Elements of athletic maturity


As I mature in my endurance practice I root deeper into the idea that mine is less one of seeking to achieve and more one of learning to listen. ‘Epic’ means nothing to me and, instead, my increasingly powerful and resilient body seeks feats of subtlety, participates in events shrouded in lonesome mystery, and my turning legs beat out ephemeral half-answers to questions that will continue to drive me for decades more. As I become stronger, I become more ferocious and, paradoxically, more interested in the small things, the unremarkable experience of living my life in the forest.

The spring season floods us with more energy and ideas than we know what to do with so I put together this brief guide to ground your mountain endurance practice.

Patience: As water eventually cracks granite (melting/freezing or barreling through) this driven athlete has realized the ultimate power of patience as an endurobeast. Patience is not akin to passive waiting but is, instead, the soul sister of tenacity. Patience has a quality of quiet knowing and the humbleness to put in the work again and again.

Acceptance: This winter I trained my literal ass off for a specific desert running project only for inclement weather and trail washouts to make the run impossible. The day I was supposed to do the run into which I’d put so much work I blithely pointed my car at a different trailhead and had a fulfilling run anyway. Why? Because if I wanted to always complete the objective I want to complete, I’d be a triathlete. The mountains are a dynamic being with whom to collaborate and I’ve learned to accept defeat, joy, and being broken with equal gratitude.

Audacity: The natural extension from the previous is the quality of having the self-awareness and confidence to dream (and train) big, bigger, biggest, even beyond what any existing paradigm suggests is possible. Never been done before? No problem. Your family/friends/partner/coach doesn’t think it is possible/prudent/safe? Who gives a shit; do it anyway and create your own paradigm.

Self-knowledge: As I weave this guide to athletic maturity I see how connected and interdependent each of these qualities is. Audacity is dangerous to the athlete if it is not grounded in an accurate self-assessment of skill, personal capacity, health, and preparation. Exercising self-knowledge allows the athlete to tailor their practice to their weaknesses and their performances to their strengths.

Injury- and illness-proof: The athletes I admire are not the ones who accomplish their goals through brute force, leaving them at risk of illness or injury as a result. The athletes I admire have learned their ‘tells’, knowing and respecting their needs for rest, understanding humbly when to back off a climb or away from a slope. These athletes are seldom, if ever, injured; they do not drive themselves into overtraining.

Support: As an endurance athlete, it is your responsibility to be secure enough in your own practice to support others’ practices. This goes for those who excel where you struggle or for those who simply can’t keep up with you. The strongest climbers, skiers, and runners I know don’t critique my performance and my ideas, they are my biggest supporters and cheerleaders. Be that secure bitch who wholeheartedly encourages your fellow athlete.

Creative isolation: While the athletic community as a whole seems bent on this idea of ‘sharing is caring’ or ‘to go long go together’ or ‘the more the merrier’, I find my most genius, rapturous, unhinged athletic/spiritual feats happen in total creative isolation. I choose not to have many, if any at all, athletes in my circle of friends. I choose not to read climbing or running literature. I don’t pay attention to how other coaches coach. I simply attune myself, scrub my powers of perception clean, and lead from my soul. The purest creative acts arise from isolation, not by being diluted by others’ accomplishments or under their influence.

Discernment: Some of the best creative advice I’ve received over the years is this: “Your diamonds are not for everyone”. Not everyone you encounter on your athletic or personal path is deserving of or equipped to understand your gnostic, wandering endurance practice. You are under no obligation whatsoever to share your projects, your training sessions, and your reflections with anyone––ever.

Sensitivity: The ability of the athlete to accomplish their macro-level task (completing the climb, run, or descent) with facility is a useful one and certainly core to the very idea of athleticism. However, accomplishing the task but lacking subtle awareness of one’s surroundings, inner state, health, and connection with the more-than-human leaves the accomplishment hollow, devoid of meaning and impact on the athlete. Instead of fretting about what pausing to observe a bear munch berries will do to your Strava rank, understand these serendipitous encounters to be not ancillary but central to your athletic maturity. In the microcosm lies the truth of these experiences.

