The Running Bum

Running Wild With Words


Did you know the public has 60 days to comment on how they feel the lands removed from Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante National Monuments should be managed? These areas still fall under public lands but will be potentially open to new mining, drilling and ranching contracts unless they fall within Wilderness boundaries (ex Dark Canyon in Bears Ears). Beyond this, there are many other considerations necessary for the BLM to protect and maintain both places—this is not just an issue of preventing damaging uses of the land but also activating the federal government to do right by them and use our tax dollars directly within their jurisdiction in a constructive way. Another thing to consider when writing is whether these actions related to Trump’s decision to shrink the monument are even legal at all…….WRITE NOW!✏️

Comments on the planning process at Grand Staircase can be emailed to or via mail at 669 S. U.S. 89, Kanab, UT 84741.

Comments on the Bears Ears planning process can be emailed to blmem> or via mail at P.O. Box 7 Monticello, UT 84535.

So now what? Since President Trump’s decision to shrink Bears Ears National Monument I have been asked almost daily what people can do to get involved, or even to understand what the heck is going on in south east Utah. Before I dig into some of these ideas, I think that its important to remember that this is about a place that deserves and demands respect, protection and education access to the public regardless of the lines drawn or erased on a map. It is my hope that everyone remembers for just a moment what has not changed before or after the politics of a National Monument–that the sacred places are all still there, the hiking routes are fair game for anyone willing to use their two feet and the areas removed from the Monument are still public lands.

Despite the many positives we can focus on (which is how I choose to live my life—anger does little good) the changes obviously make Bears Ears increasingly vulnerable to the effects of other public land uses like mining, drilling and cattle ranching. These always have and will continue to coexist with conservation and recreation on our public lands (and in fact existed in the original Bears Ears NM boundaries as well). Of course careless and greed driven decisions on how to manage our public lands can and will have devastating effects on the environment, historical and sacred sites and ability for the public to enjoy them.

The future of Bears Ears National Monument will now be tied up in court and heated lawsuits for years to come. Conservation groups, tribal alliances and even outdoor big business corporations will collectively pool their resources to fight against the debatable ability of a President to make such a drastic cut on a Monument which directly pushes back against the Antiquities Act. For the average American, but if you’re reading this I doubt you are anything but average, there is no straightforward answer and its easy to wonder what effect, if any, our actions have on the outcome. This is where we must think collectively, if everyone did something, even small, imagine…..

I’m going to stop rambling. I don’t care what your motives for getting involved are. I do not care if we completely agree or see eye to eye about the issue. Heck, you might even be against the Monument but still wish to get involved in the protection of an incredible wilderness area. Or maybe you still aren’t sure what exactly is going on and want to study up before making a decision. I have sourced the following ideas by some of the most incredible and caring minds working tirelessly on this case. There is truly something for everyone here—whether you choose to make the effort to travel and volunteer, donate money or dig deeper into understanding the issue so you can be a beacon of knowledge for others around you that have questions you will have made a difference.

Screen Shot 2017-12-28 at 8.56.34 AM.png

  1. Study up and visit.

The best way to make an informed choice about helping out in this arena is to understand what you are “working for”. Whether you plan to go to Bears Ears or not understanding the region in terms of terrain, climate, wildlife, public lands boundaries (BLM, Wilderness, Forest Service), uses (cattle ranching, mining, drilling), history and prehistory is an excellent starting point. Fortunately this can be done from anywhere! Both High Country News and Outside Magazine online frequently post up to date content and articles about the issue and its many facets. Shameless plug—The Best Bears Ears National Monument Hikes offers all of this information, along with a critical background breakdown of the history of National Monuments in relation to the current events. I chose to write the book in such a way that it can obviously be used as a tool to go physically explore Bears Ears, but it is also a literary tour through the area for those who cannot go. The route descriptions, photographs and maps are intended to detail what it is actually like in the area, get your bearings and understand the significance of the cultural sites and wildlife along the way. Of course, if you are able to make the effort to get out to this corner of South East Utah that above all will give you the greatest understanding of the magnitude and significance of the 1.35 million acres we are discussing.

