Chasing your hard and honoring your ‘why’ through tough stuff outside (Emily Halnon, author and ultrarunner)

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Episode 386

No matter how you define “hard,” heading outside offers plenty of chances to tackle it. Many people who choose to tackle hard stuff outside are pushed to do so to honor some kind of “why.”

For some of us, that “why” is health or to push our own personal boundaries. For others, the “why” is on behalf of someone else.

Ultrarunner Emily Halnon’s “why” has everything to do with her mom, who died from an aggressive form of cancer in early 2020. To honor her she headed out to tackle a major challenge running on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). It’s a story she’s now shared in her new book “To The Gorge.”

Through her journey she learned the power of moving through hard stuff. In this episode you’ll hear Emily share the things she’s learned through that journey and how you can make yourself do hard things outside, too.

Some of the good stuff:

[4:06] Emily Halnon’s favorite outdoor space

[5:36] How Emily became someone who likes to go outside

[7:05] How Emily’s mom inspired her running career

[10:29] All about Andrea Halnon’s adventurous life

[15:27] The grief and grit in running across Oregon

[22:37] How to get mentally tough to prepare for a mega run

[30:01] Why hard stuff outside helps us prepare for life’s challenges.

[33:04] The internal dialogue of pushing through the tough stuff

[35:07] Why it’s not a bad thing to feel a little scared

[36:39] Emily’s favorite outdoor moment

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The following is an edited transcript of this episode of Humans Outside

Amy Bushatz: You know that feeling you get when you spend even a little time outside? No matter how challenging it is to get out there, spending time in nature is always worth it. I’m your host, Amy Bushatz and this is another episode of Humans Outside. Join me as we hear from fascinating outdoor-minded guests and use the Humans Outside 365 challenge of spending time outside every day no matter what to push us outside daily. I’ve been a journalist for two decades, and I love asking questions, but I also love going outside. So why not combine the two? Ready to hear from experts and outdoor lovers who make heading into nature just a part of who they are, while we work to do the same? Let’s go.

There’s just something about spending time outside that beckons us to do hard things. Hard, of course, is one of those things that is totally individual. I like to think about hard as being the thing that sits just beyond your comfort zone and makes you squirm a little bit when you think about it.

What’s hard to me might sound really easy to you. What’s hard for you might sound really easy to me. The thing I’ve noticed over and over again is that people who consistently chase hard things outside have a very strong why for doing so. The why can be as simple as, because I can. Or it can be varying degrees of heart wrenching or dramatic.

No why is unimportant. In fact, I’d say each why is of equal importance because the question is so individual. Today’s guest set out to do something very hard for a why that’s deeply compelling. Emily Halnon’s 66 year old mom, Andrea, died in early 2020 from uterine cancer, just 13 months after her diagnosis, Emily chose to honor her in a big, big way, not just by running the Pacific Crest Trail from the border of Oregon and California to the border of Oregon and Washington, but by attempting to do so in the fastest known time, also known as an FKT. Emily was already an ultra runner who had done several hundred mile races, so, her hard was doing a week of huge daily mileage, and she did set the record, running 455 miles in 7 days, 19 hours, and 23 minutes.

Emily talks about her mom and her FKT run in her really excellent book, To the Gorge, out now, a book that I honestly just loved. Not only is it a moving tribute to her mom, but it’s also a window into taking on the hard outside, moving through the grief and the grit, both of those things takes.

Over time, we’ve had a few runners on this show to talk about the power of movement outside for dealing with grief. And since, you know, ultra running is my own favorite sport, I never miss a chance to talk about it. But today’s episode is going to take a little bit of a different track on this.

Instead of talking about grief specifically, we’re going to talk about hard things broadly, why the outdoors is so good at pushing us towards them, and what they can both teach us about ourselves and about the joy and privilege of living.

Emily, welcome to Humans Outside.

Emily Halnon: Thank you so much for having me. I’m thrilled to be here and excited for this conversation.