What's so wild about wilderness?

out on the land, x̌aʔx̌aʔ tum xúlaʔxʷ , Apr 2019

My spirit needs space, my powers of reception require regular scrubbing, my feelings only feel safe when I’m in the good company of a broad expanse of our shared body––this sweet, capricious earth.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the construction of ‘wilderness’. Wilderness is actually not natural; though the designation serves a purpose and though I actively campaign for roadless designations in various places, it is a constructed reality. We’ve altered the land in such ways that returning to some idealized past Golden Age is simply a nationalistic notion masquerading as environmental consciousness. Humans, since the inception of our species, have managed, collaborated with, harvested from, and been in co-creative relationship with the more-than-human––even and, perhaps, especially the wildest places.

The idea of wilderness obviates the endurance of our very real, very constant, inalienable connection to the places that own us. It saddens me to observe the predominant, white, corporate narratives of conservation and recreation leaning far in the direction of dissociative attitudes toward the more-than-human.

We have, collectively, accepted that ‘wilderness’ is a place we visit, not a place we belong. We have built ‘wilderness’ into a thing to which we are either the savior or the destructor. Such dualistic ways of believing about, behaving toward, and, ultimately, administrating the un-administrable natural world to which we belong perpetuates ideas of us being the most important organisms sharing this great big body. News flash: only our egos believe we’re at the top of the food chain which is why so many of us tread the woods armed and scared even while acting macho.

I do not live in the woods in an attempt to escape the rest of the world; I have painstakingly woven myself back into the land, pressed hard against ki’s soft, moss-covered granite expanses. My life depends on our daily interweavings in order to function; my work is here, my love is here, my purpose, my thoughts, and, yes, my feelings. Think: do you move in the forest to forget or are you truly in the act of re-membering?

Training Journal Entry: Joy Is My Healer


it was less that i went there and more that the place wrapped its mysterious breath around me. the light affected me: i was immersed in a dramatic springtime storm that had moved downvalley (as everything was downvalley of where i currently stood). its squall veil shaded harsh blackened spires into a sort of velvet before passing and leaving the place in even higher halcyon definition than before.

i flushed a grouse then worked Nason a bit before turning back. this is the place where in september i'll run a long run with Moose and Wolf and Grizzly very alone yet not. it is more soothing to me to be in the safe company of the wind and broken pines than tamped down in the valley with people.

Kettles Map Project featured in The Spokesman Review

The Kettles are this tiny microcosm of all the conservation issues facing the northwest.

Our little map project is picking up steam according to the Spokesman Review’s article in today’s paper.

Go read the feature piece for yourself!

Brittany Raven

BLEED: an evidence-based take on menstruation and athleticism

I've been transforming the way we conceive of pregnancy and athletic performance since 2015. Now it is time to reset how we think of menstruation and athleticism.

Along with midwife and nutritionist Meg Reburn I've co-authored a short book entitled "Bleed". Join us for our book launch and live Q&A on March 11th via Zoom.

After years of working with clients, Meg and I noticed how much the different phases of the menstrual cycle could affect an athlete’s training, nutritional needs, and overall ability to thrive. The thought popped into our heads, “What if we create a concise, evidenced-based resource that would help everyone with ovaries navigate the different needs during the different phases of their monthly cycles?” And so, BLEED was born.

Your purchase includes a copy of the e-book and attendance at our live, Zoom-based presentation and Q&A on the book.

Expect to cover:

  • Our four-phase framework for understanding your hormones

  • Training, recovery, and nutrition tips for each phase

  • Evidence- and experience-based guidance on transforming how you view your cycling body in motion

  • 20% off consults and coaching booked with either of us within thirty days after the event

You may also pre-submit your questions for us to answer prior to the event. A cloud-based recording will be available after the session for all participants.

Join us for the book launch an Q&A!