  1. Donate

Lawsuits are the primary focus of ALL groups and parties looking to return Bears Ears to its original boundaries. No one group or lawsuit will have the power to change this on its own, but a collective stack of cases and lawsuits WILL carry tremendous clout. Consider making a donation to Utah Dine Bikeyah, UTE PAC, Wilderness Society and Access Fund who are all putting forth a tremendous effort to take this to court. It is important to note that the tribes aren’t getting nearly as much established money as conservation groups and you donation will go major lengths to help the Bears Ears Coalition, Utah Diné Bikéyah, UTE PAC, Hopi Tribe, Navajo Nation, Pueblo of Zuni, Ute Tribe and Ute Mountain Ute Tribe.

  1. Voice your opinion

 Write a letter to your representatives. Yes, with pen and paper. Do it. It’s simple, won’t take tons of your time and sends a message to our elected officials that the American public will not sit idly behind a TV screen and watch decisions we are not in favor of go down. An even more direct way to have your stance heard in relation to Bears Ears and public lands is to write a letter to the Forest Service regarding Forest Plans. Periodically the Forest Service sits down to take a look at how the land is being managed and what changes need to be made going forward. Public opinion is a major component of this. Elizabeth Townley, who works for the Utah Forest Service Region 4 (which includes Bears Ears) and hosts the podcast Outlandish about public lands explains, “One of the best ways is to get involved with the agencies that manage them at a local or regional level and develop relationships with the local decision makers.” The Manti La Sal National Forest (which comprises the Abajo Mountains and parts of Elk Ridge in Bears Ears) is up for a revision that will affect the next 20 years of policy and land use. This is a critical opportunity for you to get involved and shape critical public land policy for the next two decades.

  1. Volunteer

 Public lands need public hands more than ever right now. Whether its volunteering for a trail clean up, attending town/public meetings, assisting with outreach and other related activities volunteering your time and/or physical presence will make the biggest and most immediate impact of all. To get some more concrete ideas I suggest subscribing to Utah Dine Bikeyah which according to UTE PAC director Robert Lucero will be, “very active in terms of meetings, outreach and activities for the public to get involved with.” There is also a volunteer section that allows you to propose and offer services. Archaeologist RE Burrillo also suggests that concerned citizens get involved with Wilderness Volunteers inc. or Edge of the Cedars Museum in Blanding, Utah.

Have another idea of your own? I want to hear it! You can share it in the comments below along with any questions you have about the content in this article or about Bears Ears in general. I’m off the grid most of the time but I will do my best to address questions and comments that can offer the most good for Bears Ears.

Screen Shot 2017-12-28 at 8.52.44 AM.png



The interminable intervals of green trees and worn farmhouses below heavyset clouds along Interstate 91 in Vermont tugged at the tears buried in my eyes. Behind them sit visions of long runs beneath 12,000 foot peaks on dry dusty eastern sierra roads when Gabe would paint pictures of his home state and mountains, “It’s so green. You’d love it Mo.” And it was, even greener than he ever made me imagine it to be. When I finally made it, I felt two weeks too late.

Screen Shot 2017-11-23 at 2.45.35 PM.png

Exactly one year ago both Gabe and I walked off the track in Portland likely for the last time as competitive track racers. I came back from months of injury and to PR by 1/10th of a second in the 5000 meters. Gabe struggled through a 10K after weeks of lackluster training. It can always go either way. I’m not sure either of us knew we were “done done” that day, but as we walked slower than I’ve ever walked before towards the car I felt painfully aware that the stoke of chasing numbers on the clock did not mean as much to either of us as it once did. I tried my best to cheer him up, to plant seeds of summer fun, of future racing and that there is so much more in life than racing or even just running. I didn’t want to drop him off and leave him alone in his hotel room that night but he insisted and so I did. When Gabe made up his mind there was no arguing, which is why we so often fought like brother and sister in between repeats in Round Valley or before getting on the bus. No mind though, Gabe was always first to incite an apology when it felt right on his watch, the same way no run was done until he decided it was done. Which is how many of his 20 milers became 23 milers.

