Wellness Habits of Mountain Runner and Photographer Steven Gnam

Wellness Habits of Mountain Runner and Photographer Steven Gnam

Steven Gabriel Gnam is a professional photographer using the medium to explore and illuminate our connection to Nature. His work is a celebration of the wild, and encourages protecting the wildlands of the American West, with a focus on the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Northwest. Steven’s photographs are used by clients including: National Geographic, The Nature Conservancy, The Trust for Public Land, Nikon Inc., Patagonia, and others. While most of his running is slow and uneventful, Steven has set FKTs on routes including the Ptarmigan Traverse, Eldorado Peak, and Dragontail Peak. Steven lives with his wife and daughter in the Pacific Northwest.

Primary activity: Mountain Running
Location: Pacific Northwest
Caffeinated or decaf: Caffeinated


What is your primary mixed terrain activity or passion?

I love traveling through the alpine, off-trail, on ridge lines. At times, it would be generous to call it mountain running, but that category fits most of this style of travel.

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

Immersion in nature may be the single most important thing for my well being. I’ve found I don’t have to be running to get these benefits. Gardening, walking, or laying on the ground in a sun-drenched spot will provide some similar mental states.

Tell us about your daily training routine. How do you juggle work and life?

I watch our 1-year-old daughter during the week so my days revolve around her nap schedule. I take her on runs and hikes most days and spend a few hours a day running my photography business which includes office work and taking pictures. On the weekends, I try to get at least one 2-4 hour run in.

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

Sleep. I used to have terrible insomnia but have found ways to improve my sleep hygiene so that I consistently get around 10 hours of sleep a night. I think this has helped me manage both the stress of life and recover well from any training I do. The repair that comes from sleep can’t be replaced by any other technologies or techniques that we know of.

How do you measure success?

Working towards the healing of the world: human and non-human.

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

I once joined some friends on a 600-mile, mostly off trail, alpine traverse through the Rocky Mountains of Montana, B.C. and Alberta. I was only able to complete about half of it due to injuries (shin splints mostly). It was a very ambitious goal for me since I had not done a lot of running before this trip. I was glad to have tried but was humbled by the limitations of my body. I had never really trained before that adventure and it convinced me to prioritize it.

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

Gaia. The map app for traveling in new terrain.

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

I’ve struggled with many injuries over the years, but posterior tibialis tendonitis has been a stubborn one. Some good physical therapists have helped me identify the exercises to strengthen that area of the lower leg.

What life lessons did you take from the experience?

Prevention is easier than healing. It’s worth the time, however tedious to work on your weaknesses and imbalances.

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

I see it as my full-time job to maintain my mental and physical health. It’s a similar idea to putting on your life jacket first before helping others, otherwise you’ll both drown. I find anything you can do to boost your vitality is good for mental health. It’s also more important to have dozens of small positive habits than a couple big things you do for it. That way if you’re off you’ll have a lot of inertia in your favor. Some examples for me include:

Drinking coffee, daily intentional movement/exercise, nose breathing, plenty of sleep, meditation, spicy food, cold water immersion, going barefoot on the earth, dancing, moderate alcohol use, make art/practice creativity, swim, and many more…

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

I’d like to continue to challenge myself to become a more well-rounded athlete to handle aging.

Have you recognized triggers you now avoid to manage your mental health?

Seattle–haha, but seriously the grey, the long winters, and traffic were not great for my mental health. I had to move to the sunny side of the mountains and that has made a noticeable difference in my mental health.

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

Spend time learning about your mental and physical health and what makes you tick. Understand that the stakes are high, you could lose your life to it. Take it seriously.

What nutritional camp do you subscribe to, if any?

I’m an omnivore. Whole foods, organic when possible, low lectin (Plant Paradox ideas) due to a sensitive stomach, and cycle between low and high carb throughout the year and training cycles. I like skipping breakfast most days just because I’m not hungry for the first part of the day. I spent a couple years on a carefully planned vegan diet but was often tired. I got regular blood work and found that my cholesterol (necessary for making testosterone) was way too low (even copious amounts of avocados and coconut oil couldn’t remedy this). When I switched back to eating meat, eggs, and cheese, my energy returned. I also try to grow most of the produce that I consume and am enjoying baking sourdough bread.

Caffeinated or decaf?

Full strength coffee, then sometimes a second cup, or switch to a cup of green tea. Decaf coffee or hot chocolate later in the evening on select winter nights.

When and where are you happiest?

In the mountains or under water free diving.


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— Paul