Some runners simply look like they are having a blast doing what they do. One such runner is the ultra-talented Rory Bosio of Truckee, California. Her performances at Western States over the past few years have been consistently stellar even though she admits that she approaches the day as one big adventure. I had the pleasure of chatting to Rory recently about life, long runs, and the wild, wild west.
iRunFar: Rory, you ran Way Too Cool a couple of weeks ago, finishing second. Tell us a little about the race. How are you feeling going into the new season?
Rory Bosio: Yeah, it was good. It was a super-warm spring day. It was fun! I use that race as a training run more or less. I don’t run too much during the winter, maybe a couple of times a week. And Way Too Cool is quite early in the season; I’m still mostly cross-country skiing! But the race was good; I led for all of 3o miles but then Meghan [Arbogast] came sprinting by me in the last mile and took the win! That’s the fastest I have ever done a 50k [4:07:38], so I was really happy! I also knew all day that Meghan was pretty much right behind me and she is a really strong runner, especially on flatter, fast terrain, whereas I prefer hillier, slower stuff. She sprinted home!
iRF: Still, it sounds like a promising start to the year for you?
Bosio: Yeah, you never know. Even if you feel like you are in good shape, you can just have an off day. I have gone into races before feeling really good and not had a great race at all. Sometime it’s just a crap shoot! So I’ll take the Way Too Cool result I had a couple of weeks ago. It was really cool.
iRF: You cross-country ski, too. That will keep you in pretty good shape! You find it good training, Rory?
Bosio: Oh yeah, it’s fantastic. It’s such a good overall body workout and it’s low impact so there is less of a chance of getting injured. I know a bunch of runners who cross-country ski in the winter, too.
iRF: So you are a native of Tahoe, California right? Can you tell us a little of your early years? Were there much outdoor adventures growing up?
Bosio: Lots of adventures! The words I heard most from my parents were “go play outside.” I had a very idyllic childhood growing up in Tahoe. I skied in the winter, and running, hiking, mountain biking, and soccer in the fall and summer. It was great! I often think we should live our lives in reverse and end on a high note of child’s play and no responsibility. One can dream that some version of this occurs!
iRF: Ha ha, yeah, I like that. So what did your young self want to be when you grew up? Have you become that person?
Bosio: I just wanted a job that would allow me to still have the lifestyle I wanted, to be honest! Apart from the outdoors and sports I was really into math and science. I was a little nerdy. When I went to college, I was thinking more in terms of the medical field. At first I was thinking about becoming a doctor, but then I figured out that nursing would probably fit better with the lifestyle I wanted and that’s how I got into it. I am really happy with the choice that I made. For me it feels like a good balance in the sense that running can sometimes feel a little self-indulgent, just because it is a very individual thing and, especially ultrarunning, it can take up a lot of time. So my job is a good counterbalance to that where I feel good about what I do. But I guess when I was growing up I just wanted to live in the mountains and be able to play outside as much as possible so whatever job would let me do that, I was open to ideas!
iRF: What about running, what’s been your journey from first getting into running trails up to running 100-mile ultras?
Bosio: I started trail running in middle school and instantly loved it. Probably because I got more attention since running is more of an individual sport rather than being on a soccer team with a bunch of other girls! I didn’t start running ultras until I was out of college. I was living in Tahoe and needed something more productive to focus on than the usual exploits in a mountain town like partying and finding powder. My neighbor growing up is a fantastic ultrarunner, Laura Vaughn, and she encouraged me to do it. She is actually a bad example because she can run a hundred off the couch and crush it, making it look way too easy! I definitely have to train more than her.
iRF: Did she see some good potential in you and take you under her wing?
Bosio: I used to babysit for her and we got to talking about running. She would invite me on a few of her shorter training runs and we would talk during those. She would tell about her races and the cool places she had run. That kinda sparked something in my brain, I guess, and I thought it would be cool to try. I was thinking it would be fun to try something like a 50k race – just once! Just to see if I could do it and once I did I sorta got hooked. I think that happens to a lot of people.
iRF: Tell us a little of that first ultra. That was the Silver State 50k in 2007 right?