Screen Shot 2017-11-23 at 2.45.55 PM.png

Gabe and I bonded over our love for the mountains and for running. Simple. Getting either of us to leave our 8,000 foot sierra sanctuary literally took an important race to push us out. Otherwise 12 months of the year we were holed up and logging miles beneath our beloved granite peaks. A distaste for leaving town left us to spend holidays, Thanksgiving and Christmas together every year with anyone else that stayed back in town. Gabe came to Mammoth not knowing how to cook a damn thing and by the first Thanksgiving could cook a whole turkey with all the fixings—and nearly eat in one setting. Stuffed to the gills we’d sit around with our teammates and write haikus. I’ll never forget the one he wrote. It wasn’t a haiku at all, but instead the genuine sentiment made me realize that our band of misfit runners and local dirtbags was truly a family. “This was the best Thanksgiving ever. I am so full. I’m so grateful for my family here in Mammoth.” I kick myself for not keeping the poems we all wrote and shared around the table as the snow fell down outside in the night sky.

Screen Shot 2017-11-23 at 2.46.05 PM.png

Today the memories are still so real that they bombard me in real time. I can hear his voice and see his beautiful seamless stride flying around the track and down the mountain roads he loved. In between I can hardly focus on reality. I go between feeling numb and feeling everything at once. Our lives experienced upheaval from that day on the Portland track forward, just in vastly different directions. We both left Mammoth without much notice, with a feeling of needing something much different and far away from our mountains no matter how much we loved them. When Gabe and I ran together it was a safe place. Our conversations often went silly, wild, weird, deep, supportive, sad and silent. On one of our last runs together we ran past the Mammoth/Yosemite airport and piece by piece designed the ultimate new airplane that could drop each passenger off at their individual destinations. We’d have the ability to band together for a time and when we each needed to go our own way we could simply press a button, eject and take off on our own flight, our own desired course. I think this memory haunts me most because that is exactly what we did. From the original crew of runners that arrived in Mammoth in 2013 everyone has now gone their separate ways. Moves to new states. Starting new careers. Recharging running careers. Being crowned Kings of Cannabis. Getting divorced. Having babies. Gabe often expressed how hard it was to watch our family disbanding. With so much upheavel in his young life that began far far away in Ethiopia, he once told me that he wished we could all be one fucked up family together forever. When he left I could not blame him for getting out. Soon I left Mammoth too.

Screen Shot 2017-11-23 at 2.46.19 PM.png

Gabe’s final destination, back home in Vermont with his family, would be just one of the many places I passed through in the month on June. We all have our own ways of dealing with the chaos of life, especially when it hits us in tidal waves. For me, the response seems to be to keep moving and experience as much as I possibly can, resisting the urge to get hung up on any one moment. I stared out the window letting the green flash by in a moment that would thankfully last longer than most on my two-day drive from the east coast to Colorado. Alice In Chains interjecting my thoughts, “Am I wrong? Have I run too far to get home?” In my own quest to find a space to call home, living a nomadic life on the road and constantly having to move on from places and people that I love, I contemplated the strain that type of existence likely played in Gabe’s young life. No point in analyzing now. I’ll never understand the intricacies of what Gabe was dealing with, the past that haunted him, nor the pain that he lived with.


What I will always remember are the many laughs that we shared. That he started each day in the back of the Mammoth Track Club van studying Amahric, Arabic and Spanish. The way he’d quote rap songs in between intervals to pump us up, “Nothing can stop us, we’re all the way up!” When he learned to cook with salt for the first time. Sporadic pep talks when he’d pull me aside and tell me how much potential we both had in running—that we couldn’t give up, the best was ahead. Watching him run with his powerful and graceful stride down the dirt roads of long valley or crushing an uphill tempo at 9,000 feet. His c-walking dance moves that always surprised everyone in the room. Double days taking ice baths in the creek to ensure that we were completely recovered for workouts. Listening to his stories about the other mountain areas he lived in–Vermont, Gunnison and Ethiopia.

