Lauren LaRocco - Crater Chaos

Hello! Who are you and where are your hiking roots?

Hi, my name is Lauren LaRocco and I’m a professional distance runner and avid outdoors gal. I primarily race the 5k and 10k on the track and the roads. Much of my training takes place out on trails though. I’ve had a love for nature, sunshine, and fresh air for as long as I can remember.

I grew up biking along the American River in northern California, and hiking in South Lake Tahoe. I loved the extra challenge from the thin air in Tahoe, and the way my heartbeat would pick up as I traversed the switchbacks of Mt. Tallac.

My parents are not athletic, but I definitely inherited a strong work ethic from them that is seen in their professional pursuits. I’ve always embraced challenges and loved to test my limits, physically and mentally. I am highly disciplined, patient, and ambitious.

Nature started out as a quiet, spiritual getaway for me to sift through my thoughts,slow down, and reflect. When I began running in high school, it became a second home. I loved to traverse up and down the horse trails both alone or with friends.

I felt privileged to get to explore nature in such a deep and personal way. It was a great outlet for my energy, and helped me stay productive and focused in school. Now, running is a full-time job for me, and hiking is my favorite cross-training activity.

What’s your Story From The Mountain?

My most memorable hike (I honestly have blocked parts of this one out though), was the treacherous Ka’au Crater in Honolulu, Hawai’i.

My twin brother and I took an uber to the trailhead, which turned out to be a neighborhood. After wandering around looking for the trail for 20 minutes, we were about ready to call it quits and head back to the hotel. If only we weren’t so persistent.

Who can find the trailhead in this picture?

On the side of someone’s driveway we spotted a rope which lowered you down into a bunch of overgrowth. Sure enough this rope was the trailhead. 

Once we lowered ourselves onto the ground below, we found the trail to be in extremely bad conditions. It was very muddy and overgrown. About 15 minutes in, we were covered in mud and scratches from the plants.

OK found it! Now how to get down…

At this point we came across two people on their way out. They told us to turn around now and not go. They said the trail was not maintained and not safe or fun. I begged my brother to turn around with me and go back. I was scared and I would rather rest before heading out for my second run of the day than do even more rigorous exercise.

My brother refused, though, and I did not want to be left alone. He kept telling me we would just go a little bit farther, and then turn back…

It turns out that this hike was a giant loop, and there was no turning back. The “hike” was more of a climb, including over 20 ropes because the trail was so steep you needed them to pull your way up.

Before I knew it, I found myself very high up on a narrow ridge. There was a drop off on each side of me. One misstep and I’d be falling to my death. Not to mention it was extremely windy and I found myself crouching down close to the ground, trying to keep my balance.

This is going great!

At this moment I just wanted a helicopter to come and rescue me. The ropes had been difficult to get up, but there was no way I could get down them. Plus I had to make my way all the way around the crater on this ridge before coming down. I remember praying to God, thinking, ‘Please God don’t let me die. Even if I get injured, I don’t care, that’s ok, just don’t let me die.’

Sure enough I did somehow survive this hike, but I did end up injured. My second run that day did not happen, and I was out for about two months with bad tendinitis in my groin. After surviving the hike I remember Googling it, thinking I was never trusting my brother to pick a hike again.

Ok we’ve made it to the crater now let’s just go back. No need to climb I’m plenty dirty…

Adrenaline has been running for hours so trying to chill & feel OK.

Sure enough, the internet was filled with horror stories of people falling to their death from Hawai’i’s dangerous ridges. While I am a strong endurance athlete, this taught me that I’m not invincible.

Ok but then shit got real.

While there were tremendous views of the ocean, I had a hard time taking them in because I was afraid for my life the entire time. The stress of working hard is welcome, but the stress of a life-threatening situation was too far for me.

I have to admit, it was amazing. I conquered something I never knew I could. I was frustrated that I got injured but this was such an insane experience I was so thankful to have.

Going down is always the worst. Just slide on your butt and hope for the best!

Through hiking/climbing, have you learned anything about yourself or nature you’d like to pass on to others?

I want to be known for my love of the outdoors and my ability to conquer it. I’ve learned that we are not meant to fight against nature, but lean into it.

