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Meghan Hicks adapts, inspires and mentors amid pandemic

Meghan Hicks found her early inspirations for running via friends and outdoor adventures. As a child, she was immersed in activities like camping, fishing and visiting national parks. That love for adventure has helped keep her motivated this year as the coronavirus has largely shut down racing adventures, altered iRunFar’s regular programming and dampened the spirits of many.

“I am so lucky that I rarely lack motivation to run!” said Hicks, who with her husband, Bryon Powell, runs iRunFar, one of the most respected and followed media companies for ultra running. “I derive a ton of joy from being outdoors and moving my body, and so it’s only a couple times a year that I really don’t want to go outside. That typically means it’s really cold or rainy, and almost always I am happy once I bundle up and get out there. I love races for how they are part of my personal goal-setting system, and for how they connect us all together, but I’m OK without them for now. Other inner motivators get me out the door!”

Those internal motivators include challenging Fastest Known Times such as the Nolan’s 14, which Hicks and Sabrina Stanley have traded on and off this past summer.

Hicks started running as an eighth-grader with friends with the goal of running in high school. She ran her first road marathon as a senior. In 2004, she found trail running, thanks to another friend.

“A new coworker took me on some great runs — also, they wrecked me!,” she recalls. “I was a road runner at that point, but had never run up and down long, steep, and technical hills. The first runs we did were so hard! At that time, I was also into big hiking and backpacking trips through wild areas, sometimes routes in excess of marathon a day. I liked long days on foot, and the places they allowed me to travel through. Combining two activities I loved into trail running and soon ultra running was a super-easy sell!

Hicks ran her first ultra in 2006 after dabbling in shorter distances for a few years. Her second ultra was a 50-miler in Grand Canyon National Park and then she jumped into the 2007 Coastal Challenge in Costa Rica, a week-long, 150-mile stage race. “I was really quick to dive deep into the sport.”

At the helm of iRunFar

At the 2008 TransRockies Run in Colorado, Hicks met Powell, and soon her involvement with the ultra world expanded.

“We started dating soon after, and at that time he was already a couple years into it iRunFar,” she remembers. “As our relationship developed, so did my connection with his business.”

Hicks started out as a volunteer who wrote about gear, races and more, before getting paid for those roles. In January 2013, she became a salaried employee.

iRunFar has expanded as the interest in trail and ultra running has increased in that time. Of course, 2020 has been different with the pandemic this year.

“Oof! It’s been quite the year for everyone in the running world, with our racing and other in-person interactions so limited,” she says, noting that iRunFar focuses on its daily online magazine and race coverage for content. “With no races happening at all for many months and almost no globally competitive races taking place again yet, that second prong has been totally on hold. We covered Transgrancanaria on the Canary Islands at the end of February, and lockdowns started around the world the week after.”

Jumping into virtual races

Since iRunFar was not able to cover the vast majority of the prestigious races as they had in the past, they were among the first to embrace virtual races in April.

Personally, I had not been a fan of virtual races before this year but jumped on the opportunity to support the World Health Organization’s COVID relief efforts when iRunFar held its first virtual race fundraiser, Operation Inspiration. The second helped iRunFar bridge the financial gap created by the pandemic.

“I wasn’t super into virtual runs either, pre-pandemic,” she admits. “But I was motivated to put on our virtual events because I know they are meaningful for many people. Virtual race directing was a fun challenge. After so many years of being at events ourselves, we knew what race directing would entail, so it wasn’t intellectually trying. However, as every race director knows, it takes a ton of time to put on a quality event, even when it’s digital. Ultimately, it was a really energizing experience! The events gave me a good place to direct my energies during that time of lockdown. I wouldn’t say I love virtual events yet, personally, but I’ve done several more this year in support of other organizations or causes and have enjoyed them, too.”

Hicks is proud of the way iRunFar has adapted to the changes, continued to serve its community and has demonstrated nimbleness. “iRunFar is bound and determined to make it through this time and come out the other side healthy and ready to fully serve our community again,” she says.

