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A man lies and dreams of green fields and rivers

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Athletes & Explorers

Dec 17, 2018

Steph Davis: Flow, Focus, and Feeling in Control

An insight into free solo climber and BASE jumper, Steph Davis’s reasoning behind what she does, and why she does it.

WRITTEN BY

Brooke Hess

“How can some someone experience the freedom of flying?”

It’s a question that Steph Davis answers for herself every day.

American free solo climber and BASE jumper, Steph Davis, is a force to be reckoned with. Her accomplishments are on par with some of the greatest athletes of all time. And yet, despite all her successes and achievements, her humble personality allows her to stay grounded and focused.

Photo Credit: Vincent Kleine for She’s Mercedes

While speaking with Davis, we talked about her emotions, her needs, her tragedies, her relationships, her successes, her failures. Amazingly, she appears to be a normal person… a normal person who performs superhuman feats, and doesn’t question them.

Steph’s drive to do what others can not and would not is fueled by her curiosity for the world. Curiosity to see new places. To learn new things. “Just understanding that there was so much knowledge out there and so many amazing places that I had never seen, and would never have the ability to see without these other skills of climbing up mountains and just all the things that it leads you to do. I’m travelling around the world, spending time with people in different cultures, different places, and then, you know, of course learning – how do you actually get up a mountain with a vertical terrain, and then get yourself back down.”  Yes, how DO you do that?

Photo Credit: Vincent Kleine for She’s Mercedes

For Steph, climbing and BASE jumping aren’t just about getting up the mountain and back down again. For her, it is about flow and focus. In order to do what she does (and do it safely and successfully), she must achieve a maximum level of focus. She must be 100% centered on the present moment, so as to avoid any and all mistakes, which, when doing what she does, could be fatal. When Steph is flying through the air on a BASE jump, or high above the ground on a climb without a rope or any sort of safety protection, her brain slows down and enters a flow state. Flow state refers to an experience when one is fully immersed in what they are doing, to the point of forgetting anything and everything else in their life at that moment. All other thoughts, feelings, and emotions leave the body, and the brain is 100% focused on the present moment and present activity. It is common for extreme sports athletes to achieve flow state while performing their sport, especially when their sport relies on it not only for success but for survival.

According to Steph, the easiest way for her to achieve flow state is to escape outside energy. To be alone. “For me, a big factor for reaching focus, or flow, is getting away from outside energy — so free soloing inherently works really well because you are alone.” When Steph goes BASE jumping, the activity is so intense that she has no choice but to enter Flow State. “With BASE jumping and wingsuit BASE, getting there (flow state) is pretty much guaranteed because it seems like there’s no choice but to enter that state of pure focus when leaving the edge — although it’s a pretty short-lived experience because BASE jumping is over very quickly. Still, sometimes it can be challenging because outside energy can still affect my mindset and BASE jumping can turn into a more social experience with people hiking together in bigger groups, so I’ve found I need to limit the group to just one or two other jumpers and forego certain jumps if I know it will be a large group… If I’m with anyone else, I usually jump last so I can be alone for a few seconds or minutes at the top without any outside energy, and that’s when I feel the calmest and focused.

Photo Credit: Vincent Kleine for She’s Mercedes

The thought of feeling “calm” and “focused” before jumping off a cliff with only a parachute as your safety net may seem crazy to the rest of us. For Steph, this is what keeps her coming back. She loves the idea of such an uncontrolled situation. With the training, learning, visualizing, and practising, again and again, so many times, she is able to control the uncontrollable. “Seeking the ability to do something that should be impossible and yet to be doing it in a way that’s actually pretty reasonable.” Steph is only satisfied with her performance if she has done her climb or BASE jump in a controlled, and calm fashion. When she does that, it feels as if she was in the right place at the right time. As if she was meant to do it. As if it was her purpose. “I know for myself that when I’ve had those moments where it kind of just worked out and I almost felt that I got lucky… I’m usually really dissatisfied with that experience. What I prefer is to feel like I’ve entered the situation in a very calculated way. I’ve really prepared. I’ve gone through all the permutations. Plan B, plan C, plan D scenarios. I’ve tried to really think through everything that could ever go wrong and feel like I have a plan for that. And then when it started happening, I feel like I’m very in control of the situation because I chose to get into it feeling like I’m really ready for it. When I either land from a jump or top out a climb, I feel like, ‘wow, you know, I really belonged there and I wasn’t just kind of scrapping through it’.”