In July I made it a point to pass through Gunnison where he went to college and earned two NCAA Titles in the 5K and 10K. Almost a month after I heard the news of his passing in Bears Ears and collapsed to the ground and yelled out into the canyons, the wounds were still raw. And along the way I had the beautiful privilege of seeing the journey that Gabe took with his running across the country to some of the most beautiful spaces imaginable. A journey that would eventually lead him to Mammoth where he would run a 2:12 marathon and 1:01 half marathon—solidifying him as one of America’s best distance runners and an Olympic hopeful.

Screen Shot 2017-11-23 at 2.46.33 PM.pngScreen Shot 2017-11-23 at 2.46.41 PM.png

It’s been months since I’ve been able to open up this draft. It’s Thanksgiving today, the first in my recent memory without him, and his two heaping plates of food, and away from home in our mountains. I flash back to one of the last runs we had together at Laurel Pond across from the Mammoth airport. Over the course of a brisk paced 8 miler in even brisker temperatures we hatched a vision for a “self-ejecting” plane that allowed individuals to press a button and launch themselves in flight, apart from the rest of the crew and go their own way. The way they needed. I didn’t realize fully then, and perhaps he didn’t either, that we were both about to press the button on a flight far away from the Sierras that would completely alter the course of our lives. It’s only when we are forced to let go and move on from everything we’ve ever known that we can finally blaze a path all our own.

Screen Shot 2017-11-23 at 2.46.25 PM.png

It’s difficult for me to understand Gabe’s choice except that I never doubted him. He expressed a similar sentiment to me. Gabe ran his life on his own terms until his tank was empty. His smile and stride flash by in fleeting memories to remind me that everything can be gone in an instant, but the memories will always remain embedded on our soul. The pain of losing a dear friend still feels like Epsom salt in a blister after a long run, but with time my gratitude grows, it reminds me of what it is to live a life beyond the edges of comfort and safety. That it is better to run towards your passion until there is nothing left than to give up, or worse, never try at all. What a gift to have run this earth alongside such an incredible burst of a human. Thank you Gabe.



Afterward: It seems beyond fitting to me that Adrianna and Jeremy Nelson gave birth to their first child, Alexandra, on Thanksgiving. What a gift to bring a new spark into the universe and help give her the wings to chart her own course.




For most of this year, encompassing four seasons, I’ve lived (loosely termed as I am a nomad living out of my Jeep) in Bears Ears working on several stories and a hiking guidebook for the Colorado Mountain Club. This has given me the opportunity to intimately get to know much of the area—although I realize I am just scratching the surface as this place is so large, so vast, so intricate that locals and natives confess that it is impossible to truly know it in one’s lifetime. For many trail runners, this 1.35 million acre National Monument (designated by President Barack Obama in December 2016) rings new to the ears, however the places within it have always existed—Grand Gulch, Cedar Mesa, Elk Ridge, Dark Canyon, Beef Basin, Indian Creek, Lockhart Basin and the Abajo Mountains have all been recreation destinations in their own right and are now united in their protection under the umbrella of the monument.

While I humbly have infinitely more to learn about Bears Ears, below are some of the most unique, interesting, beautiful and helpful things I have learned from this place as they apply to trail running. My hope is that they enhance your trip, should you find an opportunity to visit this incredible place, and help you wrap your head around the complex area and its ever shifting current events.


What areas are included in Bears Ears? Bears Ears contains the following areas that previously were managed under various other types of public lands designations (ex Forest Service, Wilderness, BLM): Cedar Mesa, Elk Ridge, Dark Canyon, Abajo Mountains, Beef Basin, Indian Creek, Lockhart Basin, Valley of the gods and an unnamed island of land behind the Clay Hills. Currently they are jointly managed by the BLM and Forest Service.

Why is it a Monument?: Obama designated Bears Ears a National Monument in direct relation to the 1906 Antiquities Act (created by President Theodore Roosevelt). National Monuments are designated to protect, at the utmost level, areas that are of historical, cultural and scientific significance to the United States of America and its people. While not the only form of public lands, Monuments do not allow new drilling, mining, grazing or use permits to be granted once they are designated (but allow previous permit holders to continue their work). This explains why you are likely to see cattle during your visit to Bears Ears and even on many trails!


