprise your Perfect Happiness — besides running doesn’t attenuate your commitment to your sport; if anything, I’d argue that it accentuates it.
Of course, you don’t have to go on a fancy, all-expenses-paid retreat sponsored by a running shoe company to learn (or acknowledge or remember) that running isn’t everythingin life; however, having this type of conversation, with other similarly-passionate female runners, at this backdrop I think made this message more powerful for me. Admittedly, there have been times in my life when I lived and died by my training plan, and my commitment to my training couldn’t have been more razor-sharp. These days, my commitment to, and focus on, my training looks very different — and sometimes I wonder if I’ve become softer for it, if I’d be a better athlete if I returned to the self-described razor days of yore — but this conversation and concomitant reflection solidified for me that I’m training how I ought to be training right now, at this juncture in my life. It may sound strange to talk about running in such grandiose terms — it’s just running, it doesn’t pay my mortgage, I’m a hobby jogger at best — but when you care a whole awful lot about something, it’s no longer just a thing. It is a thing. It is your thing. It is okay — important, even — to own and care about your thing.
Seemingly as quickly as the weekend began, it came to an unofficial end after our fireside chat with Dani. The dreadful beginning of the end was near.
By Monday morning, we no longer had the action-packed agenda as we had for the previous few days; instead, we just needed to check-out by 10am. Jess and Rachelle had early travel arrangements on Monday that precluded them from going on one last hurrah Monday morning, but since Maggie, Lauren, Lyssa, and I weren’t leaving until closer to 10am, the four of us decided to do one last run together, this time from the estate down to the beach (and back) for about a 10k. Steph was also around and joined us for our “out” portion of the run. It was nice to squeeze in one last run — and just a bit more quality time — with each other before we’d part ways.
SB treated us to a morning with lovely autumnal weather and a beautiful sunrise, and when we returned to the estate, we all celebrated Lyssa’s longest run post-surgery. Something that really endears me to running is how accessible it can be in terms of celebrating milestones. There are so many metrics you can use to measure your success — whether you’re talking a distance you traveled, a pace you hit, a time you recorded, or even a nebulous way you felt — and sometimes I think it’s equally thrilling to celebrate other people realizing their milestones as much as it is reaching yours. I was so glad that Lyssa mentioned that she had hit a major milestone on our Monday morning run — our last run together with the Women Who Fly group — because it made it that much more special and memorable.
And like that, with a seeming snap of the fingers, we were back at the estate, packing up and cleaning up, and our weekend together was over. As fast as it started, it finished. About six hours later — with a one-hour detour to pick up some awesome cookies for my family in Cayucos — I was back in SJ, covered in children, and again knee-deep in responsibilities, obligations, and life.
Part of the reason I have struggled so much with writing this recap — I mean, gheesh, it has been over a month now — is that I didn’t know where to begin with it. When one of the Hoka staff asked us what our favorite part of the weekend was, I felt like I was copping-out when I said that it was the totality of the experience — and not just one particular aspect — that made the experience so incredible and so distinctive to me. No doubt we did some amazing stuff, and had amazing food, and stayed in an incredible location, and got to run in some amazing scenery, but I think the entirety of this Women Who Fly experience perfectly underscores the idea that whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Simply delineating everything that we did throughout the Friday-Monday experience will certainly give you the impression that it was an action-packed weekend — which it was — with talented, badass, smart, caring, and beautiful in mind and spirit women — which it was — in a gorgeous location — which it was — but simply describing the experience as a hasty checklist, an itinerary that reads like we did this and then we went here and then we ate this (understandably) sells the experience short and quite honestly undermines it.
The easiest way to describe the Women Who Fly experience is just that it was illuminating, something that I was honestly quite dubious about beforehand but afterward, quite struck by. Even with nearly 7,000 words behind me at this point, in an effort to perfectly capture the weekend, I struggle to even adequately describe it. It was an experience that is beyond my scope of vocabulary. I realize that I probably sound like a bit of a zealot, like I just attended some sort of religious uprising, but I guess at its core, like I’ve mentioned, for a lot of people, running often occupies the same wavelength as religion; both can help you to define yourself, to understand who you are as a person, and to help you make sense of the world and your place and role in it. That said, maybe this Women Who Fly experience was like some sort of weird, indescribable, religious-like thing? I don’t know. Sure? Maybe. I’m at a loss.
