A Conversational Pace – Steven Mortinson on visual storytelling, accidental tour guides, and calm self-satisfaction

Got that one song that you turn on and turn all the way fucking up when things are going good? Like, it just hits so hard and you can’t help but scream it so loud that it gives you goosebumps? While putting together this article, Alkaline Trio’s “We’ve Had Enough” came on (which is one of my “one songs”), and it took me right back to a few scream-until-bloody-throat-but-happy moments from summer 2022. One such moment being the drive to, and subsequently home from, Alpenflo Trail Running camp

While I’ve already talked ad nauseam as to why this camp was such a tremendous experience, let’s take a moment to peek at who made the experience what it was. Enter: Steven Mortinson. 

I first met Steven during the Alpenflo intro zoom. Introduced as one of the camp educators and hosts, as well as a professional photographer and all-around nice dude, we immediately bonded over sweating too much and the need for a clothesline at camp. (I keep one in my car bc you never know when a long run is going to break out, so we shared a thumbs up over that.) 

Today, I am lucky enough to have Steven join the Leggggs community to chat living in South Korea, research-led trail running, the merits of “my pace,” nipple tape, and honest-to-goodness fun. 

Steven, this is Leggggs. Leggggs? Steven. Play nice. 

Leggggs: Steven. Hello! Appreciate you taking some time to chat with us today. Starting at the top: Who are ya, and where we can find you online or otherwise?

Steven Mortinson: I’m Steven Mortinson. You can find me on Instagram: @I’m Steven Mortinson. You can find me on Instagram: @stevenmortinson (for digital and life stuff) @negative.nevets (for film photography) and on Vimeo: vimeo.com/stevenmortinson (for video work).

You can check out my most recent reel of work here:

Storytelling is my occupation and passion. I do that through photography, videography, and sometimes writing. A good amount of my work revolves around the outdoor sports world (running, bikepacking, climbing, skiing…), but I also do work in the wine and food service industry capturing and implementing marketing content as well as in the nonprofit sector for various conservation groups. Outside of that, I regularly pursue personal photo and video projects in my own time.

Leggggs: Dude. That is amazing. Very jealous of anyone with actual photography and videography skills—That ability to tell a visual story with no words.
What’s your personal mission? If you had to sum yourself up in one sentence, what is it?

SM: I’m not sure I’ve thought about this much. In general, I guess, I try to spread love and positivity. I aim to inspire people, to tell human stories and encourage empathy, to make the world a better place for my daughter and younger generations, to instill in others a love and appreciation for the outdoors. I aspire (that’s the key word.. because I’m not there yet) to give much, without expecting anything in return.

Me in one (run-on) sentence: I’m a restless, creative, deep-thinking outdoors lover who just wants to contribute anything I can to make others feel welcome and inspired and empowered because I’ve been given so much via my own privileged upbringing and life situation, and it’s the least I can do.

Leggggs: When we ran that first bit of Elkhorn Crest together catching up to the main group, I could sense your love and appreciation for the outdoors. The way you talked about trail and ultra running and your why behind it…
Speaking of, when and. why did you first get into running?

SM: About 9 years ago, while I was living in South Korea, I was playing basketball regularly for a private league team and I was growing frustrated with the lack of progress from our team. No one practiced or trained or tried to get better outside of games, and that bothered me. I would run 5 or 6 mile training runs a couple of times a week to stay fit, but I wasn’t “a runner,” it was strictly for maintaining fitness for basketball. Then there was this one game where I got elbowed in the head pretty bad and had to sit out. And I just thought, “I don’t know if this is worth it anymore.” 

Not long after, I saw this inspiring video of Ryan Sandes, the Salomon sponsored ultrarunner from South Africa, running an FKT. I had never heard of ultrarunning or even trail running before, but I had grown up hiking, mountain biking, and exploring the trails and forests of southern Oregon, and so the idea of it really got my heart pumping and excited. Running could be something where what I put into it is what I would get out of it. There would be no one else to rely on but myself. That day, I stopped playing competitive basketball, I researched all I could about trail running and ultrarunning, and I became a trail runner.

(Fun side story: A few years later I was hired to shoot a short highlight film about the new, at the time, Korea 50K ultrarunning race. The organizers had invited Ryan Sandes to come to the race to help with publicizing it. In the process, Ryan and I got put into the same motel in the middle of the Korean countryside and I volunteered to be his “tour guide” since I speak passable Korean. It was pretty surreal going out to a Korean BBQ dinner, one-on-one, with the pro runner who had inspired me to get into the sport in the first place. He is the most humble, kind, legend of a guy! Goes to show: the trail running community is special!)