Amy Bushatz: Well, I feel like I already know you because I read your book. I’m sure that is an experience you’re going to have over and over again with people who read your book. It’s an experience memoir writers have all the time. But I’m just so overjoyed to actually get to talk to you today. So thanks for spending time with us.

Emily Halnon: Yeah, same. And thank you for reading my book and for saying lovely things about it. It is, it is both, wonderful and terrifying to be having this experience where people are like, I feel like I know you. And it’s in some ways, that’s a really beautiful thing. And in other ways, you’re like, Oh, I was, I said very personal things in this book. And, yeah, You feel the vulnerability of it as well.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah, for sure.

Emily Halnon: I appreciate you greeting me with a very kind reception.

Amy Bushatz: Well, it, it happens to be the truth. So isn’t that fun? We start our episodes imagining ourselves in our guest’s favorite outdoor space. Like you and I were hanging out somewhere that we really like, or you really like rather, having this conversation there instead of where we are, which is in our individual inside spots right now. So if we were going to hang out with you outside somewhere that you love, where are we with you today?

Emily Halnon: Yeah. I mean, I feel like I have a million answers to this question and they would all be an amazing place to hang out today. I think right now I’m training for the hard rock, 100 mile endurance run through the San Juan mountains in Colorado.

And this will be my third time doing this particular 100. And over the course of all those miles, I have just fallen absolutely, totally head over heels in love with the San Juan mountains. they are an absolutely, stunning corner of the world. And, I, I think we would be there today. They’re just, they’re, they’re wild. They’re rugged. When I go on a long run there, I feel like the, the motto of the run is no bad miles is just endlessly. beautiful and I would love to be there today.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah. I think if you’re going to continuously run a hundred miles in the same spot, you’ve got to have a love for that space and affinity for it that keeps you coming back because that’s a lot of time and dedication and blood, blood, potentially sweat and tears probably to spend in, in one spot. So I like that we’re there with you. Thank you for taking

Emily Halnon: Yeah. I think that’s absolutely true for me. I think some people can maybe run in landscapes that they’re not inspired by, but I have learned through experimenting that I cannot, or at least successfully. And I don’t prefer to. So I think, yes, for that distance, it makes a lot of sense to be in a, place that really lights you up.

Amy Bushatz: So tell us, how did you become someone who likes to spend time outside? How’d this become a part of who you are?

Emily Halnon: think I feel very fortunate that I was set up to be a person who loves being outside. I grew up in rural Vermont and, my parents built a home on, I don’t know the exact acreage, but 60 to 80 acres maybe. And a lot of it was forested and all of our neighbors had similar setups. And so even though all the land was private, it felt like we lived in this large expanse of just woods and fields and meadows. And, you know, we would run into the woods and turn boulders into pirate ships and be sledding all winter. And it, it just, it was a place where the outdoors was part of my childhood. And, don’t think I realized quite how important the outdoors was to me until I tried to live in a city for a few years.

And even though it was like a relatively green city with access to open spaces, I just, I was not as happy of a person when I lived in an urban environment. And, and after I tried that, I moved to Oregon where I still live now, and obviously Oregon is known for, the plethora of wilderness and mountains and forests and all kinds of good outdoor spaces. And, I have since appreciated and recognize that that is a very, very vital thing for me to have access to.

Amy Bushatz: So where does running factor into that? Because,well, you and I have found running to be simply a delightful way to spend out time outside. It’s not the only way. And lots of people enjoy outdoor spaces without running through them like we do. So how did you find yourself running? How’d that happen?

Emily Halnon: Yeah. My running story started with my mom, my mom, Andrea, who you mentioned in your intro. She is every reason that I am a runner. When I was a teenager, my mom,experienced a health issue. She had to get her gallbladder removed and that really inspired her to start incorporating more physical activity into her life.

