Hello! Who are you and where are your trail running roots?
My identity is as intertwined with the trail as my nickname. Hi, I’m Kat, short for Katherine and found in many an iPhone under ‘trail_kat’. The best way that I can describe my relationship with trails and mountains is that they have been imprinted onto my DNA.
For some, the mountains are a way to push boundaries, but for me they just feel like home. Even as I explore new places, and test my own limits, there is an undeniable nostalgia and deep sense of belonging that the trails provide.
For the first six summers of my life, my parents would take my brother and me to the White Mountains and spend a week hiking the Presidential Traverse. I summited Mount Washington with my own two feet at least twice before I turned 7. There was something special about this place - nobody told me to smile or how pretty my hair was, or told me that once I turned 25 it was all downhill. It was a place where one little human was recognized and accepted by other humans, as-is.
Now the trails are where I go to play, but they also serve a deeper purpose. They’re where I move my body for mental and physical health. They’re where I can be fully present and grounded, when at all other times I’m stuck in my head. The rhythmic sounds of my breath and the gentle snap of pine needles… they’re not my escape, they’re where I go to remember who I am.
What’s your Story From The Mountain?
“I want to buy a house aaaand… I want to run a 50 mile race,” the words that had been clanging around in my head but hadn’t yet escaped until they tumbled out of my mouth onto the Thanksgiving dinner table in 2017.
The response from my brother, whose question “what are two things you want to accomplish in the coming year” had released these words was a simple nod and a “hmm” - just matter of factly accepting two totally normal adulthood milestones that I’d just identified as goals and brought one step closer to reality.
The best way that I can describe my relationship with trails and mountains is that they have been imprinted onto my DNA.
As I continued on with my ultra-fascination, I’d been hearing about the lows people experienced during ultras and how persevering through the physical and mental pain when you want to quit could be analogous to and help you through tough times in life.
I desperately wanted to feel the intensity of that victory. So I signed up for the 2018 Mount Hood 50 miler - and ran it a month after running my first 50k. It was the most joyful 10 hours, 32 minutes and 51 seconds of my life. Even when in intense pain, there was a part of me that never wanted it to end.
Sure, I was having Type 2 fun during the neverending ascent to the turnaround point when I was out of water, and it only made the ice water at the aid station more refreshing. Did I mumble unintelligible obscenities to myself while hobbling the last seven miles of downhill that I couldn’t run due to sharp and radiating pain in my knee? Heck’n right I did! But I still loved it.
What I remember most about this experience was how giddy I was to be running this course. There were also two very unique moments of intense energy release that manifested as tears and what might appear to be hysterical breathing. This was something that felt so familiar, but that I had never previously experienced.
Sometimes in my daily life when work and other such existential crises have me feeling like an emotional pressure cooker, I wish I could open a release valve, the same way those moments on the trail felt. But that’s not how it works. It only gets to be experienced as the elusive reward that keeps people like me coming back, because it feels good to do things that feel hard.
Through trail running, have you learned anything about yourself or nature you’d like to pass on to others?
I’ve learned that even when I’m doing what I love, I can end up doing it for the wrong reasons if I don’t check in with myself. I’ve learned that if I listen to my head and my ego instead of my heart and my body, my body will eventually have the last word. It will enact a forced reset so my heart can take over.
I’ve learned that “performance flannel” goes with everything and trail fashion is indeed a thing.
I’ve learned that if I’m going to fall, it’s going to be on the flattest, least technical portion of the trail, usually immediately following a technical section.
I’ve learned that the wind makes me irrationally angry, but I guess that’s nothing new. I just learned that it carries over to the trail where I’m more prone to yell into it like a lunatic.
I’ve learned that I can do more than I thought I could and that as long as I keep moving forward, eventually I’ll cross a finish line even when it seems like it’s light years away.
What’s your favorite item in your pack?
Since potatoes have their own designated pocket in my pack, it’s tough not to say potato. Alas, I’m always going on about my Petzl Actik Core headlamp - if for no other reason than it’s halted the wasteful and expensive need for fresh batteries.
