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Photograph by Tim Kemple / The North Face

Ultra Trail Runner Rory Bosio on Loving the Mountains, Yoga, and Not Taking It All So Seriously

If you get the chance to hang out with a bunch of ultra trail runners, take it. This breed of friendly, supportive, humble endurance athletes pulls off incredible distances in challenging mountainous terrain without uttering a complaint—except maybe that 100 kilometers instead of 100 miles is “a fun run,” as one The North Face Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB) runner told me last weekend on his way to the race (which was shortened due to wintry conditions). And they are, by and large, good dancers. Spend a bit of time in their presence and you will probably become one yourself, and that’s a good thing.

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Rory Bosio during an improptu dance party in the shadow of Mont-Blanc the day after the UTMB; Photograph by Tim Kemple

Case in point, Rory Bosio, an up-and-coming The North Face ultra trail runner who works as a pediatric emergency room nurse in Tahoe, California. After finishing fourth for the women in this year’s UTMB—her first—Rory was immediately back out on the trails of Chamonix, enjoying being in the mountains. Her ultra-bright fashion sensibility and tendency to play hopscotch in the grass with a six-year-old at a pre-race cookout indicate, perhaps, one of the secrets to her success: “Don’t take it too seriously. Yes, you have to put in the necessary training in order to be able to run 100 miles. But it should be fun! Instead of viewing it as a race, change your perspective so as to not put so much pressure on yourself.”

It was to fantastic to hear you come into the aid station at Les Contamines, for the second time, and say “I’m having so much fun!” This is after you just ran 54 kilometers with 3,000 meters of climbing  in complete darkness and constant rain. Was it really fun? Or was that part of your mental strategy?

Rory Bosio: I was having a blast! The adverse conditions made it seem more like an adventure than a race, which I liked. Plus, the energy from the spectators was amazing, and it rubbed off on me. I do try to stay positive, but it wasn’t too difficult to do so in this race.

Your support crew had some goodies for you to eat during the race, including some of sweet potatoes you prepared—they smelled delicious! Is that a special winning recipe?

R.B.: It’s something I like to have at any race over 50 miles. I take sweet potatoes, steam them, then add salt and olive oil. Sometimes I add cinnamon, honey, and sugar for variety. I ate an absurd amount of them at UTMB! It’s a great energy source that doesn’t upset my stomach.

Does being a pediatric ER nurse make you a better runner? You definitely seemed to be more capable of taking it all in stride than many of the men coming and going through the aid stations.

R.B.: My job does put things into perspective in general. But I really, really love ultra running. I feel very fortunate that I’m able to participate in the sport, surrounded by great people. I try to remind myself how much I love running during the low parts of races. And there are many low points!

Was there a time when 100 miles seemed like a crazy, impossible distance to run? How did that change?

R.B.: I still think it’s crazy! I have doubts about my ability to finish such a long race all the time, but I break it down into smaller, less intimidating parts. During a race, I focus on getting from one aid station to the next, and before I know it I’m at the finish line.

How does yoga help your running? Are there three poses that are especially good for runners?

R.B.: Yoga works out all the muscle tightness and joint stiffness from running. It also strengthens the core and helps with balance, which is super important for running technical terrains such as the muddy UTMB course this year.

Three basic poses I do all the time (easy to google the names for tutorials):

-Pigeon: great way to open up the hips (mine are constantly tight from running)
-Downward dog: my all time fave! Lengthens the calves, hamstrings, and strengthens the shoulders. I do this one at work, in airports, in the middle of long runs. I love it!
-Lord of the Dance: great for improving balance, strengthening the lower back, chest and quads. Stretches the groin, too.

Men tend to finish a lot faster than women in ultra races. Do you think that gap will close? Or are there some inherent differences?

R.B.: Compared to other sports, I think there is less disparity between the sexes, especially in longer races. It’s just that way more men do ultras than women. Ultra-running is a great sport for women because it can be very social and a fun way to spend time with friends in beautiful places. Get out there ladies!

How did you end up as an ultra trail runner and not some other type of athlete?

R.B.: I’ve always loved being in the mountains. Ultra running allows me to be outdoors for very, very long periods of time. I refuse to run indoors because for me the sport is about more than fitness. I do other sports, such as backcountry skiing and biking, but I love how little equipment is required for running.

How do you see ultra trail running growing in the U.S.?

R.B.: It gets more popular and well-known each year. In the short time I’ve been racing, the women’s field has become extremely competitive. I think the sport will continue to grow, especially as more and more marathon runners make the switch over to ultra running.

You are a champion runner, which is certainly rewarding. What advice do you have for the more average runner to keep pushing and not getting discouraged?

R.B.: Don’t take it too seriously. Yes, you have to put in the necessary training in order to be able to run 100 miles. But it should be fun! Instead of viewing it as a race, change your perspective so as to not put so much pressure on yourself.