And prior to that, she would. Take a, you know, like I just said, I had a very outdoor rich childhood and she made sure that that was a reality. And we might go on a hike here and there and, did a lot of playing outside, but she wasn’t really someone who maintained a lot of physical activity. And, she was moved to change that after she had this health scare.

And she started walking, just like walking a mile or two. And then she, I think because us Hellman women are maybe deeply competitive beings, she started to race walk, and did like race walk 5Ks and then 10Ks. And then she started to run and she started to run, kind of climbed the ladder of distances, 5Ks, then 10Ks, did her first half marathon.

And then the year she turned 50, she ran her first full marathon. And I think I was maybe nine, I mentioned in the book, I don’t know the math off the top of my head, but I think I was maybe like 19 when I watched that, watched her do that. And it is hard to watch your mother run a 50, your 50 year old mother run a marathon and not feel very, very inspired to do it yourself.

And so, um, I decided to do that a couple of years later. she did it with me. We flew to Washington DC and ran the Marine Corps marathon together. She beat me to the finish by 20 minutes cause she knew what she was doing. And I ran like a punk and went out way too fast and then watched her run by about halfway through and screamed for my mom.

And then that, that hooked me on the sport and I kept running. I, I focused on marathons for a long time and really kind of simultaneously with that.realization that living in a city did not give me as much access to the outdoors that I really wanted and needed when I moved to Oregon, I really got into trail running and now I totally do long distance trail running and my feet almost never touch pavement.


Amy Bushatz: yeah. So Marine corps Marathon is one of my favorite things. Um, at least. It’s from a road perspective, just, it’s the, it’s the first marathon I did as well. That was in 2015. Yeah. And so it has a really special place in my heart, but I like to think that I can totally imagine the spot where your mom blew by you, like

Emily Halnon: And it’s so crowded. so she couldn’t hear

Amy Bushatz: so crowded.

Emily Halnon: yeah,

Amy Bushatz: And you’re, Yeah.

Emily Halnon: And it’s like, strong, steady.

Amy Bushatz: Maybe just past Hanes Point when you’re really in the pain cave, because it’s 15 miles in and you know that the end is not in sight, at all.

Emily Halnon: Very hopeless time in the race. That’s exactly where I saw her and filled with despair and admiration that she was just like so strong and steady cruising along, very happy.

Amy Bushatz: Yep. Definitely have literally been there. So, so when you decided to take on the hardest thing that you’ve done to date, which is that 455 miles, totally not low key run over Oregon. it was in honor of your mom who, as we mentioned, died from ovarian cancer earlier that same year. So actually, and you’ve told us a little bit about your mom, but I would love it if you would tell us more about your mom, you mentioned that she got into this later in life, but tell us, like, how did she live? What was she like?

Emily Halnon: Yeah, I could talk about my mom all day. She was a truly incredible woman and, and extraordinarily badass athlete. She got into running, like I said, in her fifties and, she ran probably like four full marathons and then she loved the half marathon. She used to do a ton of half marathons and like to tackle the two hour barrier. She never quite broke it, but got within a few seconds of it. and then she turned 60, she decided to learn to swim so she could do her first triathlon. And then she got very into triathlon and, did a ton of, Of triathlon races. She also got very into biking and, she was diagnosed, um, right after she’d been retired for a year from, her 42 year career as a public school teacher. And And during that year of retirement, just, she was living her ass off. She just, I remember when she retired, she said that people would ask her, what are you going to do with all this time? As if it would be so hard for her to figure out how to spend her days. And she was like, what do you mean what am I going to do with all this time?

And she would go on 70 mile bike ride. She loved covered bridges and lighthouses. So she would go tour these spaces that she loved, take the ferry with her bike and beyond. She lived in Vermont beyond the lake and she would, she read like 160 books her first year of retirement or something. She’s just a woman who like knew what she loved and she was like, I’m going to do these things.