Giving up versus giving in


In endurance sports there is often an unspoken but powerful aversion to vulnerability. Becoming vulnerable means feeling the pain to which you subject yourself; witnessing your own fallibility, lack of preparedness, or even (most terrifying of all) your own power. Athletes often bristle when I talk with them about beginning a dialogue with the parts of them that suffer on long runs or climbs.

And still: becoming soft is vital to realizing your strength. I'll give you an example.

In training for the Wonderland Trail in 2012 I ran a solo fifty miler on the Northside Loop starting at sundown to preview the work in store for me on the real run. It was hot: 85F all night even at 7000' and I sweated quickly through my shirt. Even though I was used to running alone in the dark five mornings a week, the immensity and gravitas of the committing route I'd chosen resonated inside me as fear and with each snap of a twig underfoot I tightened. An owl alighted from a fir bough nearly causing me to throw up in surprise at the dark unknown unpopulated with other humans and stretching into blackness for miles in each direction. At some point, though, I relaxed into the sensation of being followed and yet alone, hooting every minute or so and finding my feathered companion trailed me for a good hour. 

Then, around 3am, a porcupine launched out of an impossibly-small triangular space between cobbles in the trail and its stumpy legs propelled it along close on my heels and all I could think was: "WHAT THE FUCK: AGAIN?" <aside: I was first chased by a porcupine while lost in a swamp at the base of Mount Stuart in 2009.> After this brief sprint, which occurred around mile thirty-seven, I was pretty discouraged mentally and physically feeling spent. Mara assaulted me and I dropped to the dusty trail. Metabolic waste products ached in my legs making them feel like concrete piers dipped in acid, my stomach churned, my mind spoke nonsense to me that I just happened to be tired enough to believe: "You're not a runner or even an athlete, what the hell are you doing out here? You're not good enough to belly up to a goal like the Wonderland alone or at all for that matter. Who the hell do you think you are to be so audacious? You're an amateur, you're broken, you're too tired to finish. You might as well give up now and not even try to run the hundred since fifty was clearly too much for you."

This might sound like giving up but it wasn't because of one key aspect of the experience. I let the thoughts spool out, I let my legs ache to hell and back, I let myself lie there in mud created by my own piss on the dust for a long time then, because I'd given myself no escape hatch, I stood, dusted myself off, ate something, and started moving down the trail.

The rest of the run took on a softer quality. I found myself crying before sunrise (that darkest dark, you know?) in a meadow about which I'd dreamed (which consequently bore the name "Mystic") months prior. Though I was in the kind of immense pain that comes for me around mile forty of every long run, the kind that makes my skin feel too tight and inspires me to peel it off for relief, I perceived pleasure in a cool breeze issuing from the mouth of the base of Thermogenesis a few thousand feet up and to my right. A family of goats joined me as I crested the final hill into Sunrise at sunrise, kids skating shale shards off its crest which slashed my legs as I they ticked uphill like a metronome. In the final drop down to White River Campground where my car sat loaded with blueberries, kombucha, and the remainders of yesterday's burger my shoulders drooped and I felt the relief of having released my goal.

Immediately upon sitting with the spoils of my snacks, shirtless sweaty back leaned up against my truck tire, I looked at the time: it was only 6:45am, a rather short ten hours since I'd left my car the night before. Huh, I wasn't as slow as I thought I'd be. Then, scanning through my body that had been so focused on the importance of its own productive pain, I realized I wasn't injured or even particularly physically spent. What I had convinced myself was impossible overnight, my goal of running the Wonderland solo and unsupported, began to feel possible again as I realized that I'd completed what I set out to achieve on what was likely to be my hardest training run.

I was only able to transform into the mind-body tool capable of containing this mountain gnosis because of my willingness to engage self-doubt, pain, and fear as they arose. If I had maintained distance from my experience, ANS fired up all night in a false sense of protection and reactive control, I would have bonked for real, sending me into what would have been a dangerous situation alone on the trail at night a two day walk from wherever a ranger might depart to rescue me. Instead of resisting the negative emotions, the many Maras of my silly existence, I related with them - however ungracefully it happened. 