A feeling of belonging is what Steph is looking for. She looks like she has found it. “I’m 46 now and I’ve been climbing since I was 18, so my entire adult life I’ve been doing these sports in various form… I am hoping to keep doing my sports for the rest of my life. It is honestly really hard for me to imagine not being out in the mountains and being out in the desert and just doing these things that I love doing.”

READ NEXT: Steph Davis: Dreaming of Flying

 

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Athletes & Explorers

Mar 10, 2019

Meet Addie Bracy: Ultra’s Upstart Signs with Nike

American Addie Bracy is an advocate for diversity, recently signed with Nike Trail Running and is making noise on the ultra scene. She's the pro trail runner who almost never was.

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WRITTEN BY

Kela Fetters

You might not have heard of the newest member of the Nike Trail Running roster, American Addie Bracy. She’s soft-spoken and humble in person and a relative newcomer to the ultra scene. But her emergence has been nothing short of meteoric, given the fact that her incursion onto the trails was completely serendipitous.

En route to an eventual 2nd place finish at the Way Too Cool 50k on March 2nd. Photo provided by Bracy.

“One of the things that I hope to help promote is more diversity in trail running…My partner is also a competitive runner and when talking to Nike, they were totally on board for sponsoring us both as an LGBTQ couple in trail running.”

She pursued a collegiate track and cross country career when, by some measures, she wasn’t qualified. After college, she kept training, even though her modest times did not portend a successful competitive tenure. She ran on, mostly  unpaid and unsung, but fast enough to propel her to some big wins and to the Olympic Trials in multiple distances. Through the vicissitudes of race results, she kept going, even as performance anxiety and personal doubt hemorrhaged joy from the sport. In June of 2016, she was in Portland, Oregon, poised to run 10,000 meters around the track in a last-chance effort to qualify for the 2016 Olympic Trails in the event. Filled with anxiety and nausea, she ran almost a minute slower than the necessary mark. Catalyzed by this performance, she decided to step away from competitive racing. Feelings of inadequacy and self-deprecation were becoming too intrusive. A friend had mentioned an upcoming race, the USA Mountain Running Championship, and she signed up as an impromptu adieu to the racing scene. In July of 2016, Bracy ran her very first trail race ever on the steep hills of Lincoln, New Hampshire—and won.

The common denominator in Bracy’s running may be her indomitable resiliency. Ask an ultrarunner how they deal with nine hours in the pain cave, and many of them will point to an ability to simply keep grinding. Bracy’s ability to push through adversity may be the reason she has found success on the ultra scene. Her inaugural foray into the realm of extreme vertical and unpaved paths at the 2016 USA Mountain Running Championship opened a chapter Bracy never intended to write. Less than two months later, she placed 12th at the World Mountain Running Championships. It’s been pedal to the metal since then:

Headshot of Bracy near her home in Boulder, Colorado.

TOJ was delighted to correspond with the Nike newcomer:

TOJ: How long did you compete on the track and road?

Bracy: Almost 15 years! I started running track in middle school and then cross country and track in high school before running at the University of North Carolina in college. During that time, I think I competed in pretty much every event (on the road or the track) that is considered a distance event. I ran the 10,000m at the Olympic Track and Field Trials in 2012, and then the Olympic Marathon Trials in 2016. I moved over to trails shortly after that because I started to get a little bit burned out of the kind of racing I was going, but I still loved to get out and run every day.

TOJ: In what ways is trail running different from racing on the road and track?