Current Events: This spring President Trump requested a full review of 25 National Monuments (including Bears Ears) by Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, which many feared would lead to massive reductions or even rescinding Bears Ears and other monuments (the perception being that land would be opened up for drilling, mining and other exploitation). The results of his report are not promising and vague at best, most notably—suggesting an amendment to the size of Bears Ears. At the time of this story no official actions have taken place, but a recent bill has been proposed by Congressman Rob Bishop (Utah) that would potentially gut the Antiquities Act further jeopardizing the future of Bears Ears and other National Monuments.

When to go: The typical season recommended for visitors is spring and fall. Bears Ears ranges in elevation from around 3,500 feet and 11,000 feet and its temperatures and weather patterns reflect this. Winter can bring snow and freezing temps even to the canyons and desert areas, and summer (roughly July through September) is typically extremely hot and also monsoon season which brings deadly flash floods.

Trail Running: The trails in Bears Ears are primitive, unmaintained and constantly shifting thanks to flash floods, wildlife and even cattle in some areas. If you are going to Bears Ears to run, I recommend that you view it as an adventure, two-footed sightseeing rather than training. The terrain is rough, dangerous and sometimes impassable forcing you to slow down to a stop, and sometimes even crawl on all fours. There are no trail signs, and cairns are often destroyed or inaccurate. Route finding is an essential tool so have a guidebook and a map with you. While everyone’s standards of what is “runnable” terrain vary greatly, I recommend the following routes for runners:

Lower Indian Creek Trail (13.2 miles, this trail connects the Abajo Mountains in Monticello with Indian Creek—check out the incredible rock art at Newspaper Rock mid-way!)

Tuerto Canyon, Skyline Trail, Shay Ridge (These are in the Abajo Mountains and can be made into a variety of routes and loops that make over 20 mile days possible.)

Woodenshoe Canyon (This tributary of Dark Canyon is just under 15 miles one way.)

Of course Bears Ears has a TON of dirt roads giving runners of all abilities and comfort levels endless possibilities while experiencing the beauty of Bears Ears.

Know before you go!: Bears Ears is a wild and primitive place. This is not a National Park with maps, signage and rangers to assist you. Although, the Kane Gulch BLM Ranger Station can be an asset—just keep in mind that it is located in Cedar Mesa which can be several hours away on rough roads from other areas of the Monument. Make sure you have plenty of water, food and gas before you head out to any routes. Cell service hardly exists at all. If you have an accident, the nearest medical help can be a long ways away in either Monticello or Moab. Keep a close watch on the weather—a forecast for Bluff, Blanding or Monticello can be a good start but you will have to factor in vast differences in elevation and micro-climates. If you see storm clouds in the distance it is highly recommended that you avoid travel into any of the canyons.

Visit with RESPECT!: This is the most important knowledge for any trip to Bears Ears. It is essential to carefully read and practice these tips outlined by Friends Of Cedar Mesa to ensure that the delicate desert terrain and artifacts are preserved out of respect for the environment and the ancestors of the people who came here first. Much of the area is still used by tribes today for ceremonies and rituals, while archeologists continue exciting research.

Why I love Bears Ears: My first visit to Bears Ears was confusing, cold and challenging. It took me several trips to get my bearings, and ultimately I made this place my basecamp as an opportunity to fully immerse myself in its wild spaces. I love the way the light dances off the canyon walls morning and night, turning a corner and spotting a rock art panel high on an alcove, stopping to admire a tiny frog or lizard against the cracked clay earth, running from the alpine woodlands of Elk Ridge to the red sandstone walls of Dark Canyon, and the way the Bears Ears themselves are always somewhere in the distance seemingly watching over and protecting this beloved area.

Share your Support!


I sat in the dingy bowling alley, neon lights shining down on me as I ate a slice of greasy pizza that was no match for the sweat dripping down my face. I took a deep breath, tilted back my black felt hat and signed my name across the dotted line ignoring fear of commitment, the unknown, political version, misdirection, solitude. I’m writing a book. At first the thought processed only in my head, reminding me that I actually needed to get to work. I dashed to the bathroom–my last chance in civilization preceding my next round of holing up in the primitive world of Bears Ears National Monument–I looked in the mirror and said aloud, “I’m writing a book!” I skipped out of the gas station with my backpack on and high stepped my filthy moccasin boots into the dirt yellow colored Jeep. It was time to go home and work.


