≡ Menu

Digital Health Startups Changing the Game

digital health startups

I’ve worked with a lot of health-related companies in my career — from big pharma to startups. I’ve also had some great and truly not so great healthcare experiences. I also have people in my life who’ve struggled to find just the right care for their specific condition for most of their lives. They are still searching and can regale you with terrible stories of  truly awful doctor/patient exchanges that will leave you in tears. We can do better. We have to do better. Digital health startups hold so much promise but in many cases, new companies must integrate or work within or figure out how to circumvent or reinvent giant, unweildy, vastly flawed systems or ways of working. The challenge is great, the goal is greater.

Here are a few of the digital health companies I’m currently rooting for, because I love what they’re about and the problems they are trying to tackle:

  • Heal – On-demand doctors available for house calls. “Great, affordable healthcare in the comfort of our patient’s homes.” I was recently in San Diego, got sick in the wee hours of the morning with a terrible ear ache and didn’t know what to do. All my doctors were in LA. None of the walk-in clinics nearby were open yet. I did some quick online research, found Heal, downloaded the app and learned I could have a doctor come over within a few short hours. Amazing. I cannot tell you the piece of mind that gave me at 3an. I want everyone to have access to that kind of peace of mind when they or a loved one is suddenly sick and needs help, even when they’re out of town.
  • Impact Health – The pitch: “Never call a health insurance company again.” SOLD x 100! As someone who just spent THREE DAYS (THREE. DAYS.) on the phone with many different departments of both HealthNet and BlueShield to sort a clerical error that didn’t cancel my HealthNet insurance properly which meant my new provider wouldn’t cover me even though I was approved and had already paid for the month of August (all while needing to see a doctor urgently for a bad cough), I would love to never have to call another insurance company again. It was truly maddening to spend that amount of time on the phone with various entities, all to get an “H code” removed from my HealthNet coverage so it was clear to my new provider that I was truly no longer covered by HealthNet. I was caught in some weird health insurance limbo where no prescriptions could be filled and no doctors could be seen, all because of a tiny clerical error that took many managers days to sort. ImpactHealth helps you sign up for coverage, find great doctors and helps you sort all your bills. All for free. An amazing service that is truly welcome.
  • Maven Clinic – Here’s the pitch: “We started Maven because we want to make it easier for women to get immediate, professional care, from someone they trust. Wherever they are, whenever they need it. We’ve built a network of doctors, nurse practitioners, mental health providers, and specialists in all areas of women’s and children’s health, and make it easy for women to connect with them directly via video appointment or private message—whether it’s for a prescription or just for peace of mind.” If Maven can be Heal + Impact for women’s health, it will be a home run.
  • GoodRx – The pitch: “Empowers consumers who are trying to get the best deals on prescription drugs. Its website and mobile app provide over 500 million pricing options for more than 6,000 different medications, with real-time updates on discounts, coupons and price fluctuations.” I don’t have any regular medications so I’ve never quite understood the stress involved in shifting costs depending on your health coverage (or lack thereof) and where you fulfill your prescription. But I had lunch with a friend yesterday who was prescribed eye drops for an eye infection at a walk-in clinic. The clinic was going to charge her $15 for the drops but realized they were out of them so they called the prescription into a local pharmacy. The pharmacy told her the cost would be $240. Insane. After some wrangling and some coupon-finding, it was sorted and though the price wasn’t $15, it was well under $100. But imagine if the coupon-finding couldn’t happen? And imagine if she needed this medication every month? Such a needed and valuable service.
  • Parsley Health – The only medical practice with a 360° approach to long-term health. Parsley Health was founded in 2015 by Dr. Robin Berzin MD, a Columbia-trained physician, digital health expert, and leader in functional medicine. Robin believes that medicine should put nutrition, wellness and prevention on the front lines of health care, while simultaneously making care smart and data-driven to meet our needs in today’s world. For $150/month, you have access to in-person and online care, 5 doctors visits, 24 ongoing health “coaching” visits and access to a wealth of medicine, wellness and nutrition data that will help you address every aspect of your health including and most importantly, preventive health. Imagine seeing a doctor to stay healthy, rather than seeing one only when you are sick.

There are a ton of other companies doing great work on the doctor side of the patient/doctor exchange, making it easier for doctors to access your data in one place, provide better care to you, prescribe more than just medicine to you, combine your own quantified self data with theirs and so much more. Next time, I’ll do a round-up of those digital health companies.