Bosio: Yeah, it was. What was funny was my friend who actually paces me now at Western States, it was his idea. He was like “Let’s do the 50k, it would be so cool,” so I signed up for it and was training and asking him “so how’s the training going?” and he was all “yeah, it’s going great!” and then come the day of the race he decides not to it! I still give him crap for that.
iRF: Ha ha! It worked pretty good, though. You won that race, right?
Bosio: Yeah, I did; I won that race! I ended up actually falling pretty hard towards the end of the race and kinda messed up my IT band for a while, which was a bummer, but I still had a ton of fun so it wasn’t enough to deter me from doing more.
iRF: Okay, but did you go into the race with high expectations? Were you secretly like “I can take this out?”
Bosio: No! I had no idea what to expect. I think at that point the longest I had run was probably 25 miles, so I absolutely didn’t know what to expect. I kinda feel the same way about racing still. I always just want to finish and finish where I don’t feel like I am dying!
iRF: For real? You still doubt your ability to do well in races, even after your successes?
Bosio: Yeah, I think it’s my natural tendency that I try and fight against. It’s probably my natural tendency in other things in life, too! With racing I think it’s more about thinking about running 100 miles is intimidating to me, but if I break it down into smaller parts and talk myself through it then it seems less daunting. But, sure, I still go into these big races hoping I finish. I think I will always be like that no matter how much experience I get.
iRF: So you are part of The North Face (TNF) team. How did you come to be sponsored by them?
Bosio: I’m not quite sure who first mentioned my name to them (I owe whoever that is a drink!), but they contacted me a couple of years ago. I wasn’t looking for a sponsor, and I still feel like it’s too good to be true. But that just makes me want to do better. TNF is such an innovative company in the outdoor market. I feel lucky to be on the team!
iRF: And speaking of TNF, as one of their team, do you have much input into shoes, clothing, and equipment design?
Bosio: Yes. The athletes get together with the designers periodically throughout the year and talk shop. It’s really cool to be able to give an opinion on a new shoe or jacket and hear the designer’s response. In everyday life, I don’t think my opinions are ever quite as valued! The design team really listens to the athletes and they ask such detailed, pointed questions. I think this is reflected in the amazing, functional gear TNF produces. It’s all athlete-tested.
iRF: You seem like a full-on proponent of the ‘have fun’ mindset, and it has sure served you well. Have you always been such a positive person?
Bosio: I go by the ‘fake it ’til you make it’ maxim. I figure if I go against my first instincts, pessimism and doubt, then eventually I will change my perspective to be more optimistic, since these people are usually more fun to be around. In general, though, I do have a happy out outlook since there isn’t much to complain about in my life.
iRF: So taking that mantra into running, and especially races, have there been times when you let your guard down, forgot to enjoy the experience, and suffered the consequences? You think there is something to learn from those times?
Bosio: Definitely! I haven’t enjoyed every race. I usually do have a good time, but there are times I’ve suffered through and thought what a moron I was for voluntarily racing. It always makes me want to have a better experience the next time to replace the negative memories. Of course, I use less-than-enjoyable experiences as troubleshooting for my training, which I tend to be too lax about.
iRF: Have you always suffered through those type of races? No DNF’s?
Bosio: Yeah, I’ve DNFed through injury. I went into a race I probably shouldn’t have started. And the first year I started Way Too Cool, which would have been 2011, I had a horrible race and probably should have DNFed, but walked it in instead. I don’t know what would have been worse!
iRF: Let’s talk Western States! You have raced three times now, a fourth, fifth, and second last year. You must love that course?
Bosio: I do like the course and feel very relaxed on it. Sometimes knowing a course too well isn’t great for me because I like surprises and discovery. I can get too relaxed! I like how it’s point-to-point and the sections in the canyons. I think it should reverse directions every other year, or maybe just on leap years. No one else endorses this idea, but I think it would be awesome to start in Auburn and end in Squaw. [Editor’s Note: Here’s our video interview with Rory after the 2012 Western States 100.]
iRF: The race is kinda in your backyard so to speak, right? Was it always a race that you wanted to do growing up? Were you aware of the history?
Bosio: I was aware of the race. I thought the runners were whack-a-doodles and needed their heads checked. My opinion hasn’t changed on this. I learned more of the history from Laura V and other Tahoe runners. The historical aspect definitely adds to the allure of the event.
iRF: Looking back now to your first race there, has your approach changed significantly in the intervening years?
