Races & Adventures

Sun Mountain 50 miler

Photo By Glen Tachiyama

Photo By Glen Tachiyama

It’s been years since I’ve last ran a Rainshadow running race. They are known for putting on incredible events in some of the most beautiful areas of the Pacific Northwest like Beacon Rock State Park: waterfall central that is along the Colombia River Gorge, Oregons Coast town of Yachatas, Orcas Island among just a few. When the opportunity arose to travel back to the PNW to run a race of theirs I had yet to experience, needless to say I couldn’t wait to sign up.

The race is located on the Eastern and very sunny side of the North Cascades right outside a small town called Winthrop. The course offers great mountain trail running early in the year with endless fields of beautiful wildflowers, snow-capped peaks of the Cascades in the distance and a mix of stunning single-track and some fire roads to make up almost 8,000ft of climbing within those 50+ miles.

After running UTX 90k in Guatemala the transition to running, well, running consistently was a bit difficult. Focusing on less mileage and more vertical gain every week to now the complete opposite took some getting used to. I’d like to think my training and build for this race was pretty consistent and my body felt great, for the most part. Just a few weeks before the race I strained my left foot and despite feeling as though I could still run on it, I decided to give it a rest in order for it to properly heal before the big dance. I felt as though being healthy going forward was more important than solidifying my training for what was supposed to be my training race for an upcoming 100 miler this summer.

Race morning began like you would normally imagine: wake up way too early thinking you’ve missed your alarm to only find out you still have another hour or so and repeat until you finally just get out of bed and make coffee.

Hilary, Eamon, Me, Rhea, and Andrew looking super fresh right before the race. Can my socks be brighter? :)

Hilary, Eamon, Me, Rhea, and Andrew looking super fresh right before the race. Can my socks be brighter? :)

In Washington right now the sun rises around 5:30 making a 6am start time pretty fabulous. The sun lit the trails while the wildflowers sparkled under its rays. It was going to be a beautiful day.

The race began with a slight downhill before a turn on a single track that took you up a trail and over some of the neighboring hills. The conga line quickly started once the single track showed the slightest sign of climbing. Eamon and I giggled at the thought of walking this section when this seemed like anthills compared to the climbing in Guatemala. But we trekked on.

Mile 2, maybe? Still very happy!

Mile 2, maybe? Still very happy!

Photo by Hilary

Photo by Hilary

When I think of my day in its entirety, I find that its slightly blurred between being extremely thankful to be running in such a beautiful area and upset that I was running at all. It only took a few miles before my foot began to hurt as I went through the motion of bending it. I decided to slow my speed with the idea that it would mitigate any more pain, but unfortunately it just got worse. I continued forward, talking to whomever I was able to run with for a few minutes or just using my Jaybirds to listen to music in one ear (Jaybirds pro FOR THE WIN-lasted the entire race+had extra battery life). I have never listened to music during races, but I knew that I would just dwell on the pain if not distracted.

In previous races I have had issues with my electrolyte intake. It’s either I’m not taking enough or I’m taking far too much and both result in cramping. Today was no different. I wanted to use this race to find some sort of balance, but what I eventually found was myself on the side of the trail holding onto my left quad as the entire leg seized up in a orchestra of cramps-the finale being my foot. I focused on my breathing and slowed my run to a mere jog after that. Any time I felt as though I could start running at a faster speed my quad sang a little melody of cramps as a reminder of what it could do.

I found myself spiraling down a dark tunnel, upset that I couldn’t run the way I had trained nor felt happy. Why did I sign up? Why am I putting myself through this suffer fest? I continued on my cruise control effort while other runners passing me and trying to stay positive. During this time I decided to hit rock bottom-the ground I mean and give it a good hug as my body completely seized up. I laid there for a few minutes focusing on breathing and slowly moving everything in order to get up. My foot decided it would stay stiff and not bend-it definitely hurt. Ba-humbug as I think of the excess of electrolytes I’ve taken that resulted in my body screaming now-definitely a learning lesson.

Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.
— Winston Churchill

I continued in my dark thoughts of why running might not be for me, why am I even excited to run 100 milers, what was I thinking? All questions you ask yourself while in the suffer fest. As I pass the water only station and begin the next climb, I think of all my past efforts this year and how terrible I’ve felt in each of them, yet here I am! As I near the top of the climb and continue over the ridge, a carpet of wildflowers cover the entire mountain side while the snow capped cascades dance in the distance, I think of all the other things I could be doing at this moment. I quickly snap back into reality. Yes, there is a plethora of different things I could be doing at this moment yet there is only one thing I want to be doing: running right here, right now. I find myself smiling despite the pain and laugh at myself; days like today help me appreciate the better days of tomorrow. So I slapped the negative attitude right out of me while singing "Don’t stop me now” by Queen while embracing my cruise control speed to the next aid station. I apologize for anyone who had to deal with my high pitch screeching I call singing.

Photo by Glenn Tachiyama. It’s a shame there wasn’t any flowers around ;)

Photo by Glenn Tachiyama. It’s a shame there wasn’t any flowers around ;)

Continuing forward, I focus on one step at a time and begin to enjoy the process. Yes, maybe I was in discomfort but it was bearable. I knew I’d have ample time to recover and get back to training but having these experiences and adapting is such an incredible thing. I had pretty much the worst cramps, I missed a turn and added a good mile and some to my day, my foot stopped functioning properly but I still consider this a win of a day. My god was the landscape just breathtaking, the volunteers incredible, and the day just beautiful, but everything in between was the best part of the journey.

No flowers here either

No flowers here either

Every mile of this race was an experience of the greatest growth. A reminder that not all goals end the way we hope but they most certainly shape us into a better, more powerful version of ourselves. It takes time, but learning not to fear the end result, rather choose to be courageous in every aspect of the journey and still going for it-the goal. Maybe I didn’t get the day I wanted, rather I had the day I needed. A reminder that even after 5 years of running I, too, am constantly learning. A day filled with exploration, searching, finding and achieving new ideas that will make me a better athlete in the future. A lot of things that are the most rewarding I find are very type two fun, right? They’re not necessarily fun when you’re doing them, but I feel a lot more growth and fulfillment from it afterward and I think those lessons play well into being able to continue to push and grow in future endeavors.

The past can hurt, but... you can either run from it, or learn from it.
— Rafiki, The Lion King

Thank you Rainshadow Running crew for yet another memorable day. Either way, it was a beautiful day to experience some trails I wouldn’t have seen otherwise! Thankful everyday for a body that lets me travel and see this world with the people I love. So many friends ran Sun Mountain and had different days, congratulations to each and every one of you for even just toeing the start line. You are all incredible!

Who’s serving the margaritas- I’ve got plenty of salt to go around!

Who’s serving the margaritas- I’ve got plenty of salt to go around!

Upon crossing the finish- all I wanted was a dip in the lake!

Upon crossing the finish- all I wanted was a dip in the lake!

Somehow still snagged 10th in a very stacked race.

Somehow still snagged 10th in a very stacked race.

Mis Amigos! Congrats to Andrew and Rhea for a stellar race!

Mis Amigos! Congrats to Andrew and Rhea for a stellar race!

As I sit here resting post epic sports massage(Thank you JULIO) and recovering while listening to the rhythm of the sound of rain outside, yes it does rain in LA, I’m filled with gratitude toward the weekend. Perhaps I’m not out running as I’d like to be but this time allows me a reflection process of what lessons I learned and the moments I gained from this past weekend. Experiences I hope to use as a tool to better myself for the upcoming months.

The countdown begins, 5th on the wait list for Angeles Crest 100 and after 5 years I’m pretty stoked to get to race on that course again.

OK. Question for you:

What is your go to songs that pump you up in a race?

What do you find works for you to balance electrolyte issues. (When it’s really hot out).

Favorite mantra?

Help a sista out and leave a comment :)

Till next time!

Ultrarunningmemes FOR THE WIN- @andrewisadrummer understands

Ultrarunningmemes FOR THE WIN- @andrewisadrummer understands

Ultrarunningmemes! @Anotherultrarunner after canyons 100k

Ultrarunningmemes! @Anotherultrarunner after canyons 100k









Finding my groove

Photo by Andrew Tyler. On a snowy Strawberry Peak

Photo by Andrew Tyler. On a snowy Strawberry Peak

When I think about running I tend to think about rainbows, butterflies and cute puppies but it’s rarely the case. Although, I have experienced those things during both incredibly effortless runs and some amazingly dark painful ones too. Lately those runs have been of the latter. What I found out though, is that if I can smile through it, when times feel dark and difficult, I feel as though I gain a sense of invincibility through it all and become better for it. As I wobble, hobble and shuffle my way back into healthy running, I am overwhelmed by the sense of gratitude and appreciation toward my body for helping me do what I love. And in the end, that’s what it’s all about, right?!

