Originally written on Oregon Sports News  |  Last updated 9/24/14

For a few years during my time at the Colorado College I wrote a column for the school newspaper called Conversations, featuring interviews with workers on campus.  We would sit down and discuss various aspects of their lives and their lives, interests and passions outside of work.  I'd let the questions and topics just sort of freestyle along, the whole thing evolving naturally just like what it truly was, a simple, easy conversation.  I sought out some of the little-known, unique details that made them who they were.  Even the mundane, seemingly ordinary aspects of a person's life can be rich and fascinating when viewed, or read about, from the outside.  Connecting with the lives of others can accomplish many things:  it can make us feel a part of the larger whole of humanity, it can inspire and inform us, it can be a temporary escape into another world, another life.  And, of course, it breeds an empathy and compassion for others.  That's always a good thing.

After seeing for myself what an amazing place Portland is and experiencing the wonderful community of trail runners and generally good people I thought it would be fun to do something similar to Conversations on a local level.  I know I've been inspired and impressed by countless folks in Portland in the last 2 years and so I thought I'd be worth interviewing some of these great characters and amazing athletes and sharing their stories with you.  After all, it's the mosaic of different people around us that make up the so much of our lives.  Our friendships and relationships on all levels to the people around us are primarily what colors our day to day experiences.  It's crazy to think you could see somebody everyday, pass by them on the street, see them at the cafe or on the bus, and just never has any idea of the treasure trove of stories they have to tell, the myriad experiences they've had in their lives.  They could had gone anywhere and done anything!  And we'll never know unless we talk to them…  or have someone to interview them!  Anyway…these new profiles will be called: Members of the Tribe and Jennifer Love is Profile #1.

Jennifer is a relatively new Portland, Oregon transplant.  She is an extremely talented runner and trail runner and that is how we met, through the local trail running scene, specifically at the Forest Park 50k (where Jennifer came in as second female in her first official ultra marathon!)  In July she helped mark and sweep the course of the Mt. Hood 50 Mile and then three days later ran the Rim to Rim Against Nestle Run in the Columbia Gorge (50 miles).  That's some serious miles right there…

Her enthusiasm and positivity are infectious and her love and dedication to running is truly inspiring.  She's already ingratiated herself in the local scene and won the hearts of everyone along the way.  I am now fortunate to call her a friend and have the privilege of occasionally training with her on the local trails.  I thought with her great passion and talent for running and mountains, her excellent writing, her alternative dietary choices (especially as an athlete), and her unusual, exciting new line of work that she'd be a perfect candidate for the first profile.  Besides, we had arranged to meet up for coffee at Barista in NW Portland anyway.  When we sat down I started picking her brain and just let the conversation flow…

Hope you enjoy!

How'd you end up here in Portland?

After spending a couple of years at a community college in California I decided I wanted something different, even if just a change of scenery.  It came down to deciding between Colorado and Oregon.  The mountains in Boulder were unbelievably enticing, but the budget I had only fit into the plan for moving to Oregon.  I loaded up a car with my things and headed north.

When did you arrive?

June 2010

What about mountains do you enjoy?

For me mountains are my serenity.  When life is piling itself on and you begin to lose yourself in unnecessary obscurities, whether financial or job stress, you can get lost on a trail for hours and be completely reconnected to the simple joy of breathing fresh air.  The mountains strip everything away, down to the bare essentials, and exposes a beauty that we all never take time to stop and experience.

When did you start running?  How did you get into trail running?

I feel like I started running before I started walking! High school was when I decided that I wanted to join a group of odd balls like myself so I joined the cross country team.  I ran cross country and track all through high school.  Let me make it clear that I was never the star of the team by any means, and I was never looking to be.  It was only when I headed off for college that I decided to take the competition more seriously.  Dedicating myself to training kept me balanced with my full time class and job schedule.  Road running was fun for a while.  Everybody likes to feel fast!  Long runs in the woods is where I found the most joy in my training weeks though.  Speed work hurt, easy recovery days were enjoyable, but the trails is where I knew I could paint the masterpiece of my run.  Moving to Portland opened the final door to my love of the sport.  It blew my mind how Forest Park existed in the middle of a bustling city and the Columbia Gorge was just a quick drive down the road.  Once I started meeting people in the trail running community I knew my feet would never see pavement again.

Portland is known for running and for its running community.  How have you found it thus far?

I had no idea when I moved here just how expansive the trail community was.  However, being a vegan runner I was following ultra runner Yassine Diboun's blog of his experiences, adventures, and nutrition tips. I knew he spent his time logging miles in the park so I decided to contact him and see if he'd let me tag along.  The was my catapult into the trail running scene.  He knew everyone and introduced me to an awesome group that would meet Tuesday nights to share the run together.  My excitement was an unstoppable growing force!

You did your first official 50k trail race in May.  How'd that go for you?

Ha!  Being that I was no stranger to the distance of the marathon, I figured five extra miles to round out a 50k would be no big deal.  The Forest Park 50k seemed like the perfect fit for my first "official" ultra marathon.  It proved to be everything I was hoping for.  Weather was perfect for running that day and everybody from the trail community was out to run or be there to support.  The course was perfect, the hills kicked my ass, and for the first time ever in my running career I was forced to experience what hiking instead of running up a hill was like.  It was the first time where a race actually humbled my views.  My finishing time was 5:05 and I came across the line as the second female.  I was stoked!  I was also hungry for more.

That's awesome!  Congratulations again.  So, on the topic of food, Portland seems like a great place to be vegan.  What got you into being a vegan?  Any vegan treats you enjoy on the trails?

