Inspired By Faith and Olivia: on training in Mexico, Ultra Running and Working Together

 Photograph by  Faith

Photograph by Faith

Hey everyone!! Happy New Year 2018!! I kind of.. (low-key) feel like I missed the whole New Year's happening while we were in Mexico - it was too filled with running and friends and good memories and (strangely enough no fireworks) oh and altitude! - so that I am still processing. Also, I keep thinking of Vietnamese / Chinese New Year next month, so for me, the actual new year, doesn't start until February :P Over the holidays, our captain Knox Robinson took the Black Roses NYC team on a 10-day training camp down to Mexico to give us a unique altitude training experience where he connected us with the fantastic people of DromoRunCrew and his friend and coach German Silva (back2back NYC Marathon Champion of '94 and '95). Besides, he also brought us out to Mexico City, the grounds of Santiago Tianguistenco, and the spiritual land of Nevado de Toluca. 

We just came back and it's been only one week and while I am still trying to find words regarding my personal experience etc etc etc, I sat down with both Olivia - super trail runner, founder of @TrailWomenBK, Bonobos Associate Designer and overall wonderful human being - and one of my best friends Faith - power woman, incredible documentary-filmmaker, story-teller, Columbia Sportswear alumni, track athlete, activist and founder of @Movementblackaugust - afterwards to talk about their experiences, their highs and lows plus their account on ultra running and teamwork during Mexico.

As you might have seen via Instagram (sorry not sorry for flooding your feed with all the content), the trip was pretty intense (and lol insane mayyyybe!) and involved lots and lots of running but amidst of it, it was so lovely to watch Olivia's and Faith's friendship to each other bloom. Both of them were shining, so I definitely wanted to know more and share the energy with you all. Here's to more sisterhood and more working together!

How did you like the Mexico Trip?

Faith: I loved the trip in Mexico! It was incredible! We had amazing places to train, time training with our training partners, we were comfortable enough in terms of like being able to be vulnerable and we could be real with ourselves because we knew the people we were with AND we got to see incredible terrain and it was amazing to run around Mexico City as well.

Olivia: Mexico felt like a once in a lifetime trip. It was a once of a lifetime opportunity to travel and see new things and meet new people, all the while while training really hard and being able to fully commit yourself to training. Seems like a very rare opportunity to be able to do something like that. 

What was the most challenging? Physical and emotional?

Olivia: For me, it was probably the Volcano day. I think a lot of people, myself especially, my legs were really tired from that week, but I really wanted to do the full climb, get the full workout in because I am crazy and because that’s what I always do. So, the second I got out of the van, the first.. like quarter mile of it, my legs felt like lead pipes pounding on the ground. I seriously questioned myself. There was so much uncertainty in my mind the first two miles because I wasn’t sure if it was much longer than I thought it was and I just went to a really dark place. I asked myself: am I actually going to be able to do this or do I have to jump back into the van? Or am I just going to be walking lots of it? Which I did. 

 Photograph by  Jason Suarez

Photograph by Jason Suarez

How were you able to switch your mind?

Olivia: I think it was because me and Faith were pacing each other really well. I was like: let’s be really smart about where we try to run sections and anywhere where the grade seems to go up a little bit, I’d be like: let’s just walk this. Let’s not overextend ourselves, let’s walk this, we got a long way to go. And when it would even back out, we would run a little bit again. I think working together and having someone else there that was like: yep, I am down to follow this cadence of running and walking worked really well. I don't know if it was the altitude or trying to pass the time but we had so many deep conversations on the way up. It just filled the time really well. I went from like rock bottom of the beginning of the run to feeling totally amazing by the end of it. Like actually having fun. 

Faith: Strangely enough, the toughest for me was our 10K race (San Silvestre de Mexico) because it was on the road at altitude and I had certain expectations for myself. I didn't get them, I didn't get what I wanted from that race and for me, running on trails, I am a lot more kind to myself and I give myself a lot more space to explore. I wouldn't even call it failing, it's just you’re running differently and I know the trails are really hard, I understand the mentality of it. On the road still, it’s a place for me where I still identify, even all these years later, myself as being a sprinter more than anything else and a short distance runner. For distances under the marathon, sometimes I really want to be good at them and so, I wanted to be able to go out with my teammates when I saw the green jerseys and I couldn’t, so for me that was probably one of the tougher experiences which is maybe different from a lot of our teammates. This year, I’ve been running a lot on trails so going back to road and having expectations of myself that I couldn't meet was just kind of tough.

