A mindset shifting story on the power of camaraderie over rivalry.
I had started to believe the day might never end. Or maybe it would just end without me – because I couldn’t travel fast enough to get there for the end of it. I might still be stuck on one of these mountains in the Seven Lakes Wilderness, stumbling up the rocky trail like an overworked donkey.
I was 37 miles into my second day of attempting to run the 460-mile Oregon stretch of the Pacific Crest Trail – and of trying to set a Fastest Known Time while doing it. I had to cover 130 miles in the first two days to stay on pace, and I still had 33 extra-long miles to go before I could stop for the night.
Today’s distance felt as insurmountable as scaling Everest without oxygen – never mind getting to the end of this super-sized run, which was still several days and hundreds of miles away. I was starting to hallucinate squishy mattresses and fluffy slippers as I marched up the hill.
But, I had a secret weapon to keep me moving through this impossible stretch of trail.
The woman who held the record I was trying to beat was there to help me.
“It’s time to eat!” Danielle chirped. She’d been a diligent snack sheriff since she started pacing me, policing my every bite to make sure I swallowed enough calories to fuel the gargantuan 70-mile day.
“You’re doing great, Emily. Day two is such a hard day and you’re doing it. Let’s just get to the next water crossing.”
I didn’t need to turn around to picture Danielle bobbing along behind me. Her brown ponytail spiraling out of her black trucker hat. Her strong legs a metronome of forward movement, matched by her steady stream of energetic encouragement.
“Five miles! Five miles is just an easy weekday run!” she cheered.
With Danielle’s enthusiastic cries at my back and my focus redirected on a more manageable goal, I pushed a little harder up the dusty trail.
“I was definitely crying up this climb!” Danielle laughed. “You’re doing so great.”
“Danielle also thought this was hard,” I whispered to myself. “It’s okay that this is hard. It’s supposed to be hard. But that doesn’t mean you can’t do it.”
I was comforted by knowing I was not alone in my struggles. And by the fact that Danielle had rallied from a tearful climb to a triumphant record-setting finish.
Danielle was helping me in a powerful and special way – again.
She’d been helping me tackle this run since before we even officially met. Something that had inspired me to interrogate my own ways of supporting other women – and realize I needed to reimagine them
When I decided to go after the Oregon PCT FKT, one of the very first things I did was contact Danielle, who ran the trail the summer before in a record-setting 9 days, 15 hours, and 8 minutes.
At the time, I only knew her through Instagram, where she shared her audacious goal of establishing a women’s mark on the Oregon PCT, along with her desire to inspire other women to chase their own big efforts. Which was exactly what she did for me. After I watched her set the record, I started to think about my own attempt in a real way.
I remember hearing about the Oregon PCT run back in 2013 when the first dude finished it in just under eight days. The idea of traveling across Oregon on foot was thrilling. But it also seemed like an unattainable trek for me. It was too big.
Danielle refuted that logic when she went out and did it. Her finish ignited some confidence and curiosity in me. And I wanted to see what I could do with that flame.
I decided to slip into Danielle’s DMs, letting her know that I wanted to attempt the record. I was sitting on my olive-green couch, with my dog curled into my lap, my fingers trembled with nervous energy as I got ready to share such a huge and vulnerable goal with a total stranger.
But Danielle did not make my anxiety fester for long at all. She responded in approximately 47 seconds, with several dozen exclamation marks and one, “Oh my god! I’M SO EXCITED FOR YOU. How can I help? I am here for whatever you need! And also, I would really like to pace you!”
My fingers stopped. My jaw dropped. My heart flooded with shock and awe.
I’d just contacted Danielle to let her know I wanted to break her record, and she replied with an immediate and enthusiastic offer to help me do it.
I was pretty sure if I were in Danielle’s shoes, I would’ve responded by sewing a voodoo doll of my competitor and making its legs move real slow-like.
But Danielle sincerely wanted to help me – and she immediately started doing that.
She showered me with advice and stories from her own experience – everything from gear lists to pacing strategies to highest-rated trail snacks (“birthday cake twinkies!”, she promised). She encouraged me with unwavering support over near-daily texts and during training runs.
“I think I might actually be able to do this,” I whispered to her one day, while hop-skipping down a rocky trail in the Columbia River Gorge.
“You think you can? OF COURSE YOU CAN, GIRL,” she yelled. “Start telling yourself that every day!”
And now she was on the trail with me, physically by my side, telling me I could do it with every step.
Getting such immense support from another woman was a foreign thing to me – and the power of it reached every last corner of my heart and soul and very tired muscles. Sure, I’d received help from other women plenty of times before, but never in a way that so directly competed with their own achievements. And I’d certainly never given it myself.
I remembered racing triathlons back when I lived on the East coast – and finding myself podiuming alongside the same women race after race. I thought about how great we’d be as training partners – always pushing each other a little harder, contributing our different strengths to the group effort, emerging faster than ever, and probably having a lot more fun while doing it. But my competitive spirit immediately squashed that idea with a reminder that we were swim/bike/run rivals. We were competitors, not pals.
Danielle was a billboard for the counterargument to that idea. She showed me that we don’t have to choose between our individual goals and supporting other women, even when those goals collide. And, in fact, we can all be a lot stronger and bolder when we choose camaraderie.
There is an infectious momentum with courage and ambition – we can unlock a deeper drive in each other when we surround ourselves with brave and competitive women. Danielle helped me appreciate that one woman’s new achievement is not the end of the other’s story, but a reason to reimagine the next chapter, together.
Danielle’s run inspired me to aim higher than I would’ve without it. She laid down a foundation and invited me to keep building.
I was competing against Danielle’s record on the PCT, sure. But we were also fighting for the same thing: to discover our strongest selves on the trail and to redefine what’s possible. And what I thought was possible had exploded, thanks to Danielle. I was stronger because we worked together and pushed and encouraged each other along the way.
We’d finally reached the “five easy miles” creek. The sun was vanishing behind a chain of mountains, casting cold shadows over the trail. I wasn’t excited about the next miles, but I’d started to believe I could get through them and reach the end of my day.
“You’re doing it, Emily!” Danielle hollered. “I know you can do it!”
And she was still hollering for me at the end of my eighth and final day, too. Standing at the cusp of the Bridge of the Gods, with her headlamp beaming and her voice scratched raw. She cheered me through my last steps across Oregon with sincere excitement as I beat her record (along with those of the men) – and gave the next woman something to aim for.
I hope when she goes for it, she asks me to help her get it.