In this series of articles, the American Trail Running Association recognizes and celebrates trail race volunteers and trail runners like Susan Kendrick who have dedicated themselves as everyday athletes to grow trail running in their community. “View from the Pack” is supported by ATRA corporate member RaidLight.
“Grow where you are planted,” says Susan Kendrick who lives and works in Hayward, Wisconsin, home of the American Birkebeiner, the largest cross country ski race in North America and a premier event on the world ski racing calendar as well. “I starting working with the Birkie as a marketing consultant and was then hired to rebrand the iconic event as a year-round lifestyle, developing the still current “BIRKIE – SKI . RUN . BIKE . LIVE!” identity and tagline. A couple of years later, I was invited to come on board to direct marketing as well as develop and direct the sponsorship program. It is work I love with a wide range of outdoor brands that are looking to connect with the Birkie crowd year-round. It’s great to help create experiences for sponsors in all kinds of ways, through events and year-round.”
“We also host the Birkie Trail Run Festival and the Fat Bike Birkie, the biggest fat bike event on the planet! Go big, right? The Birkie is also a year-round lifestyle for active outdoor people across the country,” continued Kendrick. “It’s always great to combine what you do with something you love and to be lucky enough to do it with people you like and care about—people who are also passionate about the active, outdoor lifestyle!”
Meet Susan Kendrick
Hometown: Hayward, Wisconsin
Years running trails: Nine years. I started running trail marathons 5 year ago.
Miles per week running on trails: About 30-35 miles on trails per week.
Number of trail races run each year: Between two and four.
Longest trail race completed: 50K
How did you first discover trail running?
I was cross country skiing here in Hayward. After skiing my first Birkie event and being totally lit up, I thought to myself, I’m really in pretty good shape, I should try running. So I did. I remember being thrilled one day out with a friend and covering four whole miles! That was huge for me. I actually started running on roads then messed up my ankle so headed for the trail for a healthier environment for my legs. I loved being on the trail and running through the trees, under the bright blue sky, in all that quiet. I was hooked on dirt! It became my refuge and my freedom, my absolute happy place.
Then I came across a copy of Trail Runner magazine and I was so taken in by the vibe, the articles, the gear, and the “celebrities” of the trail running scene and what they were doing. Everything about this just felt right to me. I had found my passion. And instead of just dreaming about all those beautiful places to run, I loaded up the car and started driving cross country to get to them, all over Colorado and Utah. I “stealth camp” in my car for a week or so at a time and map out my adventures.
What motivates you to keep trail running?
The chance that I can keep getting better. As a late-in-life athlete, it blows me away that I can continue to learn, adjust my technique, fuel better, feel better, and actually continue to improve and get comfortably faster! OK, “fast” is a relative term here. I do not have running built into my cells the way people do who have been running for years. On the other hand, my body is not banged up from years of running, so instead of slowing down I continue to get leaner, stronger, and faster. It is great to know there are some things you can save for “later” and experience all the joys of a new beginning with plenty of room to learn and grow. It took a while to really build up my confidence and trust myself, that I would be OK out there, strong even.
What has been your experience with trail running vs. road running?
The trail is definitely kinder to your body. And, you get stronger on the trail, from “picking a line” through all the roots and rocks. The trail is so much more interesting to me as well. There is always something new, even on a trail you’ve run a hundred times. Again, I also love destination trail running and now run each summer in the mountains of Colorado and Utah and just this summer in France and Spain.
Trail running is a sport where you can line up at the start with some of the best trail runners in the world. Does this intimidate you, foster a sense of inclusion, or fall somewhere in between?
I absolutely love it! The first time I experienced this was the first time I ran the Moab Trail Marathon. So many people that I had read or read about were there. If you can be starry-eyed about trail running celebrities, I was. I felt so included, emboldened, inspired, and elevated to be sharing the trail with these people. It’s about having this vision, this dream, and then experiencing it and being validated — “I am a trail runner!”
What’s been your experience with the trail running community?
The trail running community is amazing. People are generous, kind, and I think we all love being in the same place at the same time. This is partly because we — at least I do — run so much on our own. Then you multiply your own passion by a few hundred kindred spirits and the effect is overwhelming. There is definitely a tribe experience that I did not expect but is so tangible and so indescribably wonderful. You know you’re in the right place and with “your” people. There is this shared sense of excitement and calm, anticipation and peace. Trail running is an expression of so many shared, core values. It is just great chemistry, and with total strangers. It is the best!
What advice would you give a runner who may be hesitant about entering their first trail race?
Ask yourself what is the worst that can happen, that you might get tired or frustrated and have to slow down or walk? Join the crowd, it happens to everyone. Remember instead what you love about trail running … being outside in beautiful places and moving under your own power through it all. Do a shorter event to start, to give it a try and have a positive experience. Work up to something longer, or not. Enjoy the process of just being on the trail in a supported environment. There is nothing else like it.
People often reward themselves after a hard trail race. What is your post-race indulgence?
A big burger and onion rings, bring on the food! Relaxing with this accomplishment under my belt. Feeling like a total badass!
Do you have a favorite motivational trail race story to share?
There are a lot, like every time I hit the trail and feel not that great and don’t expect to feel better. And, then I get juiced up and by the time I finish feel like I have had the best run ever! But, the most pivotal story is my first trail marathon—my first marathon ever. I did it on the Superior Hiking Trail at the Superior Trail Run – Moose Mountain Marathon. There is also a 100 mile and 50 mile race, so doing the marathon was the psychological equivalent of running a 5K, the “short” race. So much of it is mental for me. Here’s the thing with that first marathon, though. It changed me—forever. I had crossed over. If I could make that happen, what else could I make happen in my life? It opened me up to a whole new mindset and way of life!
For the third time in four years, the 2020 Birkie Trail Run Festival will host the USATF Half Marathon Trail Championships on September 26. You can read the post-race articles from the 2017 and 2018 USATF championship events. Also check out ATRA director of marketing Richard Bolt’s article about his experience ski racing the 2018 American Birkebeiner.