DPMR Asked Me About Running This Week…

Sean from the Donner Party Mountain Runners (my Truckee running group) interviewed me last week for the club’s newsletter. I’ve kind of covered everything in here before, but it sums it up… Reposting here from there.

April 30, 2017 by Sean Flanagan

There’s a software engineer working remote in our mountain community, who, on a whim moved here from the hustle and bustle of the big city life in San Francisco. Sound like a familiar story? I am not too sure. Tara Eckenrode is our DPMR Member Highlight for the month of May, and couldn’t be a better fit as we make our transition from this historic winter, into a well deserved summer.

Similar to this year’s drastic seasonal change, Tara has reconstructed a life that is to be inspired by. She has recently discovered that what happens in ultras, is “not normal”, but what truly isn’t normal, may be a lobster obsession. But don’t let the red crustacean infatuation fool you, Tara has a PhD in Bioinformatics! Yes, you heard that right, I said she has a very weird fascination with lobsters.

She posts a photo a day for a notable reminder that we can all learn from, and feels she has found a home here with “like minded people”, who, like herself, will spontaneously go on a random adventure. Please read on and get to know our May Member Highlight, Tara Eckenrode.

Where are you from and where do you live now?
I grew up outside of Philadelphia (in Pottstown, PA). I moved to Scotland when I was 18 for year (that turned into seven!) and did my undergrad at St Andrews and PhD at Dundee. When I moved back to the States, I landed in Charleston, SC (my second, and probably real, home) and lived Lowcountry life for three years there before moving to San Francisco in October 2015. I spent exactly a year in the city and then (somewhat spontaneously) moved up to Truckee last fall. I currently live at Northstar with one of my best friends from my St Andrews days and Otis the Beagle.

When did you begin running and/or long-distance running, if that applies? Why?
I started running the day after 4th of July the summer before high school to try to get in shape for field hockey preseason. I ran middle distance track for the last two years of high school, but it wasn’t until the spring of my first year of uni that I started really running. During my third year of uni, I decided to do the Edinburgh Marathon (and then finished and promptly swore off distance running), and spent the next chunk of years running consistently, but mostly shorter distances when I felt like it. When I moved to California, I found out about trail and ultra running from one of my coworkers and started dipping my toes into that world.

Last year was rough, and there was a morning in February when my life had particularly exploded where I, without much thinking (and very little running in the months prior), laced on my shoes and ran 13 miles, and that was it. I joined the SF Road Runners Club in April and got sucked back into the distance world. I ran A LOT last year.

Do you race? Does racing motivate you? if not racing, what motivates you?
I’m on the fence about racing. I like having something to train for, and while I’m not super competitive (correction: not super competitive with other people, I am extremely self-competitive…), I turn into a totally different person when I race.

Running has always been an escape for me and the one thing I can count on to center myself regardless of how crazily my external (and internal) worlds are spinning. I love road running because I can think; I love trail running because I need to concentrate on what I am doing in the moment, and I can silence my brain and focus on the world around me.

Do you have any dream races (either hoping to qualify for or get selected for)?
Sadly, no! I ran Boston a few weeks ago, and I felt almost bad about it. There was so much excitement! Some people train for years to go to Boston, and it was never a goal of mine. I had a lot of ‘should I actually be here?!’ moments. Last year I ran a marathon one Sunday afternoon on the trails in the Headlands when I accidentally got lost (with no food and water, I have no sense of direction and clearly zero common sense), and I realized if I put a little effort into it, I could probably qualify. And then I spent a few months running over the summer without any real ‘plan’, and I did.

I like routine, but my running ‘career’ has been fueled by these spontaneous moments of craziness where I sign up for things without much forethought, and that’s what makes me commit to it. I’m not sure I’d enjoy it as much if it weren’t that way.

Do you have a favorite on-trail food or nutrition strategy? Favorite post-run meal or beverage?
I am HORRIBLE with nutrition. I haven’t really adjusted to the mindset that I have to eat while I run, and I struggle to force myself to do so. I totally bonked at Way Too Cool this March because I didn’t eat enough (and then was so sick I couldn’t), and it was a bit of an eye-opener that this is a different ballgame to what I am used to. I’m working my way through a box of salted chocolate Stroopwafels right now though, and it’s been a slow and steady intro…

Post-run, it’d have to be a burger… or pizza. I eat a ridiculous amount of homemade pizza (#sorrynotsorry).

What was your favorite running experience this past year?
There are probably two. First is that accidental Headlands marathon – it was the first time I’d really run on those trails, and I did it so wrong, but also so right. I remember standing at the top of the trail down to Green Gulch looking over the rolling hills and having this immense feeling of ‘this is a giant playground and I just want to jump and fly over so I can run on everything’ that was coupled with ‘I am so small and insignificant, look at all of this around me’. I was really, really not smart on that run… but it was totally worth it.

The second happened last March (okay, so over a year ago…). I was in downtown San Francisco staying in an Airbnb, and I woke up one morning and decided to run up Twin Peaks. I (unintentionally) timed it to hit the sunrise at exactly the right moment and was the only person up there… and it was insane.

What was the best race advice you’ve ever received?
‘Look at the views!’

It’s easy to get caught up in the pressure of racing and sucked into the internal and external competitiveness of it, but the reality is that we all do this ridiculous sport because on some level, we love something about it. For me, it’s that reminder that when it starts to hurt, or I get tired or annoyed at myself for my legs not working or tripping over something or not moving as fast as I want to, to stop, breathe and remember where I am and why I’m there. It’s a privilege, not a right, that my body can carry me through these places that so few people see, and that phrase is always my gentle nudge to keep some perspective.

