Get To Know a Nature Athlete: Trail Runner and Climber Jason Henrie

“To this day, exploring the wild places of the world is where I feel most at home and allows me to process the stresses of everyday life and find my place.”  Trail Runner Jason Henrie

Trail runners are a strange breed of individuals. They are the ones who wake up early and return home late, perfecting the art of running through lush forests, slot canyons and wilderness of every shape and size. They wear headlamps, carry around packets of goo for energy, and tend to always be looking outside, longing for their next adventure. Trail runners are energetic people, and some of my best friends, and even family members. Recently, I was able to chat with Jason Henrie,  a well-respected author, trail runner and rock climber in both the Pacific Northwest and the Flagstaff region of Arizona. 

Jason Henrie, showing off his love for running
Jason Henrie, showing off his love for running

When did you first start trail running?

JH: I ran a lot through high school and competed in the Pole Vault in Track through my first year of college at Western Washington University. I got distracted by rock climbing and stopped running in the early 90’s. I didn’t pick up running again until 7 or 8 years ago, when I fell in love with the exploration and adventure of trail running.

Growing up in the PNW, what trails or destinations were most iconic for you? Is there one place you think everyone who visits the PNW should see?

JH:  Trails – Chuckanut Trail System near Bellingham, Wonderland Trail around Mt. Rainier and Mt Erie/Deception Pass Trail Systems on the islands. Places to see – Mt. Rainier, North Cascades Pass, Deception Pass area or Orcas Island on the Islands, The Olympic Hoh River Valley and Olympic beaches….. that’s a lot of places. Hmmm…. I would say Mt. Rainier would top the list.

Have you always had a relationship with nature and wilderness?

JH: I have been very fortunate to grow up in an outdoor family. We would hike and backpack in the North Cascades often when I was young and we hiked the complete Wonderland Trail multiple times as a family. I think that those early years of exploring the mountain trails and peaks of Washington set in place a yearning for the solitude and beauty of wilderness. To this day, exploring the wild places of the world is where I feel most at home and allows me to process the stresses of everyday life and find my place.

After Adam Gifford ( guy in puffy right next to Jason) and Jason finished Hole to Hump
After Adam Gifford ( guy in puffy right next to Jason) and Jason finished Hole to Hump

What is your greatest running accomplishment to date?

JH: Running the Wonderland Trail around Mt. Rainier in two days. or Hole to Hump – 90+ mile run from the bottom of the Grand Canyon in Grand Canyon National Park to the Top of Mt. Humphreys (12,000 foot summit) near Flagstaff, Arizona in 26 hours. Both are extremely memorable but I think that Hole to Hump is my greatest accomplishment.

Note: Both were unorganized events, not races. 

For those looking to get started on trail running, what are three things they should know?

JH: 1. Trails can get remote fast – so be prepared (bring a phone, some basic first aid, extra cloths and food and a map and let someone know your route and your planned return time).

2. Pay attention to the trail – that next root can put you on your face or key trail junctions can be missed while blissing out on the scenic views.

3. It’s not all about running – yes, running is the main mode of travel but don’t be stuck in ‘gotta run every step’ mode. Stop and enjoy the view at particularly epic viewpoints, spy some animals along the trail like elk or bear or to pick some berries (edible ones of course). Trail running is about soaking in the outdoors as much as it is about running. Soak it in.

What gear/snacks do you recommend having with you on long runs?

JH: A good mix of salty, sweet and fatty goes a long way on long runs. It’s all about continuous fueling for the long haul (200-300 calories is the average most shoot for per hour) and at the same time keeping your stomach in check. I like gels, bars, bagels, boiled potatoes with lots of salt, electrolite tabs, summer sausage, egg and avocado burritos, chips, ginger candy and pizza to name a few things. You have to figure out what you like by trial and error on shorter runs and then stick with what works when you go out for the a really big long run. Finding a running vest that works for you is key. Think of how you like to carry water (hydration bladder vs bottles), how you like to stow your extra cloths, food, phone and other equipment for ease of access and pay special how the vest fits you while running. There are a crazy amount of running vests out there now so take your time and find the one that is right for you.

Grand Canyon National Park: Hance Rapid. Image via NPS
Grand Canyon National Park: Hance Rapid. Image via NPS

Do you have stretches that you recommend to keep legs loose after long miles on trails?