She traveled to Glacier National Park and ran a half marathon there. She went whitewater rafting while she was there. She just was like, always. pursuing things that, that really lit her up and, and often doing it in a way that was very bold and brave and wholehearted. The same year that she did her first triathlon, when she turned 60, she celebrated her birthday by going skydiving and like, just went by it. like, she had my dad and, and some of our other relatives went to support her, but she was the only one who was like jumping out of the plane that day. And she just didn’t let anything stop her from doing these things that she wanted to do to To live fully. and then when she was diagnosed with cancer, she lived from diagnosis to her death for 13 months.

And the way that she lived with cancer was, was extraordinary. She, of course struggled with the diagnosis. She had been living so fully and loved, she just loved life and to be slapped with life threatening diagnosis, a very grim diagnosis, the kind of cancer that she had. By the it gives you any idea that you have it, it’s, it’s in an advanced stage.

So it was, a grim diagnosis from the start, but she just refused to let, to let that be her reality. And even though she felt scared and sad and mourned, The fact that she was dying sooner than she wanted to be, she still lived with so much courage and joy through cancer and, just in, a really stunning way.

And, I mean, one example, one story I love to tell is when she, lost her hair from chemotherapy. At first, she really felt a lot of shame about it. She felt very uncomfortable with having a bald head and she wore hats all the time. And then she was just like, cancer does not get to take this from me.

Like I’m going to be brave. I’m going to be bald. And she ended up road tripping to Maine from Vermont to this little rural town that had a diner with a bald Thursday special and she went with like two of her girlfriends. And they went to this diner so they could get 20 percent off their donuts and coffee and and there’s a photo of her from that day I have it on my refrigerator and it’s I will never take it down she’s just cackling in this booth with her bald head and her doughnuts and coffee And and she just she she was a woman who lived with joy, and she was going to keep doing that, through sickness.

And it, it, she just lived in a truly beautiful, extraordinary way. And I feel very lucky that I have. that that have all these memories of her doing that, too, that I get to hold on to

Amy Bushatz: Yeah. I think that loss and grief, like to, to know the joy of somebody and, and be invested in by somebody who is that dynamic and that special. And then to lose that, is. in a lot of ways, one of life’s biggest hard things, like that’s the, to me, that’s maybe the pinnacle of hard things to, to deal with that loss.

So I’m wondering, you then paired that struggle that hard thing with another extremely hard thing, which is running across Oregon. What made you think that, yeah, I’m gonna, that this is a balance or that this is the thing I need to do to accompany the, the, almost the hardest thing? Yeah.

Emily Halnon: Yes, I It’s funny looking back at that it it feels like you’re like, why did you think this and I don’t even I don’t even think I Thought at that time, I think it was just something that felt so obvious and that I felt so called to do that. There wasn’t a lot of, you know, strategic thinking that went into the decision.

It really like, youthe idea took root while my mom was sick and, and I talk about this in the book, but, um, While she was continuing to live in this, like, really brave and wholehearted way, like, she, she would walk, like, every day through chemotherapy treatments. She would get friends to come and walk with her because that was, like, a thing that could make her days beautiful and, and not defined by cancer. And she just continued to. to live with courage and live with joy. And while she was doing that, I think specifically in running, I, I was doing a 100 miler that summer and I got into this run and I’m like on some ridge in the Washington cascades. And I was kind of like, I, I am not running in the way that I was when I did that Marine Corps marathon that my mom inspired me to do when I did that marathon, I was really driven by, by so many of the things that get us hooked on these, these things, endurance activities of like, I wanted to push and see what I could do. And I wanted to be courageous and I wanted to, to challenge myself in a way that got me really excited. And I recognized that I hadn’t done that with running in a, in a long time and that I was running with more comfort and complacency than, than I wanted to be.

And, you know, when I thought back to the start line that morning of the 100, I was kind of like, I wasn’t so sure. scared. I wasn’t excited. I mean, it’s something I love to do, but I wasn’t excited in that same way that I was at the start line of my first 100 when I was like, can I do this? I can’t wait to find out.