Olivia: It’s funny, the trail runs that we were running, you could tell that some of the road runners were struggling with because on the trail, it’s something different and obviously we’re at altitude so everything is harder anyways. Everything is harder and slower and trails are also just harder and slower for the most part. It was kind of funny to see these people who are so fast in their own right feeling that challenge versus me feeling in my element there, and Faith in the same way, like we were both in our element having such a good time, we were like: this is so amazing. When we ran to the forest and we were like: oh my gosh we’re at like 11,000ft right now in the forest of Mexico and it’s freezing cold up here and everybody had turned back around and we were like let’s just go a couple more, let’s just keep going for a while. It was so great and such a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, I just thought it was awesome to connect with Faith on loving these trail runs and trail experiences that were just so special. 

What was the most fun during the whole trip?

Faith: It was all so much fun! I think the days that we were running on trails and hitting some of those bigger climbs out at Santiago Tianguistenco were most fun. We had this one day where we were going to go for 4 to 5 hours and we had expected to be ready for that and we basically went until the trail ended and we tried to go more and we couldn't go more. So we were like mentally so ready to just like GO. That was really fun. You’re running in the most beautiful places as far as you can see. There is farm land and little houses and hay-stacks. I’ve never run in an area that looked like that, so that was super fun.

 Photograph by  Eduardo Valdes

Photograph by Eduardo Valdes

Olivia: Because I do a lot of trail anyways, I am a sucker for water. Water on the trail, lakes or rivers. Fun stuff you can get in. So that last day, the volcano day, there were some whispers about a lake. Knox said something like ‘We’re going to jump into the lake afterwards.’ And I was like: Oh crap! That’s my favorite! No matter where I am or how much I have to run still, I always have to jump in. It’s just an enjoyable experience for me. So getting into the crater lake at the top of a 14,000ft volcano and just like being freezing in there with German Silva for ten minutes was such a good memory. That was my favorite. 

 Photograph by  Jason Suarez

Photograph by Jason Suarez

What did you learn from this trip?

Faith: I think I learned a lot about mental toughness and teamwork. I think everyone that came down there, we all have very different running backgrounds and we have a wide range of running experience. We have people who have been running for three years and then we have people who have been running for 20 years... Being able to be around all of these different mentalities and hear and learn from each of those people about their training and about their understanding of training and miles and numbers and not hitting miles. More than 20 years! I mean we had German Silva with us. He’s an Olympian and two time NYC Marathon winner and to be around him and to see him interacting with Knox and to be able to get these training ideas and programs from Knox and German and Caitlin. I cannot pinpoint the three things that I’ve learned but I think I’ve learned about envisioning and understanding my weekly training cycles differently which is really cool.

Olivia: My main goal for this Mexico Trip was to experience altitude in a headspace where I could consider myself racing in it because a lot of what I want to do is to get more into racing at altitude and because I have never experienced it before, I wasn’t sure how I was going to react to it or how I was going to feel or how I was able to perform in it. So, my expectation going into it was: make sure when you're working out, you get yourself into a headspace of like Ok if I am racing this right now, how am I feeling and do I see myself doing that at any point. Coming out of the trip itself, I feel a lot more confident in the possibility of going out, racing at altitude, running more at altitude, and not having a terrible time adjusting to it, which is awesome — so it was a big confidence booster for myself, that I was able to adapt to it in such a short period of time. 

 Photograph by  Jason Suarez

Photograph by Jason Suarez

What was the bond, connection between you two?

Olivia: Me and Faith, I think it naturally fell into us pacing each other a lot. And if you’re pacing with someone for a really long time you tend to chat about things. As it so happened, during the trip I went through some emotional stuff that I was trying to figure out and getting a perspective from Faith, an outsider's perspective, it was something I needed. A perspective from somebody who went through similar things, but also who didn't know about all of the things who could give me a broad perspective really helped me. We’re both also very artistic people, so naturally artistic people are drawn to each other so we can bond over that kind of stuff too, but it also helps that we were running the same pace pretty much the whole time and kind of feeding off each other really well. We were working together and not against each other. 