Would love know what companies are on your radar or that you’ve used and have found to be game-changers in your own personal healthcare journey.

{ 0 comments }

Conversion Marketing Done Right: Warby Parker

Warby Parker's Excellent Product Marketing

As a marketer, I’m always fascinated with the conversion marketing funnels of other companies. Where do users get stuck in the process? How do companies try to get them over the hump? What tools do they employ to make the process pleasant, friction-free, brand-positive and most importantly, how do they close the deal?

I wondered this for quite some time about Warby Parker when they first launched. You get the frames at home, try them on, decide what you want, mail them back, wait for your glasses to arrive. It felt like a lot of steps. A lot of steps both online and off. A true challenge for any company. But I didn’t need new glasses.

Until I did.

The Process

While many things stood out to me about the absolutely kick-ass purchase process that Warby Parker has finely honed, what impressed me most were how they tackled the parts of the conversion process that would likely provide the most friction or where a customer would be most in danger of falling off the radar.

It started out simply – go online, take the quiz, pick some recommended frames (maybe pick some others that weren’t recommended for your face shape) and get 5 of them sent to your house. Easy. Anyone can order free things to be sent. First step, accomplished.

This is where my marketer mind was waiting for it to get interesting. I had all the usual questions (would my frames arrive on time? would I like them?) but my main focus was on how Warby Parker would try to guide me through the process. I wanted to experience their conversion marketing approach to see how it felt being “in the funnel.”

The package arrived on time. I was texted and emailed about it. The box arrived while I was out of town so I didn’t get to them for a few days (and you are technically supposed to only keep them for 5 days before mailing back.) I was not yet back in Los Angeles, when I received one of the most effective emails I’ve ever received from a company:

 

Funny. A little irreverent. Totally on brand. Reinforces for me why I chose Warby Parker in the first place, because they totally get me. And I recognize the nudge. As in: “Hey, it’s been awhile and you’ve not ordered yet. Just checking in – you’re gonna look great!”

But the second part of the email is where I truly fell in love:

Not only does the email remind me of what I ordered, it makes it ever so easy to simply just say “YES! I’ll take it!” right from the email.  So many conversion marketing approaches get it wrong in this exact regard – they make it tough to go back and figure out what you ordered and they are pushy when they do it. A hundred other companies would have sent a slightly nagging email that reminded me I only had a few days to order. I love that Warby Parker stayed away from that completely. This email is the perfect combination of brand voice and storytelling (reminding me of the value at only $95 with prescription, reflecting back to me the unspoken “cool” that reinforces for me why I chose the brand in the first place) but also purely transactional excellence. BUY THE GLASSES, LADY. But in the most chill, beach vibes kind of way.

I get my glasses, I try them on, I know what I’m going to order. Now to actually do it. This was also part of the funnel that I wondered about. Would this be easy to do? How simple is it to give them my prescription, order my glasses, etc. A lifelong marketer is ever-curious about these things.

The Potential Funnel Friction

Everything about ordering the glasses was simple and mostly friction-free. Mostly. I took a photo of my prescription and uploaded it, I used that magical email to order my frames and I was almost in business. The one thing that remained was taking a “PD” test. They needed me to take an online Pupillary Distance test so they could place my prescription correctly within each lens based on how far apart my pupils are from one another and the specific frames I chose. This is where I thought the wheels might come off. But Warby Parker had a finely-tuned way of handling even this.

Using your computer’s web cam, you can follow their simple online instructions to take a photo and upload it to your account. Easy peasy, right? Except mine didn’t work. It could not access my web cam. Over and over, I tried. I had visions of so many Warby Parker customer stuck in this particular part of the sales funnel. I did everything and now I have to do this funky test and it’s not working? Boo! But before I lost my cool, I noticed they had online customer chat. An absolute must to bridge the gap between online/offline experience and any ordering process that might have a few snags.

I started a chat session with “Caitlyn” and within moments, my issue was resolved, my PD test was complete and my order was placed! What could have been a deal-breaker was resolved within a few quick minutes. I did a silent high-five to the Warby Parker team for having tools available at every stage of the funnel. They also texted me during this time (though I didn’t see the texts until later) that they needed me to complete the PD test.