I began running again toward the end of October, the main injury healed, however, because I hadn’t ran consistently in months, I had a few lingering pains. Being injury free I dreamed I’d jump right into where I had left off but of course, that was far from reality. I found that my once ‘easy’ runs around Griffith Park were slow with heavy legs and a pretty negative attitude. What I realize now is that as runners we all go through bad times, it’s inevitable. And as a runner, if you don’t experience that full range of human emotions, you never truly appreciate the happy moments. It may have taken a few weeks of lousy running to have a few incredible runs mixed in. What I needed to except is that these emotions are transient and I won’t always feel a certain way. Think less self loathing and more self acceptance, something I’m slowly grasping.

Strength and growth come only through continuous effort and struggle.
— Napoleon Hill

What truly lead me in the direction of ‘How Sawna got her groove back’ was when I decided to join the Salomon Run Streak that began on Thanksgiving and ended on New Years. When I think of run streaks I cringe, I’m a firm believer of rest and accepting what the body needs. However, this Run Streak seemed like something that called to me, a sense of motivation I didn’t have before but appeared suddenly and I took hold and I ran with it; literally and figuratively. The way it worked was you had to run at least one mile a day until New Years eve, 40 consecutive days. That’s more that I have run all summer and fall put together. Rarely did I ever run just one mile. What eventually occurred was that I would force myself out the door for that one mile and feel pretty terrible at first, a rickety machine barely able to function properly. But after a little wiggle, a little wobble and some happiness fuel to my bones, a majority of the time past one mile felt great and would opt to make those runs longer by, sometimes, hours. After the first week or so I found that the idea of running sparked excitement and joy and less force was made. I planned out new routes and longer days without even realizing the transition that was happening. I woke before my alarm clock with more pep in my step, if I had a tail I’d be wagging it till I was out the door on the trail in unison with Juniper. Tongue out, excitement running in my veins, slobber running down my face, the stoke was high. As much as I tried to stay present in the moment and in the run, I often found myself overwhelmed with gratitude, remember how terrible I felt a mere few weeks prior, a couldn’t help but run with a stupid grin across my face.

My partner in crime, Juniper. She didn’t partake in most of my training runs but she was so stoked nonetheless. My number one fan.

My partner in crime, Juniper. She didn’t partake in most of my training runs but she was so stoked nonetheless. My number one fan.

I may not have been the fastest or strongest but I appreciated where I was that moment in the runners spectrum and that in itself made me happy. What this Run Streak did for me was motivate me to get outside and move despite the emotions and mental barriers I had built. It slowly gave me the tools to break those walls down and be happy with where I was in the moment. Even if that present moment was a dirt road in Utah at 10pm in 20 degree weather running my one mile, it felt gosh darn good.

Fast forward to right here and now. Waving to you through the internet, HELLO! Currently packing my bags for a new adventure and race in Guatemala, UTX 90k this coming Saturday. It’s mind boggling how fast time flies. I don’t feel as though I had amble time to prepare, not for the distance, nay, but for the amount of vertical gain this race packs. With just over 25,200ft /7,682 meters in about 58 miles, this race called for quad busting training runs in preparation for what is to come.

4X Steep’n’cheap. Bahumbug.

4X Steep’n’cheap. Bahumbug.

After the Salomon Run Streak, I felt as though I had my base training solidified and could transition into more specific training for this race. This is all new to me, the idea of training for a specific race feels very foreign. Normally I’d just go out for fun runs, keep my distance relatively high and cross my fingers. Although I’ll definitely be crossing my fingers and toes for this one, I knew I’d have to incorporate some steep climbs into my runs if I wanted to survive this course. And that’s exactly what I did. It helped that on weekends my boyfriend Eamon would be doing these runs with me, keeping me accountable and motivated when I knew I wasn’t on my own.

Normal training runs consisted of Steep’n’cheap repeats which is the ridge west of Echo Mountain, 1 mile with 1,500 in gain, a ‘trail’ with almost 30% grade, the second incorporated Mt Wilson’s Jones Peak which is 1 mile with 1,781ft. Both trails are washed out deer trail that I wouldn’t normally suggest to run up and down. Mind you I DID NOT run down Jones, with its current trail conditions I do not have a death wish. Steep’n’cheap is runable, but safe? well that’s questionable. Incorporating both these trails into my weekly training was far from what I wanted to do. Back in October I had gone out for my first trail run since fully recovering and ended with a few somersaults onto a terribly rocky section of Mt Wilson. That day left me not only physically wounded but mentally scarred. I never wanted to return to that gosh darn trail. Unfortunately Mt Wilson is a connector to some pretty incredible trails in the San Gabriels and I couldn’t stay away too long. I used this race as a way to force myself to get comfortable with being uncomfortable and not letting my fears get in the way. After a few runs, and an incredible amount of patience and support from Eamon, I found that I was finally able to relax from all the stress I had built and enjoyed the trails again. I’m still not able to keep up with Eamon but let me tell you, trail running is so much more fulfilling and enjoyable when fear is not apart of the equation. With my fears finally dissolving I was able to spend more time in the front range, building my training intensity all while enjoying the process. With a handful of 20k vert weeks, mixed in with hot yoga and recovery days incorporating the most painful but necessary sports massages with VFE Julio I feel as though I did what I could. Yeah, I know I could’ve been doing more but with the limited time I had to prepare I’m quite happy with how far I have come.

Julio from is an angel! He deals with my squirming around the table during massages and gives me great tips to workout these tight muscles.

Julio from is an angel! He deals with my squirming around the table during massages and gives me great tips to workout these tight muscles.

It hurts so good!

It hurts so good!

So they say the hay is in the barn, right? All I can do is trust my training and my bodies ability to accomplish this goal and more importantly… have fun. I don’t believe this is a race that I am prepared to race but what I am prepared to do is give it my all, try my best to get the miles done and to have a little fun every step of the way. Results are this fleeting element of this long day I’ve signed up for, what I strive to focus on is enjoying the experience of this 90k rather than push too hard and struggle both mentally and physically just for a little faster result. I don’t know what to expect, nor do I know how my body will handle the terrain, weather, elevation but I am quite confident in my ability to adapt and roll with the punches. Weather forecasts predict a wet and probable thunderstorm during the weekend… I’m not crying, your’e crying.

I’m not ready, please don’t bring it.

I’m not ready, please don’t bring it.

Cross your fingers for me, Eamon and Len as we embark on this quest and send us all the good vibes because we are sure in for a long day!

A big fist pump and virtual hug to my peeps at Salomon, Suunto and GU Energy for being my biggest cheer leaders throughout this entire process. Social Media is definitely a highlight reel of peoples lives but with constant communication with these groups of insanely amazing people let me truly feel their love and presence throughout all the good times and not picturesque times! One day I’ll meet you all IRL but until then thank you all!

Procrastinating…

Procrastinating…

Ok, I guess I’ll start packing!

If you have a sec, send me your mantra, a positive note or some advice to keep with me during the race!














'Tis the season: Gift Ideas!

How did it get so late? Its night before its afternoon. December is here before its June. My goodness how the time has flewn! How did it get so late so soon?
— Dr. Seuss
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Where has the month go?

The real question I ask myself: Where has the year go? I’m not going to start talking about this past year, this post is far from a year in review. However, this month so far I can’t help but feel overwhelmed about what’s going to happen in 2019. Where will I travel? What races will I run? Will I even get into certain lotteries? Will I ever get myself some uphill skis? But before I go in full panic mode about whats in store for 2019, I need to wrap up this year first and with that comes the Howl’iday season!

If you’re like me, time flies too quickly to plan on gifts to allow for a stress free holiday. I like to make situations a bit more difficult than necessary and if there is a way to procrastinate- you bet I’ll find it! If you find yourself agreeing with me, or just need a few last minute gift ideas, this list is a mixture of things that are on my personal holiday list and things that I would recommend from personal experience as well as gifts for (a majority) trail runners, dog owners and maybe even non running related. Keep in mind I’m not a gear specialist, nor do I do any product testing for any of these listed here!

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  1. My experience from the spot device is getting nightly emails from my trail wife Lani as she was hiking the PCT, even when cell coverage was spotty or non existent- those nightly emails gave me piece of mind that she was ok and even sent her GPS coordination in order to track(stalk) her PCT trekking.

    As someone who tends to travel beyond the beaten path and do long adventures where cell coverage is non existent, this spot device when turned on will send an “OK” message to set number of people (dad, husband, bf, dogs personal mobile phone, whomever you want). Not only that but the “SOS” button would signal search and rescue if something lie-threatening should occur.

    I DO NOT HAVE THIS yet… (cough, cough) and I know I should have something like this for future adventures. It’s not cheap- you can purchase it from REI with a 50% rebate going on through December 31st. You do have to activate it and purchase a subscription but in the end, this could be a life-saving investment.