Bracy: I love track and field and will always be a huge fan and supporter of the sport. But, as an athlete competing for so long, it felt like a really objective sport in the sense that you were either running faster or you weren’t. It was easy to fall into the trap of not only comparing your times to ones you had run before, but also comparing yourself to other people based on your race results. For me, how fast I was (or wasn’t) running started to really influence how I felt about myself which was an unhealthy place for me to be in. Trail running is a lot different. Every course is different, race conditions are always different, and nobody really focuses on the times you’re running. It’s a much more subjective experience that’s so much more about just going out and running hard and tackling the trail or the mountain. It’s a really supportive community full of a bunch of athletes supporting each other to go out and push hard together.

TOJ: How have you adjusted your training?

Bracy: There’s a lot of my training that’s the same as before. I still get on the track for fast repeats and do hard marathon type long runs on the road. That kind of fitness is still really important and I try to stay in touch with that during all my training programs. Of course, there’s some specific training that also needs to be done. I do a lot of my weekly running on trails just to get really comfortable with that terrain. And, depending on the type of race I’m preparing for, training sometimes includes a lot of hill climbs or runs with vertical gain. Training is really catered to whichever race I’m focusing on since the demands vary so much from race to race. But, that’s one thing I love about trail running and the variety keeps it fun and interesting.

TOJ: Tell me about signing with Nike Trail Running. What were your considerations in making this decision?

Bracy: I was looking for sponsors at the end of 2018 and had to really start thinking about what I was looking for in a company. One of the things that I hope to help promote is more diversity in trail running since it’s such a welcoming sport. My partner is also a competitive runner and when talking to Nike, they were totally on board for sponsoring us both as an LGBTQ couple in trail running. Nike has always been at the forefront of promoting inclusivity in sport and that’s something that we felt really strongly about being part of.

Headlamps through the dark at the Leadville 100. Photo by Eli Duke via Flickr.

TOJ: What are your goals in 2019 and beyond?

Bracy: My plans for the summer are still a little bit in the works. I’m running the Lake Sonoma 50 miler in April to shoot for a golden ticket to the Western States 100 in June. If I’m not able to pull that off, I have some back up plans to shoot for another 100. I’ve only done one 100, but I’m still very intrigued by the distance and want to take a few more cracks at it. Outside of my own running, I’m really just excited to help push the sport I love so much and to be as involved as possible. I do a lot of coaching and love supporting and crewing for my athletes. So, I’m excited to be at a lot more races in a support role.

TOJ: What advice would you give the you of 2 years ago?

Bracy: To just keep doing what you’re doing! A lot of amazing things have happened for me over the last year or so. There were certainly times when I first transitioned over to trails and before I had decided to go back to school when I felt a little bit lost and unsure of what my future looked like. Things have really come together in terms of having a great sponsor, loving racing, starting a coaching business, and finishing up a graduate program that I feel passionate about.

TOJ: How can other track and road racers make the transition?

Bracy: Just give it a try! Most road or track runners fall in love with racing on the trails as soon as they try it. In terms of actual training, many athletes love the transition because they get to get out on trails and see beautiful new places that they wouldn’t have otherwise. Most races are in such amazing locations that it tends to feel like a destination race. If you’re unsure of how to get started, there’s usually a community of trail runners not far away so reach out! The trail community is incredibly welcoming and kind.

TOJ: Tell me about grad school. How do you balance a pro career with school?

Bracy: I’m about to wrap up a graduate program in sport and performance psychology at the University of Denver. In terms of balancing a demanding program with trying to run professionally, it’s certainly been a challenge! I live just north of Boulder, but I’m in school in Denver so the commute alongside the time commitment can be tough. For the most part, I just try to keep my training flexible and get in my runs and workouts when I can. I keep shoes and clothes in my car and when a break pops up in the day, I take advantage of it. I haven’t been able to get on the trails as much as I would like, but I do what I can. I try to never approach training as something else that I need to add to my “to-do” list for the day. Running is time that I get to spend on myself and I view it as a nice little break every day.

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