Abigail's journey to ultramarathon running
This week I had a chance to catch up with one of our yoga teachers Abigail West. Abigail has taught yoga in our space for the better part of two years. She has continued to inspire, contribute and co-create with our space and teachers and we are so glad to know her. Most recently she won an ultramarathon race called the Georgia Jewel. Let's see what she has to say about running, yoga and living vibrantly.
Can you describe the Georgia Jewel? Is it an annual event? Have you participated in this run in the past? How long is it? How did you place this year?
The Georgia Jewel is a trail ultramarathon race, with 4 distance options, held every September on the Pinhoti Trail out of Dalton, Georgia. This was my first year participating--I’ve only become an “ultrarunner” in 2020, running my first ultra back in January. An ultramarathon is just that: anything longer than a marathon. Typically, these start at the 50k distance, though this one was a bit unconventional at 35 miles, and then the pandemic required a change in course, so it was actually 37.6(ish) miles, 6000(ish )feet of elevation gain, and I won with a time of 6 hours, 48 minutes.
What was your motivation for the race? Did you have an intention?
I’ve been training with this race in mind since the beginning of the year, and decided I wanted to run it not long after I ran my first ultra in January. It’s one of those things where you do it once and you’re hooked (or, I guess a lot of people might say “once was enough!”). To me, there’s magic that happens running on the trails, and it really picks up after about 20 miles. I recognize that might sound wild to some people, and it is: there is a wild freedom in training your body to be able to run far and then exploring the limits of your own potential. In terms of motivation/intention during the race, I always want to do my best (on my own terms and not by others’ standards), and then the competition aspect makes things even more thrilling.
How and when did you start running?
Interestingly, I started running around the same time I started practicing yoga. I was a national-level competitive rower in high school, and both running and yoga were easy and accessible ways to move my body on my own time after I ended my rowing career. I’ve always liked the simplicity of both: you don’t need much or any equipment, you can do it by yourself or in community, and both involve linking mind, body, and breath. They still are integrated together for me today, as a yin and a yang. Running suits my driven, creative, and high energy nature, and yoga keeps me grounded and reminds me how important it is to slow down.
When running long distances do you find a connection with mind and body practices such as yoga or meditation?
I realize I answered this some in my last question, but I have more to say. Running ultra distances is honestly as much if not more a mental challenge than physical. At some point you’re going further and faster than you ever have before, and the monkey mind is keenly waiting to play tricks on you. I noticed during the Jewel that the chatter in my mind had quite a similar tone as on one of those days where I’m struggling to be present in a yoga class or meditation, and spending more time with these practices is something I see as one aspect of training for future races. And life in general! It’s not such an issue with shorter distances, when you’re fully focused on pushing yourself as fast as you can, but when you’re out there for many hours and the trail starts to blur together, it’s important to be able to stay in the present moment, with your body and your breath.
I know you do a lot of work in sustainability, do you think that passion and running have any connection?
The connection between the two is rooted in how I want to be in the world. I want to live vibrantly in a healthy world, and to share that with others.
My art practice now is rooted in sustainability: I work with reclaimed materials and create conversations about waste. Running and art both require consistent commitment, repetitive methods, and the enjoyment is in the process and in celebrating the reward of one’s efforts. When I’m my best version of myself, I hope to inspire others to lead more conscious and enriched lives, filled with passionate pursuits.