Bosio: Not really. I’m a slow learner. Hopefully one of these days some wisdom will sink in through osmosis by being around smarter runners! I’ve tweaked some things and dialed in the nutrition better. My crew, my put-upon family members, have progressed from beginners to full-on pros, which makes everything run so smooth. But my overall goals are unchanged. And I approach the race with the same mindset.
iRF: So you raced in Europe for the first time on the altered UTMB course last year, a 103k night run in torrential rain, in which you cruised to a fourth-place finish. Can you tell us a little about that?
Bosio: I wouldn’t say ‘cruised!’ I am more of a Clydesdale horse than one of those effortless-looking runners. It was an incredible experience. I loved it. They had to change the course at the last minute because of weather conditions and they had made the call that morning, and the race starts in the evening. So that threw everybody for a loop. Though for me it was my first time racing in Europe, so I didn’t really know any different although I would have loved to have gone all the way around Mont Blanc. Hopefully this year! I loved the whole experience and I love the Alps and just being over there. It’s like paradise! [Editor’s Note: Enjoy our 2012 TNF UTMB pre-race and post-race video interviews with Rory.]
iRF: Ah, so you are going back to UTMB this year?
Bosio: Yes! I would really love if we can get to run the standard course and, if that’s the case, I would just want to finish it! I ran a little over a 100k last year, so there is obviously still a good lot to do, but I am really looking forward to it. It’s hard because it’s not the race that I train specifically for and, for me, it’s a quick turnaround time from Western States. For some people it’s okay; it’s about two months. But, for me, I tend to take about a month recovering from Western States, so it’s pretty tight. I wouldn’t do it if it was any closer in time but it’s definitely doable… I think! I will just have to tweak my training a little bit after Western States.
iRF: Had you traveled much in Europe before last year, Rory?
Bosio: Yeah. I’ve mostly traveled in the winter for skiing. I have a really good friend who is on the US ski team, so I would go over and visit her but mostly for skiing. Then, a couple of falls ago, my family and I went to the Interlaken area in Switzerland where the Eiger and Jungfrau are located. I just fell in love with running in the mountains there. The terrain is so amazing and everybody you meet is so great. Everything about it, I just love it!
iRF: Cool, so are the mountains different to what you experience there in Tahoe?
Bosio: Yeah, they are. They are similar in that they both have alpine climates, so the actual weather is very similar, but the Alps are a lot more dramatic and more elevation gain for sure.
iRF: Have you any plans to run some of the other big European Skyrunning races, Transvulcania, Zegama, or Cavalls, for example?
Bosio: In my dream world, yes, I would love to run those races. Reality is a different story. So far I’ve been very fortunate with work, so we’ll see. I really enjoy incorporating ultras into travel experiences. It is something I hope to do more of. I would love to do some of the Skyrunning series.
iRF: You have said that you love those tough conditions, snow, rain, cold. Can you explain why? Does it heighten the experience in some way?
Bosio: Mostly because it slows the pace down, which favors my style! I like variety and try to accept the conditions as they are instead of cursing them. Adverse weather definitely makes for a more memorable experience, so even though it might not be ideal at the time, usually people look back on these races fondly. Or after a few drinks at the bar, either way. I always tell myself that there is a finish line, an end to the drudgery. It’s not like the Oregon Trail or the Donner Party, to throw out some arcane references, where the suffering was unending.
iRF: I love those ‘suffering’ references! Do I sense a keen interest in historical suffer fests?
Bosio: Ha ha, yeah, I am definitely a bit of a history nerd! I listen to a lot of history podcasts and things like that. Also where I live in Truckee is right near where the Donner Party spent their very hard long winter… eating each other! So yeah, I really like all the wild west stuff, the gold-rush era, and the westward migration.
Nowadays, we live pretty easy lives in terms of modern conveniences, so reading about and hearing about how much harder life was and about how people had to travel back then has always interested me. I think there is also some link there to running long distances that has always intrigued me, about the connection to the past. Of course, people didn’t run 100 miles back in the 1800’s, but they used to travel such long distances and they would be on their feet all day and it was so arduous. There is definitely a connection to the past in that way.
iRF: I guess that could, in part, explain ultrarunning’s popularity in the developed world. A lot of people are quite comfortable in their daily lives, so there is this warped attraction to having a bit of pain and suffering?