Faith: It was so nice running with Olivia. There is really something about trails where you have to think differently. So going into it, we both separately had that mentality but we both hadn’t had the chance to run enough together to understand that we shared that. I think our bond allowed us to take the pressure off and our bond just has to do with understanding that you don’t know EVER, what you’re doing with trails to a certain extent. You have to balance the vertical gain with the distance, it’s an eating competition, your watch doesn't matter and you know, its a trail, you might be 1 km or 3km more or less than you think you might be. So that common understanding really allowed us to just play, have fun and feel like we were little kids and be like super super psyched about everything that was happening rather than focus on the difficult parts.

We definitely had tough days and we were like: no I can't walk, but more importantly we were able to share the excitement about being there. We stopped and Olivia got into a swing set because there was a swing set half way up a hard mountain! Why not get on a swing set?! I think it’s just that mentality was kind of really nice to have because I think if it was just one of us we would have felt a lot of pressure to think differently about what we were doing. You know, everyone trains differently and when you’re prepping for a hundred mile race which Olivia is doing or prepping for a multi-day project which is what I am doing you can’t afford to take yourself or anything else too seriously or you won't be able to get yourself through it mentally. 

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Why do you choose ultra running?

Faith: Cause I am crazy and cause I am stupid (laughs). There is something really incredible about challenging yourself beyond what you know you can do. So far, I’ve only done 2 ultra distance races but they’ve been so transformative and they seem to be, I don’t know, they’re about something other than running and I know it’s weird because I love running and that’s the thing about all of our training. I love running. I love to run, I wouldn't do it if I didn't love it, but.. even yesterday.. on this crazy run I was on, half way through I look up and think: what am I doing here again. Also the views, the views are incredible with ultra running and they do kind of break it up. There is something intangible there, wanting me to connect with the land in a really different way and I know because running is the thing that I know best and because my relationship with the outdoors has really changed and grown in the last year, I want to take advantage of my resource which is my body and use it to see and connect with as much amazing landscape, people and cultures and I think ultra running is such a good vehicle to do that. 

Olivia: When I started running, I was running completely by myself, all the time. I didn't know what running culture was, I didn't know what other regular runners would do. I would go out and run 10mi every day.

I started running every day after college because I was trying to get healthy again. I had a lot of anxiety attacks or panic attacks from a number of different stressors, so trying to deal with that I figured if I get my body healthy again my mind will follow. As I started, I really saw that it worked so I just kept doing it, kept running and it became therapy for me. I was getting up in mileage every week and this was a great, fun, interesting hobby so I started to read a little bit more about running and found out about the book that everybody finds which is Born to Run. I thought it was absolutely insane that people were running ultra marathons and I was like: what is this sport, how is this even a thing that people consider doing?

I was talking to some trail runners that I have met and they were like: well with the amount of mileage you've been doing you should just try and go for it. I kind of brushed it off and was like: no I am not going to bother with that. Then, my boyfriend was talking to me how he is a bike racer, he didn't understand why I would spend all this time running if I wasn't signed up for a race whereas for him, the training wasn't the fun part, he loved bike racing, that's his favorite thing. Just give it a try. Pick a race and just go for it. And if you don’t like it, you never have to do it again. But maybe you’ll love it, so you should at least try it. I did the Central Park 60K. It was my first race and I loved it, it was so much fun! I was so tired and it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done easily but I was on such a high, I just wanted to keep running. I got more into trail running at that point, too. 

Tell us a little bit more about TrailwomenBK.. you started almost one year ago, in November 2016.

Olivia: I started it for many reasons. Selfishly, I just wanted more girls to run with. But I’ve been a lone wolf for most of my running life and I am only just getting to start running with people and I really love it. So, that’s my selfish reason, but my actual reason is because I know a lot of girls that do road (because in New York, there is not a lot of trails so most people just run road out of convenience which makes sense) but when I tell them that I do a lot of trail running, they would always be really interested and be like: oh I don't know where to find trails. Isn’t it scary to go out on trails by yourself... just this unknown factor that puts a lot of people off trying trails or ever pursuing it, so, part of my goal of the group is a safe space for women to try trails and whether it’s just them coming out to Prospect Park and do something they have never tried before or if it’s going on an adventure with us to Bear Mountain, it’s fine. Either way it’s fine. I just think if people are interested in finding trails... For women, there should be a safe way to explore that without feeling intimated or worried that they are getting left behind. 

