Laura Swenson 🌵 Trail Runner

Laura Swenson Trail Runner

What ignited your passion for trail running? And when did your journey begin?

I started trail running just a mode of cross training. I was running a lot of marathons and it felt good to head off the road into the wilderness. It was such a different, yet engaging, workout! I loved all the wildlife and the changes in foliage throughout the year. Phoneline was my first official trail that a friend of mine showed me and I was instantly hooked. I kept on with the marathons from 2001-2013 until I ran my first ultra. From there I added a lot more trail running, but as necessary training! I already knew I loved it and enjoyed having an excuse to try out longer trails from Sabino up to Mt. Lemmon and in other mountain ranges throughout Tucson.

If you had a single piece of invaluable advice to give yourself before the journey began, what would you express?

Do more! Explore more! Make the time!!

What motivates you to get out the door?

I just love it and it doesn’t require much motivation. I’m usually training for a race that requires specific training, like vertical gain or elevation training so that keeps me going! It also helps running with others. Making a plan and sticking to it! Of course, running with others is also safer out on the trails, too! I always feel great knowing I conquered a tough trail or mountain to start the day!

Sabino Canyon has so many trails and routes. Some that begin and extend beyond the confines of Sabino Canyon Recreation Area. Where do you find yourself most often running? Why?

Typically I use Phoneline & Blacketts as my basic training. I will also add in the tram road to my Phoneline runs if I’m short on time or want some variation. I’ve used Blacketts solely for some of my R3 runs across the Grand Canyon. If I’m training alone, I feel safe that others are around and there’s water available if I need it. I repeat that portion of the trail 2-3 times to train! I love it!

Bear Canyon Loop is another great run option, but have only run it alone once or twice. I prefer that run with friends since fewer people use the entire trail and cell service rarely works back there. You never know if you’ll encounter some crazy wildlife or sustain an injury.

Esperero Loop is another one of my favorites! However, I don’t feel safe doing that one alone. Water can be an issue during the hotter months, too. It’s remote and beautiful though! I love how you can run from saguaros to pine trees in just a few hours! Tucson is amazing!!

On average, how many miles are you putting in on a given week? And what is the ratio of trail to road/track miles?

50 miles on average per week. 10-20 miles on trails typically.

Desert Girl Designs

Tell us about Desert Girl Designs. What inspired this creation of yours?

It started out as a fundraiser and then I just decided to make more designs about the things I love that are so unique to Tucson and the Sonoran Desert!

You have quite a few races under your belt. What was your first race? What was the biggest single lesson of that first race?

Tucson Marathon was my first race. I may have run a 5K before that, but I basically went all in for the marathon distance. I’m not sure if 1/2 marathons were much of an option back then. I learned that Gatorade was not really my friend, I learned not to eat so much on the run, and to size up my running shoes! So much to learn…the hard way back then. Now there are so many races and experienced runners who serve as great mentors through social media! Novice runners have so many resources today!

Since that first race, how big has that collection of races grown? And what are some of the lessons that you've learned since?

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I’ve run 47 marathons and over 20 trail/ultra races. I’ve learned what types of fuel work for my body. I learned that that are other way to take in electrolytes other than the standard Gatorade back then. I’ve learned to size up my shoes, although I still blister my toenails from time to time. I’ve learned the importance of good socks & better ways to carry hydration and fuel sources, especially out on the trails! Companies have gotten so innovative when it comes to running gear!

I’ve also learned to not be afraid! To sign up for that race and just go for it! I’ve had some of the best experiences during trail races! I’ve met amazing people and have run through some of the most spectacular landscapes! Many on reservations that don’t allow people without a guide! It’s such a privilege!

Enjoy the journey! Think about places not paces. Stop to take in the wildlife, the beauty, the changing seasons, sunrises and sunsets. It’s a miraculous world and best seen while out running or hiking!

With all the race distances that you've run? Is there a favorite distance? A preferred surface?

I love the 50K distance! A mix of terrain is good…a little dirt, vert, downhill! I’ve done very sandy races which can be fun, too! The Four Corners area has a lot of sand so if you’re racing there, be prepared!

Gear in general is so subjective. Before we begin breaking down the gear that you use, what is the one piece of gear that is the highlight of your arsenal?

Good shoes! I like a roomy toebox and good lugs if I’m running over rocky, technical terrain. The granite and gneiss gets really slippery if there’s rain in Sabino and it can get dangerously slippery!

I also love a good hydration vest! Once you’re away from the tram roads and bathrooms, you’ve gotta be able to carry enough water, especially in the hot, summery months! I like having some extra pockets up front to carry bottles, food and my phone! There will always be something interesting to see along the trails that you’ll want to photograph! Encounters with wildlife, wildflowers, sunrises, sunsets, the creeks flowing, saguaros in bloom! The beauty never ends in Sabino!

In the summer months, I’ll keep a bottle of plain water with me just to keep cool! I wet my head, my top, a buff…anything to stay ahead of the heat!

Footwear is such a personal preference. Perhaps more than any other piece of gear. With that put aside, what is your preference when running on the trails in Sabino Canyon. Why? And what is it about them that elevates your running?

I love any good trail shoe with good grip and a wide toe box! Altra is a great shoe and I also love Topo which has options other than zero drop. I’m also a fan of my running sandals from Luna. Especially in the summer! They’re cooler and if it rains or if the creeks are running high, you don’t have to worry about wet socks and shoes.

Bottoms and tops. We live in such a mild climate here in the desert. With the assumption that it's not freezing outside...what's the garb you're wearing?