At 2 pm I reached the canyon trail head–not the ideal time to start a backpacking trip in Grand Gulch, let alone my crazed attempt to run the route and get back to the Jeep before dark. But this was my story, my guidebook, my rules. I pulled my food bin from the trunk, unrolled a flour tortilla, popped a can of black beans and smothered it in ketchup. For insurance purposes I twisted open a can of pickles, the sweet kind, ate a few from the jar and took a shot of the juice. No cramps for me in this desert heat.

-4.jpgI bopped down the trail as four backpackers–the only people I would see all day–trudged back to their car in disbelief. Maybe it was the running or the late start? But if I told them I was writing magazine stories, a book, training for the Mountain Running National Championships and living out of my Jeep on public lands they would not believe me anyways. I smiled at the strangeness of the confluence of such a wild life finding such a feral creature like me and tuned my eyes to focus mode–there were turns to make, ruins to spot, plants to identify, photos to take and mileage to get in.


Despite my life’s goal being to write books, taking on a guidebook to the Best Hikes in Bears Ears National Monument was not the first large scale project that I envisioned. Not only does the task include large volumes of writing (the easiest part for me), but requires providing accurate directions, taking hundreds of beautiful photos in the field and MAKING THE FREAKING MAPS. The latter terrified me most but also sold me on the project–I’m finally becoming a real explorer.


The book also came with much trepidation in many arenas. It is a HUGE responsibility. It is controversial. It is a massive area (1.35 million acres). It is sacred. My initial thoughts were uncharacteristically insecure–everyone hates the people that write guidebooks. It is looked upon in some circles of wilderness dwellers and seekers as not just giving away, but selling, the treasure map. I wrestled with this nightmarish belief for a month. It was not until I talked to my friend and archaeologist RE Burrillo (who admittedly is not a HUGE fan of guidebooks), that to protect the historical, cultural and natural resources of such a delicate area the public must be directed properly. And for the Monument to stand on its own legs visitors must be able to experience and explore it safely. Lastly, someone is going to write books like this anyways–if I do it I have the opportunity to do it sustainably and consult the researchers and tribal council members to ensure that it is completed in such a way that shares the beauty of Bears Ears with the world in a way that protects what is sacred and conserves the area for generations to come.

Fortunately thoughts like this rarely last in my head and the contract was signed. Spend enough time in solitude crawling around the desert and you become deeply in tune with the self deep inside your soul that is not influenced by the outside human world (but never write off the moon, oh the moon will speak, sing, shake and stir your soul endlessly). By the end of May half a dozen of the 20+ routes I need to put together were completed. These routes all coincided with my unorthodox training for the US Mountain Running Championships (I placed 14th), completing a story and photos for Trail Runner Magazine (September Public Lands issue is out now), various photo assignments and finally seeing my story for REI, focused on my personal healing process associated with the cultural rituals of the tribes fighting to protect this area, go to press.

The book, being published through Mountaineer Books for the Colorado Mountain Club, is available for pre-order now. It gives me tremendous pride knowing that this book will provide knowledge and access for the public to experience such a beautiful place that is not the most intuitive. At over 1.35 million acres Bears Ears is primitive (no amenities, no cell service, no marked/signed routes), but it IS worth a visit. Whether traveling to this National Monument is on your road trip hit list or not, it is my hope that this book is a joy for anyone looking for a glimpse into one of this country’s crown jewels. From deep, narrow and winding canyons, red rock cliff dwellings, ancient rock art, 11,000 foot mountains, world-class crack and desert tower climbing, micro-climates and panoramic vistas of the four corners region Bears Ears encapsulates that magic of the Southwest unlike anywhere else in the world.