And I can’t wait to get to these trying moments that asked me to push myself to do it. And, And, I, I hadn’t been doing that in a while. And, And, You know, like I said, my mom is so, so much a part of my running story. And I think to be losing her and recognizing that I wasn’t running in this way that my mom had inspired me to do, felt really disappointing.

And, and so I think the seeds of it were kind of planted in that recognition. And, and then when I lost my mom and, you know, I lost, I’ve been talking about my mom and how, how active she was and how healthy she was. And, It was the last thing in the world that I expected to be mourning my mom, in 2020, in January 2020, when she died, I thought that she would live to be 99 and still running marathons.

And I think I was so blindsided and, and devastated by her death that I had to do something to, you know, Celebrate her and to, um, to honor her and, and just that, that thing was just so obviously to me, like you gotta, you gotta do it running. You’ve got to do something bold and brave and, and wholehearted, like. like, my mom would do.

And so there was, there was not, I think like a ton of, like I said, a ton of thought. It was this like deep feeling that I think I had been sitting with for, for some time while watching my mom go through cancer.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah, you just named like a bunch of things that doing hard stuff outside accomplishes, right? There’s like a distraction factor. If you are running, you are feeling pain in one way and not, maybe not in the other simultaneously or it dulls it, right? Because I don’t know about you, but I find when I’m running and doing something very difficult outside, like that’s using a lot of oxygen. I need oxygen for all the other things too.

And so the oxygen I have is really dedicated to just being alive in that moment and keeping moving. Not so much like my brain spinning about the things that were bugging me. You talked a little bit, you mentioned just a second ago, to use running as, honoring, like to, to honor the way she lived.

And I think that that’s something that we hear a lot about when people are talking about grief, like they are using, like, because she can’t, you know, can’t, I am, or I’m honoring the way she lived. But also I think you said something about hope, and joy and that the running, and doing these hard things outside showed, honored that part of it too.

Am I misconstruing your words?

Emily Halnon: I don’t think so. I think also like this, maybe it’s like the subtext of what I just said, but I also, I think for the 13 months that my mom was sick, I watched her cope with this, the hardest thing she had ever faced. By continuing to turn to things that asked her to be brave that, invited her to find joy that, she made the intentional choice, I’m going to chase joy, that asked her to hold on to hope. And, and she, that was like, she’s gave me a roadmap of like, here’s how I got through a hard thing. And cause I think a lot of the time that she was sick, my instinct was like, I’m going to curl up with my dog and cry all day. And there’s a, place for that in grief and sickness. But I

Amy Bushatz: sure,

Emily Halnon: Also, there is, there’s so much value in the other way that the other ways that she was living. And I think the run for me was all of these things where I got to do that. And like you said, it’s, it is, there is a beauty in, there are a lot of hard things that we do not choose to go through like cancer and death and grief and loss and all of that.

and then there are Hard things that we have the privilege to choose to do. And I think it, it can feel very, um, It’s, it, it is a refreshing thing to be able to choose to do a hard thing while you’re going through the involuntary kind of hard thing.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah. Yeah. So that kind of, that’s perfect. Cause it leads me into my next question, which is, you don’t wake up one day and decide you’re going to run 450 miles that day. Like you have to choose, that’s a hard you choose by training for it, which means that you’re going to consistently show up to work on the hard thing.

And that consistent showing up is part of is really hard in and of itself. just in general, but I imagine if you’re dealing with all of these emotions where you, you just said you really wanted to curl up with your dog and cry. And now you’re choosing instead to go out and do something that’s got to be really hard.

I’m also wonder so I’m wondering if you could talk about like that choice of like choosing the hard daily so that you can do the bigger hard later, but also I’m just kind of curious how you train for something like this because you didn’t really talk about that in the book, but as a runner I would love to know like how do you train to run that many miles over that short of time that kind of consistency. So Tell us your secrets. Hmm.

Emily Halnon: Yeah, well I guess for the first point were definitely days when, cause I pretty much, my mom passed away in January and, The calculation of when you want to try to run across a state in the Pacific Northwest that you have to balance the like when does the snow melt with when does the fire season start with when do the horrendous bugs go away.

