When I downloaded The Summit Seeker by Vanessa Runs onto my kindle, I was expecting to get a peek into the ultrarunning mind. Surely those elite athletes think differently than us mere mortals. Surely they must have an iron will and unshakable focus. At the very least, they must be impervious to pain and not know the meaning of exhaustion. But on the pages, I discovered a woman that was far more vulnerable than I expected. It turns out the ultrarunner is just trying to heal her pain and find her joy like any of us. She just looks for it faster and farther than most of us think we can.
I was really looking forward to talking with Vanessa and she offered to Skype with me from her little Realta RV parked somewhere in Zion National Park, Utah. I asked her who she felt she was writing to in The Summit Seeker.
VR – At first I just wanted to tell my story, to forget about writing for an audience and see where it goes.
WL – Reading it, it didn’t feel like you were telling a story so much as you were speaking your truth.
VR – That’s a good way of putting it. At first I thought only runners would be reading it but a lot of people have reached out to me to tell me it really felt relevant to them – a lot of non-athletes. It’s not just about the running.
WL – You don’t just chronicle your running triumphs, you put running in the context of your life’s events. At times you reveal some pretty sensitive lessons. How did you decide what to include?
VR – I didn’t want the book to be a litany of tragedy. I did leave a lot of things out. I picked the lessons I learned and the growth I experienced. That was my compass.
WL – It sounds like you wrote about what you could make sense of.
VR – Yes, there are still some other things working through my head. Maybe time will bring out more.
WL – You described yourself in The Summit Seeker as a “nerd-turned-runner” and shared some delightful insights you gained from The Hobbit. How does your literary life effect your running life?
VR – Great question! I think I approach a race differently than a lot of runners do. Most think about their time, how fast they are going, how far… To me, it doesn’t matter what the athletic goals are. I don’t really think of myself as an athlete. I just felt there was a gap there and I wanted to explore it. When I’m running, I’m thinking “how am I going to describe this?”
WL – The run is the experience but the writing is it’s expression.
VR – Yes, I’ve always thought of myself as a writer first and a runner second.
WL – Speaking of your writing, How far ahead do you plan your writing projects compared with how far ahead you plan your travel?
VR – It’s changed a lot since we moved into the RV. I tend to plan writing a lot more. Some projects are fairly large. That takes long term planning. Traveling we don’t plan day to day. We target a destination or something we’d like to do.
(note: “we” is Vanessa and her significant other, Shacky)
WL – And you just kind of work toward that general direction.
VR – Yes – we were thinking we’d like to go to Alaska in the summer so we looked for races we could do there and found a few possibilities. At first I just thought it would be fun – some great scenery to run through. Then we met a person that has an animal sanctuary up there who will let us park the RV there, check out the animals. We’ll see how it works out. We keep a lot of flexibility in our travel plans.
Click HERE to find Part II of my interview with Vanessa Runs, author of The Summit Seeker. Vanessa talks about quitting her job to write full time while traveling the country running ultramarathon races.