Friday, September 11, 2015

Book Club interview with Vanessa Runs: Daughters of Distance


I'm so excited to share with you my interview with Vanessa Runs, author of our Taking the Long Way Home Book Club book for September, Daughters of Distance! She couldn't have been more helpful to work with! 

TTLWH: What gave you the idea for writing a book about women in endurance?

VR: About three years ago I was a pacer at San Diego 100. I was fairly new to the sport but got matched up with a highly competitive runner. His goal was to finish in about 20 or 21 hours (my finish times are about 10 hours slower than that)! I was extremely nervous and almost didn’t do it, but decided to give it a shot. I did 15 miles at his pace and it almost killed me, but it also woke me up to another side of endurance.

I started looking for women who ran more competitively. At first they were hard to find, but I soon realize they were there if I dug a little. Out of curiosity, I began asking them questions about their training and racing. I spoke to hundreds of women and discovered that so many of them shared the same struggles, but each of them felt alone.

There are some memoirs out there about individual women, but nothing that really unites the themes and topics that affect thousands of women in endurance sport. I decided to make each major theme a chapter and write that book.

Most of the time I didn’t feel fit to write it. I wasn’t an elite athlete and I was still fairly new in the endurance scene, but I’m a good listener and I feel I represented these women well.

TTLWH: Do you think it’s tougher for women to compete in ultra distances as opposed to standard distances such as the half and full?

VR: I do. I think ultrarunning now is what marathons used to be for women. It was weird and taboo for women to compete in marathons, but now it’s a normal thing. I think there’s still a lot of taboos around women running ultramarathons. Some of this is self-imposed, but other times the pressures and guilt come from those around us and they are very real.

This is mainly because of the time commitment. It takes a LOT of time not only to race one of these events but to properly train for one. The hours add up and it can be a huge challenge to juggle training with work or a family or both. I think that’s why many of the women I spoke to felt so alone in their struggles. It can feel like nobody else is doing what you are trying to do.

TTLWH: Do you have a family? And if so, how do you schedule your training around family activities?

VR: I have a little family centered around trails, so I don’t experience the typical time and commitment issues. My husband Shacky was an ultrarunner before I was and he got me into the sport. We train and race together. Trail time doubles as quality time and triples as fun/hobby time. I never have to negotiate or compromise for training time.

The dog used to join us on all our runs (she trained every mile with me for my first 100 miler), but she’s very old now and slowing down. She’s 14. This is currently my main challenge. Because I adore her and she has been so loyal to my running, I’ve drastically reduced my mileage this year to mimic her declining abilities. I hate to leave her behind and she hates it too. I don’t mind slowing down since I know this might be my last year with her—I have my entire life to race again and rebuild my mileage.

We have a cat who hikes with us sometimes, but she’s SO SLOW and refuses to be rushed. Her goal in life is to follow me everywhere. We all live in a 22-foot RV and travel full-time from trail to trail. Our lifestyle is based on being outside, so training is not an issue.

Vanessa's dog Ginger
TTLWH: How is endurance sport unique to females?

VR: Women struggle with several issues that men don’t even have to think about. Topics like safety, race discrimination, guilt, and confidence. Each chapter of the book covers one of these topics and many of them will surprise you. Their stories are vivid, moving, and sometimes shocking.

TTLWH: What is your favorite memory from the trail or the road?

VR: My favorite memory is the first 50K that Ginger (my dog) and I ever ran together. We ran every mile side by side at Born to Run. She was absolutely amazing and way stronger than me. She picked up on the course markers and even redirected me when I was about to take a wrong turn. It was a side of her I had never seen before: completely wild and incredibly strong, but also a deep care for me. There’s a strong trail-based bond between us. We would race a lot more if races allowed dogs.

The RV

TTLWH: What has been your biggest victory?

VR: I’ve had a lot of great race victories, but those are minor compared to the victory of finally having the courage to be myself and follow my whims, regardless of what anyone else thinks. There’s no right or wrong way to do life, we just have to find the way that best suits us. 

TTLWH: Your biggest disappointment?

VR: In life, it’s all the time I wasted in my early 20s trying to have a socially acceptable family life and career, instead of doing what I always knew I was meant to do. I should have started traveling right after University. I guess that’s more of a regret.

TTLWH: And favorite distance?

VR: My favorite distance is still 100+ miles even though I haven’t raced a 100-miler this year. I don’t run for the physical benefits but rather the spiritual and emotional ones. Running for 24-30 hours straight takes me to places mentally I can’t get to otherwise (at least not without drugs). I run to know myself, experience solitude and to think. There is plenty of time for all of that (and more!) in a 100 mile race.

I also love the unknowns of that distance. It doesn’t matter how hard you train or what you do to prepare—there are no guarantees that you will finish. The distance forces you to take it one step at a time. Never thinking of the entire distance, but doing your best in that present moment.

There’s nothing quite like running through the terrors of an entire night alone and watching the sun rise the next morning—and you’re still running. It’s a metaphor for life and I thrive on it.

TTLWH: What is next for you? Are you done racing? Working on another book?