Did you know CORAL is the color of 2019… need I say more? ITS THE BEST COLOR

Did you know CORAL is the color of 2019… need I say more? ITS THE BEST COLOR

See both neckgaitors wrapped around my wrist… I tend to fall rather easily and have a lot of snot drip no matter the weather.

See both neckgaitors wrapped around my wrist… I tend to fall rather easily and have a lot of snot drip no matter the weather.

Because this beautiful color looks great on anybody and why wouldn’t you want to choose mountains! Right?

Because this beautiful color looks great on anybody and why wouldn’t you want to choose mountains! Right?

2. Neckgaitors are a great gift for any trail runner. These bad boys work as a drippy nose wiper, a hand protector, ear warmers, headband, face protector, and even feet warmers when you have a layover for a few hours and are wearing sandals in 30 degree temps… I speak from experience. Buy one, buy two- they WILL be used. I confess I have dozens, but the new Choose Mountain colors have me swooning.

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3. Last October I met Val as we were all traveling to Mexico City for UTMX. Val is amazing. Right there in the airport she gifted me a DOGDANA she made for Juniper. You read correctly, a dogdana! She is exceptionally creative and her items on her etsey store prove it. The dogdanas fit on your fur-childrens collars and will only add to the already cuteness. She even has small ones that fit purrrfectly for cats. This is a fantastic gift for any friend with a pup and if you visit her store on etsy she has other fun printed great gifts for baby and even flannel kid/adult pjs. Really, you need to get matching prints for the dog, the kids and the parents… if you ask me that would make any Holiday card paw-some!

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Get your/family/friends pup a myraddog retractable leash and make them just as happy as Juniper frolicking in the snow!

Get your/family/friends pup a myraddog retractable leash and make them just as happy as Juniper frolicking in the snow!

4. Another great gift idea for pet owners is this awesome collar by My Rad Dog! It’s designed for the mostly off-leash dog! The Release N Run is a collar with a built-in 4ft leash which automatically retracts into the collar when you let go of the handle. Juniper has been using the collar for years! It’s perfect for hiking, biking, camping, backpacking, mountain running- it’s the ultimate in gear for you adventure dog and it pairs PERFECTLY with the dogdana as pictured above with Juniper. I constantly get asked what collar she wears when trail running and this is it!


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5. An obsession I’ve had for the last few years is my Territory Run Co “Gorge” hat! The design of this hat has been like no other and is my go to for any adventure run! They have a plethora of beautiful hats but this one takes the cake. Territory Run Co also has a collection of mountain inspired clothing and running apparel for everyone. These jogger pants had be swooning with first touch. They’re fleece lined and fit to be snug, the perfect pre and post run pant and really the perfect winter warm pant! You gotta feel it to believe it! I’m a naturally cold person, so when I found out they designed a fleece line jogger, I jumped with joy! If I lived closer to Portland I’d give these guys a high five on product design. Check out their other product, they have a new beanie, cool socks and a backpack that’s on my personal XMAS list!

I love all these designs with all my heart

I love all these designs with all my heart

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If I didn’t buy this mug I’d get arrested for TREE-son

If I didn’t buy this mug I’d get arrested for TREE-son

6. Treet your friends to some tree mugs or tumblers that I love with all my heart. Another etsy shop that I absolutely love is 2232 Handmade Ceramics! These make great gifts! Perfect for the coffee or tea drinker, or even the succulent lover with her beautifully crafted succulent planters! I’m a huge believer in supporting small business and craftsmanship and my friend Brooke Martinez is one crafty lady! My only problem is that I don’t want to buy these for anyone else, I selfishly want them all to myself!

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STOCKING STUFFERS:

Need some last minute stocking stuffers, or just smaller gifts?

  1. Picky bars! You can never go wrong with nutrition, especially date bars. It’s only a plus that Juniper and I are pictured on them but they DO have other flavors. This one is just the best, if you ask me…

  2. BEER! I do love a good beer, running or not! So stuff a good beer in the stocking or a good kombucha! I do enjoy a good Sufferfest beer because 1. obviously the name is appealing 2. It is born out of the needs of athletes and adventures. 3. The gluten is removed so most gluten free-ist can also enjoy!

  3. I’m a huge Gu gel fan! It’s easy on the stomach and easier to just grab and go run.

  4. The amount of plastic that end up in our landfill is absurd. Straws are made in 10 minutes and are used in about 20 minutes and remain on earth forever since they are not biodegradable. I ask for no straws when ever the opportunity arises but help promote the ban on plastic straws with giving the gift of reusable straws! Amazon has a plethora to choose from!

  5. Give the gift of a good book! Happy Runner by David and Megan Roche. They point out the mental and emotional factors that will help you learn exactly how to become a happy runner and achieve your personal best. This book is on MY Christmas list but you don’t have to purchase a running related book. There are some pretty fantastic books out there- check out goodreads.com for some reccomendations. You can normally find some great books at the goodwill and used bookstores for a few dollars!

  6. SUNGLASSES! Goodr shades are not only FUN with their colors and perfect fitted shades, but they’re all polarized for only $25 bucks a pair. What a steal! These ones are my ultimate favorite!

  7. A great calendar! If you’re like me, a good calendar goes a long way. I like daily reminders and I look at my calendar every morning as it is on my way into the kitchen. My favorite calendar so far is of Howie Sterns two dogs Joey and Micki! I just bought mine! Message Howie and you give the gift of some cute dogs with beautiful mountainous backdrops too!

With that said, the most important gift of all in my opinion?

YOUR TIME.

The best gift in the world are not in the material objects one can buy from the store or online, but in the memories we make with the people we love. This Holiday hug harder, laugh louder, kiss deeper, smile bigger, shine brighter and love longer- be the reason other people smile more!

Be happy!

Happy Howl’idays!

From Juniper and me!

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Llama tell you all about Peru

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Eight strangers from both the US and Canada set off on a quest for adventure in a foreign country. Their destination? Peru, home of Machu Picchu, an ancient Incan City high in the Andes mountains. Around Machu Picchu include a plethora of culture and archaeological sites portraying the Sacred Valley, the Inca Trail, the beautiful colors of Rainbow mountain and the Colonial city of Cusco. These women became fast friends as they perused the Peruvian sights, hiked the historical Inca Trails, ate incredible local food with wild alpacas as company, and climbed endless steep steps, laughing until it hurt. They went where there wasn’t WIFI, but found a better connection within themselves and in each other. These trails were filled with their laughter, encouragement, and motivating words for each other. Despite each of the many reasons these women decided to sign up for this adventure, they all left with huge smiles, new friendships and incredible memories that will last a lifetime. And, llama tell you, it’s a life changing experience.

And suddenly you know- it’s time to start something new and trust the magic of beginnings
— Eckhart Tolle

Where do I start? We all travel for different reason, some to escape the everyday norm, the stress of work, family or just an excuse to explore more. Whatever the reason, 8 women plus two Run Like A Girl reps boarded different planes from all over US and Canada, passport in hand, ready for their final destination- Cusco, Peru.

When I was approached with this opportunity back in February I couldn’t say yes fast enough. I was a day away from boarding a plane to Costa Rica for six weeks to help guide the retreats there as well as spend a week running The Coastal Challenge stage race. I was excited to continue to grow within Run Like A girl and have the opportunity to explore more places and meet amazing people. But at that time sure I was excited but with other events overshadowing this experience, I was trying fully to live in the moment. Fast forward to September, this trip was happening soon and I needed to prepare all the necessary items for the excursion. While packing I couldn’t help be overwhelmed with so many different emotions. I was ecstatic to have the opportunity to go to Peru, but at the same time, I was worried. I spent a majority of my summer injured and had just started walking sans hobble just two weeks before I was supposed to be leaving. Naturally, I stayed active by climbing or cycling but when the thought of even trying to run again, I automatically said, “I can’t”. Call me negative Nancy because it seemed as though the only words I knew were “I can’t” and as much as I tried to stay positive, those words lingered from the time my eyes opened in the morning to when they closed to sleep at night. I was determined to have a different mentality during this trip, try to forget about my poor choices during summer, my shattered goals, the constant feeling of adventure FOMO or my race that I’ve been re-living as a nightmare these last few weeks. I wasn’t traveling to race, run, achieve any huge goal or do anything but to assist in an incredible Peruvian experience for the rest of the group. I didn’t realize at the time that not only was I trying to heal from the negativity, but my body was finally given the opportunity to do some healing itself.

It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live
— Albus Dumbledore

Arriving at the Cusco airport was like entering a dream. Especially, after almost 20 hours of traveling, short layover followed by long layovers left me feeling dazed and confused. I was picked up by the tour company, Apumayo, that we have our adventures booked with and was shuttled to our hotel in the heart of what looks like tourist central. I was then able to shower and eat breakfast before Courtney, one of the RLAG OG’s arrived. Once she arrived we were able to meet with the incredible owners of Apumayo and have any of our questions answered. They helped us plan our next day off before the entire retreaters arrived in two days. We spent the rest of the day touring Cusco, what once was the site of the Inca Empire that now has a population at about 427,000.

