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Talking with Cristina Regalado - Croissant Expedition, Problem Solving, and Mental Health

Talking with Cristina Regalado - Croissant Expedition, Problem Solving, and Mental Health

This week we're excited to release our in-depth conversation with ultra-runner Cristina Regalado, to talk about her recent trail-running linkup of the Tour du Mont Blanc and Haute Route, how to prepare and problem solve for big adventures, and the role running plays in her mental health healing journey. 

- Hey Cristina, I've really been looking forward to connecting with you now that you're back from your huge trip. To catch people up if they haven't heard, why don't you start by telling us about the running adventure you recently came back from?

I recently completed a 205 mile trail-running linkup of the Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) and the Haute Route with a small group of strong lady crusher friends. We lovingly coined this the "Croissant Expedition". We basically ran around Mont Blanc and then ran to the Matterhorn. We ran through Switzerland, Italy and France. This took us 11 days to complete. We averaged 18-20 mile back to back days, climbed over 64,000 feet, crossed up and over 14+ mountain passes, and ate many quiches and croissants.

- I imagine with a trip this big, it can be a little intimidating to try and train and prepare for it. What was your experience like beforehand as you worked through the physical and logistical preparation?

For the physical preparation, we focused on many months of consistent milage build-up and trying to get the climbing legs stronger. This included many Grandeur Peak laps as well as strength training to get the glutes, hamstrings, and quads ready for all the climbing and descending required of this trip. Logistically, we decided to stay in mountain huts along the way or hotels in towns to keep our packs as light as possible. The huts booked out many months in advance so this was a bit of a challenge to figure out where to stay.

We made GPX maps for each day so we wouldn't get lost. We had each day planned out and were able to stick to the plan each day. For my pack, I chose to use a 12 liter Salomon pack and was able to accommodate everything I needed in that pack. This meant being very strategic and intentional about the gear that I chose to bring. A few must-haves: a water filter top and a good waterproof rain jacket.

Female runner in foggy forest

- With any adventure of significant distance, there's bound to be unexpected things that arise throughout the journey. Did you run into anything that surprised you or that you hadn't planned for?

"Unexpected things" are almost always expected in ultra-running. The problem solving part is the best part. My friend had some significant pack chafing that we were able to trouble-shoot. (No blisters! Hooray!). There was one part of the Tour du Mont Blanc that we had to stay at a hut off of an alternate route because all the other huts didn't have space for us. This alternate route had many steep snow fields to cross, some boulders to down-climb, many steep river crossings and some large steep technical talus fields. We did not see a single soul on this part of the trip after we crossed the Italian- French border. We had full unobstructed views of the French Alps. We saw a group of Ibex majestically watching us clumsily make our way up a talus field to get to our hut; they graciously let us go by without any issues. We said many thanks to them for letting us trespass into and across their homes. [We later saw more Ibex on the Haute Route]. We crossed just below a glacier. As we were making our way up and in that direction though, I had many moments of panic thinking that we would have to cross the glacier: "we don't have the gear or experience for glacier travel!". Huge sigh of relief when we realized we didn't have to. We moved very slow and methodical through this section. It took us longer than anticipated but made it safely to our destination before nightfall.

- What gave you the biggest smile of the trip?

I can think of two significant moments.
The first was on day 2 of the Tour du Mont Blanc. Day 1 was rainy and cloudy so we didn't see much of anything. Day 2 started off misty and cloudy. When we got to the top of Grand Col Ferret, the Swiss-Italian border, wind gusts picked up and very quickly cleared the clouds. We had our first unobstructed views of the Mont Blanc massif and I was overwhelmed by its beauty. We sat there staring in disbelief, unable to hold back tears of joy. We are so small and there is so much beauty and goodness in this world. We have much to be grateful for.

The second was on our last day of the trip.
As we approached mile 200, legs feeling like cement bricks and bones aching, we saw the majestic Matterhorn as we turned a corner. I was again overwhelmed with gratitude. This meant that we were almost done and that celebratory champagne was a few more miles away. The view of the Matterhorn energized us and gave us that final boost of energy to finish the dang thing.