Leggggs: What you put in is what you get out. Well said, man. And couldn’t agree more. That said, what type of run gets you going most?

SM: Technical downhill trail running is where I really get that runner’s high. Something about feeling slightly out of control, eyes watering as the wind rushes past you, feet tip-toeing recklessly over rocks and roots… it’s an artform in a way; something that takes practice. Not to brag too much…but, I’ve been told I’m a pretty savvy downhiller. I like to give credit to my early days of mountain biking… learning to pick a solid line and bomb it hard. So fun!

Leggggs: Hell yes. Okay so then tell me Tell me about your favorite run ever?

SM: Oh man… tough, tough question! I’ve had too many great run experiences to count. One that stands out to me now: Last summer I decided on a whim to go run solo around Mount Hood on the Timberline Trail (40-45 miles, 10k of vert). Now, most of my runs are with people who are better runners than me, so I’m often just going at their pace, usually red-lining it, and holding on for dear life. What I’ve learned, though, is that, especially in trail running, people have different RHYTHMS of pace. What I mean is… peoples’ paces differ on varying terrains (flat, up, down, rocky, rooty, sandy, etc.). My flat terrain pace may be slower than yours, but my downhill terrain pace might be faster than yours. So with that, I’ve learned that by going MY pace I feel so much better, even if it feels like I’m falling behind, most of the time I end up naturally catching up and feeling better.

Why I’m saying this is, when I ran around Mount Hood solo, I got to go MY pace. I wasn’t keeping up with someone else, I wasn’t leading someone else, I wasn’t racing anyone… it was all about “how can I be the most efficient in my body.” And, man, I had a killer day going around that beautiful mountain! My stomach felt great, my legs felt fresh, I was just moving so smoothly. When I finished there was no one waiting for me. There was just calm and self-satisfaction. I stepped off the trail, stopped my watch, and soaked it all in. I had beaten my goal time. That felt pretty amazing.

Leggggs: That honestly makes me want to go do the same thing, or at least something similar, right this second. The thought of no one waiting for you and that being your time to just absorb it all… It’s rare we get those moments.
So with that being the best run, what has been the least fave? The worst run?

SM: Whew… I’m a pretty positive person and even the “worst runs” are remembered as crazy stories that ended up being good times. One run that was pretty awful and also pretty great was on my good buddy JT Lehman’s “birthday weekend.” We van-camped at a lake near Mount Washington in Oregon with a bunch of friends to celebrate and go on some mini adventures together. It was early August and it happened to be one of the hottest days of the year. We lazed about until 11am and decided it was a good idea to go circumnavigate Mount Washington (perfect time to start a long run, right?). There is no trail that goes fully around the mountain, you have to bushwhack the entire eastern side, and then you connect the loop via the PCT which wraps around the south and west side, it’s a total of about 18-miles with varying vert. 

Long story short: the temps were somewhere in the 100F range, our planned-on water source turned out to be non-existent, there was minimal shade, and I have never been more thirsty in my life. There was a point where I just started running aimlessly far ahead of the group hoping to find a stream of some sort. Eventually, we made it fully around the mountain (albeit extremely parched) and reached the opposite side of the lake from our vans. The two options were: swim across the lake to the vans or bushwhack around the lake to the vans. I, of course, opted to swim.

Leggggs: Now that I’ve run with both you and JT, this doesn’t sound at all out of character, and in fact, to-be-expected. And I bet that swim was epic.
Aside from water, what’s some running gear you cant live without?

SM: Vaseline and Nipple Tape. Lifesavers.

Leggggs: Good call. Still talking gear, what are your fave shoes for road / trail / recovery / short runs / long runs, all that?

SM: The shoe that fits and feels comfy! I’ve tried many a shoe and whether I’m running road, trail, track, short, long… I just use trail shoes for all! 🙂 I always come back to Salomon. They make some of the highest quality and durable shoes, in my opinion. The tread is always super grippy and reliable, great, especially on technical terrain. Right now I’m rocking the Sense Ride 4’s I believe.

Leggggs: I love that minimalist mindset. I feel like I have a different pair of shoes for walking to the kitchen then to the bathroom…
Anyway. Do you have a quote you repeat to yourself mid-run when shit is getting real?

SM: You can. You will. This is fun.