DAY ZERO-A

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We woke early in order to be outside waiting for our taxi by 3:30am. Our destination was a 2.5 hour drive away. Found in the breathtaking mountains of Peru, with its glacial water Humantay Lake is a popular destination for hikers just beginning or ending their trip. Surrounding the Salkantay mountain range, the lake is at 4200 mt / 13799 ft. formed by the glacier water melt from Humantay mountain. Humantay is a snow capped mountain 5835 m / 19143 ft which helps give the beautiful glacier lake its name. Its STUNNING. The previous day Apumayo had suggested we hire our own taxi for the day to avoid the crowded tour companies and their lengthy trips. This will cost us about the same price, take us half the time- not having to pick people from god knows which hotels and about 200 less people- no joke. Despite not having a guide (which is always an advantage seeing how much history and knowledge of the surrounding towns and mountains we missed) we were dropped off in an empty parking lot in front of a tiny miny market and managed to find the correct path.


We passed several eco pods that host overnight stays and a huge area where straw mini tents were set up as well. You turn toward those tents and head straight up the mountain trail, passing the only “bathroom” that was monitored by the hosts maybe 4 year old son. Yes, kid, take all my money. Then, we continued passed the small village of tents and entered an open area where the trail to Humantay Lake was clearly visible- you just go up from there. We passed a few trekkers that were starting their journey to Machu Picchu, this Salkantay trek is another option for a few day adventure.

Deep breaths. It was freezing when we arrived, but once the sun came out and we began the ascent, it quickly turned warm. You can continue pass the lake and enjoy the views from above. The owner of Apumayo told us he enjoys mountain biking that trail, and I thought I was crazy.

DAY ZERO-B:

I attempted to walk back to the market to buy some gifts and ended up sitting in a woman’s booth trying to not throw up. It rained, it hailed and I just walked back to the hotel and puked. I did get some great gifts, tho.

I attempted to walk back to the market to buy some gifts and ended up sitting in a woman’s booth trying to not throw up. It rained, it hailed and I just walked back to the hotel and puked. I did get some great gifts, tho.

Courtney had suggest that we arrive to Cusco a few days before the group to help acclimate and get a feel for the city. I don’t normally have trouble with elevation but came along for the ride nonetheless. Thankfully because on our second zero I spent the entire time either in bed or telling the toilet my deepest darkest secrets, i.e. puking my brains out. I’ve never gotten so sick while traveling in foreign countries and am not sure what pushed me over the line but these are a few things I can suggest in order for this not to happen to you.

Bring hand sanitizer and wash your hands constantly. Peru has great archaeological sights and the rocks are pretty gosh darn old, it doesn’t mean you have to touch them- because everyone does.

Do not drink tap water or any juices from street vendors. Our guts are not use to digesting these bacteria’s and will cause sickness almost right away.

Be selective on places you eat. Mom and pop shops are great but wait till the end of your trip to try any new things, your stomach would less likely turn at that point.

Avoid overeating your first few days. Being at high elevation cause your body to work harder, don’t cause it more work by excessively eating the incredible food you find. Hi! My name is Sawna, I am an over eater all the time.

Thankfully I was the only one that got sick from our group and it was before our adventures but please just be hyper aware. There’s no greater problem then going to an incredible restaurant and not being able to eat because of how bad your stomach is turning and then having to watch everyone eat said incredible food. Practically my nightmare.

That evening we met our group and had a pow wow with our Apumayo local guide, Yaiber the magnificent.

DAY ONE:

One thing I want to highlight is that when you book your flights, always allow a buffer day. Due to storms in Texas and somewhere in Canada, a few women had delayed, missed or cancel flights and worst of all delayed AND lost luggage. We emphasize the dire need to pack your necessities in a carry on and check in the rest because you just never know. Thankfully all women arrived safely just before we boarded transportation for day one.

We departed Cusco at 9:00am and drove 45 minutes in our private transportation toward Pisac archaeological site and market. On the way we stopped at Awancancha a Llama Project. There we were able to learn about, see and feed the Llamas, Vincunas and Guanacos. At the end of the feeding area there were women weaving patterns for tapestry they would sell. The patterns were all memorized when they were children and now their small children were watching their mothers and the trade is passed down. These women wore intricate hand woven outfits and hats that represented the region they were from, something we were able to witness everyday. In the same area we were taught a few things: 1. How they use flower, plants and vegetables to naturally dye yarn. 2. Over 4,000 varieties of native potatoes grow in the Andean highlands of Peru because they are well adapted to the harsh conditions that prevail in the high Andes. 3. Today, farmers along the Peruvian coast, highlands and jungle grow more than 55 varieties of corn, more than anywhere else on Earth corn, and you can just about find it in any color including yellow, purple, white and black.

Before leaving we stopped by the main store that sold real alpaca products and not the “maybe” alpaca products that are really just fake items in the market.

The next place we visited was the Pisac archaeological site which gives insight to the Inca’s advanced masonry skills. The Pisac market is a great place where you can find some unique and authentic souvenirs. The Inca site remains somewhat mysterious as to what their absolute purpose was, but it seems likely that they were part of a settlement along a vital Inca road with the Amazon rainforest to the east of the mountains, it is generally understood that Pisac provided a connecting point of sorts between the highlands and the jungle. We learned there that the four cosmological Quechua principles are water, earth, sun and moon and is protrayed throughout the Inca Trail. After visiting the market and the Inca site, we then headed to our hotel in the Sacred Valley of the Incas in the town of Ollantaytambo. FYI. There’s killer ice cream and vegan ice cream steps away from our hotel and Llamas grazing in the front yard, you know, the norm. The group all meshed well instantly and although the stoke was high, my stomach was all over the place attempting to recover from the intense ab workout the day before.

TIP: This is the day that I learned tortilla in South America means omelette, you know, with eggs. So as some who eats plant based and orders veggies and tortillas (I did think it was odd but wanted to try something different) and it comes out as an omelette! I was pretty gosh darn shocked. Thankfully, Court shared the amazing veggie burrito she ordered that was the size of a thigh.

DAY TWO:

Places we visited:

  1. Ollyantaytambo Ruins

  2. Moray Agrigultural Laboratory

  3. Salt Pans of Moras

  4. An incredible all you can eat buffet with pisco sours(they will make it without the egg too!)

Day two of our adventure started off in the local ruins of Ollyantaytambo, a five minute drive from our hotel. The weather forecast called for showers along with every other day but the morning was stunning. With the day agreeing with us, unlike my stomach (Despite the two bags of saltine crackers I ate) we were able to soak in the sun rays and view a site of a major battle for the Incas. We then drove for about an hour to the Moray Agricultural Laboratory where several theories as to what the concentric circles were used for but widely accepted as an agricultural research station. Each level of the terraces had its own microclimate. The shape both concave and convex represents the duality that is core to the Inca religion: Valley and mountain, man and woman, sun and moon. The clouds rolled in quickly and the rain rolled in as we entered the van. As quickly as it came, the rain disappeared- typical storms in the region. The ride to the Salt Pans was winding, be sure to sit in front if you deal with any sort of car sickness or have experienced any kind of food poisoning lately. I normally do not get car sick but I couldn’t escape the van any quicker for fresh air and deep breaths before any possible hurling would occur. Thankfully it never arouse.

These salt pools we were visiting have been harvested since the Inca empire came into existence. The pools are fed by a nearby stream, which is quite amazing! We were given time to peru-se the area and even try the local salt seasonings. I had posted that everyone was getting salt for Christmas… I wasn’t joking. Santa’s bringing salt this year, all!

We spent the rest of the evening packing our packs for what was the biggest adventure of our trip, the Inca Trail.

DAY THREE:

The day began in a van full of excitement as time passed rather quickly while we drove the bumpy dirt roads following the Vilcanota River and the railroad tracks. We were delayed around 45 minutes by some road work ahead that kept us in a backup. The air was filled with excitement and anticipation for the Inca Trail experience, none of us; the woman, Courtney nor I knew what to expect. We presented our passports and passed through the checkpoint and stopped for the obligatory photo at the beginning of the trail and set out on our quest. for the great unknown. The first part of the trail is wide dirt paths, local people still live along the first three miles of the trail and use the paths for travel and farm work. The time flew by as the conversations flowed amongst the group. We may have met a mere few days ago but we all connected instantly, making this journey all the more special. We talked about our personal lives, expectations of this trip and trail as we took in the incredible scenery. When we entered the lunch area, each and every one of us had our jaws on the floor, no one expected to see a tent lined up with ten chairs, ten sanitize buckets for your hands and another tent where the chef and su-chef were cooking up our feast. These may be a trek, we may be sleeping on the group but we were eating like Queens on a thrown. When I first arrived in Cusco I was worried that there wouldn’t be much of a vegan selection, but to my surprise, there are options everywhere due to its abundance in vegetables and grains. Just like in the city, our personal chefs kept in mind that half the group was vegetarian/vegan and ensured we had an abundance of food. Emphasis on abundance.