My most daunting tasks forging routes, taking photos, getting my mapping on and researching the history and ecology are ahead of me. The manuscript is due as soon as possible (again, this is not your average book deal–this IS an adventure) in order to make a release date in very early 2018. The weather right now is total shit in the canyons (hot as hell, flash flooding, biting flies), giving me a narrow window during the peak fall season to complete the project. I am thrilled to share this journey with my fellow readers, explorers, defenders of wild spaces, runners, hikers, wanders and the ancient ones who clearly still dwell among the majesty of Bears Ears, the Changing Bear Maiden. I am humbled and grateful to be given the opportunity to use my voice and vision to share and protect it.-2.jpg



Screen Shot 2017-07-31 at 4.39.28 PM
Photo: Andrew Burr
Morgan Sjogren and Jenn Shelton run into the beauty of the unknown in the French Alps. Photo: Andrew Burr

The Disaster Training Plan

Morgan Sjogren   |   Jul 26, 2017
Story originally published on Patagonia’s Blog “The Cleanest Line”

“We just have to run 20, 30 or 50 miles a day over some mountains. What could go wrong?”

When I received my itinerary from Jenn Shelton to run the Tour du Mont Blanc, I took a hard swallow of quickly drying saliva, knowing that my background as a middle-distance track racer (specializing in the 5K) would not prepare me for the 105-mile Tour du Mont Blanc which passes through three countries (France, Italy and Switzerland) and gains 30,000 feet of elevation in the technical terrain of the Alps. While I lacked the typical preparations needed for a through-trail run of this magnitude—I don’t run 105 miles in a full week let alone four days—my stoke to explore a new mountain range was high, as was my willingness to hop on a plane to Chamonix and prepare myself for the biggest run of my life with just five day’s notice.

Granted, this particular method did not help me or my running compatriots, Jenn and photographer Andrew Burr, actually finish the Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB), but it proved effective enough to help me run farther than I ever thought imaginable in three short days, despite torrential downpours, wrong turns, snowy mountain passes and minor injuries. While it’s no scientific formula or rule book by any means, the Disaster Training Plan will help prepare you (mostly mentally) for maximum adventure and “fun” when you have the urge to take on something way beyond your current fitness, perceived ability or experience level. You don’t have to be a professional athlete or an ultramarathoner to complete an epic multiday trail run—you just have to be crazy enough to say yes and accept the inevitable beat down that will happen to you along the way.

Photo: Andrew Burr
The locals stare in wonder as Morgan Sjogren and Jenn Shelton giggle their way directly into the next storm. Photo: Andrew Burr


Every runner knows that with less than a week until your event the only thing left to do is taper (to rest your body), carbo load and hydrate. I took this very seriously in the days before taking on the TMB—with an “easy run” straight up the vertical K in Chamonix “just to get a coffee.” Another option is to just lay in the grass and stare up at Mont Blanc as you study the guidebook. Individual definitions of the chill pill may vary. The result (hopefully): feeling in tip-top condition on the first day, so you have a true baseline of just how hard you will run yourself into the ground.

Pack Light

If you are using the Disaster Training Plan, you are already a glutton for punishment so don’t make it worse by bringing anything unnecessary in your pack that will weigh you down. I carried my trusty M10 Jacket, Houdini Pants, Nano Air Jacket, extra socks, water and lots of snacks. Bottles of rosé are important. Don’t forget those. They quickly help you forget about that next 5,000-foot climb up ahead.

Ready, Set, Hike

On game day, we set a not-so-strict start time of 9 a.m. and took off … at walking pace. This confused the hell out of me because in track I run fast, not slow, and walking is not even in my forward motion vocabulary. However, I learned this strategy will save your legs for the long mountainous stretches of trail in the days to come. Three days later I sang the praises of the stage one “Tour of Sidewalking” as I crawled, exhausted, shivering and with trench foot, up two 5,000-foot Italian mountain passes in a massive rain/sleet/snow storm. I will never scoff at the notion of walking ever again.

Photo: Andrew Burr
When disaster strikes, just furrow your brow, look it in the face and laugh with the madness of truly living in the moment. Photo: Andrew Burr


On long days, make sure you are eating plenty of real foods—things like spaghetti and meatballs, beer (yes, that’s a food group), candy, Nutella and hard-boiled eggs. There is no science behind this. You have two options in the disaster plan: Eat what tastes good or eat what is available. A soggy tuna sandwich can quickly become both when you are lost in Italy with many hours of running ahead of you over yet another mountain pass.