I love to race up hills, but also to slow down and take in the views. I’m not afraid to go out and hike alone. I love quietness or the sounds of the trees and animals and water.

Since I’m a professional runner, I would not want to compromise my career on another dangerous hike, so I set my own boundaries. I try to stick to day hikes that are challenging but not threatening.

Mostly, I want to inspire others to live a healthy and active lifestyle. If I can fire someone up to get outside and instill my passion for our planet into others, I will feel fulfilled.

What’s your favorite item in your pack?

The first thing that comes to mind is a water bottle. At least one. I prefer to use a glass or metal one to reduce plastic and increase insulation.

I’ve always embraced challenges and loved to test my limits, physically and mentally.

Hydration is extremely important and although I have to pee all the freaking time, when I’m out running or hiking, it’s really not hard to find a bush to go in.

If I’m on a long hike I also like to bring a meal like a sandwich and an apple, or some nuts and granola. Always have a protein bar or shake mix in the car for after. Candy can also be some quick energy that takes up little space in your pack, but don’t come after me for that rec.

Because I keep my hikes somewhat short, I usually don’t take much with me on the actual trek. I have my phone for pictures and safety reasons. And probably the most important part is my shoes!

Find some good hiking or running shoes that fit you well and will keep you safe, dry and comfortable. I like to wear thick wool socks and hiking boots as it cushions my feet and prevents blisters.

I wear Oboz hiking boots. For running, I do most of my miles in Nike Pegasus.

If you’re shopping for your super outdoorsy friend you can’t go wrong with any of the following:

  • Reusable water bottle
  • Socks
  • Trail mix (unless they have a nut allergy, then you can go very, very wrong)
  • Hat
  • Sunscreen
  • GoPro Hero
  • Bug spray
  • Water filtration system (e.g. LifeStraw or Sawyer Straw)

Do you have any advice for other hikers who are just starting out?

Do your research beforehand!

And don’t start with a really big adventure that makes you feel so overwhelmed that you never even start! Start small and safe.

I lived in Oregon for 5 years where I consistently went to the Colombia River Gorge, which has a plethora of hikes from a flat mile to hilly 13 mile loops.

Trails aren’t for everyone, especially if you’re prone to sprained ankles. Just make sure you prepare for the length with food and water, and the conditions (mud, ice, rain, bugs, heat, etc.). Also do not attempt a huge vertical climb if you’re out of shape.

Turn the incline up on the treadmill at your gym or use the stairmaster until you have built up the stamina to make it on the hike you have planned without collapsing. Keep pushing yourself a little more each day.

Trying to summon the strength for one big push on the day of your hike without proper fitness training will not help you progress. Consistency is key!

In terms of recovery: nutrition, sleep, and a rehab routine! This means a meal with protein, fats, and carbs, nine hours of sleep, plus stretching and mobility work. My favorite passive recovery is putting my feet up against a wall or getting in some Normatec boots.

My ideal post hike recovery...Give me a break I went 11 miles to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and then back up all in one day.

What have been the most influential hiking books, podcasts, or people?

I find mountain and trail runners very inspiring. Jim Walmsey, Matt Daniels, Kelly Wolf, Amelia Boone, and Grayson Murphy are a few who come to mind. Definitely check out their instagrams.

I love to listen to the Finding Mastery podcast which is not specific to hiking, but provides me motivation for doing anything in life!

And don’t start with a really big adventure that makes you feel so overwhelmed that you never even start! Start small and safe.

I absolutely love books so it’s hard to choose one. Into Thin Air is about climbing but again, the principles can be applied to hiking!

Where’s your next adventure?

I’d love to get to the Swiss Alps or do the Everest Base Camp Trek through the Himalayas. Next time I’m on a running break I would love to spend two weeks backpacking to fully immerse myself in life away from civilization.

It looks just the right amount of risky, and absolutely breathtaking. Reconnecting with the Earth is so important to me, and it is a great way to make me feel rejuvenated for my next season ahead.

Where can others learn more about you?

I am very active on Instagram (@laurenalarocco) so you can definitely continue to follow along on my journey there.

I am also starting up a running club, so fellow runners looking for coaching or just a club to be a part of, check out Track Republic (@track_republic). Feel free to reach out to me on Instagram, or send me new adventures you recommend!

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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