DAY FOUR:

Climbed from the valley below to Dead Womans Pass at nearly 14,000 ft.

Climbed from the valley below to Dead Womans Pass at nearly 14,000 ft.

I awoke to repeated flashes of light pouring through the tent as the sound of thunder echoed through the mountains. We rose to wet grass and a feeling of nervousness in the air. Today we were going to get high! Other than high on endorphins, we will hike higher than most have gone, simply by foot. We are hiking up and over Dead Womans Pass at it is known to challenge the spirits of those who undertake it, yet also rewards them generously out of sheer accomplishment. At 4,215m / 13,828 ft, it’s the highest and most dreaded point of the Inca Trail, and nearly 1,800m (5,905 ft) higher than the altitude of Machu Picchu itself. Definitely perceived as the most difficult day with only a million and one steps. I could tell most of the girls were nervous but the nerves were quickly shaken off once we set out to hike. We began the easy flow of conversation with the endless photos of wild flowers, the jungles vast green vegetation and the occasional Llama on the trail. And yet the factors that make the day more difficult than any of the others are what make reaching the pass one of the most rewarding moments, probably the second most rewarding moment on the trail. It’s at this mini summit when many feel a first sense of real accomplishment, not alot of people get to experience 14,000ft and its a grand moment. These women are undertaking something physically unusual and emotionally strenuous, and it serves as a great life moment for those that choose to be here. During this day, I was reminded of the important to be in the moment. It’s a practice I had lost and standing at Dead Womens pass watching these fierce, strong, beautiful women overcome this grand moment reminded me of the importance. A beautiful reminder to not dwell on the past nor dream of the future but to concentrate the mind on this present moment.

We descended as new women. Women with an unwavering confidence in our abilities; women who won’t give up; women who know limits but push them anyway; women who don’t underestimate the power of women supporting each other; women who no longer come from a place of ‘I can’t’ but now a place of ‘bring on the next challenge because I CAN!
— Toni Brooke, trekker and fellow badass

That evening is one I will remember for forever- or until I fall hard enough on one of these crazy runs and hit my head hard enough. Obviously kidding. That evening as we camped overlooking glaciers and razor sharp mountain peaks nestled between clouds us 10 women and both our guides nestled into our dining tent just talking, laughing and enjoying each others company for hours. There were no cell phones, no wifi- but the connection was far better than any 5g network. We laughed, we cried, we played cards, we debated and just conversed as if old friends. This is what the Inca Trail does, it creates beautiful friendships and incredible memories that will both last a lifetime. I will sleep happy and only have a few nightmare about stairs.

Note to hikers, Llamas WILL spit on you if you get too close. They are wild but the Peruvian government accounts for them and even gives them names (they have a tag on their ear with their name so the government can keep track of them).

DAY FIVE:

Llama tell you a story about when a porter walked around a llama and got spit on three times; it’s wet, it’s thick mucus and it’s pretty forceful. This is what was going through my mind as Doris turned her head to smile for the camera….

Llama tell you a story about when a porter walked around a llama and got spit on three times; it’s wet, it’s thick mucus and it’s pretty forceful. This is what was going through my mind as Doris turned her head to smile for the camera….

It may only be our third day on the Inca Trail but it seems days longer. From our campsite today, a majority of the trail will be downhill, a far easier effort level than yesterday. This morning we are considered half way there, we have todays hike to Phuyupatamarka, just above Machu Picchu mountain and then tomorrows final hike to the ruins of Machu Picchu and Aguas Calientes.

This day I would describe as unforgettable. The landscape changes dramatically and you will find yourself transported into one of the stages of the Amazon called the cloud forest. It’s obvious that you are in a tropical jungle, just still above the clouds. You cross through two Incan tunnels carved out of the mountainside and visit the incredible archaeological sites called Sayacmarca & Phuyupatamarca. There are a lot of stairs going down on this day that were not only steep, but insanely slippery and sometime quite narrow. It was quite humorous to watch the group descend oh so carefully whilst the porters casually fly down with 60lb packs running a sub 7 minute mile, no big deal. Although considered one of the easier day, our hiking time was repetitively around the same amount of hours, we wanted to to take more time to enjoy the views, the ruins and being present in this moment

Our guide, Yaiber, had said he picked our campsite at the highest location possible in order to get the best sunset and sunrise. No sooner than arriving at camp did the unpredictable weather start to form; clouds rolled in along with some rain. It was by far one of the coldest evenings as we all gathered in the main tent. Our body heat managed to keep the tent warm as we reminisce on the days adventures, the jokes, the llama selfies, the incredible food and just the comraderie and beautiful friendships we’ve created. We had happy hour and then dinnerX3 plus wine and dessert for celebration. Once everyone was getting ready to pack and call it a night, we collected what we all had for tips for our guides, the chef, su-chef and all the porters that had been doing an incredible amount of work for us! Before going to bed, the sky had cleared and white peaks popped out in the distance while stars overtook the night sky, it was quite the send off for our last night on the trail.

DAY SIX:

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Our final day on the trail and probably the shortest amount we need to hike. I can’t believe the days had flown by so quickly but looking back it seems as though it couldn’t have only been four days- too much had happend. I wanted to stay on the trail, away from any wifi, social media or any home obligations for just a little bit longer. Today was when we would cross the Sun Gate and enter Machu Picchu.
We decided to not wake up super early to arrive at the Sun Gate during sunrise along with the 8 or 9 other groups but instead enjoyed our morning. After breakfast we were gifted a glorious view of why the area was called the cloud forest. We hike behind our campsite to a nearby peak and took the views in. No matter the direction everything was just gorgeous as you watched the mist move in and out of the mountains.

Today we are set to follow the famed Royal Highway through orchid-rich cloud forest to Winya Wayna ruins, Winyawayna means Forever Young (Cue Alphavilles Forever Young song). Afterward we continue our descent until we have a very short ladder like ascent of 50 or so steep rock stairs that lead you to the Sun Gate. The Sun Gate is much higher the Machu Picchu itself, and gives you a view that stretches far beyond the ruins. It’s the first glimpse you get of Machu Picchu and it encompasses views of the surrounding peaks and the valley leading down into Aguas Calientes. You can spy the buses coming up the roadway and congratulate yourself for getting here the hard way.

After four days of hiking, I sat there, watching all the women walk through the stoned archways of the Sun Gate- that is a moment I will never forget. Despite the arrival to the Sun Gate being a pretty incredible experience, it’s really the build up of the last four hard days of hiking you are remembering- the fact that you hiked this dream place seemed all too surreal. I could see it in their faces, the raw emotion, the wonder, the glory, the “I DID IT” revelation. Despite all the times one hears “you' can’t do it” and even from our self, the inner daemon agreeing and saying “I can’t” was shoved off the Sun Gate walls that morning. Each and every one of them put their fears aside, built the courage up, booked the trek, made the commitment, and climbed those 50 steep stairs to see their dream come true. Because in the long run we have every opportunity to achieve our biggest dreams, but it’s ourselves! We hold ourselves back in ways both big and small, by lacking self confidence, by not speaking up, not raising our hands, and by pulling back when we should be leaning in.

The arrived at Machu Picchu and sat on the lawn and eat a snack, basking in the glory before another storm rolled in. That evening we checked into our hotel, took a shower and met for dinner. Maybe it was because we were on the trail for a few days, but that evening couldn’t have been any more perfect. The restaurant Yaiber selected was INCREDIBLE, the ambiance, the food, the beer, did I mention the food was all incredible. Dear reader, if you find yourself in aguas calientes, you MUST go to INDIO FELIZ. They didn’t have craft beer (cerveza artesenal) on the menu but just ask and they had the most delicious IPA. And did I mention the food?

DAY SEVEN:

Back to reality, back to WIFI.

Back to reality, back to WIFI.

We may have finished the Inca Trail but the adventure doesn’t stop here. A few of us opted to climb Machu Picchu mountain while the rest of the group toured the ruins. The mountain is just shy of 3,000 Inca stone steps which take you 2,000 feet up (about 1.25 miles)to the top of the mountain. 

I joked around while waiting in line that I would race someone, ha! I think that’s funny now considering how my body ached at the time but boy did we have fun! Toni, Steph, Kelly and I climbed those steep steps, quickly passing all the others who entered the mountain gates before us until there just wasn’t anyone else to pass. We climbed those 3,000 steps, no stopping, our heavy packs on our back, heart beating so hard, huffing and puffing until there wasn’t anything else to climb. It took us about 38 or so minutes to reach the top and the view was incredible! We took our time descending, the steps being rather steep while there are no handrails, just a sheer steep droop off if you decide to tilt to the side. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who has a fear of heights, even I wouldn’t dare look to the side to where the steps ended.