VR: At the moment we are camping in Colorado until the colder weather drives us out. I figure we have a couple more weeks at least. We’re at 10,000 feet elevation so we (purposely) missed the heat waves and we even got a tiny bit of snow today! I’ve been working all summer to market my books and will likely start a new one in the fall. I have several book ideas and I haven’t decided which one is next. At the moment, I’m leaning towards a travel memoir based on our last 3-4 years of full-time travel.

We are race ambassadors for the Grand Circle Trails series. Most of those events are based in Utah and they start up again in February, so we’ll be running most of those. We are constantly traveling to races, either to run or volunteer. The dog’s limited health means it’s mostly volunteering this year. I can’t stand to put her in a kennel just so I can race. I owe her too much.

vanessaruns.com

TTLWH: Any advice for someone just starting to run?

VR: There is so much advice out there for new runners. My advice is to ignore as much of it as you possibly can. Run joyfully in your own space and you’ll figure it out. Don’t worry about what others are doing or not doing. Make your running yours. Don’t let anyone tell you you’re not ready for a certain race or distance. If you feel ready, you are.  

Have you read Daughters of Distance? Even if you are not an ultrarunner (I am not), there is just so much inspiration to be gained from this book. My review of the book will be posted next Friday, September 18. I think you would agree with me that this is an excellent and inspiring book! Please consider reading and linking up!

And don't forget to check out next month's book: Confessions of an Unlikely Runner: A Guide to Racing and Obstacle Courses for the Averagely Fit and Halfway Dedicated  by Dana L Ayers. I'm almost done and this book is hilarious. It's also really relateable. And it's $2.99 on Amazon. If you liked Run Like A Girl, you will love this one.




36 comments :

  1. Sounds like a good read! I love that she runs that far with her dog! It really is an interesting culture. I think crewing in Leadville was the closest I come to running that far though!

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    1. This was a great read! I didn't know you crewed for Leadville! We need to talk about that over lunch....

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  2. Sounds like a great book. All of the point she makes here are good. When I read Scott Ulrich's book (?) I thought that a woman could never get away with writing a book like that without having to apologize for neglecting her family or getting raked over the coals for doing so. We still have a double standard!

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    1. Oh yes, we do! She does a great job sorting through that in this book.

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  3. Very insightful interview. Thanks Wendy. Have a great day
    bakingrunner.blogspot.com

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  4. It always blows my mind that someone can run over 100 miles and actually enjoy it. Sounds like a cool woman to interview!

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    1. She's been great to work with. I'd love to meet her.

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  5. Omgoodness this book sounds amazing. Thanks for the insight.

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  6. I have to admit that I teared up reading about her 14 year old dog. That was the same age as my running partner who just died a couple weeks ago. I felt much the same way. This sounds like a great book (and a very interesting woman). Going to check it out.

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  7. This sounds like a great book. I loved reading that interview!

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    1. You don't have to be an ultrarunner to "get" this one. It's great for any woman who's an athlete.

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  8. Great interview. This sounds like a fabulous book. There really are still so many struggles women have to go through. I constnatly have that guilt of feeling I need to get "house stuff" done rather than getting in my workout. However having a husband that also runs helps a lot since he really gets it.

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    1. My husband isn't a runner, and sometimes he gets it, sometimes he doesn't. His mom was one of those martyrs who did everything (too much, IMHO) for the family. Makes it hard for me sometimes when I want to do my thing.

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  9. I have been following Vanessa Runs and did a book review for her myself a while back. I love her easy going writing style.

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    1. She writes in a conversational style and that makes a good read!

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  10. How cool is she? Sounds like an awesome and inspiring read. I always said I'd never do an ultra, but I've started thinking about it... eek!

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    1. No ultra for me...I don't think my feet could handle the miles! But there was a ton of inspiration in this book for runners of any distance.

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  11. Wow, this is fascinating. I have read books on ultrarunning but none authored by women. Thanks for sharing!

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  12. Definitely adding this to my reading list. Great interview!

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  13. I can't believe a 100 miler as a favorite distance! Crazy cool!

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  14. Great interview! 100 miles as a favorite distance is nuts! I wish I could get my dog to run even a mile!

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    1. I can't get mine to go around the block. Of course, she is 12...

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  15. Omg Ginger's face! My dog mama heart just melted!

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  16. I loved this Wendy! I had to go to Vanessa's web page and check it out. I can not imagine traveling since 2013 like she has been doing in the camper. I have a friend who lives in Washington and has done several west coast ultra events, he just completed a 100 miler. Even though I read the recaps it is hard for me to wrap my mind around running like that. Thanks for introducing me to a new blog ;)

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    1. Check out her book too! It's just great, inspiring even for us non-ultra runners.

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  17. Wow Wendy if the book is half as inspiring as she is it will be a phenomenal read. Totally enjoyed the interview and I will be reading this book.

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    1. This is a GREAT read. I hope a lot of women pick it up. It isn't just for ultrarunners.

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  18. Looks like a good read! I'll have to check out her page for more information.

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