JH: Believe it or not I don’t stretch before or after running. Never really have (except for when coach made me in track when I was young)

Are there any Pre and Post run routines that you have? 

JH: Not really. I just try to get some good sleep, stay hydrated but not over hydrate and keep stress to a minimum the few days leading up to a big run.

Have you experienced any resentment from the hiking community toward you for running trails?

JH: No. I’ve always been respectful to hikers. I try to warn them verbally as I approach, then slow down and give them lots of space as I pass. I think that being positive, pleasant and chatty and giving them lots of space while passing goes a long way to make a good impression. The only place I have ever run where I have had some negative encounters is in the Grand Canyon. Even though I do my best to be courteous, some hikers still seem to think that runners are a nuisance down there I think it is because some runners in the Grand Canyon haven’t been respectful to other users which is a bummer.

Mount Rainier from Above Spray Park in Mount Rainier National Park
Mount Rainier from Above Spray Park in Mount Rainier National Park

What are your favorite trails in the Pacific Northwest?

JH: 1. Wonderland Trail around Mt. Rainier. I love the aesthetic and diversity of circumnavigating something iconic, big and wild like Mt. Rainier. While traversing the Wonderland Trail a runner passes through storied old growth forests and flower studded alpine meadows and along raging rivers and past massive glaciers, all along taking in endless breath taking views of every side of Mt. Rainier – the highest peak in Washington.

2. Coast trails of the Olympic National Park. Running on beaches past tidal pools teaming with coastal life and towering rock formations jutting out of the surf and then, in sections where following the sandy beach is to hazardous, dipping into the forest and traveling along sublime single track through dense old growth forests and sometimes scrambling (literally) over points to reach the next beach. The coast of the Olympic National Park is extremely diverse and unique place to run.

What is your favorite trail experience in Northern Arizona?

JH: We have astounding diversity in Northern Arizona In a single run or day a runner can go from high alpine to low desert with many hidden canyons and expansive mesas to explore along the way. My favorite runs are either in the Grand Canyon where in a single run I experience all of the diversity Northern Arizona has to offer or on the 12,000+ ft Mt. Humphreys  where above tree line I can be traveling on trails through fragile alpine tundra and at the same time get expansive views down into the massive chasm of Grand Canyon to the north, of red rock spires and canyons of Sedona to the southwest, the kaleidoscope colors of the Painted Desert to the east, and the rolling forested hills of one of the larges Ponderosa Pine forest in the word to the south east and all around the base of Mt. Humphreys.

The Olympic Coast at Shi Shi beach in Olympic National Park
The Olympic Coast at Shi Shi beach in Olympic National Park

Now that you live in Northern Arizona, what aspect of the PNW do you miss?

JH: I miss water the most. I miss big rivers, huge trees, plants growing lush and green, mountain ranges and islands. I miss the power and life that water brings.

What are you glad to be away from?

JH: I am glad to be away from the bugs and rain! We don’t really have bugs in Flagstaff and almost every day is sunny:) (I don’t really remember the last time I got a mosquito bite – no joke!)

What about Flagstaff makes it a place everyone should visit?

JH: Everyone should visit Flagstaff for it’s awesome weather (we have over 300 days of sunshine a year), historic mountain town feel downtown and friendly locals, The Grand Canyon (a little over an hour away) and many other National Parks nearby along with Sedona (only 45 minutes away), endless world class mountain biking, trail running and rock climbing on the edge, and within, the city limits of town….these are just a few reasons to come visit Flagstaff.

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About Jason

Jason Henrie is an amazing rock climber, an excellent trail runner and one of my fantastic cousins. Growing up, I lived vicariously through Jason as he played football for Nooksack High School, pole vaulted at Western Washington University, and traveled America in search of the best rock climbing destinations. Jason even wrote rock climbing guides for the region around Bellingham, long before the internet, making his a pioneer in the region. In recent years, he has settled down from his rolling stone lifestyle, starting a family and working as the Marketing and Membership Director at Flagstaff Climbing in Flagstaff, Arizona. Today, he is a dad, a trail runner and rock climber, otherwise known as a modern day badass. For more on Jason, and trail running, read one of his articles from Nathan Sports here, and article on Trail Runner Magazine here, or his old blog here.

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