The Runner's Journey: A Walk on the 'Wild' Side with Alicia Woodside

Enjoying the course at the 2016 World Trail Running Championship in Portugal. Photo by Prozis Trail Running.

Enjoying the course at the 2016 World Trail Running Championship in Portugal. Photo by Prozis Trail Running.

Alicia Woodside is not running for gold, at least that’s what her blog says. She’s running for something more… The 29-year-old trail runner has experienced her fair share of competition. She competed at the World Trail Running Championships (50 Mile) and World 100k Championships for Team Canada, but what keeps her hooked is the adventure.

There’s so much to learn, and that’s what makes it so fun. It will take me decades to be as knowledgeable as I want to be.

What Alicia likes about trail running, is that it’s about a lot more than accomplishing a fast time-- although that’s definitely a part of the excitement. It’s more all-encompassing. Requiring a little bit of knowledge and skills: navigation, backcountry awareness, safety, self-reliance, and even creativity.

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Trail running was Alicia’s gateway into outdoor adventure sports. “It’s a relatively easy and affordable adventure sport to try” she says,  “it’s a great jumping off point into many other cool sports, like hiking, ski touring, paddling, and rock climbing. All sports I do now that I would not have imagined doing before trail running shaped my experiences.”

Empowered from these experiences, Alicia leads a new women’s outdoor initiative called Girls Gone Wilderness. The intent is to offer affordable, non-intimidating outdoor experiences for women, to encourage more women to try adventure sports.

Alicia believes that these adventures can promote a women's self-confidence and provide a much-needed connection with the outdoors. It also enables an easy way to maintain a healthy, fun lifestyle throughout all ages in life. The motivation behind the initiative is addressing the gender bias that makes adventure sports more male-oriented from a young age.

From left to right: A circumnavigation of Mt. St. Helens (photo by Tara Berry). On right, playing in Colorado’s beautiful San Juan Mountains with Yitka Winn (photo by Jennifer Hughes).

From left to right: A circumnavigation of Mt. St. Helens (photo by Tara Berry). On right, playing in Colorado’s beautiful San Juan Mountains with Yitka Winn (photo by Jennifer Hughes).

“As young women growing up, there comes a strange age where it seems we sort of stop playing outside. We see our friends straightening their hair and keeping it perfect. Meanwhile, the boys seem to be outside having fun, skateboarding, snowboarding and being playful” she explains.

In an effort to change the dialogue around girls in adventure sports, Alicia, with her friends Jo and Nancy, started Girls Gone Wilderness as a non-profit organization. Alicia believes that taking up a sport is a great way to build confidence, and that it’s even more prevalent with adventure sports. “With adventure sports, it’s critical to be self-reliant and to be able to depend on yourself, so confidence becomes a prerequisite” she says. It’s her hope that after the first step, participants in her programs will journey into increasingly wild places.

Girls Gone Wilderness hike. Photos (right/left) by Gina Hopper

Girls Gone Wilderness hike. Photos (right/left) by Gina Hopper

However, it’s more than just risk-taking that Alicia hopes to inspire, “you have to find the right balance” she says. With trail running, “it should feel thrilling and exciting, but never scary”. In getting that right balance, it’s important to be prepared for the worst. One of the tools she uses to prepare for a run is RunGo. In British Columbia, it’s not uncommon to find amazing trails that are not well marked, so planning and prepping for that route is essential for Alicia. "With RunGo, I can pre-run routes for Girls Gone Wilderness events and make the route available to our guides and participants” she explains.  

RunGo was like an angel in my ear, guiding me where to go

The first time RunGo really changed way she ran trails was while running the Zion Traverse, a beautiful backcountry 50-mile trail in Utah, with her running pal Meghan. Alicia usually runs with a paper map but on the day of their traverse, the snowy conditions made the map futile. Luckily, she had a RunGo route downloaded that covered the entire trail on the way out. They were able to find the route despite the snow and they were able to confidently move forward. "I was shocked by how well the app worked" she reveals "it announced all the key turnoffs along the way- without data- and even corrected us when we made a wrong turn".

By the time they completed the the 50 mile trail, Alicia realized she would not be able to go back on her own at night, the way she had planned. The trail was much more complex than she predicted. Meghan was stopping at the 50 mile mark and Alicia did not have a route downloaded for the way back. She did not want to end up lost, in the dark, in freezing weather so she assessed the situation quickly, and decided not to make the traverse back alone. This experience is what helped her understand the value of preparedness and decision-making and that's the type of knowledge she would like to pass off to other young women.

Left: An adventure run with friends on the Sea to Sky Trail. Right: Deep snow on the Zion Traverse
Left: An adventure run with friends on the Sea to Sky Trail. Right: Deep snow on the Zion Traverse

The common tools she uses on adventure runs include: a paper map of the area, a cell phone with a RunGo route downloaded and emergency contacts pre-loaded, a SPOT device, an extra battery pack, a jacket or emergency blanket, a small first aid kit, a whistle, plenty of food and water. She also always tells an emergency contact where she’s going and how long it should take. Without these basics, she doesn’t feel prepared to go exploring in a new place, and she’ll stick to running in the areas she knows well.

You want to feel that excitement, but then come back without a scratch, and be able do it again (even farther or faster) with the people you love.

For Alicia, that will likely be for a long time to come. There is so much growth when it comes to running, it’s what keeps Alicia humble and always on her toes. To learn about Girls Gone Wilderness and see upcoming events, check out the Girls Gone Wilderness community on Facebook.

Left: Alicia’s first 100km run at the Baker Lake Ultra (about 4 years ago), with partner in crime Tara Berry. Right: Alicia dressed up as a unicorn and ran 100 miles in less than a day at Cascade Crest 100 in 2015. She convinced her friends to come out dressed like unicorns, too. (Photo by Julien Lamoureux )

Left: Alicia’s first 100km run at the Baker Lake Ultra (about 4 years ago), with partner in crime Tara Berry. Right: Alicia dressed up as a unicorn and ran 100 miles in less than a day at Cascade Crest 100 in 2015. She convinced her friends to come out dressed like unicorns, too. (Photo by Julien Lamoureux )