Training is coming along. We’re only a couple weeks away from my attempt at the single day Grand Slam challenge. I’m keeping an eye on weather, as it appears that this cloudy, rainy front will be passing soon and we’ll be expecting some sunny days. Ordinarily I’d be excited about this, but bright, uninhibited sunshine isn’t exactly ideal for hours of exertion on exposed trails. The image of ants under a magnifying glass comes to mind. So, I’m hoping for mild weather and overcast days knowing that it just might not happen. I’ll be preparing accordingly.
I was also hit with some unexpected news last week.
On May 22, 2021, Emily Wooley finished the single day Boise Grand Slam challenge in 15 hours and 18 minutes, becoming the first woman to complete this feat.
As I’d said in my previous blog post, I started training for this with the thought that I’d be the first woman to complete the feat. I’d be lying to say that my first reaction wasn’t disappointment. This was, at least some degree, part of my why. I’m competitive enough to admit that. Then, I remembered that being the first isn’t ONLY what this is about. It’s also raising awareness about local trails, opportunities to get outside to explore and connect with people, and to encourage people to give to or get involved with ITA as a way to keep these spaces accessible.
And, even if I’m not the first, this is still a significant personal challenge. With this perspective in mind, I reached out to Emily to see if she’d be interested in talking about her experience through this blog post. I was met with warmth and responsiveness. Emily shares her answers to some questions about hiking and her journey below. I also chime in when it makes sense.
I’m also excited to report that Emily and I seem to have found kindred spirits in one another. I’m hopeful that soon I will get to go on some hiking adventures with the legend herself. We’re also both moms so share the experience of balancing training with family and have similar motivators. My hope, like her, is that we inspire others to take on their own challenge—be it a single day Boise Grand Slam, a hike with kids, or a first-ever trail outing.
What inspired you to complete the challenge?
Emily: The thought of being the first female to complete this challenge was exciting. To finish something that both men and women aspire to and be the first female to achieve this task was thrilling. I love hiking and hope to inspire others who share this passion.
Alexis: James’ former best time encouraged me to set my sights on the single day grand slam. We used to go to the same gym, and I thought if he could do it, it was probably within my capability. I trained with the intent of finishing as there was no women’s time at that point. Emily upped the ante with her time—it’s nothing to sneeze at. I also thought that in taking this on I could encourage people in my network to get outside, to set and accomplish their own stretch goal, to pick up a forgotten hobby, to get involved with their community (in my case through fundraising).
What did training look like for this challenge?
Emily: I did not know that I was going to attempt this challenge until four weeks prior. That did not allow much time to train. I have been zone training in the gym five days a week for the past two years and hiking Lucky Peak once per week since March. I am very competitive. I keep an eye on my pace and continually try to increase my speed. A friend of mine recently said, “Anyone can hike distance but not everyone can hike elevation.” That resonated with me. With that said, Cervidae became my training ground. I focused on speed and keeping my heart rate low through breathing. While at home, I would practice skip breathing to increase my lung capacity.
Alexis: I’m in the same boat as Emily. I haven’t spent much time training specifically for this. I trail run casually and do Street Parking programming, which is like Crossfit for time-constrained people. The workouts are short by design. I knew time on my feet would be a part of my difficulty with this so have increased my mileage over the past four to six weeks, training mostly on these four trails to gain familiarity. In the last two weeks I’ve started combining them to gain confidence.
What was the most difficult and rewarding part of this?
Emily: Being alone for the first twenty-two miles was challenging. It didn’t start to affect me until the tree line on Lucky Peak/Shaw. I began to get bored and lose focus. I was moving as slow as a snail. It was the lowest mentally I had felt all day. I was cold, wet, and mentally defeated. I had to take a break, have a snack, examine my why, and reset my mind to finish.
The most rewarding part of this challenge was sharing my success with my family. My father is currently battling terminal cancer and has done it with such strength, courage, and dignity. My dad has always shown me how to set goals, work towards them, live in the present, take advantage of every opportunity, and that life is the adventure we make it. This success was special to share with him because I felt it encompassed all of those life lessons.
What unanticipated challenges did you face? How did you handle them/what would you have done differently?
Emily: Where do I start? First, the weather called for rain. We were optimistic it would pass allowing us to hike in lower temperatures. That did not happen. I was not prepared. We encountered rain, wind, mud, hail, thunder, fog, and a little bit of sun. I started the day with a six-dollar rain poncho from Dick’s which I lost on the descent of Heinen. I was prepared with four sets of clothes and shoes but did not bring rain gear nor did I have a backup set. I had never hiked in the rain and was inadequately prepared. After losing my rain poncho I stopped at the general store on Hwy 21 and explained my situation. The nice clerk gave me a black trash bag that I happily wore on the last two hikes of the day. If you saw me hiking in a trash bag, know that desperate times call for desperate measures and I was desperate.
