[Editor’s Note: It’s a huge pleasure to introduce iRunFar’s newest column, ‘Trail Sisters’, authored by Gina Lucrezi and Ashley Arnold. Once a month, Gina, Ashley, and/or the two of them combined will bring you women’s-specific stories from the trail… and life.]
It was 2011 and Gina Lucrezi had just moved from Boston, Massachusetts to take a job selling advertising at Trail Runner magazine in Carbondale, Colorado. At the time, I was the Associate Editor. We’d been professionally acquainted—if only by email—for a couple of years, though. She was my public-relations contact at Inov-8 footwear. (Gina was always—and still is—that person who responds to your emails immediately. But maybe that’s a side note.)
The summer before she moved to Colorado, we met face to face, albeit haphazardly, at the U.S. Mountain Running Championships in North Conway, New Hampshire. And then again, but more planned this time, when my sister Lauren and I ran the TransRockies Run in 2011.
So, naturally, being the ringleader of on-the-spot-jump-into-things-as-fast-as-I-can endeavors, I moved out of my current abode and declared that we should be roommates. As if I could see the future (maybe I can!), I knew we’d be excellent roommates and friends. I only had one worry, though, and it was whether or not Gina would burn my pots and pans when cooking… so I told her to bring some along. I can see a pan-burner from a mile away. Or, er, across the country.
And, she was right (about the pans, too). Ashley is unlike anyone I’ve ever met, a creative dancing spark plug. I always thought I had tons of energy, but I found myself corrected. My version of relaxing is kicking my feet up and watching some bad comedy on Hulu, whereas Ashley power cleans the kitchen.
It wasn’t long before we were running almost every day together. Our paces generally matched and our eagerness to explore and log miles was complimentary. Plus, after we’d both spent years mostly training solo during our college days, it was nice to finally have a partner to call on when motivation was lacking, or when either of us would manifest a ridiculous situation if we ventured into the backcountry alone. (Ah, more on this some other time.)
Our trail touring doubled as therapy, pep-talk hour, business-venture meetings, race strategizing, and world domination, to name a few topics. Nothing was off limits.
After several months of our running hangouts, Ashley and I figured each other out. She knew that my attitude would sour on hills, and I knew she would often complain during flat and fast. We could read the mood of the day just by how we greeted each other before the workout even began. By learning each others’ history and experiencing responses to different situations and conversations, this created what I call the ‘sister effect.’
By my definition, it is generally a love/hate relationship. One second you can be best friends and the next you want to strangle each other. It is the ability to finish the others’ sentence, to know her plan before she does (and vice versa). But no matter how crazy sisters can be, at the end of the day they are always there for each other.
Last minute in December of 2012, I asked Gina if she would pace and crew me at The North Face 50-Mile Endurance Challenge Championships in Mill Valley, California, the weekend after Thanksgiving. Originally, she had planned on racing so she already had a plane ticket purchased, but after a lot of thought—it was her first ultrarunning season—she decided to sit out. (Smart move!)
She didn’t give it too much thought before she said, “Sure, I’m in!” Not only would she get to pace me, but she’d also get to hang out with the running community and have a good time. Or so we thought.
Race day came. And it was cold and raining and miserable. It had, in fact, been raining for several days. The course was a sloppy, rerouted mess. The first signs of a cold were creeping into my system and I knew the race wasn’t going to help. Still, I was ready to go. I was going to give this race everything. My trail sister was there to help!
But then, five miles in, on a long, slick, and steep hill I was pummeling down, I tripped. I hit a root or a rock, I think. I reached out with my right hand to brace the fall—a natural inclination—and felt something like an explosion in my palm. And then there was blood. Everywhere. It was pouring down my front. It was still dark so I shined my flashlight on my hand. Hamburger-meat-like tissue was sort of grotesquely dangling out of an almost-to-the-bone gash. At the time, I didn’t notice I’d also rolled my ankle.
I knew Gina would be waiting for me several miles ahead. So I tried to run, er, hobble to the aid station at the bottom of the hill.
I was waiting for her to run through the first aid station, but she never showed. I grew nervous when runners coming through said “a girl took a nasty fall and is down.” Lucky for me, Bryon Powell was at the aid station with a trusty walkie-talkie and confirmed that, indeed, Ash had fell victim to the trail and its heinous conditions.
What began as an exciting vacation to watch the race and pace my friend turned into a day and half of playing nurse. (Thanks to my mom, I’ve got this down.) I found Ashley in rough shape at the medical tent. She hobbled instead of walked and her hand looked like it went through a meat grinder… ick. My first order of business was to get her back to her hotel, and get her warm and clean. This was not a pretty process but it was a bit comical. I’ve never had to help someone pull up her pants before. If we weren’t close yet, we certainly were now.
I found an urgent-care center a few miles away, so off we went. As Ash had her hand put back together and stitched up, I followed the remainder of the race from the iRunFar Twitter feed. I kept thinking how ridiculous it was that I flew all the way to Mill Valley just to watch the race in tweet form from my phone. But I was so happy to be there when my best friend was in need of serious help. I know she would have done the same for me!
To be honest, I don’t know what I would have done had Gina not been there. I couldn’t use my right hand and I couldn’t really walk. Gina, essentially, became my feet and my hands. She guided me through a lot that day… and the following days.
So, I guess, really, in a nutshell, that’s the essence of being ‘trail sisters.’ We are there for each other and, quite frankly, trail running is very much ingrained in our friendship. We’ve tested our athletic boundaries together (and against each other), we’ve discovered new places, and we’ve learned a great deal about our health, our happiness, and, perhaps most importantly, our life.
And, while this column certainly does have to do with us and the wisdom we’ve garnered through countless runs in the Colorado Rockies and post-run beers, it has just as much to do with you. We want to take everything we’ve learned from, as Gina says, the ‘sister effect’ and pass it to you.
After four years as elite women in this growing sport, together we have a lot to share. We’ve soaked up positive lessons, yes, but we didn’t reach them without challenge. And so, this column would not be realistic unless we talked about the struggles and imperfections training partners can have in life and on the trail such as racing, mileage, food, self-perception, confidence, and even issues with being pee-shy.
I hope you will enjoy our stories and advice, and most of all take away some of our messages to help better your own life and training relationships.
See you next month!
Call for Comments (from Meghan)
- Do you have a trail sister? Or someone with whom you share a ‘sister effect’ in another part of life? How would you describe your relationship with that person?
- Ladies, what topics would you like to see Ashley and Gina address in the future?