For the same cost as my previous headlamps best suited to evening tent reading, I get lots of lumens from multiple bulbs, critical for depth perception on technical trails. The charge lasts.
Without it, I’d be stuck on the treadmill for half of the year. I may not be articulating what a game changer this piece of gear has been for me, but I’ve had more friends invest in Petzl than potato, so the passion I feel for it must come through better in my nonverbals.
Do you have any advice for other trail runners who are just starting out?
Start now, start where you are. You might think you have to build a base before you are “good enough” to start, but that’s just fear talking. If you let those fears keep you from starting now, you’ll never find the right time.
Your fears of being slow or out of shape, of looking foolish and of the unknown are not unique to you. EVERYONE has those fears starting out, fooled by their own minds into believing they’re not good enough to be a beginner.
No matter how real it feels, it’s not the truth. You’ll find that you’re welcomed into the community, on a group run or hike, with open arms and no judgement. The sooner you get over the barriers in your head, the more time you have to play.
Maybe you have questions and you need answers. Don’t fret, you’ll find them over time through trial and error.
The thing is, most of the answers to the questions you have are specific to you and the only way to know is to build experience. Sure you can do some research or ask people what works for them, but trial and error is always the best way to find what works for your body and your mind.
If you’re interested in a little more detail, I wrote a thing on ways to get started, even though I had only just gotten started as far as I’m concerned.
What have been the most influential trail running books, podcasts, or people?
I became mildly obsessed with the concept of trail and ultrarunning after reading Born to Run and shortly thereafter stumbled on Finding Traction - a documentary about ultra running icon and beast, Nikki Kimball. I made everyone I knew who would sit down and watch it with me. I couldn’t believe I didn’t see anything ignite in their eyes the way I’d felt ignited by it. It was clear that I had a connection to the sport that others didn’t.
I was so inspired by the potential for longevity in ultrarunning that defies most people’s perceptions of longevity in running and more importantly, what aging can look like. When I crossed paths with Nikki Kimball at Quad Rock two years ago, it all came full circle for me and I could not believe I was running the same course as my first inspiration.
From there, it was a cascade of discovery and love for the sunshine-filled Sally McRae, the resilient Hillary Allen, gritty af Catra Corbett along with countless others out there inspiring on the daily. Their stories serve as an example for the rest of us to move past our limiting beliefs and dare to accomplish the things we once thought weren’t possible.
Where’s your next adventure?
My next adventure is the 2020 racing season, more specifically, the Javelina Jundred 100k. In Life in a Day, Devon Yanko says “racing is a novelty when you consider how powerful running is,” and I’m aiming to keep that perspective while still working towards a big goal.
After DNSing (did not start) all of my races last year due to injury, I have come to learn that my ability to run a certain distance on one day out of the year doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things - but I’m setting my sights none the less.
I’m still in my infancy when it comes to ultra running. I’ve only run two ultras - the longest being 50 miles. I’ve had a prolonged setback since that race and I’m afraid to try again and fail, but therein lies the adventure.
On my way to this goal, I’ll be running Quad Rock 25 miler in May, something I’m a bit nervous about, since I haven’t worked up to a 20 mile long run yet and it’s been a year since I was able to. The journey toward my goal this summer is going to be quite an adventure, hopefully with more highs than lows this time around!
Where can others learn more about you?
They’re not all winners, but if I don’t make you laugh on the regular, you should probably just ignore my account. I get a little more personal on my blog at trailkat.com. I’m interested in connecting with the community of trail lovers at large, so you’re welcome to contact me through DMs, my blog or email me at email@example.com. Looking forward to hearing from you!
Want to share your Story From The Mountain?
Hey, I'm Greg Kamradt, the founder of Terra Mano.
We interview awesome hikers/mountaineers/climbers/photographers and share the stories behind their ambition. By sharing these stories, we want to help others become inspired to reach their goals.
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Terra Mano makes handcrafted maps of American Landscapes.