What was your most challenging / character-building experience this past year?
I moved to CA with my husband and beagle, and we split up a few months later, and it went about as badly as it could’ve gone. It was a rough year with a lot simultaneously going on, and I think I existed on a very day-to-day basis in my own personal form of survival mode. For all of the bad though, there was so much good that came out of it. Looking back, I’m really proud of the life I’ve reconstructed for myself and the community I’ve built around me. I’m still dealing with the fallout, but I’m comfortable and content with where I’ve landed.

What race PR are you most proud of?
I haven’t actually raced all that much?! I guess it’s probably the Santa Rosa Marathon, which I ran last August and qualified for Boston with. Total time-wise, it was good, but I definitely did not run a smart race. If I had any strong desire to keep running road marathons (…I don’t), I’d probably aim to try to at least hit the same time by running just a bit more consistently.

What’s the biggest mistake you’ve ever made during a race?
I thought I ate enough for Way Too Cool…and clearly I was wrong. In hindsight, I think I let my salt get too low, that made me nauseous, and I spent the majority of the race dry heaving and being completely unable to eat. So bad. I was throwing up for days after, which is definitely not normal.

What are your upcoming racing/adventure plans?
I’m signed up for the TRT 50 race this July… and then I have no idea. I’m really looking forward to spending the summer in Tahoe and just exploring the area – I got here in October (right as snow began to fall…), and while I’m somewhat more oriented now, there is so much I haven’t touched yet. I spent most of last summer exploring California by drawing a massive circle around San Francisco and picking a random spot to discover (pretty much every day…), and I took myself on some very random (often dramatic) adventures. I do better with the spontaneity of stuff like that. I do have a permit to climb Mt Whitney in August though, so I have a feeling that might morph into a massive adventure… My parents also moved to Phoenix, AZ recently, so I’m slowly beginning to plot some Southwest US explorations.

What do you do for a living? Is it hard to fit in time for training?

I’m currently a software engineer for Stitch Fix, which is a fashion/styling tech company based in San Francisco, and I’m on the customer-facing team and do back- and front-end development for anything that’s marketing or client experience related. I worked in the office in the city for the first year, and luckily most of the engineering team is already remote, so they let me continue to work for them when I moved up here. It’s an amazing setup – because of the remote work culture, I don’t miss out on too much (and get to go back and forth to the city fairly frequently), but I can also set my own schedule (within reason), which helps with fitting training in. My team has grown massively in the past few months though (it was just me and one more person for most of last year), and I’ve been finding my schedule has been getting drastically fuller and more stringent lately, which has taken away some of that flexibility. It’s still great though – I get up and start most days at 6am so I can take a few hours over lunch to run (or ski…) and then pick back up for the afternoon. I do really well being allowed to make my own work-life balance – I definitely have never had an issue with self-motivation.

What led you to join the DPMR?
There was a day in July where I jokingly said to a friend that I should move to Tahoe… and then came home, started googling, and what was a flippant remark suddenly turned into something that could actually be reality.

I’d joined the SFRRC group a few months earlier and had instantly made some great friends, and while I’ve never really been one to do group runs or social exercise, I loved the community aspect of it and knew that if I did actually move somewhere else, I wanted something similar. I think I found the Facebook group, posted very randomly when I was coming up one weekend to do some ‘can I actually live here’ reconnaissance, and had ended up going to an event. I’d probably made up my mind about moving before that, but even the short time I was there was enough to confirm that this whole ‘move to the mountains thing’ wasn’t totally crazy, and I’d be joining a community of like-minded people who, for some reason similar to one of mine, had also decided to drop themselves in this place.

I’ve barely done anything formal with the group, but I already feel like I’m a part of it and can’t wait to get more involved.

What has been your favorite DPMR experience so far?
To be determined 🙂 I do love how interconnected the community is and that without really being here for that long and knowing that many people, all of my little Truckee worlds are very intertwined.

Favorite local trail?
I feel like you should ask me this question next year. All I’ve seen is snow. So. Much. Snow.

What’s your typical weekly mileage these days?
Ehh… around 50 miles a week right now? I’ve been working with Peter for the past few months. Winter training was really hard. I’m not really sure I’ll ever get that much higher than that… I usually like to mix up my workouts, so now that there are roads again, I’ll be adding some cycling into that.

What other outdoor or indoor interests do you have?
I love being outside, to the extent that I currently park myself on my back porch to work all day. I’ve always been athletic though and played a lot of sports through growing up. These days I’m into road cycling (I’m still a bit too afraid to try mountain biking…) and hiking, and I will happily sit in a kayak on the water for hours. I also LOVE to ski, and I spent this winter teaching kids part-time at Northstar. I unfortunately didn’t get to ski for me nearly enough this season (…next year).

Any interesting facts about yourself you would like to share?
I love to write and take photos, and over the past year I’ve started to blog more publicly about life, running and random adventures. It’s taken a fair amount to be okay with putting myself so out there, but I’ve had such a positive response from people I know (and people I don’t) that I’ve started to really enjoy doing it. I’ve also been taking a photo a day of something I encounter as a reminder of the good around me (I just hit a year?!) that I post on Instagram. In some future world, I’d love to figure out how I can run, write and take photos and have that be all I do…

Other ‘fun’ facts:

  • In a past life I did science-stuff, and I have a PhD in Bioinformatics. I also ran a nonprofit to raise funding for medical research, which led to some surreal experiences working in the academic and philanthropic worlds.
  • I started collecting lobster-themed things when I was seven. It’s the kind of thing people remember, and I have more lobster things than I probably should.
  • In my uni days, I traveled a lot… and once hitchhiked from St Andrews to Amsterdam.
  • I have no depth perception and don’t see things in 3-D… but I’ve spent my entire life playing ball sports.

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