“You never know what’s around the corner.” Nate Stanis
Nate Stanis, a Hawai’i based ultra runner, vegan and botanist, is about to set out on an incredible fundraising journey, running 2,180 miles along the Appalachian Trail. As Nate runs she will be raising awareness of the Nature Conservancy, specifically to help fund the LEAF program that provides internships in conservation work for young people. Nate kindly took time out of preparing for her epic summer to talk about how she was inspired to undertake the upcoming challenge and how running first became part of her life.
You’re about to embark on a 55 day ultra run along the Appalachian Trail but tell us more about how you started running in the first place?
I have been a runner ever since I was a small child with bundles of energy; racing with kids in the school yard. However throughout high school and college I was more of a team sports gal. I started running longer distances in 2009 when I discovered a love for triathlon and the routines of distance training~ in 2010 I ran my first marathon (after only competing a half marathon before that… skipped the 5km and 10km races), and from there on I just kept wanting to run longer distances. I suppose I started running longer, and especially on trails eventually because I love being outside, away from the hustle and bustle of modern life (phones, technology, cars, pollution… the go, go, go mentality), and instead immersed myself in nature and my body. The trails are somewhat of a spiritual place for me.
Where does the inspiration for your current endeavour come from?
The inspiration for the trip first came when I read “Hiking the Triple Crown” by Karen Berger; I found the book in a youth Hostel in 2001 and was immediately inspired. I was somewhat directionless at the time, but when I read that book I had a powerful feeling that long-distance adventures were a large part of I wanted to do with my life. I love being outdoors, and using my body. In 2005, I hiked 1,500 miles of the Pacific Coast Trail (PCT) after getting my BA. Once I began running, it was easy to put together my love of trails and my love of running and I made the decision that I would return to distance ventures after completing my MS in Botany.
How do you feel being a plant-based endurance athlete has helped you prepare for the Appalachian Trail?
I have found that as soon as I increased my intake of fresh veggies and fruits, and made the choice to go vegan, I had an abundance of energy. I love to eat, and my system responds well to consistently fuelling with natural foods. The year I went vegan I ran my first ultra event~ 240 miles around the Big Island of Hawai’i; before that my recovery was slower. I think a plant-based lifestyle also primes me for staying true to my values as an advocate for sustainable and gentle land practices, bringing me closer to the earth.
How will you manage your nutrition along the route, and what types of food will you eat to balance the miles you cover?
I plan to primarily focus on fruits and nuts during the days, and cap off the evenings with hearty warm meals. I have found when fast-packing and competing in other endurance events that I do best with simple, natural fuels; I eat home-made date and nut bars, or tried and true trail mixes~ both high in calories and simple carbs. I also really enjoy fresh fruit while I’m running, especially watermelon and grapes. In the evenings, after working so hard, I’ll be eating a lot of beans, tortillas, sweet potatoes and leafy greens such as kale and broccoli, always with a good healthy fat such as avocado, olive or coconut water. And chocolate of course is a favourite for the trail or a night-cap.
Hydration will also be a major factor, what are your go-to ‘staying hydrated’ remedies?
I love coconut water, and snacking on watermelon, which I’ll be able to get at road crossings with my crew, but while I’m running I take nuun or EmergenC. I also tend to focus on water and save the electrolytes for when I really need them (snacking on salty foods rather than doing sugary energy drinks). I drink about a litre of water per 8 miles on training runs, so that’s a guide for me.
You mention ballet and spinning on your blog as forms of cross-training to compliment your preparation for 55 days on the trails. What else has been essential to your training?
I think a large part of my preparation for the trail besides the actual physical training, is mental. I do a lot of visualisation; of my strong and healthy body, of moving with ease on the trail, of overcoming fatigue and aches. I often think through every “worst case scenario” and think about how I will respond when obstacles come up or it’s the end of a 50 mile day and I feel totally spent. I think graduate school has helped somewhat with the mental determination side of things; as hard and uncomfortable as things can get, you just keep moving forward and the rewards will come.
How do you balance passions and interests?
