In order to complete the full running loop on a recent Run Wild Retreats trip in Iceland, a group of 15 women needed to cross an unexpectedly high, rushing river. Elinor Fish, the retreat group’s founder, watched on as one woman’s trepidation turned into elation as she crossed the water to the other side, breaking through a life-long fear of water. Moments like those, unplanned yet empowering, are a large part of why Fish founded the business — to create opportunities for women to challenge themselves and discover that running is about so much more than miles and achieving a good time.
In Banff, Alberta, Canada last week for an Adventure Travel Trade Association conference, Fish shared with us how following her passion for running has been successful, why she thinks experience-centered trips resonate with people and her thoughts on being a strong female runner.
How did you decide to leave your secure marketing job to grow Run Wild Retreats?
I’ve worked in the travel and running industries going on 18 years now. I used to work for tourism up here in BANFF and also had the opportunity to work as an editor at Trail Runner magazine. I went on a running vacation and discovered running as a way to travel and explore the world. I love trail running so much, it’s just the best way for me to take care of myself and be fit and clear my head and manage my stress. There are a lot of men in the sport, but I really wanted to experience that with more women. I looked at all these amazing contacts I had all around the world and thought, I should work with them. Then in 2014, I went full time. Now we do retreats in six countries and serve up to 120 runners a year. It’s really exciting to see the response we’ve gotten.
What have you learned about the industry since starting Run Wild Retreats as a side job in 2010?
Elinor Fish: More and more, people seem to want to have a specific travel experience that is really going to have a lasting impact. They may not know what that’s going to look like. We’re appealing because we’ve really focused very specifically on running for health and creating a whole experience around just that. It’s not just traveling for the sake of traveling. It’s to grow and change as a person, and come away really enriched. It’s for women to connect with other women interested in the same things, but also for them to reconnect with themselves and their values.
With all the attention around women’s equity and empowerment, how have you seen your company become even more relevant?
EF: I wrote a piece on the topic on Medium. With the violence against women runners and then how some of the mainstream press covered it, it was so disempowering. If you really think that women need to run in packs every time they go for a run to be safe, that is not conducive to women’s lives. Would you give that advice to a man? It’s really a problem. I was prompted to write that piece when I was at the U.S. Trail Running Conference. Someone there asked, “What’s really stopping more women from getting into the sport?” We’re afraid. It’s not just the perpetrators, it’s the media perpetuating that fear. I hope that by offering the group retreat experience, these women who already love to run as a way to be healthy and manage their stress and be strong and connect with their fears come away feeling validated. Prioritizing your well-being is not taking away from your commitment to your family and your job. In fact, it’s essential to making it possible to doing all those other things. It does impact the people around us, but the net result is we are better people.
What’s your advice to female runners, both those wanting to get into running and those who have been doing it for a long time?
EF: There is so much to the running experience that has nothing to do with racing and pacing. A lot of running culture is centered around the training and signing up for a race, and as a competitive runner for 20 years, I get that it’s very motivating for a lot of women. But I think the most valuable aspect of what running does for us as people has nothing to do with whether or not you do races or what pace you run. Even if you run occasionally but it feeds you in some way, then I think that you are a runner and it can be a really important part of your lifestyle not to be discounted. It’s not about getting lots of mileage on the log book.