How did you balance family life (other responsibilities) with training?
Emily: Working out has always been a part of my life. I have always tried to be considerate of my husband and children’s needs by waking up before them to complete my workouts in the gym. Hiking has been a bit trickier. With my daughter in half-day preschool three days a week I would drop her off at 9:30 a.m. to be at a trailhead by 9:50 a.m. and would need to conclude no later than noon. I would set goals based on my allotted time available. These time constraints helped me improve my pace this year.
Alexis: I share Emily’s sentiments about working out and timing. I didn’t realize how fast I could be until I had a daycare pick-up deadline to meet. I’ve taken a few Fridays off to be able to do some longer mileage days. I realize that’s not doable for some. My son has spent his fair share of time on stroller runs and I’ve also done laps on the stairs at Camel’s Back Park with him on back. We sing; count stairs; and point out trees, rocks, and “doggies” to stay entertained.
How did this challenge compare to other similar events you’ve done (rock to rock for example)?
Emily: I have completed two distance challenges; both were last fall. The longest was Stack Rock to Table Rock, which was easy in comparison. The elements here that were difficult was the elevation gain, the stress on my knees coming back down, and the mental toughness I needed to endure the distance. This was as much a mental challenge as it was a physical one for me.
Do you hike with your family? Kids?
Emily: I love hiking with my family. My children are four and seven and are studs. I love the opportunity to be on a trail with them, connecting uninterrupted. I hope their love for the outdoors and adventure is something they pursue their entire lives.
Alexis: Seeing my son “I run” (his words, not mine) down a trail is simply the best. I love that he loves zoomies outside as much as I do. Since he’s only two, a lot of the work is managing my own expectations. He doesn’t care about logging miles or bagging peaks, he’s excited about chirping birds, the sound of hidden water, digging with rocks. He reminds me to slow down and savor the experience.
What advice would you give to new hikers?
Emily: Find a person or group of people to hike with. Hiking is so fun when you have someone to enjoy the day with. Choose trails that are suited to your skill level, well-marked, and easy to navigate. Be prepared with a map or GPS to ensure your safety while out exploring. Hydration is also another key component that people overlook. Make sure to bring an adequate supply of water so you do not become dehydrated while on the trail.
Alexis: Get your footwear figured out. Take the time to go into a physical shop and get fitted for something that meets your needs and that works for your feet. (Shameless plug for Bill at Idaho Mountain Touring who has saved my feet.)
I agree with Emily on the rest. Along with water, bring food. Take navigation safety precautions as mentioned. I use apps like AllTrails and TrailRunProject to find suitable trails and in a pinch, have even used the GPS locator capability to ensure I’m on the right trail and taking the right turns (helpful in the foothills).
What advice would you give to parents that want to take their kids out?
Emily: Parents looking to hike with their kids make sure to bring snacks, lots of snacks. Kids lose focus quickly and need to stop frequently for breaks. Bring treats to keep them motivated and moving forward. Keep a great attitude, laugh along the way and explore every unturned stone on the trail. It is a slow-moving process that your kiddos will love. If you can pair an interest with a hike it will be a win.
Alexis: As I said, manage expectations. Keep it fun, keep it reasonable, the goal is for them to enjoy it. Oh, and bring sun protection!
What gear item is non-negotiable?
Emily: My Altra trail shoes, Outdoor Products hydration pack, bear spray, and a high-quality whistle. People often joke about my bear spray, which is okay. You just never know if or when you’ll need it. There are animals and people on trails that you may want to avoid, and it is better to be safe than sorry. A whistle is a good safety item. If you were to get hurt or lost, the noise from a whistle will carry farther than your voice.
Alexis: I always bring a pocketknife, mini first aid kit, duct tape, and a little extra food on hikes. I’m terrified of getting caught somewhere longer than expected and having issues. I use duct tape on hot spots to avoid blisters. I also tell someone where I’m going and how long I think it’ll take; you just never know.
What’s next for you?
Emily: I have my eye on Borah this year. I would also like to attempt this challenge again focusing on speed when the weather is better.
Alexis: Compared to Emily’s experience, I think weather will be on my side. I will attempt to best her time, knowing that we are neck-and-neck on our segment times on Strava.
I’m also planning a trip to Glacier with my soon-to-be two-year-old this year. I’m hopeful that all of this training will have me in good shape to carry him on some beautiful hikes.
Help keep Idaho trails beautiful – Idaho Trails Association is committed to preserving trails for people like Emily, myself, and many others to enjoy. Along with writing about my experience taking on this feat, I’m also fundraising for ITA so they can keep doing what they do best!
Help them keep Idaho trails beautiful; consider donating here.