"Those that run ultras understand that once you’re committed to your ‘why’, the challenges become more energizing than they do limiting" -Abby
Should you ever have the privilege of getting to know Abby, you'll experience a bundle of enthusiasm and an overwhelming impression of authenticity. Abby is a creative at heart with a profound trail running talent and the entrancing ability to relay a story and make you feel as though you’re sitting right by her side.
When Abby isn’t frolicking in the mountains and crushing races, you can find her climbing or riding her bike around town and enjoying a good beer alongside loads of delicious homemade vegan food. I hope while reading this interview you are able to glean what a kind soul Abby is; she serves as a wonderful example of how by setting a simple goal for yourself you are able to not only make your life better ten-fold, but you are able to have an enormous impact on the lives of others.
She was so easy to chat with and I sincerely hope your day is made better by taking a peak into the life of Ms. Abby Mitchell.
If you could describe yourself in three adjectives what would they be?
Optimistic, competitive, perfectionist
Ultrarunning is a particular niche sport, how did you find it?
In my early twenties, I was living in Los Angeles and had a relatively solo life. I was working remotely, living by myself in a tiny studio and running on my own. Most weekends I’d hit the road for the mountains, mainly to climb, camp and hopefully meet other like-minded folks in the process. This worked for a while; I met fantastic people who wanted to be adventuring all the time like I did, and then I’d come back and live my eastside LA life during the week.
Somehow as a cumulative result of these weekends spent rushing up to the Sierras, I became completely obsessed with the idea of going for the John Muir Trail FKT. I became so (naively) fixated on it that I sort of began to plan my life around it. I had maps laid out on my apartment floor, scoured over trip reports and even began to wonder if I should live somewhere better suited to train for the project. I must have listened to the Ultrarunner Podcast episode about Jenn Shelton and Krissy Moehl's attempt a half dozen times.
Even just listening to podcasts about these crazy adventures, I was beginning to sense the community of ultra running. I remember listening to ones like “Way Too Cool Preview”, having no idea what these races were or who anybody was, but I just liked feeling like I was part of it. Everyone knew each other and bonded over toenail horror stories and overnight epics in the mountains, and this was all exactly what I wanted. In hindsight, it’s obvious it wasn’t just the JMT I needed to head for, but I kind of used that as my very tangible reason to move on. So I packed up my Jeep, signed up for my first ultra and moved to Boulder, CO.
Have you found that ultrarunning levels the playing field for men and women or do you at times feel underrepresented?
Honestly, I feel like there’s never been a better time to be a woman in the sport. Obviously, there’s still a pretty giant chasm to overcome in the world in general, but I haven't experienced it too much in the Boulder Bubble or the ultrarunning community. I feel that brands currently have a lot of power in this department in the tones that they set, and I’m pretty grateful to work with ones that really lift me up regardless of my gender.
Currently, the planet is under siege. With environmental protection feeling like it's on the back burner of policy change and reasonable action feeling distant and far away, what advice would you give to someone wanting to make a difference?
I think what’s often underestimated is the amount of change that we can take into our own hands. My advice is to corner a cause you believe in, learn as much as you can about it, and pioneer it in your local communities. I’ve been vegan for almost 4 years and it’s a way I choose to cast my vote every day. Little by little, I try to add additional layers of focus, like trying to go all organic with produce or supporting clothing brands that use recycled materials. All of the sudden you look back and realize, “oh my gosh, I can’t believe I used to use so many plastic bags.” So on a larger level, what’s worked for me is adopting an attitude of constantly questioning why I do what I do and how I could do it better. I think the less habituated we can be, the better.
What prompted your transition to veganism?
Going vegan was first prompted by health reasons for me (I wanted to find non-prescription ways to help balance my hormones), but within just a few months my “why” shifted to and remained on the environmental impact. Understanding the true magnitude of how much animal agriculture affects the planet was immediately eye-opening. I found it was hard to continue supporting it once I got an idea of just how bad it really is. Given how much I value spending time outside, it’s become even more important to me to build my lifestyle around respecting the planet as much as possible.