After our mountain peak adventure we met with Yaiber for a tour of Machu Picchu before heading back to town to catch the train back to Ollyantaytambo and then a van back to Cusco. We then had dinner at our favorite vegan spot, Green Point (You gotta try the pad thai) just a few steps away from our hotel before passing out for the night.



DAY EIGHT:

It was great to be back in Cusco. We had a later morning that usual and took a tour around Cusco and the magnificent ruins of Sacsayhuaman and its impressive rocky constructions. We were pretty wiped from trekking and wanted to hang out into the city so Yaiber was able to take us to the local chocolate factory before saying our goodbyes.

Guides are very important, as are porters and our chef, but guides make the experience so much more. Yaiber felt like family instantly and he quickly gained our respect and our hearts. His love for Peru shines and is quite contagious.

The rest of the day was spent shopping or soveniers, relaxing and pacing for tomorrows final adventure.

DAY NINE:

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I have seen this tourist destination all over social media and have read about the sediment created from mineral deposits over millions of years that has created these 7 different colors, Rainbow Mountain. This mountain, discovered less than 5 years and has been a tourist attraction ever since. Before that time? Local said the area had always been covered in snow, until it finally all melted and a colorful mountain appeared from under it. This mountain has created jobs and tourism for the community when employment didn’t really exsist. Guides lead over 1,000 hikers a day to the site and even had a wetland filled in to create a parking lot for vehicles.

The road to Rainbow mountain is quite lengthy trip from Cusco. The drive alone was spectacular, despite being extremely bumpy, you are one a single mountain road with Alpacas on either side of the road and beyond. Vast green lanscapes, white mountain peaks and no one insight but the car full of people.

None of us knew exactly what to expect, we hiked in a group and then seperated as the hike became a bit more strenous especially coming up to 16,000 ft. I was shocked at seeing how many people(Perus version of Disneyland, there were dozens) were out in jeans and vans and unprepared for what this was- a mountain. I understand I was in shorts but I was wearing layers upon layers, I definitely packed light for the entire trip and ended up donating what I had left to the porters families. Here, Families were taking there kids in sneakers and sweatshirts and asking how much further just a mere quarter of a mile into the hike. The trail was crowded and just before reaching the junction of Rainbow Mountain, it was so crowded you had to pull off your best dance moves to sashay around people. But once their wasn’t anything left to climb, you are left breathless- figuratively and literally. You understand why hundreds of people want to visit here, to experience the wonder, to feel as though nothing really matters when beauty like this exist. It was a great achievement, for myself included, to reach new heights of 16,500 ft.

This area is absolutely stunning and I understand why so many people want to visit it, but I can’t help but feel conflicted. I want to see this incredible place, I’d like to spend more time here but I also feel like I’m playing a part in the destruction of this beautiful and fragile alpine environment. Talking to our guide during the huge buffet lunch they provided, he says it’s only a matter of a few years before the land is ruined by the tourism boom.
That evening, after the bumpy ride home, we all gathered for our final dinner at Green Point Vegan Restaurant (It’s seriously THAT good) and reminisced about the weeks adventures, the highs, the struggles, the emotions and what brought us to this dream location. Tears were had, laughter was heard, hugs were given, and of course lots of food was eaten before we said goodnight.





Peru has awoken so many things within me. My visit to this magical place has reminded me to be present. I’ve been re-living choices I’ve made, particularly racing when perhaps my body wasn’t ready, having a summer of injury that had just left me an unhappy, unbalanced, and disappointed in my inability to reach these expectations I had of myself as an athlete and as a human being. I have been dwelling on the past and dream’t of the future when all I needed to be was grateful for the present. Words can not portray the immense gratitude I have for the opportunity to guide for Run Like A Girl and to have met such inspiring and kind-hearted people in doing so. Watching these women battle fears, emotions and overcome such obstacles helped me realize that I too was overcoming an obstacle: the fear and constant worry that I’m not good enough and overuse of the thought “I can’t”.

Because in the end, I’m the only person stopping myself and I’ve decided that I can.



My personal tips when traveling to Cusco:

  1. Pack light and pack old clothes. I only carried a 30L carry on for the entire trip. I re-wore outfits several times. I suggest packing old clothing because at the end of the Inca Trail you have the opportunity to donate things to the porters and their families. Your items would be treasured and greatly appreciated. I packed light due to my fear of my baggage getting lost since I had three connecting flights. Rightfully so. I also brought a fold up duffel in my purse to bring home purchases. On my flight on the duffel acted as my large purse and I still didn’t need to check in anything.

  2. There are women and children who carry around a baby lamas in Cusco that ask if you want your photo with the Llama. Do not indulge. These poor Llamas are bought when they’re weeks old, far too young, to be used for tourism and these kids are missing school because they think they have more opportunity making money on the streets than getting an education. To make matters worse, these Llamas are not properly fed, only given dried milk and usually die due to malnutrition.

  3. The shops in town normally carry “maybe” alpaca products. The vendors tell you what your purchasing is made of alpaca and baby alpaca wool when it’s just a polyester blend manufactured somewhere else. Just because the brand is called 100% alpaca doesn’t mean it’s made of anything alpaca. Just know what you’re purchasing.

  4. Try their delicacies. I’m not saying try guinea pig because I just imagine snuggling a pet but Peru does have some other great things to try. Their “Pisco Sour” is a well known drink (I got it without the egg) and it tasted like a margarita. They also have a corn drink we tried one day on the trail. They also have great local beer!

  5. Bring hand sanitizer and toilet paper with you EVERYWHERE.

  6. My two favorite restaurants in town where Green Leaf vegan, I reccomend the Pad Thai, Pancakes or their veggie burger and the Ginger lime kombucha- you can’t order wrong (Even the non vegans agreed with this) and Jacks Cafe. Jacks is vegan friendly but their food is incredible! Its a tiny spot with no bathroom and worth the wait if it’s crowded. I’d recommend that humus, the pumpkin soup and the bruschetta!

  7. We stayed at Apu Huascaran which was walking distance to everything and fairly inexpensive.

  8. Having puffy walking slippers for after hiking during the Inca Trail was amazing

  9. Thankful for everyone who let me charge my phone and camera with their portable chargers because mine died (I kept leaving my camera on and drained the battery). Bring an external battery, or hey, even a solar one!

  10. On the trail, you don’t NEED to eat everything and ask for seconds or thirds. You don’t need to act like you’ve never eaten before and the food might disappear if you don’t consume every bite—-> this is just advice for myself for when I return in September. I don’t need to act like a starving child every time there’s a plate of food in front of me!

    Do you have any tips or recommendations I should add? Send me an email!

I normally would include a Spotify list of songs that remind me of this trek, but gosh darn this post took me too long as it was. I know its months after the event but it’s difficult to spend hours on a computer when days in Los Angeles are so incredibly beautiful that I constantly feel as though I should be outside with Juniper frolicking in meadows and on mountain peaks. Since being able to run again, it has stolen my attention but I felt as though I couldn’t move forward with my blog without taking a step back and completing this post. Since Peru, several incredible events occurred; being able to run again, a Sierra adventure, Mexico, Cactus to Clouds and finally snow in SoCal- all things I want to write about, in due time.

Till next time!

Write here…

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Don't believe everything you think: Cascade Crest 100

When I think about racing these ultra distances I don’t actually think about the event itself but how I arrived to toe that starting line. I reflect on the miles of training, the highs of some runs, the lows of recovery days, the early morning wake up calls, the adapting to lingering injuries, re-assessing and addressing weekly goals and the constant motivation and support of loved ones. Without that support those miles would be inconceivable. Exploring the curiosity of running 50 miles, 100k, 100 miles is a strong driving force for me but the physical limits of the human body can override this desire all too easily. This summer I experienced something new; my body and mind continuously telling me I couldn’t achieve this race distance the weeks leading up to this endeavor yet there I was, standing at the start line, bib pinned on.

Cascade Crest 100 has been one of the races at the top of my list when first being introduced to the Central Cascade Mountains just outside of Seattle, Washington. It's no secret that most of my races revolve around the Pacific North West because of the beautiful terrain and even more incredible people; Cascade Crest was no different. 

This summer started off with a bang. My training felt solid, my body strong and my mind focused on my summer goals. I had several long training weeks and felt as though I'd recover and bounce back eager for more miles and quality time spent in the mountains. The best part was I never felt as though running was ever training but just an activity I was passionate about and was stoked to do every day. Unfortunately all of that was put on pause when I began feeling pain in my posterior tibial tendon that would increase anytime I'd run downhill and on flat hard surfaces. I was in the middle of a three week running trip in Colorado when I decided to come home early.

If not a mountain runner? Than what am I?

Rich from VFE, hes a miracle worker, fights all the knots and tightness my body has been creating!

Rich from VFE, hes a miracle worker, fights all the knots and tightness my body has been creating!