I feel like I am lucky because I am so passionate and interested in my work in botany and my life on trails. I love learning, I love being outdoors, and I am passionate about conservation of our wild-lands~ I think even when I have very little time for anything besides studies or running, I can feel balanced and satisfied because I am engaged and passionate about what I am doing. That said, I think going on this trip is a form of balancing for me. After all the time in the past two years of sitting at a computer, and am really looking forward to waking up in the wilderness each day and being purely physical!
Who are your biggest mentors?
I have a few; my mom is my biggest inspiration and mentor, she always followed her dreams no matter how long it took to get her there both in her career and her personal life. She is determined and kind and empathic, and has a worldview of fighting for justice and equality. Running-wise, Scott Jurek inspired me to become a vegan athlete with his book “Eat and Run” and now he’s running the Appalachian Trail (AT) the same summer I will be. He is a total hero; humble and honest and a kick butt runner. Third is definitely Jennifer Pharr Davis, who has the current record for speed on the AT; I read her book, “Becoming Odyssa” last year and am in awe of her physical abilities, spiritually minded kindness and outreach on trail preservation.
1 great thing about living and running in Hawaii?
Only 1?! I’d say the weather and the mountains tie for epic living/ running.
Can you share 3 suggestions or pieces of advice for people hitting the trails or taking part in their first ultra run this year?
Yes! I can try but of course everyone has a different body!
- Listen to your body~ I have always taken recovery and signals from my body very seriously. I train according to my personal limits and I tend to not train in groups; only because it’s easier for me to tune in to my personal bio-rhythms. Not that we all need that, I just think it’s important to sometimes leave the GPS at home, tune in to your body, and allow for rest and recovery.
- Eat and drink!~ Similar to listening to your body, I think it’s easy for runners and competitive folks to key into what everyone else is doing instead of eating and drinking to your personal needs. There is also a lot of body image stigma that comes with being a runner. As someone who has struggled a lot with self-esteem and disordered eating, I have found that nourishing is essential! In an ultra especially, where you are going slower and longer, and need to actively recover while on the trail and begin to take in calories before you think you need it.
- Have fun and smile~ I’ve see a lot of grimaces on the faces of runners, especially in the later halves of ultra-races. I definitely suggest finding a pacer or a buddy that can help lighten the mood. Laughing, smiling and having light conversation helps not only your entire mood and performance, but will allow you to form friendships and bonds with fellow runners~ one of the BEST parts of ultra-running for me.
What is the biggest life lesson running has taught you, so far?!
“You never know what’s around the corner.” In the past, I tended to give up on things when they got really tough. In 2005 when I hiked the PCT, I was on the phone with a friend and told her I wanted to quit. She gave me the advice that I would never know what’s around the next corner of the trail if I stopped now. So, I kept going, and was rewarded with an abundance of beauty and wildlife for the remainder of the trip. I visited places and met people who I would never have met if I didn’t keep going. Now, as a runner, I just think to myself, I wonder what’s around the next bend? What will happen if I just take a few more steps? I think that running teaches us about the rewards of determination and hard work, and to always be engaged with “what’s next”.
A few fun questions:
Mangoes or papayas? TOUGH! Papayas as long as there’s a pinch of salt.
Coconut or avocado? Avocado hands down.
Smoothies or juices? Smoothies for sure.
Malasadas or musubi? I’ve only ever had tofu musubi, which was dry… so I will guiltily admit malasadas.
Mauka or makai? That’s tough too! I love the sunny beaches, but my heart is mauka.
Compression gear or ice baths? Ice baths, but ouch! My favourite is the ocean or a cold pond!
Thanks Nate! Wishing you the best of luck on the AT this summer!
As Nate runs, she will not only be fundraising but also collecting botanical specimens for the Herbariums at the University of Hawaii Manoa and the Appalachian State University. The specimens will be pressed and then digitized for educational purposes.
To read more about the project and Nate’s fundraising efforts see The Epic AT Run and to make a donation to the Nature Conservancy visit the funding platform CrowdRise. If you’d like to sponsor Nate herself, and support her ultra effort by maybe buying Nate a smoothie or a tank of gas/ coffee for the support van (and it’s drivers!) please donate at Nate’s personal page on GoFundMe.
Nate will start running on June 16th! To live vicariously and follow Nate’s progress online look out for updates via twitter @natecupcake and also check out Instagram for updates too @nstanis. You can also keep an eye on Nate’s blog in the future: Running on Plants.