Leggggs: Fun, man. That’s what it’s all about. If it’s not fun, why are we doing this, right? So, I’m curious your thoughts on my headphone/no headphone debate that no one outside of this blog is having.

SM: For non-scenic stuff like in Forest Park or general city running it differs based on the long run or short run. I like to listen to audiobooks or podcasts on long runs and I like pump up music for speedwork and shorter runs.

For scenic stuff in the mountains or along rivers, I leave the headphones at home.

Leggggs: Fair enough. I also like how you mention Forest Park as “non-scenic.” And speaking of pump-up music, what’s your go-to? What’s your perfect song?

SM: Music really tends to make me push my pace… so I only really listen on speedwork type runs:

  • For a tempo night run in the city when you need a good cry – Sigur Ros “Hoppipolla” (Instructions: listen until the end, push your pace with the beat. When it’s over… stop, put your hands on your head, breathe in the fresh night air and think about how good life is)
  • For feeling badass while running at the track – Radiohead “The National Anthem” (seriously…I feel like I’m a superhero on a mission when I listen to this… especially the first minute)
  • Full album from beginning to end for a 10k tempo: Macklemore and Ryan Lewis – “The Heist” album… it’s a solid album and almost every song slaps.

Leggggs: I cannot agree more about that Radiohead callout and subsequent feeling. That song. It just… it just goes.
On “going,” how do you get yourself on your feet and out the door for a run when you really don’t feel like it?

SM: Sometimes I don’t, haha. Usually, I try to look forward to the run as a way to release the tension and stress of the day (I tend to run more in the afternoon/evening)… so, rather than a chore, it becomes a medicine.

Leggggs: And what are some of your bucket list places to run?


  • The West Coast Trail, BC. 
  • Nepal.
  • Patagonia, Peru/Chile.
  • Table Mountain, ZA.

Leggggs: This whole interview so far has been positivity-laced, so to keep that going, what no-bullshit advice would you say to inspire a person to start running?

SM: Not many things in life have the ability to heal you physically, mentally, and emotionally all in one. Running is one of them.

Leggggs: Beautiful. Winding down now and so we get some shout-outs in, who do you have to thank for where in your running journey?

SM: I’ve had a lot of close and consistent running friends through the years who have given me a lot of advice and with whom I’ve had many adventures… They know who they are. But really, I’ve found the whole trail running community to be super open and inviting… there aren’t many big egos… and if there are, ultrarunning is hard and it won’t be long before they get a taste of humble pie. So I guess I have the trail running community to thank for keeping it real 🙂

Leggggs: And so we can keep tabs on you, what races are you eyeing in the near or not-near future?

SM: Hardrock 100 has always been out there for me as a “some day” race. I think doing a “Softrock” would be fun… where you just go do the course on your own, fastpacking style, and enjoy it all during the daylight hours. I’ve only done one 100-miler… and after that experience, I think it’s more fun to cut it up into shorter distances 🙂

Leggggs: Anything else you want to promote right now?

SM: I don’t have much to promote. I used to put on adventure photography workshops out in the field for aspiring photographers. I may try to pursue that more in the future if there’s enough demand. Also, film photography and development is a real passion of mine, and so I’m considering teaching some free workshops on that at some point. In the meantime, I’ll keep shooting and sharing the photography stoke as much as I can!

Here are some films I’ve made that Runners might enjoy watching:

  • Methods, an inside look at Nike trail runner Rachel Drake: LINK
  • One Step At A Time – Going for an FKT on the Oregon PCT: LINK
  • The Story of the HURT 100: LINK
  • Go Time – JT Lehman takes on the Mt. St. Helens FKT: LINK

Films I’ve made that Bikepackers and Adventurers might enjoy watching:

  • Rideable – 2 bikes, a surfboard, and 250 miles of goodness: LINK
  • From the Doorstep – Adventure doesn’t have to be far from home: LINK

Leggggs: Any parting shots for the Leggggs crew?

SM: My cheesy 2 cents: Every day we have a choice to be positive, to be kind, and to speak truth. Let’s be a community that supports each other, holds each other accountable, and builds each other up! A community is made strong when the weakest and the strongest work together as equals.

I’m excited for what you’re doing with Leggggs and can’t wait to see it grow!

Thanks so much for being a part of and helping build this amazing community, Steven! For those who want to follow along with Steven’s running and impeccable photography and videography skills, check out Steven’s:

Final note: As I was about to publish this, Steven sent me this amazing Alpenflo recap shot on Super8.

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