When giving up becomes an option, the only way to continue to commit to the growth contained in the experience is to give in. Making yourself vulnerable in the face of creation, universe, or god is necessary to go as far as you can go. To give yourself over fully to the depth of the experience is the only way to access your true power - and let me tell you it runs a lot deeper than bluster, bravado, and happiness.

read more:

Solo and unsupported

Andrea Laughery client interview - Becoming An Athlete

Deep play

Fear of the wild

Performance according to your element

Update on Kettles Map Project

a full room for the REI talk

a full room for the REI talk

Dear forest freaks,

When projects on which I’m working are successful, moving forward, and making serendipitous connections, I find it difficult to report out about them. In the afterglow of a beautiful twenty-four hours spent in Spokane mid-January, I’m finally forcing myself to sit down a pen a debrief for you.

REI invited me to present about the Kettles Map Project back in December and, as a result of that invitation, the events manager graciously introduced me to The Lands Council, a local non-profit with deep roots doing conservation work in the Kettle-Colville area. After learning more about the work Marc and I are doing with the map, TLC agreed to be our fiscal sponsor which will be a huge support as we seek grant funding to get our project off the ground.

The evening of the speaking event at REI went so smooth it felt like a dream. The room was already beginning to fill when I arrived to set up my presentation and get oriented to the room. We tacked draft maps to the walls and got the lighting just right as the final seat was taken. I decided, in integrity to my true nature, to share my full story of how I became interested in working in the Kettles. This tale included episodes of listening to the voice of the land, hallucinating that I was a raven, and how I feel about the wolf killings on the range. A few friends who attended said the audience was riveted; the room was silent until I called for questions. The questions I received in response to my presentation indicated a diverse audience: “where do I go to hunt bear on the Range?”, “are you working with the tribes to include indigenous place names and sacred sites?”, “when will the map be available?”

Through our initial fundraising process, Marc and I realized there is a deep need to first educate would-be recreators on what the Kettles are, why they’re important, and the basics on what to do when they visit. We’re also fortunate to have connected with Conservation Northwest, who co-presented with me that evening at REI, and TLC throughout our public outreach work.

Looking forward to providing another update soon on the project. There are exciting pieces falling into place that aren’t yet ready to be public.



Featured on Trail Sisters

Thanks again to Trail Sisters for hosting my words! Be sure to check out the article and the rest of their amazing resources for lady runners.

Brittany Raven

How to do the mental health workout right

There have been multiple times in my life when I needed a run or a climb not because my training plan said so but because my spirit demanded it. Most recently I spent the holidays in the noisy west side at a house with which I was unfamiliar caring for my father who was headed for hospice care - and neither Rumi nor I were sleeping well. A few mornings that week I woke, after six or so hours of fitful sleep, and knew I needed to contact the muddy, fern-populated forest in order to cope. It was on those runs that this post milled itself.

Oftentimes when a client on my roster violates her training plan it is because she had a hard day at work, a fight with her spouse, or some other stressful situation that caused her to run farther, climb harder, or generally practice poor self-care in motion. Since we all experience critical life stressors and since most endurance athletes use their practice in order to cope, I devised this quick how-to guide.

Next time you saddle up for a run, climb, or ski with a heavy heart, I hope you find these tips useful.

Brittany Raven

How much did you sleep? If you slept seven or more hours consecutively, you’re good to go for a workout. If you slept less than seven but more than five, you’ll need to curtail the duration and intensity of your workout even more than I suggest below. If your total sleep hours were less than five consecutively or added up to less than eight in chunks of fewer than four hours each, your best bet is to skip your workout entirely and opt for a walk and a meditation instead.

Mindset: Enter your mental health training session with a mindset of curiosity and self-compassion. Over-processing events as you move will only auger in negative or obsessive mental habits leading to anxiety or depression that will persist long after the stressor ceases. During the session, be sure to cultivate an associative relationship with sensation: pain, discomfort, heaviness, or ease. Welcome Mara to tea.

Intensity and duration: In order to soothe rather than activate your already-stressed ANS, avoid Zones 3 and higher during a mental health workout. Also since the body doesn’t replenish glycogen stores well when it is under stress or has not slept well, be sure to feed yourself high-carb snacks during your workout and keep the total duration under ninety minutes.

Objective hazard: In stark contrast to my post on going solo, the bedraggled, confused, depressed, or flustered athlete has no business engaging in any sort of risky activity. Despite the obvious distraction personal upheaval poses, the nervous system of a person functioning on little sleep and under stress is not the person who makes sound decisions in the alpine. Until the life stressor subsides, settle for workouts in places you know well that are well outside of harm’s way.

Recovery: Perhaps the most important part of the mental health workout is the mindset you continue after the session concludes. Practice good self-care by having fresh cotton clothes and a recovery snack available immediately after you cease motion. As soon as you’re alone, either sit in meditation (you could use the Headspace app or a simple timer on your phone) or queue up one of these effective somatic meditations. The goal of the mental health workout is not to self-flagellate as that will only make whatever problem you’re experiencing worse; the aim is to gain perspective and maintain presence.

Be sure to join my upcoming webinar on the topic of heart rate zones to really pin-point your individual zones.

Webinar: Your Zones

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2019 at noon Pacific

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Ditch your pace-based training plan

While pace is an apt tool for benchmarking progress and for measuring performance, it is not a useful metric for training. I implore you: ditch your pace-based training.

Efficiency: When an athlete chooses to use pace as a training metric, she will generally function in a heart rate zone referred to by coaches as the ‘black hole of endurance training’. None of us, even the most masochistic, can function much above lactate threshold for extended periods of time on consecutive days. Most of us are also too impatient to put in the work that feels like it wasn’t work in the lower heart rate zones. This leaves uncoached athletes defaulting to a ‘fun-hard’ pace - and that’s the black hole. This pace, what most pace-based athletes slot themselves into thinking it will make them stronger over time, is too hard to serve as recovery and too easy to support an increase in your lactate threshold.

Your ANS: When you consistently work at too high a heart rate zone during endurance training, your autonomic nervous system becomes activated. This isn’t a good thing. When you perform in your sympathetic nervous system, you lose your capacity for empathy and critical decision-making; your body consumes the limited stores of glycogen in your organs and other easily-accessible sources before beginning to burn muscle; and extended activation of the nervous system can lead to thyroid dysfunction, mental health disturbances, and illness or injury. I host single-topic webinars on this and other nervous system phenomena. Sign up for the waitlist to learn more.

Alternatives: Athletes might measure their training using climbing grade, elevation gain/loss, distance, duration, watts, or time in zone. While pace is nearly always the poorest measurement of training impact, time in zone is the best way to meter your endurance production. Nested within this strategy is the need for the athlete to train alone much of the time. Given that your level of recovery, heart rate variability, and, ultimately, the appropriate level of output during each training session fluctuates from session to session, a training buddy is more likely to cause you to over- or under-train than to support your training. Over time, time-in-zone training will result in you getting faster - there’s simply no need to check in all that frequently to validate that this is the case.

When is pace useful in endurance training? Pace-based training only has its place in the repertoire of the most elite mountain runners and even for those athletes only in metered doses during narrow periods of their training. Personally, the only time I’ve ever employed pace-based training was during my training for a fifty mile FKT and I’ve only suggested pace-based training for one client in my six years of business. Nuff said.

Quit with the competitive thinking already; learn your individual zones; and watch your performance rise while incidences of overtraining, insomnia, and injury decrease. Releasing the ego's attachment to pace and measuring the success of your session only by time in zone is of vital importance, not only to your fitness but to your health.

I’ll be hosting a special session entitled Your Zones later in the month. Be sure to sign up and learn all about the alternative to pace-based training.

Brittany Raven

Webinar: Your Zones

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2019 at noon Pacific

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