This past weekend I had the opportunity to attend the Run Wild Women’s Trail Running & Wellness Retreat put on by Elinor Fish just outside of Carbondale, CO. The theme of the retreat was "Run Well, Be Well" and I was thrilled to have Run Pretty Far help sponsor this message by outfitting the ladies with some new lovelies. Although I initially felt a bit guilty about taking the time and money to attend – I am so, so grateful that I did. As so often happens – I didn’t know I was looking for anything, but ended up finding exactly what I needed.
So that this blog doesn’t span two novels, I’m going to use pictures to tell some of the story:
After the initial meet and greet, we headed out for a shake out Thursday night run - a humbling wake-up call in the realities of Colorado elevation. We began at 8000+ feet and headed straight uphill. I started out with my normal bravado and was quickly turned into a wheezing, sputtering mess. Luckily, it appeared I was not the only one. I guess anyplace that sells Oxygen as a cocktail in their local bars is to be respected when running uphill. Despite the comeuppance, that first run did exactly what it was supposed to – relax us, introduce us to each other, and set the stage for learning and opportunity.
Back at the ranch, we snacked on wine and snacks as we got ready for our Guest Speaker, Darcy Africa, to arrive. Darcy is one of the world's top ultra-running women consistently winning tough, competitive 100s. Tiny, lovely, and powerful - we were all moved by her words.
The overall message she imparted? Run for joy, run for adventure, run for the love of it. When asked her fastest 100mile time – she really didn’t know. When asked how many miles she runs in a week – she admitted she doesn’t track miles. When asked about balancing mothering and running – she acknowledged freely that she trains less now than before, but appreciates her running more. When she speaks of her young daughter you can feel her heart in each word – this is after all the incredible woman who once stopped to breastfeed her baby at an aid station during a 100 miler and still took 20 minutes off her previous time. She spoke about meditation on the trail and maintaining her love for the sport over decades. And then she scooted off to go tackle the Leadville 100, leaving us in the perfect mindset for the rest of the weekend.
Dinner was then served by the next powerhouse woman we would meet this weekend, Megan, owner of Gourmet Girl on the Go. Although she often caters for prestigious clients in exotic locales, she came to nourish us ladies for the weekend. Grilled, baked, stirred with love – she whipped up three meals a day for us, all from scratch, making sure to have a vegan option at each meal AND even finding time to join us for yoga. Each time we came back from a run, we’d gravitate toward the good smells coming from the kitchen. One night as I leaned over the kitchen counter trading business ideas with her, I think she cut and pitted 30 peaches before I took two sips of Merlot. I said, “I have never seen someone move so fast in the kitchen!”, to which she remarked in her South African accent, “Darling, my name is Gourmet Girl On the Go – I have to MOVE!” Despite the miles run this weekend, I doubt any of us shed any pounds with all the homemade brownies, cookies, coffee cake, lemon cheesecake, and peach cobbler we enjoyed – and yes, that was just the desserts.
The next days were filled with relaxed trail runs where we stopped often to practice tips and techniques. The retreat is geared for the beginner to intermediate level runner, but Elinor does an incredible job of relating to each woman regardless of where she is at with her running. Her years of competitive running and a career in the running industry have given Elinor a wealth of knowledge and the gentle way she shares it allowed each of us to be little sponges. Over the weekend she helped us practice our uphill cadence, when to hike and when to run, how to maintain a heart-rate for maximum efficiency, work on our foot strike, posture, form, breathing, and mindful, joyful running. What a gift to indulge in the act of running, just for fun, with permission to take your own time and a skilled teacher there to help you practice your craft. Each of us found moments to run alone and think quietly and other moments to enjoy trail conversation.
Each afternoon we took some ‘free time’ to enjoy the ranch. Avalanche Ranch has been in the same family for generations and they have done a great job of keeping its historic soul and rustic spirit, while updating the amenities. They recently discovered a hot springs source on the property and have built a natural soaking area for guests and the local town to enjoy.
Each evening before dinner we met in the ranch barn for yoga led by Emily Hightower of Mobile Yogi. Emily’s particular talent is understanding her students’ needs and guiding the instruction appropriately. She is hearty, earthen and yet angelic all at the same time. For our group, the classes were warm and casual, geared toward restoring and re-energizing our running muscles, joints, and feet.
I've never been compelled to incorporate yoga into my daily life, but these sessions completely changed my perspective. Emily told us her daily gift to herself is to close the door to her private space at home and hang a sign on the outside that reads 'Practicing'. Even if she just stays in there for 10 minutes, it's an opportunity to breath and re-center. I tried it this morning before logging onto the computer and saw immediate results. She also gave me some specific poses that I could do quickly during the 100 miler to "pause & re-start" my energy if I find myself in a particularly low place.
And finally, we spent lots of time weaving in and out of conversation. Intentional conversation where Elinor led us in discussions about mindfulness, creating quiet spaces in our life, and making running a lifelong joy (not chore). And the organic conversations that always end up occurring between women – telling stories, sharing tears, big laughs, and ultimately connection.
I find myself wanting to share each women's compelling story, every mind opening passage we read, and every new running tip I learned - but it's just not possible. The best I can communicate is that I feel grateful to have spent the weekend with a group of strong, empowered women sharing the adventure of running together on ancient trails. We are all so different and yet as women we form a single organism with connected roots just like the Aspen groves we ran through all weekend.
For more information and to be a part of next year’s retreat, please check out Run Wild Retreats. xoxo, Jenn