Shake It Out

When you complete a section of a multiday adventure, don’t immediately sit down and start drinking wine. Open the bottle and stretch it out. A bit of active recovery in the form of yoga, light walking, medieval sword fighting or even dancing will help keep your blood circulating and your muscles from cramping up. Remember: You’re not done yet, so don’t act like it.

Read the Maps, Guidebooks and Signs

You’re already going much farther than you have any business going. Don’t screw it up with a wrong turn and make your day exponentially longer. Of course, this is the disaster plan and you likely didn’t even take weather conditions into consideration before you started. All it takes is one heinous storm of slashing rain to leave your map in less-than-useful condition and the signs impossible to find through the mashed potato thick fog. When this happens don’t forget to smile and find other uses for it like toilet paper, tissue or even a rain hat.

Photo: Andrew Burr
Jenn and Morgan consult useless rain-soaked maps in a quest to find the next refugio. Switzerland. Photo: Andrew Burr

Expect the Unexpected

When the Disaster Training Plan is followed properly, you will have a distinct advantage over your fully trained compatriots: no preconceived expectations. Even the most skilled, talented and prepared adventurers will face challenges and major obstacles, but a bold soul like you expects this and therefore is much more resilient in the face of adversity. It’s what you signed up for. When disaster strikes you will furrow your brow, look it in the face and laugh with the madness of truly living in the moment.

Heart Trumps Training

The mental training required to complete a big mountain mission can’t be overlooked. Andrew—a climber who admittedly did not run more than six miles (ever) before the TMB—is likely an alien or has magic powers, but he swears that he is able to keep pace with professional runners (all while carrying heavy camera equipment) because of his mental game, “If you love adventure, you have to be able to turn your brain off and enjoy the suffering part of the process.” So yeah, it’s going to hurt. Deal with it.

Accept Failure and Enjoy the Journey

Some rad dude (Yvon Chouinard) once said, “It’s not an adventure until something goes wrong.” Disciples of the Disaster Training Plan are seeking just that. You didn’t jump on this trail to get a finishers medal or set a Strava record. This is a transformative experience. One that will break you down to nothing more than your underwear (because your clothes are permanently soaked) as you eat yet another plate of pasta at an Italian refugio while the rain beats down upon the tin roof. You will wonder how you will take one more step, but you go on anyways because you have no choice—the nearest train station is an entire country away over, yes, another mountain pass. However, the Disaster Training Plan does not discourage making the bail-out option your new goal. Sitting through a marathon travel day of hitchhiking, plus multiple trains and buses, in your rain- and cow-shit-soaked clothing is a right of passage all its own.

Photo: Andrew Burr
Rain-soaked gear? No problem! Morgan dines in her underwear and demonstrates one of the benefits of the Disaster Training Plan: always having a great bar story. Photo: Andrew Burr

Be Willing to Recover

Don’t expect to walk away from this game plan in one piece. Afterwards, you will drink whiskey. You will need ibuprofen. You will buy cheap frozen peas to reduce the swelling. Your ass will be laid up on the couch. You will elevate your swollen limbs. But you will accept and ingest all of this with a twisted smile on your face basking in the glow of proving the naysayers (most likely your own body parts) wrong.

While the Disaster Training Plan may not leave you fully ready for the heinous slog you are about to begin, it will save you from the worst type of agony possible: the regret of not even trying. At the very least you will always have a cool bar story, and maybe a few battle wounds, but more than likely you will uncover a piece of yourself that can only be found deep in the wilderness while traveling under the power of your own motor along the edge of a path unknown.


Screen Shot 2017-07-31 at 4.54.54 PM.png

Morgan (“Mo”) Sjogren runs wild with words anywhere she can get to with running shoes and a pen. A lifelong competitive runner, Mo is a newcomer on the trail and mountain racing scene. She currently lives out of her Jeep Wrangler at the best trailheads all over the western United States.