Immediately following my chat with Caitlyn, I got an email asking me to rate my experience:

And of course, they sent me an email confirming they had everything they needed:

Well done, Warby Parker. Well done.

Conversion Marketing Done Right

I’ve spent my career thinking about these exact moments of customer experience – from the Lexus Your Customer As Your Guest program all those years ago to managing online purchasing of ASICS to converting someone from a free trial of YogaGlo. I’m always trying to engineer conversion marketing approaches that take into account all the places it might go awry. It makes me so happy when I’m on the receiving end of truly excellent marketing.

I also love that they mixed it up — some emails throughout this process were fully designed out, some were text-based and simple like the one above. I recommend both. Not every email needs to be a gorgeous work of art. Especially if you are testing out different messaging or are taking too long to design out your communication plan for closing the deal. Sometimes a simple message is better than one that never gets sent because your entire marketing team is debating email design.

I’d love to know what they A/B tested, which messaging they tried that didn’t perform was well as what they sent me, what tests they are running now even as I type this.

It’s been over a week since I got the try-on frames and they finally sent that “Hey, please send your at-home try-on frames back!” email. But it was nudge-y in a lovely way and revisits the key brand elements while also being transactional (please send back our frames!):  getting me excited for my recent purchase (they are on the way!), reminding me of the value I get when I choose Warby Parker (100% UV protection, anti-reflective, etc) AND stoking my inner do-gooder vibe by reminding me that for every pair sold another pair goes to someone in need. This email accomplishes a ton with such brevity.

My experience might be typical or atypical. I’d guess most people come away pretty impressed with the whole shebang. I’m sure the Warby Parker team has had to troubleshoot all sorts of funnel scenarios: what if the customer doesn’t like any of the 5 try-ons and wants to try again and again and again? what if the customer never sends the frames back (I’d LOVE to see that email communication path, what if i put glasses in my shopping cart over and over and never make a purchase (would LOVE to see that communication path – email + retargeting + you name it, too!), what if, what if, what if. This is the stuff of great product marketing. Thinking about all the ways your process can close the deal in a way that makes your customer want to write a post about how truly kick-ass the whole process was.

They also make the entire process personal – human beings are featured in their emails trying on the glasses, I chatted with Caitlyn, I got a text from Sam. This is such an important piece of the messaging puzzle when trying to bridge the online/offline purchase loop. Real people (or AI bots?), helping me with my order feels good.

I await the arrival of my new glasses, warm from the glow of a great customer experience. This is what we all strive for in the work we do. Now get out there and close the deal by making your customers feel excellent!

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSaveSaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSaveSaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

{ 0 comments }

Patagonia: The Original Content Marketers

There is so much buzz these days about content marketing for very good reason. When we create content that our customers need (even crave?), we can connect to them in an extremely meaningful way that allows us to build a stronger relationship with them. We create brand ambassadors, we create customer loyalty and we create the holy grail of word of mouth recommendations. Content marketing isn’t new – great brands have been doing it for a very long time now – but in the past few years it has become a much bigger sword to wield in digital marketing as spending has moved away from ads and into a world where we map out every stage of the customer lifecycle to meet them exactly where they are with the exact content they need to move them through each stage of the funnel until we get a conversion. I’ve not been to a single networking event, marketing conference or joined a digital Facebook group in the last year in which content marketing isn’t one of the main topics of discussion.

I have been reading Yvon Chouinard’s Let My People Go Surfing recently and while I’m struck by many things – the passion for getting everything right, the ethical obligation to make products that last, the serious commitment to activism, his deep love of the outdoors – what really stands out for me is how early on Patagonia realized what many marketers have only begun to realize in the past few years: if we want to sell our customers something we believe they need, we have to create content to educate them on why they need it and how it fits into their lives.

The Patagonia catalog, even in its very early days, devoted a ton of space to that very education. Essays on why you should layer clothing and how to do it and think-pieces on environmental issues took up valuable space that could have been devoted to featuring more products. But Yvon and his team understood early on that these essays would do more to sell their products than featuring a few more photos and prices and SKUs on those pages ever would. They were providing their customers with useful knowledge while also establishing the company ethos and reminding every customer why they so identified with Patagonia. Brilliant.