I became a vegan on accident.  My last competitive trek season in college I became sick.  Not being a fan of western medicine, and not have health insurance forced me into a local bookstore in my town.  I walked into the store pouring cold sweat with a fever of about 103.  The owner immediately took me into the naturopathic medicine section after I let her know my situation.  Finding an old tattered book named Food is your Best Medicine, I bought it and went home and dove in.  Immediately I was being told to eliminate meat from my diet.  I was desperate so there was no hesitation.  As my body began to heal and just feel better, everything else fell into place.  I then educated myself in our nations food industry and was appalled by the cruelty to animals and the effects factory farming has on our planet.  Knowing all that I know now I would never support my old meat eating habits.  Besides, vegan food just tastes better!  I love hummus and tortillas on the trails.  Anything from Lara Bars to mashed bananas mixed with peanut butter and ground coffee beans.  Being vegan has allowed me to creatively express myself through food and its life-sustaining qualities in ways I would have never expected myself to do otherwise.

Do you identify with any certain animals and why?  If you could change forms into a different animal what would it be?

I often find myself identifying with whales.  They're social, they're smart and they experience emotions.  I grew up in the ocean and would often dream about living a life underwater where I would communicate with song, only surfacing to gulp in fresh air when necessary.  When I'm out on the trails I can see myself as an owl perched in the trees just watching, waiting, and knowing.  Whenever I hear the hoots of one while running at night or if I'm ever fortunate enough to see one in my adventures, I feel safe and protected.

What do you do for work?

I am a student at PSU and a waitress at a restaurant.  Pretty basic description for a large part of Portland's population I'd say.  Now here's the fun side of the story.  I also work at a place in NW Portland called  The Float Shoppe.  Most people **** their heads in curiosity when I mention the name of the business.  What it is is a wellness center that uses sensory deprivation in the form of isolation tanks for water therapy.  You literally float on a bed of about ten inches of water with about a thousand pounds of dissolved epsom salts.  Your body enters a state of deep relaxation and your mind is free to explore its new environment of nothingness.  The Shoppe also offers acupuncture and are expanding into massage and chiropractic in the near future.

That's quite an interesting line of work.  Tell me more about the floating of you would.

The Float Shoppe is run by Dylan and Sandra who I met while serving lots of nachos to while working at the restaurant in the neighborhood.  I had been exposed to floating only a few months prior to meeting them and thought about what a great tool floating could be for runners looking for alternative recovery.  Floating itself shuts off the production of stress hormones such as cortisol, aids in the process of speedy muscle regeneration and allows you to hone in on visualization training.  The science backing up the effects the float has on individuals is there, and there is so much new research being conducted especially in athletic performance that it is really exciting to be a part of.  Dylan and Sandra are both so passionate about the business and seeing the dedication they have in wanting to help others and reach out into the community is so inspiring.

Have you felt the benefits if floating yourself, as a runner?

I really didn't know what to expect after my initial float so I decided to go into it with no expectations.  The benefits were immediate.  My muscles were a bit fatigued after the 50k and when I hopped into the tank the little aches and pains seemed to melt away.  I didn't realize how wound up and tight I had become until I was out of the float.  Days later I was still feeling the "zen" effects that I carried away with me.  It was as though I'd had a complete system reboot in a ninety minute session.  I practice yoga regularly but for me floating is next level meditation and mindfulness.  I've begun journaling about how I feel the float effects my athletic performance and overall sense of well being.  For many I feel they will discover they are able to increase training volume and maintain consistency in doing so while using the tank as the primary tool in recovery.  It may even make you a better person!

What does the the near future hold for you?  Any running goals or life goals in general?

No matter how chaotic life can become I know that when I'm looking into the future running is always the glue that will hold the pieces of my puzzle together.  I want to better myself in the field of competitive trail running.  I look up to so many people in the sport and have deep admiration for the people they are and the way they use the run to impact the lives of others.  Moving to Portland I never imagined I would meet runners with such passion and zest for life.  Running with Yassine for the first time, hooking up with the Tuesday night running club Trail Factor, meeting you and watching Animal Athletics blossom into the ever-expanding running community, seeing the dedication of those going through rough patches in their lives and using trail running as their therapy, has all changed my views on life and just how simple and beautiful it really is.

Ultra runner Scott Jurek has been an amazing source of inspiration with his passion for food and how he uses it, not only to sustain the physical demands of training but also to bring joy to others and literally connect people back to the earth with sustainable consumption.  My ultimate goal is to open my own vegan cafe that is sustained through the local economy, and eventually become a published author for documenting my journeys and those of others I have met along the way.  The best part of the journey for me so far is the fact that even though trail running is much of an inward journey of self-discovery and oneness with nature, it is also an experience to be shared and cherished with others.

Well Jenn, looks like that about it.  Thanks so much for taking the time to chat today.  Keep up the good work and I'm excited to see all the fruits of your future endeavors!

Willie McBride is a native of Chicago, IL but has been living in and exploring the American West since 2000.  He attended the Colorado College, majoring in English with a focus on Creative Writing, solidifying his love of writing and his need for mountains.  An avid hiker, climber, and trail/ultramarathon runner he now resides in NW Portland, close by the trails of Forest Park.  He started a personal/group training and coaching business called Animal Athletics (AnimalAthleticsPDX.com) with fellow ultra runner Yassine Diboun in spring of 2012 and the two provide top-notch services to aspiring outdoor athletes of all abilities.

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