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May 03, 2018

Fierce Flyer - Ali on Running Across California

BY: ALI BUTLER GLENESK

As a kid, I thought nothing of hopping off the school bus a few stops early and running through the fields before strutting home covered in dust. I was lucky enough to be raised with lots of time camping, hiking, and generally playing outside in the dirt. Who I would become was also shaped by family folklore. Ask any of my cousins and they’ll tell you with pride about the time their grandfather tried out SCUBA diving with a fire extinguisher in the 1950s, or the time he took all his kids out to run a marathon in death valley. My dad and his brothers were world class modern pentathletes before I was born, but perhaps more importantly to me, they were adventurers, and took me bushwhacking through island wilderness, relishing in the joy of being outdoors and off the beaten path, quite literally.

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So for me, running helps me feel like myself, connecting me to my family history, to nature, and to the broader running community. As I built my career, I also built a running habit, logging thousands of miles on the trails off the freeway exits on my commute home. It only made sense that last year during a career transition I turned to running as a path through some of the liminality. I hatched a plan to run across my home state of California and I had two friends who wanted to join me! The plan was that I’d run about 26 miles each day, with Maryam and Noam alternating driving the car and running with me, until we reached the ocean. My audacious goal was to set a supported fastest known time for the route, although it was a bit of a new route we were making, and it wasn’t easy to find information about women who had done it before. All of us had our own goals for the week - Maryam wanted to run farther than she’d ever run before and Noam wanted to make a film documenting our adventures. For all of us, the idea that our ragtag, middle-of-the-packer group could play a small part in making the door into adventure sports a bit wider for underrepresented groups was inspiring.

RAC_ali3.pngOur view of Squaw Valley from the western states trail.

On July 31st, Noam and I set off at a tentative and hopeful jog from the Nevada state line on Lake Tahoe’s North Shore. I was shaking in my shoes. To be at mile 3 of a 262 mile adventure, with two friends willingly believing in and supporting you, even as you aren’t completely sure you can accomplish the undertaking at all, was a special experience to say the least. Day 2, Maryam and I started out on the Western States Trail at sunrise. Day 2 was one of the hardest days, but I think it was when I found my stride. The Western States Trail is where the legends of many of my running heroines took shape, and it runs through an area of the High Sierra steeped in memories from my childhood and family. My grandparents met in those mountains and their ashes are now scattered there. To be on that trail that day, floating down the switchbacks, it was a coming home.

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Over the course of the week, I ran what amounted to about 7 marathons in 7 days. I cried on day 2 thinking about how far there still was to go. On day 3, there was the magic of realizing I had legs after the marathon the day before - my first ever back-to-back marathon. On subsequent days I did it again and again and I remember running along thinking to myself, dang I’m really doing this thing! I ran while eating trail mix out of a baggy in the darkness and I ran chatting with my friends and I ran wearing a burger king crown I found on the sidewalk in Sacramento. I ran wondering how my aches would feel the next day and I ran until I found myself unable to bend my legs to get into the car. I ran into the transcendent experience of pushing my body beyond what I thought was possible, before we stopped short of our goal outside the Jelly Belly factory in Fairfield.

ali_RAC4.pngIn Fairfield during RAC with the squad. Got that Runner Trucker Hat full of ice.

The story of our run isn’t a story of a smashing success, but it is a story of camaraderie and bravery. I’m a middle-of-the-packer who ran 175 miles in a week and had a silly amount of fun (and a crazy amount of digging deep) out there with my friends. In the aftermath of the run I didn’t become super confident overnight, but I was reminded that I can be bold and that friendship, family, and community are everything.

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Looking back, last year was an awe-inspiring year in women’s running. I was incredibly inspired by Oiselle’s all-female team at the speed project, Natalie Larson’s solo FKT of California south-to-north, and Cat Bradley’s super badass FKT in the Grand Canyon R2R2R. In an era of women elevating women in running, it feels incredible to be a part of that. During my run across California, my friends slathered sunscreen on me and hollered words of support out the car window. They ran farther than they’d ever run before by my side and embraced that road life - including all the 4am wake ups to beat the heat! We raised each other up. Whether you’re a professional runner or not, it is incredible to feel that sense of belonging - to a team and to something bigger than yourself!

Check out our film and learn more about the film hereRunning Across California is Premiering online on May 8: Click here for the film!

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