All those years ago, they were storytelling – a buzzword that seems to be everywhere these days but is a concept any season marketer has employed for years. At every opportunity, remind your customers why they are choosing you and why choosing you is the right choice.

“My first principle of mail order argues that “selling” ourselves and our philosophy is equallyimportant to selling product. Telling the Patagonia story and educating the Patagonia customer on layering systems, on environmental issues, and on the business itself are as much the catalog’s mission as is selling the products. This has several practical implications, including how we measure the success of a catalog, how we format the information, and how we allocate space. Above its value as a sales tool, the catalog is first of all an image piece, presenting the company’s values and obligations.”

What’s more, they tracked the results as any good marketers should and played with different ratios of content to product/product to content. And they found that good storytelling that directly reinforces the values of the brand wins out:

“Over the years we have come upon a balance between product content and message — essays, stories, and image photos. Whenever we have edged that content towards increased product presentation, we have actually experienced a decrease in sales.”

It’s fair to say that my already-intense devotion to Patagonia as a brand has only increased after reading Yvon’s book and seeing just how truly ahead of the curve he was in every aspect of his business. And how absolutely incredible that it all stemmed from a lifelong passion – something he would have happily pursued outside of “work.” A lesson for us all.

{ 0 comments }

Marketing Podcasts That Will Make You Smarter

The digital marketing landscape changes quickly and it’s vital to stay on top of your game while also executing on the strategy and vision your team set forth. How to do both? In LA, it’s called get smarter with podcasts while you sit in traffic! I’m loving these lately:

  • Marketing School – It’s Neil Patel and Eric Siu. Enough said. I favorite a lot of Neil’s tweets and Evernote a ton of his posts. He has been blogging about excellent marketing strategies for a long time. Each episode is only 10 minutes and I promise you will expand so much of your thinking if you find 10 minutes every day to listen. We are all in traffic for at least 10 min a day, right?
  • The Growth Mapping Podcast – Each episode is packed with ways to increase growth from some of the top marketing minds. Sujan Patel and Aaron Agius know their stuff. It’s new, but it’s already given me a lot of great insights that I can directly apply with my team.
  • Social Media Marketing – Michael Stelzner has been sharing his incredible knowledge about social media for a very long time and he knows what’s up. The world of social changes ever so quickly so this is a good one to stay up to speed on what’s new and actionable ways to apply what’s new where it makes sense for your business.
  • Perpetual Traffic – I’m a Digital Marketer member and I’m a huge fan of the quality of their work and their willingness to share all they know with all of us to make us excellent at our jobs. Their podcast is no exception. This is a must-listen for me every week as they focus on actionable advice for generating leads that convert.
  • Growth Marketing Toolbox: Run by the team at Earnworthy, each podcast features interviews with some of the best marketing minds who share their best growth marketing tools, tactics and strategies. I love this one because it features people who are in the trenches just as I am, so they get it.
  • SocialPros – I’ve been following Jay Baer’s work and insights for a long time and respect him a ton. Each episode is excellent and ranges from quick tips and actionable items to much bigger picture discussions about branding, loyalty, how to build a social media team, analytics, social listening and more.

I listen to a lot of podcasts so I’ll be sharing more of these lists, including more for start-ups, bigger picture business strategy and even my favorite outdoor adventure podcasts. What marketing podcasts are you loving lately?

{ 0 comments }

Adventures of the Heart

I’ve been honest here (and certainly on Instagram) over the past few years about a lot of life ish that has been extremely tough to navigate. While I don’t need to share my entire personal life, I wanted to take a moment at the end of this year to acknowledge how tough this has been and how much nature has played a part in keeping me sane.

I spend my days at YogaGlo dreaming up new offerings and services that help meet people at every stage of their life – from stress and anxiety to illness, grief and heartbreak. It’s an honor to spend my days thinking about how best to meet people where they are and give them the tools they need to navigate what’s tough and find their way to a better place, all while taking care of themselves.

Yet no tool we create has completely given me what I have needed: a return to the places where I felt the most free in my life, a return to the places that hold such powerful memories of loved ones who are no longer with us. Nature has been the salve for a rough couple of years. Period. Full stop.

