In the following essay, Elinor Fish shares her personal journey leading to the creation of Run Wild Retreats in 2010. 

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Elinor Fish is an entrepreneur whose mission is to lead runners to better health through mindful running.[/caption]

Running and travel have been intertwined throughout my life, which, looking back, set me up perfectly for what I do now: operating a travel company for runners. I’m often asked how Run Wild Retreats + Wellness came to be, so I’m happy to share that story here.

I grew up in British Columbia, Canada, and began competing at age 15 in cross country running and track, which culminated with the thrill of standing atop the dais with my University of Victoria teammates at the national XC championships in 1998. After college, my love of running led me to the Canadian Rockies, where I began competing in domestic and international trail races and ultramarathons. I was working in media relations for Banff Lake Louise Tourism and Travel Alberta International, which often involved escorting journalists, photographers and TV crews around the Canadian Rocky Mountain National Parks and showing them the very best our destinations has to offer.

I loved my tourism-industry job, though running was just as important to me. So in my spare time I was freelance writing for Trail Runner magazine and launched my first coaching business, Peak Fitness Experiences, aimed at introducing running basics to beginner runners.

When Colorado-based Trail Runner magazine recruited me to join its editorial team, I moved south of the border and started a dream job of visiting and writing about some of the world’s best trail-running destinations and most colorful characters. The position afforded me incredible opportunities to travel to places like Patagonia, Chile and the Swiss Alps to run with world’s top running journalists and interview the sport’s top athletes.

And yet, in this job I felt disconnected from our core readership: the everyday runners and weekend warriors who loved to run and weren’t trying to win trophies and titles. Since I tend to be a bit of a work-aholic, I launched Run Wild Retreats + Wellness in 2010 while working at Trail Runner full time, training for 100 milers and starting a family.

That first year I offered one retreat in Colorado to group of 16 awesome who (to my surprise!) flew to Denver from across the country to attend this retreat. At that time,
my goal was merely to introduce more women to the joy of running on trails in nature, and how do so safely. I couldn’t help but notice the huge disparity between the number of men and women in the sport and wanted to do something to bridge the gap. There were then–and still are–a lot of reason why women don’t trail run as much as men, though the more women’s retreats I did over the years. At first I focused on the technical and safety aspects of the sport because I though that was their biggest obstacles. But over the years, it became apparent they were seeking something very different.

They were desperately seeking community and a sense of belonging as a runner. They were drawn to the opportunity to connect with other women who enjoyed running but shared some of their same fears and obstacles when it came to being the kind of runner they wanted to be. Be it a lack of time due to a demanding career, young kids at home or chronic health issue, being the runner they wanted just didn’t always come easily.

Conversations at the retreats naturally coalesced around the personal obstacles the women faced, either physical or emotional, and how that would often lead to tension in their lives between wanting to take better care of their health but not having the means, time or opportunity to do so. Overwhelm was a common theme. And that was something to which I could certainly relate.

Having lived with auto-immune disease for decades, I was aware that stress could exert a physical toll, though I had been ignoring the warning signs in my own life. As Run Wild Retreats + Wellness grew, family and career pressures rose, until the pressure became too much to bear.

It all caught up to me in 2011, when a severe case of exhaustion and fatigue left me bedridden and depressed. That is when I turned to a mindfulness practice to finally take charge of my health. As I experienced the health benefits of a regular mindfulness practice, I quickly recognized how complimentary the practices were to running. Making running my mindfulness practice helped me transform my health and restore my energy.

The incredible results I got from putting them into practice–inspired me to dedicate me running practice and career around the health benefits of mindful running. While I didn’t discover or create mindful running by any means, I have developed a set of principles, techniques and tools designed to introduce runners to mindful running for the purpose of maximizing running’s stress-reducing effects.

Running and mindfulness have been the two most impactful, empowering practices I’ve found for supporting my health, managing my stress, overcoming fatigue and making me a better, happier person. But more importantly, I know they work because I’ve seen it make a difference for the women on the retreats again and again. Since I know they work, I’ve gladly shared these in interviews and articles for the Los Angeles Times, Runner’s World, Outside, Women’s Running,  Mindful magazine, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Trail Runner, Shape, Self, Women’s Health, Yoga Journal and many more.

So as the retreat programs evolved, they became more and more about creating experiences that created the potential for self-discovery and transformation through the practice of mindful running. And that’s really not easy to pull off. Drawing from extensive experience and program evolution, we’ve developed a very specific retreat leadership style and standards for all of our retreat leaders.

While we certainly can’t guarantee that our client will experience something profound on our retreats, it occurs surprisingly often. I believe this because we are so deliberate in how we help runners prepare for their retreat with an open mind and open heart. Then we intentionally support them throughout the retreat so that they feels supported while running a trail she normally would never try on her own. And after the retreat is done, we create an online space of reflection and sharing, during which they may reframe what they believe is possible for them.

Elinor savoring the sun at the 2016 Iceland Running + Wellness Retreat for women.
Elinor savoring the sun at the 2016 Iceland Running + Wellness Retreat for women.

Retreat participants often tell me their retreat experience created positive changes in not only their running, but other aspects of their lives, too. Now more runners than ever are finding their own balance between run training and self-care so that they have the time to run no matter how hectic their life, feel more confident in their ability to meet challenges, and are motivated to run consistently.

“A little over a year ago I signed up for the Moab Mindful Running Retreat. As the weekend approached I found myself feeling increasingly more nervous, unprepared, but also excited for the opportunities the retreat presented. There were 16 women that attended; all so incredibly strong, ambitious, courageous, intelligent, supportive and brave. Despite all of us having the love for running in common, in these women I found family and the most beautiful support network. 
Each day we start off with a run, a trail run to be specific. The length of the runs varied from 5 to 9 miles. The remainder of the day we would enjoy clinics together, meals, yoga and down time. Everyone ran their own run, not keeping track of time or distance. I am new to trail running but LOVE it now. I’m excited to see how this new love changes the story to my runs, the new sites I will see, the challenges it will present and inevitably growth I will make.” — Griselda P.

As it turns out, what Run Wild Retreats has been doing for the last decade is now a recognized segment of the adventure travel industry called “transformational travel.” And now our company is at the forefront of this growing global trend at the intersection of wellness travel and adventure travel. Industry research also reinforces the notion that more women than ever are seeking this type of travel experience, most often in the company of other women.

Now, as Run Wild Retreats + Wellness enters its 10th year in business, we’re growing faster than ever (thanks to our fantastic team), and offer more retreats for more runners than ever in some of our favorite running destinations like Iceland, Italy, Spain, Ireland, Canada, and the U.S.A, with many more to come.