- On social media, you are a consistent advocate for mental health awareness, talking a lot about the important role running holds in your life. For those in our community who may struggle with mental health difficulties, are there any lessons or advice you have learned in the outdoors that you would be willing to share?

As someone who struggles with anxiety, ptsd, and seasonal depression, I know how hard it is to move forward when you are stuck in a cycle of rumination or have difficulty just getting out of bed in the morning. The physical act of running and forward movement has been a catalyst of forward motion and momentum in my mental health healing journey. The consistency, discipline, and routine of running has given me a huge sense of control not only in my symptoms but in my overall life. Running and movement makes me feel empowered to know that no matter how hard things get emotionally and mentally this too shall pass. While running does not replace treatment for mental health, it does provide an outlet and a place to channel any pain, anger, and/or distress that you may be experiencing.

Alternatively, I've learned that running and movement in the outdoors can bring an overwhelming amount of healing, joy and purpose.

Running has brought me community. I have found a community of other empowered women (Women of the Wasatch), a community for other runners of color (Wasatch Trails Collective) to increase diversity, equity and representation in outdoor spaces, as well as a community that advocates and fundraises for mental health awareness and treatment (Bigger Than The Trail [check us out for free peer-to-peer groups and opportunity for free therapy if you are in need]).
Not to be dramatic, but running has changed my life. I only hope to be able to give back to the sport and community that has quite literally saved me.

Runner celebrating on mountain

- I know you have a lot of experience with racing and competing and was wondering how you think about running when you're trying to achieve a goal time or distance. Do you find you enjoy it differently, or that it brings out a different side of you?

My experience with racing is recent as of the last few years. I didn't grow up doing any sports or competing in anything so I don't really have big expectations of myself on race day. This helps keep the pressure/stress low. My first and most important goal for any race is to be the most joyful person out there. I may not be the fastest, but you bet I will be out there having the most fun. I definitely try to bring out the best in myself and love pushing myself to find my new limits, but you will usually see me dancing and singing out loud on the trails or cheering other runners on.

If I have a specific goal in mind, it brings out a very organized side of me that usually does not exist in every day life. I usually thrive off chaos but when it comes to prepping for a race, suddenly I'm making spreadsheets, meticulously planning gear, making maps, and thinking of/planning for any logistical issue that could possibly need to be troubleshooted and am two steps ahead. I am always hungry to learn more and always evolving.

- How do you look at nutrition and recovery when you have high-mileage training blocks? Do you have any go-to tips or recommendations that keep you feeling strong on your feet during those long days?

I take nutrition and recovery very seriously during high-mileage training blocks. During long or hard efforts, I make sure I am consuming 80-90g of carbs per hour in the form of both liquid nutrition and solids. This is probably the biggest thing that I would recommend. Nutrition, nutrition nutrition! On hard workout days, I use NOM pre-workout and have NOM during as part of my nutrition arsenal.

When not running, I am still prioritizing good complex carbs and protein from whole-food sources. I listen to my body's cravings and hunger cues. I think my body is telling me what it needs. Sometimes that means ice cream and tator tots.
For recovery, I make sure I have one full rest-day per week. No exceptions. I also make sure to prioritize sleep. 7-8+ hours per night during hard training blocks does the body and mind a world of good.

- You've accomplished such a wide range of running achievements, is there anything you're still really hungry to go after?

There are a lot of things I wildly day-dream of. I am always day-dreaming and scheming.
In the works: I am currently training for the Javelina Jundred and would love to run those 100 miles in 18-20 hours if the stars align.
I would like to attempt Moab 240 one day. This scares me but if your goals don't scare you, you're not dreaming big enough!

- Is there anything else you'd like to mention for everyone reading?

No matter where you are in our outdoor journey whether that's a seasoned mountaineer, a pro marathoner, skiier, or sitting on your couch day-dreaming about these things, know that you are enough, always; you matter, and you are so much more than your abilities or accomplishments.

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