Bosio: I think so. One of the things that draws some people to our sport is that people want to push themselves and do something that you don’t get to do everyday. I remember when I would hear Laura, my neighbor, talk about running 100 miles and I was like ‘That just sounds impossible!” It does; it sounds nuts. Then, when you actually do it, it’s obviously hard, but it’s not nearly as bad as you think it would be. When I signed up for my first Western States, I was not really nervous, but I didn’t know what to expect and I thought I would be just crawling to the finish… dying. But it actually wasn’t that bad and it turned out that I had a lot of fun doing it. So I think a lot of people sign up for ultras wanting to challenge themselves and then find that, yes, it’s a challenge but also something that is pretty enjoyable, too. So that’s a really cool aspect of the sport.
iRF: You are not a ‘career runner,’ you work as a nurse at a children’s ward, right? Has it crossed your mind to take a sabbatical and focus on racing, Rory?
Bosio: It sure has! But my lotto tickets never win! I already feel lucky to have a job I love and something I’m passionate about, running and outdoor adventures. That would be the icing on the cake. However, I value the role work plays in my life. Without it, my days might seem aimless after a while. But if the opportunity to not work for a brief amount of time presented itself, I’d be all over it like syrup on waffles. Now, I do two to three days of work a week. I know that doesn’t sound too bad, ha ha!
iRF: That sounds pretty good to me!
Bosio: Yeah, it’s pretty flexible and I really do like my job, so I feel very fortunate. It’s a great job to have for somebody that trains. So I hope next year, next spring, to do some more international races.
iRF: Okay cool, so just talking about international races and the whole professionalism that is happening in the sport right now with the Salomon team and TNF having signed up Timothy Olson recently. Can you see the changes clearly from ‘the inside?’
Bosio: I definitely do. TNF has been so good to me and they give their runners amazing support. I am not on their global team; I’m on their national team. The Global Team is runners like Lizzy Hawker, Kami Semick, Timothy Olson, Mike Wolfe, Hal Koerner, and a bunch of other very accomplished people who have been in the sport a lot longer than I have and, at least for the women, are the top, top runners in the world. It’s really cool to be able to hang out with them and run with them on occasion. I think that TNF is definitely putting more emphasis into running and supporting their runners for doing more international races, especially since they see how much effort and support Salomon puts into their team and the amazing results that they get. So I feel that TNF is continuing to build their running team, which is really cool. Even on the national team we have some amazing runners so it’s pretty cool to be able to participate in a sport and have that kind of support.
iRF: You have a real laid-back attitude and take-it-as-it-comes persona, which is fantastic. But there must be a hardened competitor there in there, too?
Bosio: My days of fierce competitiveness ended when I couldn’t beat my mom at Candyland. Turns out she was cheating. Nonetheless, I’m probably average. I like doing well (Who doesn’t?) and I don’t like to lose, but it doesn’t really bother me either. I have a horrible memory when it comes to racing, so I can move on quickly after a crappy result.
iRF: You are big yoga fan. Tell us a bit about that, Rory.
Bosio: Yeah, it definitely helps! I started doping yoga when I was in high school. My mom had a DVD before it had started getting bigger and bigger and I have found that it definitely helps. I think I have lost some flexibility, you know, just with age and with running. But I try and at least maintain the bit of flexibility that I have. I think runners in general could do with stretching more and becoming a bit more flexible.
iRF: It does seem to be neglected a little bit amongst us runners.
Bosio: Yeah, it is. Running is one of those sports that is so hard on your joints and there is so much pounding and contracting of your muscles that it always feels good to stretch them out. It’s a good cross-training thing to do, even if it’s only 10 minutes a day.
iRF: You’re right. Okay, I am off to stretch! It’s been great talking to you, Rory. What else have you got lined up for 2013 race-wise?
Bosio: I’m going to Lake Sonoma, which I did last year. That’s in a few weeks time in northern California, in the wine country. That’s a 50 miler. Then it’s Western States and UTMB. Hopefully something else in the fall, but I will wait and see. I only have it planned through UTMB so I will see how the recovery goes after that!