On the longest hikes, on the scariest climbs, step after step, pitch after pitch, I’ve found a peace that has eluded me for a long time. I grew up doing all of these things with my family. But family can be tough and mine was among the toughest. My mother died when I was a teenager, my grandmother (my mom stand-in for all of these years and the most avid hiker and camper and foodie I’ve ever known) died two years ago and my step-father (the man who raised me) just passed away this April. Both of my parents were alcoholics since I was very young. It was all fraught and complicated from early on. But to lose my grandmother and step-father so close together while navigating other challenges in my personal life…it has been a lot. Nature was my first response: heart hurts, get outside. But I have a complicated relationship with certain trails and certain National Parks because they bring a painful childhood rushing back. The good times, the crummy times, the downright “can’t wait until this trip is over” times.

And as I think of this year and the amazing trips I’ve taken – trips that have cracked me wide open – and as I plan for the new year ahead and all that I hope to discover and explore about our world and myself, I am inviting in less heartache and more adventures of the heart. If you’ve had a rough year too (or three or five, like me), I salute you for surviving. As absolutely cliché as it is, I invite you to join me this year in not merely surviving but thriving.

We can do this. And there are so many places to explore that will crack us wide open anew.

{ 0 comments }

Adventure Bloggers You Should Follow

I’m ever more heartened as I see so many people heading outdoors and unplugging from technology — even as the impact on our sacred wild places has become a bit greater with the sharing of those places on Instagram.

There are a lot of voices out there — the Instafamous to follow, the hardcore climbers to inspire you, and the regular people just like you and I who’ve found that nature is where they feel most alive. All of them have something to offer to help guide you to your own adventures outside. These are the ones I’m loving lately:

  • Bearfoot Theory – Kristen has been at this for quite some time and I find her guides to specific places to be spot on. Earlier this year, I took a two-week trip to visit several desert national parks and her guide to Zion and hiking The Narrows was the best resource for planning that leg of my trip. She truly embodies what I love most about getting outside and that is a pure joy for nature and outdoor adventure. It’s infectious in the most authentic way possible and if you follow one adventurer, she’s the one I recommend highest. I promise you will be inspired and will find a way to get outside more often by following her story.
  • Dirtbag Darling – Johnie is a great writer. As a lit major and someone who wrote about books for many years (hello LitLifeLA, my defunct litblog + LAist), I really appreciate beautiful prose. It’s a rarity in the adventure blogging space so I appreciate her site that much more. She spends most of her time in a Sprinter Van (#vanlife etc) and shares her thoughts on the beautiful places and adventures she encounters. She surfs and climbs and hikes and is up for any new adventure. There’s no way for you to follow her and not get inspired to try something new outdoors. Truth.
  • The Morning Fresh – Katie Boué is so passionate about the outdoors and that oozes into everything she touches. Follow her on Instagram and read her blog to get a peek into a life that truly celebrates all the little moments, including the many spent outdoors. Katie is a serious runner and climber and sneaks in all sorts of new sports along the way.
  • Flash Foxy – This is the first climbing site I found as I first started rock climbing that made me feel a little less intimidated and a lot more included. Mountain Project is the obvious go-to when checking out routes for an upcoming climb and they have several great posts from well-known climbers, but these ladies have created a place to truly celebrate female climbers and they have a lot of great posts about facing your fears in climbing (something I always need) and they have organized several climbing trips for women. I follow them on Instagram for maximum inspiration.
  • And She’s Dope Too – A collective created to help women pursue adventures in the outdoors and feel supported in doing so. I’ve not gone to any of their events (yet!) but their Instagram feed is a constant source of inspiration — whether it’s climbing, skiing, hiking, running or backpacking. They are a must-follow to get your outdoor mojo on.

Where do you find inspiration for a specific trip outdoors? Would love to know!

(Image of a wonderful day climbing recently at Point Dume, Malibu)

{ 0 comments }

Opt Outside: Resources for Spending Time in Nature

By now, we’ve all dissected and drooled over and been inspired by (and also as a marketer, I’ve been absolutely blown away by) REI’s fantastic #OptOutside campaign for Black Friday. I was thrilled to see them take such a stand to really encourage us all to spend time not around the TV or dinner table, but outdoors. It’s completely on brand for them so it makes sense – but it echoes what I’ve seen (and as you know, personally experienced) recently about a bigger push to slow things down, step away from our tech and simply be present outdoors.