I chose the beginning of August and that just meant I basically like immediately needed to start training for this run after, deciding to do it shortly after my mother’s death at the end of January, 2020. And there were definitely days when like, I was like, I don’t want to run. I want to stay with my dog Brutus and cry and be on my floor and don’t make me get up.

And, and it felt like this run and in a way, my mom like really helped me through grief because it gave me purpose to my days. It gave me something, a reason to get out the door. And while that might’ve been harder some days than others, I think ultimately it really helped me move through grief in a way that, and it gave me a way to be connected to my mom every day.

And so it was, it was hard at times to be motivating to, to leave the bedroom floor and get out and do it. But I, I think it. It ultimately was, it was such a, a blessing to have that in my life at the time. And then for the practical side of training, I, well, a, I talk about, I’ve talked about this run before. I feel like it was, while there was training that started in January, I also think it is something that I had been training for since I started running. I think there was so much that went into it. That was this culmination of like, I’ve learned how to move through the wilderness. I’ve learned how to travel over mountains, I’ve learned how to run long distances and it felt like it was this, this thing that I had been building toward, especially since I had started long distance trail running probably seven years before I did this run. and then when I started training in January, I think it was a lot of the intention behind training was to find my sweet spot of what felt like it was a sustainable high volume of miles and vertical climbing for me.

And then, to do. as you know, from training with ultras, that a lot of your training, you kind of want to put yourself in situations where you’re either running on tired legs or running, doing, doing something, that running past, running through discomfort in different ways. And I made that look a lot of different ways because obviously there’s only so much like physical taxing that your body can handle.

And so part of training for this run that I knew I was aiming for. The record prior to when I went after it was like seven days and 23 or two hours. And so I knew I’d be out there for about eight days, averaging close to 60 miles a day. And so I also tried to put myself in situations where like I had driven two hours for a run that day, but I had to come home and get ready to do it again the next day. And like the last thing you want to do when you’ve driven like four hours there and back for a run is like come home and get ready to do it again the next day. So just like things that like felt fatiguing, but not in a way that was necessarily like going to push my body into too much.

I used to do this basically the whole, that whole training cycle. I knew that there would be a lot of times on the trail where, where my stopping point would not align with where I expected it or where I wanted it to be. So pretty much every run I would keep Going past where I said I would. And sometimes that might just be two blocks. Sometimes it might be an extra mile, but just kind of hardening that idea of like, you need to keep going past where you expect and want your stopping point to be. So lots of silly little tricks. It was also, it was during the pandemic. So, running looks a little different. Like when I started training, I lost my running group.

And I had never been on Strava before and I joined Strava just so I could like, still be seeing what all my friends in town were doing. And like I said, my mom and I are deeply competitive women. So I started using like segments as speed work, like, just like friendlycompetitions of like, I’d go after silly little hills in Eugene and that would be like my high effort. I don’t know, lots of silly little, little things that, I did to train.


Amy Bushatz: Yeah. So, first thing for people who don’t run, Strava’s an app, it tracks your runs, it could actually track all sorts of movement, not just running, cycling, skiing, all sorts of stuff. It is, I will say mostly used by runners. And it is a way to log your runs and also seamlessly compare yourself to other people.

And so one of the joke running jokes is about Strava hunting where you, the, the app breaks down certain distances or certain routes rather into chunks or, like the sections like you’re just talking about and, or segments, I guess, is the word they use. And you can then compete with other people on the app who you may or may not actually know to be faster on the segment than they are. And then you have the crown and they no longer have the crown. And, it is pretty awesome. It is pretty big fun

Emily Halnon: And it can be very fun.

Amy Bushatz: it could also be very, uh, suck you in.

Okay. The other thing you said that I want to come back to, again, also for people who aren’t runners. So you’re talking about building up to a hard thing by doing smaller versions of something hard and like getting used to it in the context of running.

