Sunday morning at 7AM, I found myself popped up into the downward dog position, settling back on sore Achilles’ and hammies, staring back at my big toes; nails still a little grimy from the previous day’s trail adventures. The sun was rising through a foggy mountain mist over Parksville Lake, spilling a palette of pastille pinks and purples, complementing the colorful array of yoga mats splayed throughout the pavilion. Trying to maintain focus on my own form as Becky elegantly led us from one pose to another, I couldn’t help but glance around the room. Thirty strong, sturdy bodies glowed in the dawning light, muscles rippling and faces painted with grace, ease, and confidence. Unlike the marked trails we followed the days before, each woman’s path represented something unique; each one had something special to share, and this weekend was the perfect venue to recognize that. These were the ladies of the Rock/Creek Women’s Trail Running Summit.
Recap by Erin Hannen
To view all Rock/Creek pictures from the summit, click here
I pulled into the dusty parking lot in front of Wasson Lodge on Friday afternoon, experiencing some wild mix of nervousness, excitement, and over-caffeination. Months of planning had led to this weekend and I couldn’t wait for it to get underway. Arriving shortly after me, the unbeatable Rock/Creek kitchen crew of Sara, Karla, and Stephanie pulled up, followed a bit later by co-organizer Rina and Rock/Creek Race Team Members Dreama, Ginny, and Elizabeth. Each of their cars was packed to the brim with anything and everything you could imagine. We unloaded cooler after cooler, threw around tables and chairs, prepped food, stuffed packets, and sent out a few prayers that the weekend would go off without a hitch.
The first few ladies started to trickle in, filling the lodge with more excitement than I was ready to handle! Checking in one by one, they claimed bunks in the rooms arranged about the common area and quickly returned to offer help or just some bubbly conversation that made the time fly. At 7PM sharp, the killer kitchen crew had a shmorgishborg of salads (note: not your average, boring, ol’ salad bar… think kale waldorf salad, chicken grape salad, bean & wheat berry salad, etc…. YUM!) followed by delicious homemade desserts and rockin’ Velo Coffee. With full bellies, we started with a name game (I think everyone secretly hated me for this at first but was thankful later when they remembered “Energetic Erin,” “Sarcastic Sarah with an H,” or “Bodacious Bev,” to name a few) and wrapped up the evening with a scavenger hunt, comically highlighting the competitive nature of these ultrarunning chicks.
Whether it was because of the coffee or the high-energy scavenger hunt, apparently I wasn’t the only one who didn’t get much sleep that night. Despite that fact, everyone was up and ready to rock on Saturday morning, some even crazy enough to get in a few miles pre-7AM-yoga! PrAna brought in Becky to lead a beautiful and challenging yoga practice, and I couldn’t have been more stoked to start the day.
After another killer meal for breakfast (and of course, more of that ass-kickin’ coffee!), we loaded into cars and headed to the Thunder Rock Campground. From there, a river running shuttle van drove us in groups to the head of the Rock Creek trail, where we began the steady climb up and away from the highway and back into the dense, verdant woods. After 7.5 miles of humid trudging, groups arrived back at the Thunder Rock campground for a quick aid-stop, hosted by the lovely Lisa, featuring refreshing Nuun and PROBAR snacks. Despite being drenched from the sweat of a brutally humid day and the unexpected summer storm that blew through, countless ladies came right through the aid stop and tacked on additional miles in the Tanasi trail system. More impressive than the miles they logged though were the bonds already being formed among some of the southeast’s coolest trail chicks.
Reconvening and heading back to the lodge, the ladies grabbed a quick bite for lunch and shuffled around several of the sessions we had lined up for the afternoon. Yitka from Trail Runner Magazine led an eye-opening session on the world of writing and blogging about trails, sharing examples from her interviews with some of the biggest names in trail running. Morgan from Whole Foods Chattanooga taught us how to concoct our own portable trail food and recovery snacks- samples included! Samantha taught us Stand Up Paddleboarding on Parkesville Lake. Elizabeth led a discussion on emergency preparedness and “what to bring” on the trail, featuring examples of some cool new gear from Rock/Creek.
“After this trail safety session I have to go running with a wheeled luggage piece” – Emma Williams
Dreama guided a stretching, strengthening, and injury prevention session, tailored specifically to trail running. Despite the instructional setup of the afternoon sessions, women were contributing their own experiences and were already discussing ways to spread the fun and enthusiasm of this trail-related fun with their own communities. The Summit was coming to life!
Saturday night (of course following yet another killer meal) was the main discussion. The goal of the summit as a whole was to understand the motivations and hesitations that women in trail running experience and deduce ways to overcome some of the boundaries while building a network of ambassadors to trail running women across the southeast. What I thought would be an exercise in pulling teeth turned into an unstoppable freight train of ideas, opinions, suggestions, and discussion. Some topics garnered unwavering agreement and certainty while others challenged each of us to take on new and different perspectives.
“If we want to get more women involved in trail running, we have to do something and find those women and get them on the trails!” – Ginny Kelly
While a more comprehensive report is being compiled in cooperation with all of the ladies in attendance, I think the main conclusion was that each of us has the ability to inspire another woman to step outside of her comfort zone. We found that each of our micro-communities of trail running responds differently to organizational and communication methods, yet we were able to agree on common concerns and ways to address those concerns. The energy in the room was palpable, as thoughts jotted down on poster paper turned to discussion, which turned to plans for actualization. Despite skipping out on coffee that night, the nearly three-hour open ended discussion left me wide-eyed and buzzing as I lay there that night, excited to see where this fire of excitement would spread.
The next morning, settling once again into child’s pose during sunrise yoga, I reflected on the weekend. Sensing out each sore muscle, I felt so aware; not only of myself, but of the other inspiring women around me and of their journeys to the exact place and moment we were sharing right now. We are powerful beyond our knowledge. We have the ability to make a change in such a beautiful and challenging sport. We’ve formed bonds and networks that have the potential to spread and inspire each other as well as other women in our communities to take a walk on the wild side and try something out of their comfort zones.
Yoga was followed by yet another wonderful breakfast, and we packed into cars one last time to head up to Chilhowee for a final run. Stopping at an overlook, we assembled for a quick group photo, clumsily taken with the self-timer of a cell phone propped up on a car hood. Thirty-something strong trail chicks stood not in contrast to the majestically rugged Appalachian hills in the background, poised to carve out new stories on these old trails, joined by those we inspire along the way.
View all the Rock/Creek Women’s Trail Running Summit Photos here.
Huge thanks to Rock/Creek for letting my vision coming to life and all sponsors to make this summit possible: SmartWool, prAna, Marmot, Whole Foods Chattanooga, PROBAR, Pearl Izumi, Nuun Hydration, Huma Gel & Trail Runner Magazine. Special thanks to all volunteers, Rock/Creek Race Team Members & the amazing kitchen team staffed by Rock/Creek.