Since I’ve been doing a lot more of all that, I wanted to share a few of the tools, groups and orgs that are making it ever easier to get outdoors safely either alone, with friends, or with a group of strangers:

  • AllTrails – Invaluable app that allows you to suss out any trail before you go and download it to your phone so you’ve got it even when there is no cell service. I cannot tell you the number of times I’ve been lost on a trail and when I’ve been disciplined enough to download the app and my hike before I head out, it has always guided me back to my car. Especially good for parks and trails that have multiple routes out or if you are hiking with anyone who consistently asks “are we there yet?”
  • Modern Hiker – Another great resource for finding hikes in your area, which ones allow dogs, what to look out for and what you can expect while you’re on the trail. I especially like the detailed notes for hikes that don’t have a ton of signage. You can tell every writer has actually hiked these hikes so you know you can follow their guidance for a safe hike every time.
  • 52 Hike Challenge – This group, headed by the very inspiring Karla Macador, was started when Karla herself was going through serious life upheaval and change and found the only way through it was hiking. I feel that 100% and have been following along with her challenge to both herself and others to hike once a week in the span of one year. It is an amazing community and I’ve taken up the challenge as well. Check out their site, follow them on Insta, take the challenge and get outside every single week!
  • Outdoor Women’s Alliance – Their entire mission is to empower women worldwide through outdoor adventures. There are local groups in many cities that host regular hikes. This is particularly great if you want to star hiking regularly (hello #52hikechallenge!) but you don’t want to go alone.
  • REI Classes – When I first got back into hiking in a meaningful way, I hiked with friends often. Alone sometimes. But when I’d travel for work and didn’t know the area well, I wanted a group to hike with. Enter REI’s amazing classes and outings offering. You can hike with amazing women, learn to rock climb, kayak, you name it. All for very reasonable prices and all with great guides. Highly, highly recommended to spice things up a bit or gain new outdoor skills.

There are also a ton of amazing outdoor bloggers who I rely on for longer trips away (the best way to get that Mt. Whitney permit, can you really hike Half Dome with the cables down?, what is it like hiking the JMT?) and I’ll be sharing those soon. Would love to know what resources you are relying on as you #optoutside. Let me know!

(Image of a magical sunset at Jumbo Rocks, Joshua Tree – one of my favorite spots to camp!)

{ 0 comments }

The Healing Power of Nature

I’ve not made a secret recently of my absolute need to spend as much time in nature as possible. I’ve been dealing with the death of my grandmother and quite a few other intense life things and hiking and backpacking and climbing outdoors heal me in a way nothing else does. Time outside brings me back to myself in a way that I had somehow forgotten for several years as I worked crazy hours and built businesses.

I’ve recently begun to think a lot more about the connection between our health and nature and have sought out as much as I can find on the topic. A few of my favorite recent reads on the subject:

  • This Is Your Brain on Nature – “When we get closer to nature–be it untouched wilderness or a backyard tree–we do our overstressed brains a favor.”
  • How Nature Boosts Kindness, Happiness & Creativity – “We are spending more time indoors and online. But recent studies suggest that nature can help our brains and bodies to stay healthy.”
  • The Healing Effects of Forests – “Forests — and other natural, green settings — can reduce stress, improve moods, reduce anger and aggressiveness and increase overall happiness. Forest visits may also strengthen our immune system by increasing the activity and number of natural killer cells that destroy cancer cells.”
  • The Healing Power of Nature – “Too much focused attention can lead to mental fatigue and increased stress. One remedy for this fatigue is exposure to nature.”
  • The Amazing Ways Nature Can Heal You & Make You Feel Your Best – “A growing body of science is showing that nature is good for you. That includes spending time in nature, but it even includes looking at natural scenes out a window.”

This is barely the surface, but these pieces and so many I’ve recently read confirm for me in scientific terms what I’ve been feeling on spiritual terms: nature rocks. Get outside!

SaveSave

{ 0 comments }

Our Hikes, Our Selves

My home was not a fun one to grow up in. My parents were often preoccupied with abuse – of substances and other people. There was a lot of shouting. A lot of throwing things. A lot of not so safe places for a little girl to hang out and feel ok. My room was one of them, though that sanctuary was often breached by my mother who would enter just long enough to hurl insults about something – my appearance, my body, my “selfish” behavior, the state of my room, the A- instead of the A+.