I’ve been vegan for almost 4 years now and still find that it’s a tough subject to open up honestly about. You can talk about riding your bike to save gas, taking shorter showers, backyard composting, you name it, but no one gets nearly as riled up as when you suggest giving up meat. It’s a really sensitive topic for people.
There is always so much backlash associated with dietary habits, frequently they are an onslaught of negative feedback from family and peers, how do you navigate this?
It reminds me a bit of when people ask about ultras… “how can you run that far? don’t you get tired? aren’t you worried about injury?” Those that run ultras understand that once you’re committed to your ‘why’, the challenges become more energizing than they do limiting. It’s the same way with a value-based dietary habit, I’ve found.
I really like to talk about veganism like a hobby or special interest. Preparing food makes me super happy. For Cordis [my boyfriend] and I, it’s a shared value that brings us a lot of joy.
Have you seen a performance benefit to being plant-based?
Totally. For one, I’ve found I have way less digestive woes… plants take a lot less time to digest, about 24 hours faster “transit” time on average!
Vegan vs. Plant-based? What are your thoughts?
Good question! I probably use the words “plant-based” when I’m trying to sell people on it. The V-word has a tendency to shut people down right out of the gates. (Fortunately, living in Boulder means I don’t get too many strange looks at either of these words!)
Imagine you have an imaginary bag and in it contains phrases, call it your mental drop bag of sorts. What are some phrases or mantras you would put in that bag to pull out during a race when things aren't feeling as good as they should be?
Oh, I love this!:
“You’re tough, you’re tough, you’re tough.” (best when creepily muttered under your breath... seriously though, I always benefit from hearing myself say it out loud.)
“Everyone else is hurting just as much as you are.” (a soft way of telling myself: my discomfort is not special.)
“…I bet it’s because you need to eat more” (great answer to any complaint, statement, sentiment or question.)
“Harden the **** up.” (Velominati rule #5)
Practicing a positive mindset when running is extremely difficult! I think a lot of people forget that positive self-talk is something to be incorporated during training and not just on race day. How do you actively work to train your mind?
I’m trying to work on this all the time and I’ve still got a long way to go. Often, I try to visualize high-intensity race moments in my training and what it would feel like to push through them. Not only does it help me better prepare for those moments in a race that are difficult, but it also fuels my stoke at the moment knowing, “THIS is the moment you’ve been training for."
An important part of this for me has been observing my own “storyline”, if you will, as a runner. Asking myself questions like, “why do you want to do well?” “Why do you enjoy competing?” I’ve noticed I run best when I focus on how much I love the sport, and when I view each race as a stepping stone and an opportunity to learn.
How did you become interested in the concept of a "racing mindset"?
By the time I was done competing in college, I’d become pretty burnt out from the level of intensity I raced with. I needed to make running my own again, which really happened while I was in LA. I didn’t train with a watch for a long time and really only raced once a year or so.
Now that I’m back to competing in a more focused way, I’m constantly trying to dial back the intense approach I have about racing because that attitude has had a tendency to work against me.
Lastly, if you could have dinner with anyone on the planet, who would it be and what would you be eating?
Barbra Streisand. We would drink beer and eat vegan pizza while I cried about being in her presence.
1. AM or PM run? I am not much of a morning runner! I always aim for a lunch run, but it almost always turns into an honest PM run.
2. Last time you laughed so hard you cried? Remembering that the show Dating in the Dark existed.
3. Sweet or salty? Salty!
4. Last book you couldn't put down? The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt.
5. The most embarrassing moment you've had on the trail? The bloody nose of the century I got at Quad Rock 25 in 2017. There was so much blood that it got all over the trail and I was holding my nose shut just to avoid gushing on the 50 milers who were coming from the opposite direction!
6. Favorite distance to compete in? 50 miler.
7. Avocado toast or vegan pancakes? Avocado toast. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, desert island, forever, anytime, anywhere.
8. Spirit animal? DUCK
Abby is sponsored by Adidas, Ultimate Direction, GU Energy Labs, Carmichael Training Systems, and Vafels.