A question that surfaced all too frequently those weeks during summer that were spent not in the mountains and most importantly, not running. I vest so much of my identity in ultra running and just mountain running in general, that once it’s taken away, even momentarily, I often asked myself “Who am I if I’m not running?”. It took awhile to gain momentum again once I accepted the fact that I needed to take time away from running to regain full health. I live, breath and dream about my next running adventure, be it local mountains, the Sierra or my annual trip to Colorado, I’ve always believed that I should work hard but play harder. Spending the rest of July and August far from those mountain peaks was devastating but I still had Cascade Crest 100 at the end of August on my Calendar. Everyday I questioned whether or not I should drop from the race, if my body would be recovered from my injury by then and if I should even run it recovered without even a mile ran in the last month. I took the process day by day, found my love of cycling and swimming again and was able to spend some time outdoors climbing with my boyfriend and some friends. Although I was still active almost everyday, I felt as though a part of me was missing, I was overwhelmingly sad I wasn’t doing the thing I was most passionate about and learned to mask those feelings in hopes that I can stay positive and focus on recovering. I gave up alcohol, all forms of gluten, and only consumed whole foods that were anti-inflammatory as well as incorporated a weekly strength training as well as sport massage with Rich and Julio at VFE in hopes for a quicker recovery. I dreamed of rugged trails, alpine vistas, mountain peaks, sore muscles, and crossing the finish line in Easton, WA.

Despite my gut feeling and well, my body telling me otherwise, we bought our plane tickets, booked an airbnb and the decision was finally made with a mere week left until race day.

On August 25th at 10am, I began the trek of 100 miles across the Cascade Mountains. Now, a couple months later, I shake my head at myself. I knew at the start line that I shouldn’t have been there and I continued to question my decision every step of the way. Not only was I still not healed- still hadn’t ran, but I was dealing with recovering from a cold, the wheezing in my breathing was a constant reminder of poor decision making.

The race normally known for its unbearable heat, was cold and rainy this year. The weeks leading up to the race, Washington and most of the PNW were dealing with fires and an overwhelming amount of smoke so the rain was welcomed with open arms.

I’d like to tell you that the entire thing was a mistake, running 100 miles when your body is not ready is pretty stupid. However, despite feeling pretty terrible most of the time, I was able to see an incredible amount of friends out on the course and even got to run half the race with Hilary and Ely. Those miles shared were pretty rough but shared with those two, made it an experience to remember- definitely would say it was type 2 fun! We supported each other, cheered on the grunts and howls and lifted each other up when times were low. Not only was I able to share those miles with two friends, I also picked up Eamon at Hyak Aid, mile 55, being my crew and pacer, this was a great test to our relationship! We continued off with Hilary and her pacer but not even a mile out of the aidstation, my posterior tibial tendon pain resurfaced and left me walking, tears flowing down my face. I waved goodbye to Hilary as she continued to run and debated whether I should just end this quest now, giving it a good 55 miles of trying. Eamon encouraged me to continue, despite my meltdown, and we continued forward.

The miles passed slowly, as my moods went from one extreme to the other as Eamon, the incredible partner that he is, continued with his positive pep talks and occasional embraces when my mood was at an all time low and perhaps a bit snappy. As the miles krept by, my eyes demanding sleep, I felt empty of all sources of energy and I couldn’t imagine the finish line. I’ve never experienced feeling this low during any ultra and didn’t know how to manage all the negativity that were surfacing. This person had taken over my body- this negative and sad person kept repeating the word can’t.

Thank you Eamon for letting me borrow your socks and I’m sorry I put a hole in them :( Fantastic photo by Glenn!

Thank you Eamon for letting me borrow your socks and I’m sorry I put a hole in them :( Fantastic photo by Glenn!

Genuinely happy to see Glenn again toward the top of Thorp. This climb seemed never ending. Before the 6 mile descent of my bodies destruction and unwillingness to move faster than a crawl.

Genuinely happy to see Glenn again toward the top of Thorp. This climb seemed never ending. Before the 6 mile descent of my bodies destruction and unwillingness to move faster than a crawl.

I can’t do this, I kept repeating to myself. Not only was I vocal about this belief but in my my mind believed what I was saying. I can’t do this, I repeated. My body was in a whirl of hurt, at this point it wasn’t just my shin but my right hip and my overall posture was slumped over trying to find a running position that wasn’t painful. In past races, I’d have a second, third, fourth wind, however, here there was no second chances- I was giving it my all.

Don’t believe everything you think. Thoughts are just that- thoughts.
After a month of not drinking, I enjoyed a few sips of beer at the finish line… until the dehydration and headache hit me.

After a month of not drinking, I enjoyed a few sips of beer at the finish line… until the dehydration and headache hit me.

I crossed the finish line after 27 hours and 3 minutes of running. After years of envisioning running this race, I had never pictured the day to end like this. I wanted so badly to perform in such a way that when I couldn’t physically achieve that goal, I barely held on for dear life, exhausting all resources and crying a shit ton. I was disappointed in myself as an athlete, not just because I felt as though I could do better, but because I risked my health and my body to get to this point. Was it worth it? The belt buckle, the Hardrock qualifier, adding another month of not running? The race itself, was incredible! The volunteers, the runners, the supporters, the course (even in the cold) were all what I dreamed of, but was it worth injuring myself further? I can’t honestly answer that question. Despite being left with another injury that left me hobbling around for a month after the race, everything that happened during those 27 hours was an experience I wouldn’t trade, a hard lesson learn. It’s amazing the things we can train our minds to believe, for the best or for the worst.

It was then, weeks later, when I stopped focusing on how long it would take me to hobble to work, or worry about getting Juniper proper exercise, when I stopped stressing at the idea of getting back to my normal self and just let myself be, that I was able to heal. I remember the moment I took notice, I ran up my parents stairs to say hi and stopped at the top- light switch just flipped, realizing that I had just RAN up the stairs with zero pain and without effort. I realized I hadn’t been late to work lately and that I was able to cross the street before the hand started blinking and without hobbling. My body was feeling good and most importantly, I was happy!

With two weeks of transitioning the miles back into my routine and then three solid weeks of running in the mountains under my belt, I’m finally feeling back to myself. Injuries are no joke and the time it takes to heal and recover should be taken seriously, an idea I’m learning to grasp. Despite being injured, I look back at my summer and am amazed at how positive my reaction toward it is. Yes, perhaps I couldn’t run most of the summer but that time wasn’t wasted. I was able to build a healthy and loving relationship with an incredible human being, do other activities other than running that I’ve sidelined in the past, and I got to watch my best friend Rhea finish her first 100 mile race (also Cascade Crest), among many other things. I’ve always defined myself as a runner but it’s not what makes me, me. These last few months helped me realized that this one sport doesn’t define me as a person, but it’s the choices I make in the end that controls my happiness and overall well being.

Since Cascade Crest, I’ve been able enjoy time away from running, spending a few week in Peru as well climbing in the Sierra and just spending quality time with my family, friends and boyfriend. As much as I tried to write about my trip to Peru with Run Like A Girl, I felt as though I needed to get this specific experience off my chest (don’t worry, more adventure posts to come!). The negative feelings clouded my overall experience and writing about it helped me grasp all the good things and all the great memories I had made during that journey. As I embark on my next adventure, packing my bags for Mexico, I feel as though all that stress and negativity is behind me and the happy go lucky Sawna has returned and is ready for the next Chapter to begin.

Till next time!

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Lake Sonoma: When "Going Big" isn't smart and "Going Home" is not an option.

If you know me, I'm a big fan of the motto "Go big or go home". I do love my home because obviously that's were my bed is and the best place for sleep. But when I think of that motto I think of the opposite of everything in moderation. In ultrarunning, there is no real moderation. Everything is extreme, as is everything I do in my life. 

Buy a bag of cookies, eat it all. Buy a bag of chips, eat all the chips. Resting is doing long hiking miles instead of "runnning". Watching Stranger Things is watching the entire season in one sitting. I have no self control- give me all the Thai food, please. So when I found out I got into Lake Sonoma exactly 30 days before the race I was hesitant on how I would perform with limited amount of running since The Coastal Challenge. 

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Well those 30 days turned into an incredible learning experience; a huge practice in self control, acceptance and learning the act of rest. The days leading up to Lake Sonoma were spent, no not in the mountains where I yearned to be, but in bed with the flu and then with laryngitis. Sawna's caught the plague yet again. 

I spent days in a drunken slumber, unable to work because of my lack of voice, unable to eat because I was too tired to do anything. My darling Juniper stuck by me as my little spoon as we slept the day away. She never begged for food or to be let outside- she rest her head on my chest and we just slept in unison. It would've broke my heart if I thought of how I was dismissing her needs, but I was too tired to realize anything. I watched as friends trained, ran, climbed, and posted their incredible feats unable to even fathom walking down the stairs. My body ached, my breathing weezed, my cough rumbled deep in my soul, demanding more rest. It was completely impossible to work, I was off work for 12 days and still my voice lingered to fully return. 