Staying flexible as 2021 unfolds

Looking ahead to next year, it’s uncertain whether races will still be canceled, postponed or otherwise modified. Travel, for sure, will still be challenging. For iRunFar, that creates uncertainty once again.

“We are so eager to cover globally competitive races again,” she says. “But first we need to see them start happening and it also needs to be both safe and responsible for our large teams to physically do the race coverage. Those are both really big ifs at this point. While we’re doing this interview we are hearing whispers of a vaccine in 2021 and we’re also seeing really high COVID-19 transmission rates and some countries on lockdown once again.”

Even when a vaccine receives approval, there is a long way until it can be administered to a large percentage of the 7.5 billion people on earth.

Until then “our sport’s biggest and most global races are probably not returning to their grand, original style,” she says. “I think some of those races can and will take place in 2021, and some should be pretty darn competitive, but in modified ways. I know that small, elite-field-only, quarantine-bubble-style events are in the works, for example.”

And, even when competitive races are ready to return, Hicks and Powell would have to deal with travel and safety issues. Their race coverage teams can include up to two dozen people. “For some races, we end up in little villages way up on mountainsides or crossing multiple country borders as part of the coverage,” she says. “A quick risk assessment of this set-up in a vaccine-less world shows a lot of potential hazards. We’re hopeful we’ll be covering some races in 2021 – potentially in a different way than we have in the past – and are planning for it. But we’re also realistic that a serious set of variables needs to come together for any kind of race coverage to happen.”

The familiarity of the Nolan's 14

Without races to cover or compete in, many elite runners set their targets on FKTs. Sabrina Stanley and Hicks traded FKTs for the Nolan’s 14 over the late summer months.

Hicks first met the Sawatch Range of Colorado, where the Nolan’s 14 line is, in college. She was studying geology for her undergraduate major and spent a couple of days there one summer, learning about how the mountains formed. “When you look at the range from the east, the mountains line up north-to-south beautifully, just peak, valley, peak, valley. I was drawn to them.”

In 2013, she would camp and run in the Sawatch Range. The following couple of years would be when she started exploring the Nolan’s 14 line. “But at that time no woman had finished all the peaks in the 60-hour time limit created by the line’s originators, so I didn’t think it was possible for me to.”

Then Missy Gosney and Anna Frost completed the 14 peaks in under 60 hours in 2015. “That’s when I decided to start believing I could do it, too,” Hicks says. “But I thought it would be a stretch goal! That sort of situation, at that point in my trail-ultra experience, was beneficial. I’d done a lot of different things, big 100-milers and fast 50Ks and everything in between, and it all seemed pretty doable. Having a goal I wasn’t actually sure I could finish held a ton of appeal.

While Stanley is goal-driven and clear about her wishes to win races and set FKTs, Hicks takes a different approach.

“FKTs and race results don’t light my internal fire,” she says. “I think I’m wired more to do my own thing. I’ve been that way since childhood, and can remember intentionally doing the opposite of what others were doing sometimes. I can also remember that being a pain in the butt for my parents at times. I think this wiring makes me work on goals from an internal space, rather than basing them on what others do or see as valuable.”

Runner. Mentor. Cheerleader.

Still, she says, outcomes are important to her.

“If I decide to invest energy into something, I want to do it well,” Hicks says. “And if I’m going to have an extended relationship with such an investment, I want to evolve and grow through time. I also value process-oriented goals. Interim goals along the path toward some bigger desired outcome allow us to stay in the moment, give us little rewards en route, and make us more likely to reach that stretch goal because they represent the pathway there.”

As runners progress, so do their goals. Hicks’ approaches to Nolan’s are a good example.

During her first attempt in 2016, she wanted to finish in under 60 hours. “That was the outcome I sought. I set up a system of small goals to help me get there, splits for each mountain, a nutrition plan, mantras and things to think about, and more.”