I love Lululemon Speed Shorts (2.5in | 4in) and my Uvida tops that are UPF50 & a local Tucson owned brand! I can prevent sun damage and sunburn! If I’m wearing shorts, I also love a good pair of compression socks to protect my legs from itchy vegetation, scratchy bushes, and rocks! I love a company called TIUX out of Canada that donates part of their profits to a charity.

So many ways to pierce the dark of the trail at night. Headlamps, handheld lights, belt lights, and so on. How are you illuminating the trail?

I use a headlamp but wear it on my waist. If I’m running extra long in the dark or somewhere like the Grand Canyon I bring two headlamps. I’ll hold one or put it on my head and the second put one I’ll put on my waist. That way I can look off the trail with one while keeping the trail illuminated with the other. Also, having two with you in the dark and on a trail is a good idea for night running. If you drop on or need to change batteries, a second one comes in handy. I’ve seen the Kogalla belts and those are really bright! I feel like 80-100 lumens are sufficient but you can buy something brighter. You do have to be careful with bright lights while approaching other people coming in the opposite direction on the trail, with pets, wildlife and drivers as these lights are made to be bright! It’s not good to look at them if you can avoid it and it’s not good to shine it on nocturnal wildlife as it’s hard on their eyes too.

From the heat of the summer, to the cooler temps in the winter. Whether we are running longer distances, or shorter mileage. There are so many ways for us to haul our water and essential gear. Handhelds, waistbelts, and vests. What are you utilizing (brands/models) dependent on conditions and distance?

For shorter runs I’ll use a waist pack with a 20oz water bottle that I like from Nathan. I also have a large Nathan hydration vest that I use when I run in the Grand Canyon as it can hold a lot of gear and food, too. For intermediate runs, I like the Orange Mud vests. I might use the bladder and a 20oz bottle in on of the front pockets. In the other pocket I’ll keep my phone and a snack. Very light and fits nicely

The watch. That digital device that so many runners utilize as a tool to elevate their running. So many to choose from that it can be overwhelming for some to decide what is enough, and what is too much dependent on their goals (Coros, Suunto, Polar, Garmin, and so on). What are you using currently (brand/model)? And how do you feel it elevates your running? What advice would you give someone that is early in their trail running journey on the purchase of a watch?

I’m currently using the Suunto Baro 9 for my long trail runs. I can load my trail map into the watch which is great if I’m running a new (to me) trail. It’s easy to get mixed up or turned around out there so I feel safer when it’s preloaded onto my watch. It has a barometer which adds to the accuracy of the altimeter. It truly gives me more info than I can use, but it’s nice to have options from heart rate, to temperature, elevation gain, descent, mileage, etc. I love it!

On shorter runs I typically use an older Garmin. I’ve had the Suunto for one year and love all that it can do!

Are trekking poles an option in your arsenal? For those that may choose to make use of these tools, what would you recommend to them?

I haven’t used any poles yet, but I’ve been looking into them! Summit Hut has some very knowledgeable employees who really helped me out with my questions!

Vegan, Vegetarian, Keto, Paleo, and so on. So many dietary lifestyles out there. All with advantages and disadvantages dependent on whom you speak to or their bias. Or simply just eating healthy or not. Where are you in this endless debate?

I love to eat mostly a plant based diet. I think it’s healthiest for our bodies and the environment. Every body is different and has different needs. If you enjoy plant based ingredients and foods, I think it’s good to not get caught up in the perfectionism of veganism. If most of our dietary choices are coming from plants then we are all doing ourselves and the planet a lot of good! I avoid fast food options & fried foods, but probably wouldn’t turn down a homemade chocolate chip cookie hot out of the oven!

Whether it is 110f or 35f, hydration is the utmost of importance. We can go without calories, but we must be hydrated. An added layer to that hydration is electrolytes. With so many choices such as drink mixes, salt sticks, electrolyte capsules, and so do you incorporate electrolytes? And what method(s) do you utilize to stay on top of your hydration?

I love Nuun and have been an ambassador for the company since 2014. I discovered the product on my first rim-to-rim-to-rim run across the Grand Canyon and have used it ever since! They have a lot of product options, good clean ingredients, and are always improving their products! I also enjoy the tablets from Salt Stick! Watermelon is my favorite and the Running Shop usually has it in their shop!

I run & train with Nuun year round! Living in the desert, it’s always a good idea! You feel better when properly hydrated! I use the Salt Stick tablets on longer runs, especially in the heat!

Gels, drink mixes, chews, and a multitude of new options added to the selection of choices before us. Or perhaps you are fat-adapted? How do you stay fueled on the trail? Do you have a formula in which you decide calories needed?

Typically a person will want to consume 200-250 calories/hour. I personally don’t need that much. I’ll use Nuun Endurance which has carbohydrates and electrolytes in it. I’ve never been able to tolerate gels so I choose Huppy bars and Luna bars! I also will pack a peanut butter and honey sandwich if I’ll be out for a few hours and/or some sliced and baked potatoes with salt and pepper on them. If you’re going to be out for a few hours it’s a good idea to pack a variety of flavors. Don’t pack all sugary sweet foods! I’ll take some candy (cherry sour balls are my favorite), a few bars, maybe some beef jerky, potatoes and dried fruit. Trail mix is a great option and some enjoy some chips or pretzels. It’s important to pack something that you’ll want to eat! Don’t get behind in your nutrition because it’s hard to catch up. Also, don’t eat too much at once or you may regret that also. I usually have a bar open and just take a bite or two every mile or so.

What nutritional methods do you utilize to recover post-run/post-race?

I usually eat a snack when I’m done and definitely hydrate! It depends how much I’ve consumed on the run because sometimes I’m just not that hungry and other times that is not the case at all. I usually keep something to eat and drink in my car after the run. I really love a big bowl of soup after a run! It’s usually easy on the stomach, a little salty and really hits the spot!


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