But I think that’s true in life as well. Like, all of life is going to have hard stuff that you’re facing, whether you want to or not. And when we spend time outside purposefully putting ourselves in a hard thing, so like you can choose to stay inside and be on your couch. That’s not hard. Or you can choose to go outside and practice doing something hard and build that up over time.

And I, I have seen in my outdoor practice in running and in not running, where experiencing hard things a little bit of time over time help me get ready for a bigger adventure later or a harder thing. And this is like a very tangible,like, example of how this works. So like you build up, you do examples of hard things that your body can handle and you get ready for this huge, fastest known time run.

Okay. Or maybe this translates to being inside life too, where you go outside, you do in things in your control, right? Controlled environment to some extent where you can drive two hours and do a run that you want to don’t really want to do, and then come home and do it again tomorrow to practice doing hard things, and that at some point when you’re faced with a challenge in life that is something you can’t control, there’s a family or your job or a family member’s sickness, you have this experience where you practice doing something hard And you know that you can handle it because you know that you can handle hard things.

In running, it’s often I don’t want to, like, I’m very tired, I have a couple miles more to go on my run, or I’m very tired, the hike’s not over yet. I have run one mile a million times. I can go three more, one more mile, three more times. I have done, you know, so on and so forth. You have that touchstone to know, I can do hard things. I can keep going.

And I feel like that’s something that’s, very tangible and useful that we gain by tackling these hard things outside and can then have translated in a very practical way for people. Real life. What do you think?

Emily Halnon: Absolutely. Yeah, no question at all. I think, like you said, I think getting ready for a run like this, you’re like hardening this belief in yourself that you can get through hard things. You’ll do all these micro hard things and you, you begin to really feel and believe that you are capable of doing that and you prove it to yourself over and over.

And I think that, yeah, that sticks with you for yeah, all kinds of hard things. I think you start because it helps you appreciate a version of yourself that you’re discovering through doing those hard things and you’re able to recognize that that self is still there for the other hard things that, that have nothing to do with running.

Although I would also say that one of the other things I really appreciate about doing hard things outside is that while there’s these elements that we can troll, there’s also a lot of things that we don’t, that we can’t control about doing things outside. And, and that, you know, we can’t manufacture the perfect conditions.

And there is this like surrender to like, I am smaller than the mountains. They are going to throw things at me that I just have to adapt and deal with. And I think that also is something that we carry into these things that hit us that we don’t have control over. And I am someone who likes to have control and I think it has really helped me a lot as a human and as an athlete to be in all these situations where I’ve had to, release control and accept that I don’t have control and to just see myself be able to, to, to release that, you know, illusion of control and, and adapt to what I’m hit with that I can’t control. And so I think that that is another like really beautiful thing about doing these hard things outside that translates to hard things in life.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah, I also feel like we are talking about this as if it’s like an actual thought pattern, Oh, I did this hard thing outside, therefore I know I can do this hard thing inside. I maybe sometimes it is, but I think it’s a practice and it becomes internal and you don’t have this internal monologue where you equivilate the two things that it just because you practice now you know how and it just happens.

And, I think that is, that is a beautiful benefit because I, I like being in control. I also like streamlining things, like work smarter, not harder kind of stuff. And so I feel like this practice lends itself to that a little bit.

You spoke earlier about, you know, like that you did have to go out when you didn’t want to, that you did want to stay inside. I’m wondering if you could, I mean, if you even, are able to verbalize this because I think sometimes our self talk is not something that we are really even aware of. But what does the self talk look like of making yourself do something hard when you don’t want to? What is that internal monologue for getting yourself up off the couch and out to train when the couch is feeling, you know, Pretty good.

Emily Halnon: I think so. I just, this is not my self talk, I guess, but I think this, this speaks to it. I just paced a friend who was doing her second 100 mile run. And I had the, the thrill of getting to pace the last 25 miles of the 100. So I saw her when she was like really going through the thick of it and we were getting.