This past year, she had dual goals: “to help other women bring the women’s time down on the line and again to go faster than I have in the past.”

Hicks sees herself as a bit of a player, coach and mentor when it comes to the Nolan’s FKT.

“I knew a good number of strong women would be attempting Nolan’s this year,” she explains. “I wanted to do whatever I could to help whomever was going for it! I cheered for everyone who would let me, answered as many questions as I could, and spent some days on the mountains with a half dozen other women who either attempted this year or are planning to in the future. It was so exciting to be a part of that!”

For her attempt, Hicks thought an “A” goal of 52 hours and 30 minutes was within reach, and her “B” goal was under 56 hours. Her “A” goal was actually more than an hour behind Stanley’s FKT of 51:15 in August.

“I didn’t go out with splits to set the FKT! On paper, my potential didn’t add up to faster than Sabrina’s time. I told myself and my crew that, if I was doing better than expected, of course I would push as hard as I could on the final few mountains and see how close I could get to Sabrina’s time. Ultimately, that’s how it played out. As I came down the last mountain of Nolan’s, I realized I’d far exceeded my “A” personal goal. That was awesome! What moved me in those moments was the hope that what I was doing would inspire another woman to give her dreams a shot too, whether it was on Nolan’s or elsewhere.

What’s next

Stanley has since reclaimed the Nolan’s FKT, finishing it in 48:49, topping Hicks’ time of 50:32.

So the question becomes will Hicks try to take back the Nolan’s FKT?

“I do Nolan’s because it gives me a long-term process to work within, so I can be out in that wild and beautiful place, to see if I can become a better version of myself, and to encourage other women to be who they want to be,” she says. “This year, I outperformed my expectations and finished in 50:32, or two hours faster than my “A” goal. I have a brand-new understanding of my potential – and women’s potential in general — on Nolan’s and it’s a lot faster than that. I am super drawn to exploring my personal potential there and supporting other women as they explore theirs, too. It’s hard to put into words how much fun it was to be with other women out on Nolan’s over the summer.”

And just like when Hicks was a teen, she still craves outdoor adventures, running, hiking, exploring.

“As my friend Eszter Horanyi says, we only have so many ‘energy points,’ so we have to use them wisely,” she says. “There are unlimited adventures to have and places to go, but limited energy and time. I am also drawn to using my time and energy to go and do something different.

“So, I’m pulled in multiple directions, and let’s see where my mind goes with that over the winter.”

Speed drill

Name: Meghan Hicks

Hometown: I split my time between Moab, Utah and Silverton, Colo. I was born in Seneca Falls, N.Y.

Number of years running: 28

How many miles a week do you typically run: My average over the course of the year is 50 miles a week. If it’s a busy work week and we are covering a big race, I might get only a few miles in. If it’s a month before an event I am training hard for, I’ll probably run 80 to 90 miles.

Point of pride: To be of help or inspiration to another person. I’m wired to want to do things that I think will make life better/more fun/more whatever for others.

Favorite race distance: 50 kilometers or a multi-day stage race. 50K, it’s enough to tire you out and leave you feeling accomplished, but not so much that you’re wrecked for a long time. Stage races, because it means you’re on an adventure for a while in a beautiful place!

Favorite pre-race or training food/drink: Nothing too special. Oatmeal dressed up with lots of accessories is my current breakfast trend, so that’s fueling many of my runs these days. I love roasted potatoes of all kinds, and if logistics allows them to be part of a pre-race dinner, that’s awesome.

Favorite piece of gear: Patagonia Air Hoody

Favorite or inspirational song to run to: I don’t listen to music when I run.

Favorite or inspirational mantra/phrase: I have had a lot of mantras over my years of running! I love them for how they move you into a meditative state. The current mantra I’ve been working with is “gentle strong.” It’s an oxymoron in its most simplistic interpretation, but we all know those gentle giants in our lives who are so strong but so lovable. That’s the visualization I’m after with that mantra.

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