The only place where all this awfulness seemed to lessen – where for a moment I could hear my own voice and not theirs – was on our backpacking, hiking and camping trips. It was as if nature’s power silenced them. Made them realize what shits they were being. Reminded them of something greater than themselves. I didn’t understand any of that then, but I knew enough to look forward to every outdoor adventure because it would mean less yelling, less fighting, less of all the bad things and so much more of the good.

The great irony is that as much as I loved nature and the outdoors – my adult self associated every camping trip with my family. All the conflict of home and the rare good times experienced only outdoors. It was an odd mix of joy and confusion, longing and fear. I’d camp with friends and loved ones and never quite feel at ease, but wasn’t able to pinpoint the source of my conflicted thoughts. Until recently.

I started hiking again in earnest this year. I started seeking outdoor adventures again. Not as a way to revisit the past, but as the only way I’ve ever known to connect to my own voice. Just as when I was a child. I find the trails allow me to sort out who I am and what I want and what I’m made of and what that means. Hiking and camping and backpacking require you to be fully present yet also in great awe of the beauty around you, which invites you to be even more present. Whether the trail is hard or easy, stunningly beautifully or dusty and dirty with very little “peak” reward, I have been finding myself again this year in the backcountry. It has saved me in a time of great upheaval and I cannot recommend it enough.

I’ve also met incredible people out on the trails and a singular truth has been revealed: we are all out there working through something. Every person you meet on the trail has a story. A reason they are out there. A reason they feel at home there. A reason they need nature in their lives, whether it’s an hour hike or a 60-day trek. I’ve been lucky enough to hear some of these stories. Some of them powerful and some of them sweet. All of them not quite finished. Mine isn’t finished either and I’ll be sharing much more of these trail voices and stories – mine and others – very soon.

Photo from my solo hike to Suicide Rock via Deer Springs Trail in Idyllwild earlier this year.

{ 0 comments }

Race Brain

La Jolla Half Marathon

There’s one thing that is required to run long distance races. It’s not strong abs, or the optimal leg strength to get up that crazy mile 10 hill (I’m looking at you Nike Women’s Half Marathon), it’s not powerful arms to carry you forward when your legs are beyond tired. All you need is your race brain.

Race brain did not come naturally to me. I’ve had to work hard to cultivate it over the years. I lost it for about a decade and didn’t race at all. Though I’ve recently become re-acquiainted with it, I sometimes lose my race brain right in the middle of a race. But if you can mentally prepare for it, envision yourself finishing it and then negotiate within that brain and dig deep during the tougher parts of any endurance event, you can finish it.

When I’m nearing the last leg of a race, I start assessing the state of my personal nation (how am I feeling? could I run faster? what is my pace? what is my time? am I doing better or worse than before? is that right leg cramp really an issue? where are the bathrooms, just in case? love her nike capris, i need to find those online after the race, should i eat another sports bean? why do i have the chills?) to try and sort out what my finish will look like. Even in all my monkey mind chatter, it always comes down to a single philosophical dilemma: am I holding back? do I have more to give?

You’d think the dilemma would be easily solved. If I have more energy, I should run faster/push harder. And sometimes I do. Other times, I find that even though I have reserve energy to spare, I like where I’m at, I’m feeling good and I don’t want to push farther.

There is something interesting in that moment when you find out that you are not willing to push harder on a given day. Or that you are, even though you are hurting. Or that you are willing to push only a certain amount harder and you’ll be thrilled with that result. Other times, I really want to beat a certain personal record and I give it all I have. But lately, I find I’m checking in and thinking “You know what, Callie? This, right here, this is good. You are about to finish. You feel good. Who cares if it is 3 minutes faster than last time?” And I’m able to ease into it, enjoy the moment, see the runners passing by, hear their chatter and laughter, really take in the crashing ocean waves and that gorgeous vista ahead. And that’s interesting as someone who used to care deeply about such external validators as published times.

Long distance events show you who you really are and teach you to negotiate with yourself about what you are willing to do at every mile, for as long as the race takes you. Other than regular meditation and yoga, I’ve yet to find an activity like running that requires me to so fully know myself and deal with myself and get over myself and see what I’m made of over and over again, all while under controlled duress.

If you can train your race brain to find that sweet spot between pushing too hard and not hard enough, there is something absolutely magic about seeing what you are made of and realizing that you can reinvent yourself with every mile.

{ 0 comments }