Behind the Scenes on the Happy Trails Digital Coloring Book

This summer, in collaboration with artist and runner Abby Levene, iRunFar published the Happy Trails digital coloring book! The coloring book is available for purchase in the iRunFar Store.

The book contains 10 pages, and each page depicts a scene from a trail race or run–including some iconic moments like Kilian Jornet running through the fans of the Zegama Marathon, Courtney Dauwalter en route to winning UTMB, and Jim Walmsley setting a course record at the Western States 100. Upon purchase, you’ll receive links to digital files that you can download and then either print out and color, or upload to your favorite device to electronically color.

With this article, we share some behind-the-scenes thoughts on the coloring book’s creation via a Q-and-A with artist Abby and iRunFar Editor-in-Chief Bryon Powell.

iRunFar: Why exactly a coloring book?

Bryon Powell: I can’t remember when I first thought of an iRunFar coloring book, but it was a long time before we started creating it! We have so many inspirational people, events, and places in our sport, and I thought it’d be great for parents involved in trail running and ultrarunning to be able to share that inspiration with their kids. Then, when COVID-19 struck and our lives and running changed, I knew it was time for this project to come to fruition, so that not only could parents share their sport with their kids, but folks of all ages could color the images, too!

When we first started seriously exploring the topic, including Clare Gallagher during her Western States 100 victory came to mind. Sometime in March or April, I asked Clare if we could include her in a coloring book. In her typical enthusiastic fashion, she responded something along the lines of “OMG, my friend and artist Abby [Levene] and I were just chatting about the same idea! I love it!” Well, that connection sparked some magic!

iRunFar: Where did the idea of showing mostly well-known athletes at well-known events on the pages come about?

Powell: We initially focused most (but intentionally not all) of our efforts on pinnacle moments in our sport as, first, they’re super inspiring and, second, iRunFar likely had an image we could use as a basis for the graphic art. We’re at a ton of top races and our previous work could set things up for this new format. That said, we very intentionally wanted at least a couple images of unidentified trail runners in more intangible scenes for the inspiration they can also render.

iRunFar: What scenes were the most fun to draw?

Abby Levene: Oh gosh, they were all so fun! It was a challenging balance of trying to make the illustrations fun and interesting while also true to reality. Lots of trial and error! I’m partial to big mountain vistas and wildflowers, so Clare’s page at the Western States 100 was particularly fun. Bryon sent over an image of Clare coming into the Foresthill aid station and I bargained to bump her up a bit sooner in the race where it’s super scenic. Also, Clare looked so radiant in the images Bryon sent, like she was genuinely having a blast. It was fun to try and capture that and spread that joy.

I also loved drawing François D’haene running across the cafe terrace near the end of UTMB. With no international travel this year due to COVID-19, it was blissful to space out and transport my mind to Chamonix, France. Hopefully people coloring that page will feel the same way.

iRunFar: What was it like trying to depict recognizable people and places, but in a way that would be fun for others to color?

Levene: It was a challenge! I definitely kept pushing the line on artistic license, and had to be reigned in. Most of the mid-race scenes were pretty straightforward, since the natural beauty of the landscape is inherently beautiful and fun to draw. The finish line scenes were the hardest–sometimes there was too much or too little going on.

The hardest part about depicting the athletes was capturing their grit without making them look wizened. When you’re only working with pen lines as opposed to color and shading, the facial lines of working hard look quite similar to wrinkles. Or maybe athletes just temporarily age about 50 years mid-race!

iRunFar: What sorts of artistic license did you use?

Levene: As I mentioned, we did things like move athletes from one point in a race to another. I also find flowers and flora in general to be fun to draw, and they enhance pretty much any image. So I added flowers and plants where possible. I had a lot of fun looking up what vegetation would be blooming in certain regions during certain times. But overall, we tried to keep the images pretty true to reality. I also did my best to capture athletes during the most aesthetically pleasing phase of their running stride.

iRunFar: And what was the biggest challenge?

Levene: Kilian’s page proved to be the hardest, which was fun in its own right. His face is so recognizable, but it was the hardest to capture. We went through about five iterations of beard/no beard/less beard/more beard/curly hair/shorter hair. Haha! And trying to illustrate the swarm of people at Zegama in a way that was believable yet also fun to color was tough!

This was followed closely by Jim’s face which is also so distinctive yet elusive to draw! And Zach Miller’s karate-kick finish at The North Face 50 Mile.

iRunFar: What do you hope users get out of Happy Trails?

Levene: First, I hope people of all ages enjoy coloring it. Second, I hope people of all ages feel what I felt making the book: inspired by these tenacious athletes who lay it on the line so joyfully. Perhaps there’s a lesson in there that the best athletes in our sport do it simply because they love it. This reminder seems to surface while spectating or volunteering at races, too.

Meghan Hicks

is iRunFar.com's Managing Editor and the author of 'Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running.' The converted road runner finished her first trail ultramarathon in 2006 and loves using running to visit the world's wildest places.

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