Wellness Habits of Susan Barrows – Trail Runner & Gravel Enthusiast

Wellness Habits of Susan Barrows – Trail Runner & Gravel Enthusiast

Susan is a competitive trail runner and enthusiastic gravel cyclist who practices and teaches yoga, studies nutrition in hopes of coaching others, tries to keep up a writing habit, and works a couple of jobs to support her current living situation with her partner in Bend, OR. Though often wishing she could repeat the two year sabbatical they took on the road in a Chevy van, she does appreciate Central Oregon for its amazing dirt and mountain access. The future is uncertain but she hopes it holds more sunshine, trail runs and rides, entrepreneurship, and learning to surf in warm seas.

Primary activity: Trail Running

Location: Bend, OR

Introvert or extrovert: Introvert

Caffeinated or decaf: Half / Half

What is your primary mixed terrain activity or passion?

I found my thing – ultra trail running – after moving to Bend in 2010 as a marathoner, road cyclist, and ex-triathlete. The access to dirt is so easy here, and the ultra community really pulled me in. I discovered I can go a long way at a decent pace and often do it again the next day! Recently I found gravel riding is also pretty fun, as I don’t have to do the scary stuff I avoided mountain biking, but can avoid most traffic and spend hours in the forest or out under the desert sun.

What impact does nature, and your movement in nature, have on your wellbeing?

Out there in the dirt I feel joy. I feel connected to something bigger than myself, which I just call the Universe, and I think that really is the crux of mental wellbeing — getting outside of yourself, your head, your hangups and attachments.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

Right now I work 40 hours a week with a pretty erratic schedule, so sometimes I am out for a 10 mile run on dirt roads from my door before work at 1pm, other days I might do a short but sweaty spin on the trainer to get me moving in the morning before an early day and then a quick 4-5 mile post work run just to get outdoors.

What is one habit of yours that makes you a better athlete?

Remembering that I run and ride because it makes me happy! It’s not something I HAVE to do.

How do you measure success?

When I feel good day to day, with consistent energy, a smile, and the drive to get out tomorrow, I know I am not overdoing it — and that consistency makes me successful.

Describe an adventure you undertook that had an impact on your life.

So many…. I’m going to say our first bike packing attempt in the heat of summer while we were in the Eastern Sierra. It was hard, we took a couple wrong turns, hike-a-biked for what seemed like forever, ran out of water, hiked again forever to find a camping spot (on what was basically oh so comfy rock)…

I’m not sure if we got into a fight that day, likely at some point, yes. I never thought I’d be a bike-packer. I never thought I’d haul a crap ton of stuff on my back to sleep on a rock, fueled with gas station chips and soda. While looking for a camp spot I literally didn’t think I’d be able to push my bike one more step but it all goes to show I can do hard things. I can enjoy what seems like endless suffering.

Yvon Chouinard, I believe, said it’s not an adventure unless something goes wrong, and well, I learned I can deal with real adventure, whether on a bike, outrunning a snow storm, or handling angry customers and faulty technology at work.

What apps, gear, or training tools can’t you live without?

I do love my Suunto to track miles and routes and my Nike Kigers are now my favorite trail shoes. Oh, and a Payday has brought me back to life on more runs than I can count.

Out there in the dirt I feel joy. I feel connected to something bigger than myself, which I just call the Universe, and I think that really is the crux of mental wellbeing — getting outside of yourself, your head, your hangups and attachments.

What is one struggle you’ve had and how did you overcome it?

I’ve had numerous injuries – a recurring knee issue and several stress fractures likely due to overtraining, under-resting, and under-eating. These throw me into the depression and anxiety that I am prone to anyway. Refocusing (after a short period of mourning) on my yoga practice and simply getting out to walk in fresh air and sun always gets me through.

What life lessons did you take from the experience?

Running is not my whole identity, and while running and cycling can help mitigate my mental health tendencies, I need to remember my true spiritual being is not my body. That said, I’ve learned that proper fueling of my body is crucial to long term physical and mental health!

What habits have you developed to help manage your wellbeing and mental health?

I try to keep a yoga practice going, which includes more than the physical asana practice that most of us think of as “yoga.” Also, I try to keep up personal relationships as best I can, get adequate sleep, and eat my veggies.

What habits do you wish to develop to help manage your wellbeing and mental health?

It’s important for me to remember to have fun in all areas of my life! Daily “silliness” might be a good goal, as well as letting go of perfectionist tendencies and “all or nothing” attitudes. I would like to get back to purposeful journaling.

What advice do you have for someone in a similar experience as you?

Getting outdoors and staying active is very, very important to physical and mental wellbeing – but it’s not everything. Finding joy in all areas of life is so necessary; accepting where you are and working with that will relieve some anxiety and depression. But don’t stop doing what you love! It’s okay to be passionate about whatever brings you joy, just don’t forget to take care of all the necessary pieces that enable you to continue with it (ie, eating a lot of food in this case!).

What nutritional camp do you subscribe to, if any?

At this point, I try to go with “eat what sounds good when you’re hungry” I’m a reluctant meat eater, but my body seems to like it.

What are your responsibilities/interests outside of training?

I’m in leadership at Whole Foods here in town, with a little remote side-job a few hours a week. I read a lot, mostly fiction, mostly thriller/mysteries or articles on nutrition and physiology. And I’m always trying to keep up my yoga education and practice.

When and where are you happiest?

Probably at the top of a mountain, above treeline, after a long, steep hike.

With a Payday.