The idea had been brewing for years, but last summer, Jen Segger led 11 women, most of them perfect strangers, on a six-day endurance run though the mountains of British Columbia. What began as a trail running road trip, the Run BC Project ultimately became a much deeper experience. We recently caught up with Segger to find out how it all went down.
What is the RunBC Project, and how did it come about?
The RunBC Project was something that I had been dreaming about for several years. The concept stemmed from the desire to go on a running road trip with a bunch of girlfriends. What could be better? Running amazing trails, laughing with your friends and touring around B.C. I was pregnant, recovering, and then returning to health from an achiles surgery so it had to wait a few years before I had the health and energy to actually organize it.
Was it difficult to convince a bunch of strangers to jump into something like this?
I sent the invite out to a crew of ladies that I knew who love distance running and love the mountains. Low and behold, I had commitment from 11 other ladies within less then 24 hours. My role was to co-ordinate: plan the trails, the travels and the accommodations so that we could all have a great week of running together. What my group and I got out of the experience was much more than we ever imagined. So much so that everyone wants me to plan another one for 2016. I suppose you could say this is turning into an annual event—a ladies trail running vacation getaway.
Six days, 130 km. That’s like a half marathon a day. But trail running, in the mountains. What was the most difficult part?
We for sure ran a lot. Trails ranged from 20 km to 30 km. Everyone came prepared for long days on the trails and in the mountains. Some ladies used the road trip to prepare for ultra races later in the season and others came purely to run and have fun on new terrain. The hardest part of the trip was purely how busy we were. Trail time averaged 4-6 hours a day plus drive time. Days were long, but the company, the food and the memories made up for it. We got amazing photos and had fun during the road tripping part. A typical day went like this: wake up, drink coffee, eat breakfast, drive to trailhead, run, hit the road and head onto our next accommodations in the town.
Was it a challenge to negotiate the different personalities, especially not really knowing where everyone’s coming from?
Some of the ladies knew a few others in the group but some were completely new. However, the invite got passed along to people that I knew would be welcoming, had great attitudes and would be inclusive. I couldn’t imagine that it could have gone any better than it did. Instant new friendships formed between the ladies because everyone shared a common goal. When you spend time on the trails and in the mountains, people get to just relax, step out of daily routine and stressors and simply have a good time. Mountains are relaxing and therapeutic so I think it helped bring the group together instantly. We all had common goals – run and have fun. No room for drama. In addition, we spent lots of hours in the van driving which is great for getting to know each other.
Who were some of the people you were running with?
I wanted ladies to join me who had a passion for adventure and could be flexible. This was critical. The remaining spots were passed out to friends of friends who quickly scooped them up. I thought the best way to bring the right types of female runners together was through the chain of connection. I’m happy to report it worked. Because we wanted to keep the number of vehicles limited and give it a real “roadtrip feel” we kept the group size to 12 total as that was the space we had.
The ladies were from Squamish, Vancouver, Vancouver Island and Washington. Most had never run the trails that I had selected so that made things even more exciting. What everyone realized is that you don’t have to travel across the globe to find adventure. B.C. is a mecca and an endless one at that when it comes to offering great trail adventures. This trip just perked the desire to see more, explore more.
Where were you sleeping?
We spent our first night in a backcountry cabin. That was really fun as we fast packed in with our food and sleeping needs on our backs. Again, a new experience for many of the ladies. It was nice to arrive and spend some time relaxing in the alpine and just having everyone get to know each other, away from cell phones. It kickstarted our trip really well. This was our only overnight on the trail. After that, we slept in various houses and cabins that we had rented in neighbouring towns to the trails that we ran. This also proved great for R&R post running. We cooked our breakfasts and drank coffee before heading out for the days big run. At nights we’d head into town, wander around a bit if time allowed and then head to a restaurant as a group. No one wanted to spend time cooking so trying new cafés and eateries along the way added to the fun. It also allowed us the chance to re-stock on food items for lunch, post-run snacks and trail food. I just finished camperizing a Sprinter van this past Winter so that served as a great support vehicle. We stocked the fridge in the van with all sorts of drinks and snacks so that as soon as we arrived back at the trailhead we had recovery food and tasty treats awaiting us.
Did weather factor in at all, and how did you prepare for it. Also, did conditions change much from spot to spot?
Our first day in the Whistler area was probably the worst. It was a cold afternoon and evening and we felt it a bit more being that we stayed in the alpine that night. After that though, super hot! We had great weather right around the province. July was a beautiful month to be in the mountains. Mornings were a bit chilly but the days were so great. Can’t beat the interior of B.C. for summer warmth so that was nice.
What were some of the things you learned from the strangers in the party?
I learned that people really love to open up on the trail. It seems to bring out a really cool method of communication. People just get into the rhythm, feel relaxed and because we are all sharing one very cool experience together, it made everyone feel connected. I think that is the power of the trails. In addition, females have an amazing ability to put egos aside and encourage each other, help out and be supportive. If someone was feeling low or having a rough go, everyone stepped up to support. So awesome to see. We truly functioned as a group.
Do you still keep in touch?
For sure. I coach some of the ladies for their endurance goals. Other ladies became new friends on the trip and continue to plan running adventures and train together. We have our own Facebook group where we all share our photos and memories, etc. Everyone wants to run again in 2016 and re-unite for another road tripping adventure.
I read somewhere that you had some older ladies on the run, some had run endurance races in the Arctic and the Gobi desert?
Lets just say that age means nothing in the realm of ultra running. Several of the ladies, let’s call them veterans, have done more races and run more miles than most of the young guns, and continue to do so, even being well over 50 years old. Very inspiring. These ladies showed everyone how to get it done day after day. They were equally as fast as they were strong. Talk about aerobic engines and the mental capacity to get through tough sections, push through fatigue and run 6 days back-to-back-to-back.
What was really cool was having such a diverse group of ladies who have run races all over the world. Everyone was telling race stories (the good and the bad) so it made for great trail conversation and inspired others to sign up for new events they hadn’t heard of before.
Will there be another run this year? What new adventures do you have on the go?
Yes, for sure. All the ladies want to go again so I said I’d co-ordinate another running road trip that we could all enjoy. Im in the planning phase now and am thinking that 2016 will be coined as Run The Koots, as in, we are going to shorten up our drive times each day and create a cool new road trip in the Kootenay area.
Most beautiful stretch of trail you hit?
Tough question as each day was so unique. Ask each lady and you’d get a different response. For me, it’s all about high alpine terrain. Others really loved the trails in the Rossland area for the flow and feel.
What’s the takeaway?
B.C. mountains are awesome. We are so lucky to have the BC playground in our backyard. I encourage people to get out and experience it. A running road trip can be an inexpensive holiday. Pack your camping gear, bring your shoes and grab a friend. I was just lucky that I had 11 other amazing friends to share my dream of a running road trip with. Great trail company, fun times traveling in the van and running new trails. Simple concept. I couldn’t think of a better week on the road.
Read Jen’s take on running in the winter here.
Missing summertime already? We want to here from you: