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Three days of running around beautiful Mount Rainier

By on January 25, 2021 in Outdoor Fun with 0 Comments
Emily enjoys an easy section of the trail with a spectacular panorama before her. Photos by Ben Brauer

Story by Linda Reid

I have had a life-long, intimate relationship with Mount Rainier. 

In Seattle we were always grateful for days when we could say to one another, “The Mountain is out.” 

My family has camped and hiked the trails in Mount Rainier National Park almost every year as far back as my memory takes me. These experiences have allowed me to feel the full impact and grandeur of this sacred place. 

To the local Native American Tribes, it has always been Mount Tahoma, meaning “the Big Mountain where the waters begin.” 

Everyone who can, should explore Mount Tahoma in their hiking boots. 

It never crossed my mind that for three intense days this past August my daughter-in-law to be, Emily Kruger, would complete the 93-mile Wonderland Trail to circumnavigate the Mountain, not in hiking boots, but in her RUNNING shoes. 

I asked Emily if she would tell me her story about this adventure, share her photos with me, and answer my many questions about how and why she chose to embark upon this nearly quadruple-length marathon which included 23,000 feet of vertical gain. 

This is not only the story of her journey on the Wonderland Trail, but of her 23 years of pushing her own limits (physical, emotional, and mental) while reinforcing her love of nature, her ability to be self-disciplined, her search to challenge herself and her resilience. 

Emily makes one of several careful crossings over whitewater on a hand-hewn bridge.

Question (Linda): How did you prepare yourself for this 93-mile, three-day trail run?

Answer (Emily): I decided to do this run in May, and I trained for it by doing long trail runs (at least 20 miles) with substantial vertical gain. My training included wearing a vest with safety gear and running with trekking poles for stability. 

I also researched how others had done it to take advantage of their experiences. The most helpful book I read to prepare me for what I might expect was Hiking the Wonderland Trail, by Tami Asars. 

When you do “ultra-running,” which means running longer distances than the 26.2 miles of a marathon, obviously you can’t carry a pack, so this kind of experience is impossible without support. 

My support team was made up of Jason, my fiancé, a friend who had previously hiked the Wonderland Trail, and his wife. We chose three access points (and there are not many possibilities) somewhat equally distanced around the Mountain where I would camp with them overnight and they would feed and encourage me. 

Linda: We were worried about you running solo, since this was different from the marathons you had run where you were not in a remote, wilderness area alone. Can you talk about that and how your family’s worries about your running alone were remedied? 

Emily: Because of COVID, all the races I had planned to do in 2020 were canceled. I asked myself, “What can I do instead?” That’s how I decided to do this run. 

A trail run is a completely different experience than a road marathon. It is a good fit for me since running is about being in the moment and being out in nature, spending time set aside from the usual stresses and “noise” of life. For me, it’s not so much about competing against others, or against the clock. It is about testing my own endurance and finding meaning and purpose in a challenging adventure. 

 I did have concerns about the hazards I might encounter and the potential for injury. Fortunately, Ben, an old friend of mine with whom I share the love for long-distance running, committed to running one of the three days with me. Then, just a week before the run, he jumped in for the full three days. 

My support team became “our” support team, and it worked out great for everyone involved, including worried family members. 

Linda: What were some of the highlights of this adventure?

 Emily: I loved the scenery, especially around Spray Park, and the climb to the highest point on the trail at Panhandle Gap (6,750 feet). 

Wildlife sightings were an incredible reward. We saw three bears, herds of mountain goats, marmots, picas, eagles, and hawks. 

We encountered some other trail runners (supported by a company called Aspire Adventure Running) who were working toward the same goal, and we had some good camaraderie with them along parts of the trail. 

The final 10 miles were amazing because we knew we were going to make it! 

Linda: What were the most challenging parts of your experience? 

Emily: The hardest parts were those times when my energy was flagging, and I didn’t feel well. 

Ben strained a hamstring on the first day, and when your partner struggles, so do you. 

Also, on the first day, we missed a sign and went three difficult miles out of our way. That meant we did 37 miles that day instead of our planned 34 miles. 

We worried our support team by barely getting to our rendezvous before dark. We were aware that cell phone coverage was poor most of the way around the Wonderland Trail, but the inability to communicate at times like this was still somewhat frustrating.

Linda: What advice do you have for anyone reading this story who might want to follow in your footsteps? 

 Emily: Invest in learning the necessary survival skills to mitigate the risks. Your support team is critical to your success… choose them carefully. Do the research and do the training. 

My coach (David Roche, whose company is named Some Work All Play) was indispensable to me. My dad was an important running partner for me from the time I was 13, and we loved running together. I lost him six years ago, so when I run now, I run for both of us. That helps motivate me. 

I guess the last thing I need to emphasize is that this kind of adventure is NOT for everyone. 

In closing, as the interviewer and writer of this article, I would like to say I realize very few of us will attempt to run around Mount Rainier as Emily did, but when I reflect on her advice it reads like a metaphor for our life’s journey, and that has wisdom for all of us:

Acquire survival skills.

Surround yourself with supportive, encouraging people.

Learn from the experiences of others.

Train and plan, as best you can, for what lies ahead.

Seek to understand what motivates and inspires you.

Test your own limits, and…

Always strive to balance work and play.

Emily Kruger is a devoted long-distance runner who lives and works in Seattle. She is a life-long learner who loves to read, garden, cook, travel, bicycle, and tackle projects of all kinds. Linda Reid is a regular contributor to The Good Life, and lives in East Wenatchee. 

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