I guess it’s like this: it’s like being in the room where it happened (the room where it happened). If you were there, you know. If you weren’t, you don’t. Describing it afterward will give you an idea about the experience and what it entailed, but it leaves out the bigger information, the more transcendent feeling that got at me — at my core? maybe? is that weird? — that you had to be there to experience or understand. Again, I’m at a loss. The other Women Who Fly ladies and I laughed after the weekend was said and done because when it came time for us to share with our families and friends about the weekend, none of us really knew how to adequately convey our feelings behind it. We did some cool stuff, we ate some great food, we got to run a whole bunch; a wonderful shoe company gave us lots of great gear, housed us in a beautiful estate, and obviously spent a lot of money on us. All those things are true — but it still misses the greater point of the weekend.
Or maybe another metaphor that I can use when I talk about the Women Who Fly weekend is, appropriately enough, a long run that you complete with a group of friends. When you go out on a hefty training run — let’s say 20 miles — stuff is going on that’s more than simply logging miles. It is effortless to look at your training log afterward, check off the box next to “run 20 miles,” and move on with your day. That said, a lot happens in 20 miles that you share with friends. Conversations often flow quite freely, emotions are laid bare, and hopes and dreams (and fears and anxieties) come out with each footstrike. At the risk of sounding totally crunchy and granola, if you allow yourself to, you can easily wear your heart on your sleeve on your long run and expose your vulnerabilities — as well as your greatest attributes — to yourself and/or to others. Your wheels turn in a way that is much harder to come by when you’re thick in the minutiae of life. When you run, time stands still, and your laundry list of obligations, chores, duties, and tasks disintegrate. The world becomes you, your body in motion, and the world through which you run. You become you as your most basic, most integral, self, and you are responsible for, and accountable to, nothing and no one. The Women Who Fly experience facilitated this type of interaction all weekend long, and extraordinarily — not hyperbolic, I promise — five perfect stranger women and I — as well as a bevy of more perfect-stranger Hoka staff — met up for a weekend, completely jibed well with each other, and walked away from the experience better for it, because of it.
It’s a different feeling to walk away from something knowing that people really believe in you, respect you, and even admire you. Admittedly, it sounds hasty, but being treated like royalty, like I was something beyond just a regular ol’ hobby jogger and stay-at-home mom, was really wild. The support and encouragement, the trust, the friendship, the mutual understanding: all that stuff was palpable all weekend long and has remained so a good month-plus out. The bond that I feel like we Women Who Fly established among ourselves and among the Hoka staff who helped create this experience was really just remarkable, beyond any words or description that I could less-than-adequately use, and clearly, 7,000+ words still isn’t enough to convey it.
Come fly over the world with me.
Women Who Fly.
Time to fly.
Collectively, these are all simple phrases that, on their own, admittedly don’t mean much.
Who’s doing the flying?
To where are said women flying?
Why are said women flying to that place, or maybe more urgently, why are said women flying to start with?
From whom, or what, are the women flying?
I entered the Women Who Fly sweepstakes knowing nothing about what it entailed, beyond a free training plan from a professional athlete I respect and admire. I flew into the weekend with all the information in front of me but still feeling as though I had a thousand questions. More than a month later, I struggle to still understand the magnitude of the weekend and have since coasted away from the experience with likely even more questions than when I started, and knowing me, I’ll continue to process this for much more time to come.
Regardless, I know this much is true:
to fly, you must leap.
To leap, you must try.
To try, you must trust.
And to trust, you must — you must — believe.
I couldn’t be more grateful and appreciative to Hoka One One for the amazing opportunity that was Women Who Fly. I am thrilled to be flying with them — and in such incredible, badass, talented, and generous company — for the long haul.