 Photograph by  Jason Suarez

Photograph by Jason Suarez

What’s coming up in the future?

Olivia: My big thing for 2018 is Vermont 100, tackling that again. I did it last year, I loved it. Vermont is such a beautiful place, the experience emotionally and physically, running for over 24hours is... It took me 27hours and I am hoping to do it under 24hours for 2018. There's a number of things that I did wrong last time. Not wrong, but a number of things, I could have done differently in my training and a number of things I could do differently on race day that it should be achievable for me, but I think I can do it better. So my main goal is to be more efficient this year. I am very excited to go back, it’s such a great culture of cool people. 

Faith: I’m not going into details yet, but I have a project that is a running and activism project that I am very excited about and it’s in its early phases but I think my friend and me, we’re able to do some really cool work around inviting more people into the conversation around public lands through running. So that is up next at some point this year. I don’t have races coming up other than a lot of trail, a lot of running and a lot of thinking. 

 Photograph by  Jason Suarez

Photograph by Jason Suarez

Gold To Green is all about finding balance, so how do you find balance in your everyday life?

Faith: Running is actually one of the tools that I use to not only find balance in my day to day life but also to give myself time to disconnect from the rat race, you know. When I was working full time in a corporate environment, I needed running to remind myself that I had something and that I was different and that I was special. Going through the emotions in my day to day life, it was really difficult for me. Now that I am freelance and have to be on in a different way without the constructs of a 9 to 5, I can be constantly working, constantly on the screen, constantly sending email because I don't have natural breaks and running in that sense helps with balance and sometimes when I am struggling with ideas, sitting in front of the computer, it’s then when I am running where I am able to engage in those ideas. And that can be anything from reading the news and being overwhelmed and then kind of thinking about what it means to me and what my responses are to it on the run. A lot of the important conversations that I have with myself, the inner work, happens when I am running. 

Writing stuff down is super helpful. I did a good job last year where I was writing down things. I was in a tough place emotionally last year so I shut down emotionally, so I needed to hang out with people and it took effort. I would write that down. Food for me is another tough one sometimes. When I am struggling with one thing, my balance and diet sometimes struggle so that’s something really important to me. For me, I was writing down workouts, food, hanging out, the amount of money spent, what I read, and those things are really helpful because having accountability with yourself and doing the things that matter to you are really important. I can go back and look at it like: uff you had a rough week Faith. You can check on yourself. Notebooks are really good. I had it up on the wall and could understand my patterns a little bit more.  

Inner work is really important and I am lucky to come from a family that says ‘Inner work is the most important work.’ So to me, being an emotional happy person is more important than anything else, it's more important than running, it's more important than work, and that includes relationships and friendships and food, and spiritual food. Last year, when I was injured for 4 months and couldn’t run, I was kick boxing and climbing and so, being physically active is a huge part of it so I can get that kind of release.

 Photograph by  Jason Suarez

Photograph by Jason Suarez

Olivia: My coworkers call me the girl of too many hobbies because I have running... which takes up hours and hours of my life, but I come from a creative background and I work in the creative industry and I really love handicraft. I weave, I do natural dying, I do embroidery, I do all of these little handicraft things, so anytime I can sit down and sketch for a while I am happy, so I have a lot of creative pursuits where I spend a lot of my free time on. I try to bring that into my running life as much as possible. I think making time for one thing allows me to make time for another thing, as long as I can bring them together. 

 Photograph by Faith

Photograph by Faith

Thank you two for your time and for being such wonderful training partners, teammates, friends and sisters. I am fortunate to be running alongside you two. It was so fascinating to watch you both in Mexico, I am super stoked to share this with everyone else, too! I've learned a lot and I can't wait to hit the trails again. 

If you're in PDX, hit up Faith to get some miles and verticals in (she's definitely comfortable if you slide into her DMs I swear!) and if you're in the NY area, definitely come out and join Olivia at Trailwomenbk for some trails here in NY - yes they do exist!

Thank you for reading! As always, let me know if you have any questions, concerns, tips, tricks, reading recommendations, new ideas - let me know +++ hope to see you out there! Stay warm! xx

Huyen :)