Interview With Elinor Fish, Founder of Run Wild Retreats + Wellness

What inspired you to start Run Wild Retreats + Wellness? What led you to believe that women would want to attend a retreat that includes trail running? 

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 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 have 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 workaholic, 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 a group of 16 awesome women who flew to Denver from across the country to attend. 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 reasons why women don’t trail run as much as men. At first, I focused on the technical and safety aspects of the sport, because I thought 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.

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 an 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 my 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.

So, as the retreat programs have evolved, they became more and more about creating experiences that allowed the potential for self-discovery and transformation through the practice of mindful running.

2. Are your retreats open to all running levels? Can new runners attend? 

There are three retreat levels.

Level 1 Retreats are the beginner retreats. They are for women just getting started or recovering from an injury. At this level, we’ll run-walk up to six miles a day, and spend more time “workshopping” specific running posture and techniques to help women to start running consistently while avoiding injury or burnout. There’s no need to worry about being the “slowest!” It’s OK if the women have never run trails before, though they can expect to feel challenged and rewarded for taking your running off road with us. The retreat leader will provide specific tips that will help them to quickly adapt to their running pace and stride to the trails.

Level II Retreats are for runners who can run at least eight miles on the road comfortably. They don’t need to be “fast,” though they should have sufficient fitness for running consecutive days, including lots of hiking sections, as the terrain requires. These retreats are recommended for those who are OK with running on rooty or rocky terrain and who don’t mind some exposure, such as to narrow mountain trails or along sea cliffs for brief periods of time, and the occasional stream crossing in which your shoes may get wet.

Level III Retreats are for those with trail-running experience, good fitness, and some experience running on trails, preferably in mountainous terrain. Runs range from four to eleven miles on superb, though challenging, single track trails. The women should feel comfortable with heights and have the fitness to run up to 10 miles or more on the road comfortably.

Do women sleep in tents, or do your retreats offer other accommodations?

For women who don’t need all the amenities and frills, they will love our Close to Nature Collection, where the accommodations are rustic, yet provide all the modern comforts, like indoor bathrooms and showers. There is also casual dining, often served family style.

For women who prefer a cozy-comfort type of accommodation, we’ve hand-picked charming, high-quality hotels and lodges. These retreats typically include wellness services, such as hot springs, a restorative yoga class, or a spa treatment. There are wonderful dining experiences, often featuring locally sourced ingredients typical to the destinations in which we run.

For women who prefer premier pampering, then these types of retreats feature luxury accommodations, often with on-site, full-service spa, amenities, and concierge services. Itineraries typically include private motor coach transportation, spa treatments, and fine dining experiences.

How much free time is there at your retreats?  

Free time varies depending on the itinerary; usually at least two to three hours each afternoon.

You offer post retreat follow-up. Do many of the women continue trail running after the retreat?

Yes, they do continue running because it's already part of their lifestyle. Most of the women are already runners, and they come away from the retreats feeling more inspired and motivated to keep running or pursue new goals.

Can you share with us a self-care ritual you use in your own life?

Mindful running!

How can women learn more about your retreats?

Run Wild Retreats + Wellness Website