The idea of racing Lake Sonoma wasn't a question, it was out of the picture. Let's be honest, was I really going to run hard anyways? Probably not, but there was no doubt that I'd still go and experience the weekend. Lake Sonoma 50 miler has always been a prestigious race that drew some of the elite of elite athletes, not only a high profile race among the entry list but the course itself is just one for the books. This book was not one I could put down. Now, lets turn the page. 

I was lucky enough to have the support of Gu Energy when it came to the race, lodging and all the logistics. I was a lost puppy that they cared for and it was nice to know that I would have friends there. The airbnb was located on a beautiful winery just 20 minutes from the start line, shared with Rebecca, Gabi, Elan, and a couple from San Francisco. After work Thursday I was frantically trying to pack, clean my apartment and prepare Juniper for her stay with her grandparents before I set off early Friday morning at 6am. 

One would normally know where the race they signed up for would be located. Well, that person was not me. I had no idea where Lake Sonoma was until I plugged it into the map Friday morning. Let the adventure begin as the 8 hour quest lays ahead. 

The city of Healdsburg is a small, tight knit community right along the cusp of Lake Sonoma in Sonoma County, about an hour and a half from San Francisco, given no traffic. I arrived right around 1pm to the Healdsburg Running Store where packet pick up is held. Don't let the small location fool you, its not only filled with some awesome running product, but even more incredibly nice and welcoming people. My normal nervous and hesitant emotions were quickly pushed aside when I realized how welcoming this community is. I spent a few hours getting to know Rebecca and hanging at the Gu tent while runners trickled in for packet pick up. Fellow Coyotes and socal badass babes Vanessa and Brianna came and said hello as we chatted with excitement about the next days adventure. The evening was spent packing race gear, catching up with Elan, Rebecca and Gabi and just enjoying the idea of spending a nice long day on an unknown beautiful course. 

I'm not going to lie, I was nervous. I had butterflies in my stomach as I hung around the start line, butterflies or it was the several Trail butter banana toast I ate for breakfast. It's funny, I've worked with several high profiled celebrities over the last few years and never did I get nervous around them like runners I respect and look up to. LS50 has several of them, so at any given point I could've just hurled my breakfast from those butterflies. Other than that, I had no doubt today would go smoothly. With zero expectation on time and my goal to only have fun and take it easy, other than pet all the dogs, I didn't have the anxiety that I had to perform, leaving only room for enjoyment. What a concept. To have fun! 

I don't know how to put into words the next few chapters of this book. My feelings were just constantly in awe, my emotions were relatively of joy with minor disappointment in my lack of fitness, my feet continued forward as the lush singletrack opened up to meadows of wildflowers and views of the lake in the distance. I found myself, sitting on my thrown in Lala land, a place I rule over when I'm running, located off in my head and far from the actual place I'm running when I finally come back to reality and notice I was head of a kongo line of a few runners.  "Let me know when you want to pass" was the first thing I said but when the girl refrained, we began to chat. She quickly offers up a game of Lake Sonoma Trivia. This rad girl, whom I later learned is named Zuzu and her friend Justin and I played trivia, then we played guess our birth city/profession from just mere little hints. A few miles into it, Sarah, a nurse by profession who born in Maine joined in the game. Those 11 miles flew by without a hint that we were in the beginning of a race and not a fun trail run with friends. I learned all about these three, their birth city, their profession, where they lived and yet I never knew what they looked like. Not waiting too long at the next aid station I continued forward, now with new opportunity to mingle with other runners and make more new friends.

The miles came easy but slow, I couldn't help but feel disappointed on my bodies lack of ability to run faster at an effortless pace. feeling as though there was no ink in my pen, the gas on empty in my car, I was running on fumes. I could feel the tightness in my hips and hamstrings reminding me that these last few weeks were spent horizontal on a bed instead of putting in hard efforts on the trails. With Cascade Crest 100 being my A race this summer and Squamish, Hardrock, and Sierra running adventures before that- I didn't want to risk the possibility of injury. "No way Jose", I tell my fiesta shorts wearing legs to simmer down. "Have fun, Sawna" I tell myself. "Use this as a training run, see how your body reacts and gage your next few weeks of training from what you learn today" I continue telling myself. 

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At mile 31 aid station, I lingered longer, casually chatting to friends volunteering and fully enjoying the wide selection of snacks. I chugged my last cup of coke and prepared to run off when I noticed Bri was running into the aid station. As I cheered her in, the look of despair covered her entire face, she didn't look like she was having fun. She quickly explained how terrible she felt, the idea of DNFing and asked if I would wait for her. A sudden flashback of Fatdog 120 reminded me of how I felt running into a majority of the aid stations, hoping to see someone I knew, feeling awful to the point of meltdown given my body were hydrated enough to produce tears and wishing I had a friend. I, without hesitation, told her of course and reassured her that we had all day if she needed to walk the next 20 miles. We stayed at the aid station long enough for her to snack and drink plenty of fluid before heading back on the course. The next few miles we chatted about the beginning of her race, how she felt, what she ate while switching between walking and running. As we continued forward, she pressed that I could run ahead of her if I wanted to. Honestly, a phrase I use a plethora of times to other runners but when I say it I really mean "please don't leave me". I had no intention on running faster, heck! It was nice to have a running partner in general. If you don't know Bri, she is a fire cracker, fierce and fast runner, even at this low moment she was having we were still cruising the miles. Knowing she'd run the downhills, I attempted to see how far I could push her on the accents, jogging the uphills as much as possible and giving her target points to run to before inevitably hiking. Slowly but surely she was coming back around, I could tell in her voice and our conversation that she was feeling a bit better. The moaning and grunts were becoming less of a background noise as we chatted the miles by all while our pace grew faster. Bri and I have ran together maybe once or twice during Coyotes but this would be our longest run together and longest time in general hanging out. We talked about both our 100 mile races coming up, how we got into running, future goals and just life. As our pace continued to get faster, her excitement seemed to grow and she finally admitted she was confident in finishing, not just finishing, but with a 50 mile PR. 

With the pressure off the race and performing, I realized how good my body felt. The miles were effortless and my body was using the Gu fuel beautifully, definitely feeling better at this point than I did during Fatdog. The way I felt, I could've continued running, and that right there proves that the day was successful. With zero aches and pains I could continue running this week and hopefully start building the miles once I fully recover. I was excited, but the race wasn't over. Bri and I continued to push forward and with only two miles left, I cheered her on every ascent, motivating her to run it in. We crossed the finish line with the time of 10:04, giving her a 20 minute PR! 

The rest of the evening flew by. Once I crossed the finish line I was made aware that finishers received a jacket, mind blown right there. Before making my way over to the swag bag table, I made sure to say hi to the plethora of dogs hanging around the finish line. Was this heaven? This is this fiesta I was looking for! Endless food, beer and all the cute dogs to say hi to. I only had to run 50 miles to get here- shoot sign me up every weekend! After retrieving my incredible swag bag, I made my way over to the array of food booths, ordered a personal cheese-less pizza and a veggie tamale. All food in hand, beer in the other, dogs surrounding me, and tired legs- life was good. 

My race goal: Pet all the dogs was a success! Thanks for the pawsitively lovely photo Howie Stern!

My race goal: Pet all the dogs was a success! Thanks for the pawsitively lovely photo Howie Stern!

The next day runners and friends gathered at a local winery for some wine tasting and celebration. In the morning the sky gave a spectacular array of bright clouds that once the wine tasting started was dark and gifted us with a light shower. I don't think anyone really cared. The entire weekend was spectacularly well put together, the race organizers are professional in their kindness and charm (they even donate all proceeds to children scholarships). When I initially signed up I didn't realized how incredible this community was going to be, how well put together the race is, how many insanely talented and wonderful human beings it attracts and just how gosh darn nice everyone from the athletes to the organizers to the volunteers are! What else can I say to praise this race a bit more? Um, the signs along the course were awesome, and did I mention the tamales? 

So, this pretty much sums it up: Everything was great, I felt great, the people were great, the course was great, the food was great, the weather was great and the dogs... they were great. 

Before going back to the hectic long hours of running around work like a stressed out mad woman begins again, I was able to spend some quality time out on the trails with Juniper, giving me the opportunity to test the body for any kinks or pain. Each day was successful except maybe my body going with the flow a bit too much on top of Baden Powell, oh the perks of being female. Get it? Get it? Flow! Either way I'm taking it easy, recovering and indulging in some treats and beer before I stop drinking for another month or so... who knows. What's next? Gosh, opportunities change daily. Seattle in a few weeks for Orcas 50 miler? Squamish in June, Colorado in July, Cascade in August... the summer will be full of adventure and the stoke is HIGH and preferably I will be high as well- high on mountain tops that is. 

Till next time!