To, the top of the last climb on the course. So we’re probably at like mile 94. She’s got one last five mile descent to go. And she was just like, I can’t do this. And I was like, you can’t like, she had just been kind of struggling with nutrition. I’m like, is it nutrition? Is it neat? If you’re not a runner, you need to be eating a lot of calories to keep moving.

And she’s like, I don’t want And I was like, okay, I get that. And I was like, well, What you really want is to finish this run. Like, I understand that, that there’s a part of you that’s saying, I don’t want to do this. You know, we all know what you really want is to get through these last five miles and finish this one.

And it, and it took her, you know, a minute to be like, yes, that is what I really want. But I think that’s like kind of the crux of like these either like micro decisions we make around doing hard things, or like when we’re really in the thick of it, it’s like. Maybe I don’t, I live in Oregon. It is the time of year when it is cold and dark and rainy and gross outside, and maybe there are some days that I don’t want to go run in the rain. But what I really want is to keep showing up for myself to do this thing that I love and to set myself up to be able to do these bigger, harder things that I love, and I think that, I feel like it’s not, there’s not a lot of self talk that goes into it. There might be like, Oh, I don’t really want to go run in the rain today, but also I want to keep showing up for myself, for these things that I love. And that’s like, what’s going to get me out the door.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah. Yeah. For folks who are inspired by your story to tackle their own challenges, and that, of course, could be running or some other self defined hard thing, outside or inside, really, can you offer some advice?

Emily Halnon: Yeah, I think my, I think what I saw my mom do and what I continue to think about when I choose my own hard challenges is choosing the thing that is both. really exciting to you, and also a little scary. Like, you want to find the thing that really, like, lights a fire inside you, because I think that fire is so vital for, for, getting us out the door, for pushing us through those really low moments.

And I think, you know, If you’re interested in doing a hard thing, you want, you want to feel a little scared. You want to feel a little uncertain about whether you can do it. You want to give yourself the opportunity to surprise yourself with the depth of your strength to like prove to yourself that you can do this hard thing.

And so I think that balance of like, and it doesn’t matter what it is, like it can be, like I said, you know, my mom learned to swim when she turned 60 and that was learning to swim to do a like 600 meter swim. It wasn’t anything like climbing Everest. I think it can be all kinds of different things, but, finding the thing that you can have fun with and can help you tap into that joy and excitement. And that also pushes you to do something you haven’t done before.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah. Emily, thank you so much for joining us today. The last thing we talk about on this podcast is sort of walking ourselves out, imagining, or hearing rather, a guest, talk about their favorite outdoor moments. So maybe like a moment you’ve had outside where you, when you close your eyes, it’s like somewhere you’d like to go back to for peace or calm or inspiration or whatever. And I’m hoping that you have such a moment and you’re willing to describe it for us..

Emily Halnon: This is also such a hard question because I feel like I have a million different answers to this question. I think I. I go back to, I’m so in the San Juan mountains right now, but when I go out to the San Juan’s to do this run, hard rock, I choose to go out four to six weeks before the runs that I can live in these mountains and train in these mountains and play in these mountains.

And I, I’m just never happier than when I get up on a ridge and I’m surrounded by these Colorado wildflowers. I’m with my dog, Dillie, who is his like most feral and happiest self. And we’re just, and I see me and him, we’re both being these feral, happy beings, just, high in the mountains, spoiled by, endless beauty and doing the thing that makes us happiest. And so I think that’s my, it’s not one moment, but that’s the feeling of those moments is a thing I love.

Amy Bushatz: I’m there with you. Emily, thank you so much for joining us on Humans Outside today. I sure appreciate it.

That’s a wrap on this episode of Humans Outside, but hey, I need your help. Enjoy the show. Leave a five star rating or review wherever you get your podcasts. It makes me feel good, but it also helps others find the show too, which is cool, right? Now go get outside. Until next time, we’ll see you out there.

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