A Conversational Pace – Renee Janssen on community, history podcasts, swollen tongues, and 24/7 sweat & dirt.

Renee Janssen is the co-owner and race director at Go Beyond Racing, and Founder/Director at Trail Mix Fund.

Back in April, after I first registered for the Haulin Aspen trail marathon, I went down a rabbit hole, or maybe opened Pandora’s Box (?) a bit, on finding more trail races to run. That’s sorta kinda how I found Alpenflo, but it’s most definitely how I found Go Beyond Racing

I remember thinking, “Well, if I’m gonna drive 3 hours to Bend, I might as well make the most of it and see if there’s a race at Smith Rock or something. Plus Craig has talked about that race a million times, so I should check it out.” (Craig rules, btw.) Between rewatching every Always Sunny in Philadelphia episode, taking my professional break from the 9-5 life, slipping in  a daily 15 miles of running, and somehow getting really good at making scrambled eggs (I was a trainwreck up until this summer), I started peepin’ the Go Beyond site to see just what the hell they had going on over there. 

Dig, dig, dig and I see that Go Beyond is responsible for the Portland Trail Series, which hit my to-do list after finishing my first run in Forest Park. Also, and maybe even cooler (just as cool), has to be their Lastest Not Fastest “race”: A last-person-standing trail race where runners complete a 4.5-mile loop every hour at Tumalo Canal Historic Area in Central Oregon. I want to do it, but biffed on the timing so will have to wait until next year. In the meantime, we’re going to chat with Renee Janssen, co-owner and race director at Go Beyond Racing as well as the Founder/Director at Trail Mix Fund about an exploration for wildflowers, an unexpected love of History-based podcasts, trail stitches, and another nod to the importance of community (sensing a huge, and unsurprising, theme here). 

Leggggs: Renee – Thank you so much for agreeing to be a part of the Conversational Pace. Excited to have you. As we do, let’s start with a quick intro, and a bit more about yourself.

Renee Janssen: I am Renee Janssen, @go_renee and @gobeyondracing and at the start and finish line of every Go Beyond Racing race. I am the Co-owner and race director at Go Beyond Racing, and the Founder/Director at Trail Mix Fund.

Leggggs: So glad you’re here. Alright, so, your personal mission: Something that sums you up. What is it?

RJ: I don’t really have one but I believe in being kind and doing good, and getting sweaty and dirty as often as possible.

Leggggs: That is definitely one. Dig it. What brought you to running? Why’d you get into it and when?

RJ: I started running after college. The company I started working for had a Hood to Coast team so I joined the team. I ran roads for a while, got involved with the Red Lizards (a Portland running club), eventually did a couple marathons. I knew I needed to mix things up instead of just pounding pavement all the time and discovered Adventure Racing and that was my thang for a while. I really was passionate about that sport and may still be doing it if I didn’t become a mom (priorities changed). After my kids were born, I got into trail running and haven’t stopped. 

Leggggs: That Hood to Coast race… it’s the stuff of lore. It works itself into so many running stories, I feel like. Or people bring it up somehow. Truly dazzling.

Between the pavement pounding, adventure racing, and trails; what type of run gets you going the most?

RJ: Give me a mountain trail with wildflowers. Throw in some good downhill and I’m in heaven.

Leggggs: Sounds ideaaaaaaaaaaaaal. On that note: Favorite run ever – Where, when, who, why? All that good stuff.

RJ: This is an impossible question for me. I have so many favorites.

The Salmon River trail outside Welches is an all-time favorite. I enjoy taking people on this for their first time. The giant trees, the river flowing beside the trail. There’s just something about this one that I connect with. I also really like the Yocum Ridge trail up Hood. That view when you pop out near the top is so incredible. The Loowit around Mt. St. Helens is also on top (our Volcanic 50 course) – I love the different environments you go through as you make your way around the volcano. Gunsight and Surveyor’s Ridge, that are part of the Wy’east Wonder race, are also favorites. I’ve put in many miles on the Eagle Creek trail in the Gorge. Just too many good trails to pick only one.

Leggggs: I’m trying to be difficult with that question 🙂 . But I love asking, especially local peeps because it clues me into new spots I may not have heard about yet. Case in point: Yocum Ridge. Now to be equally as difficult: What has been the dreaded run / the worst?

RJ: This question stumped me.

Sure, there have been runs I didn’t enjoy as much and many I complained about during. But I have forgotten them because there are so many good ones. I guess if I had to name one, it was a Mt. St. Helens circumnav on the Loowit trail one hot summer day where I ran out of water. Todd had brought some iodine tablets so we could filter and drink from the streams, but I just can’t stand that taste. I went without until my tongue felt huge and stuck to the roof of my mouth when I finally broke down and drank some of his.
But that is really more about a bad moment during a run. That run was still so fun. Doing it with several friends, eating all the huckleberries, laughing together as we laid down creekside and trailside a few times because of the heat. I suppose my worst run was a little one from the house one morning where I tripped and landed on a piece of concrete buried in the trail and sliced open my knee pretty badly. I had to call Todd to come get me because I was dizzy and felt like I was going to pass out while walking home. Ended up getting 11 stitches!

Leggggs: Definitely a bit of a skin crawl thinking about concrete buried in a trail. ::SHUDDER::
On the topic of being prepared, though, what is some gear you cannot live without?

RJ: I’m a running pack girl. I take pictures on my runs so having a pack to stash my phone in is critical. Plus, I get cold easily and often so I like to have a pack to carry a coat and gloves. I find it so much easier to carry my water in a bladder on my back than in bottles in my hands. 

Leggggs: I only recently got acclimated to the running-pack life. Once you get over that initial, “Oh something is there,” it’s oddly quite comforting.
Now on the subject of shoes. This has been way more varied than I thought with past conversations, and that just shows my naivety, I suppose. What are you wearing?

RJ: I like and only own Nike trail shoes. I prefer the Pegasus for the extra cushion these days but run in the Wildhorse often.

Leggggs: Easy as that. Love it.
So when things are getting real during a run, what’s something you repeat to yourself to pull you through the hard parts?

RJ: There’s not one single mantra. It varies depending on the run and my focus. Sometimes it’s about leg turnover so I keep my speed up. Other times I’m telling myself to run my own race and not get caught up in what others are doing. Or I’ll keep reminding myself that it will feel good to finish knowing I gave it everything I could.

Leggggs: Run your own race. I 100% stand behind that and adhere to it.
Now for the dividing line: Headphones or no headphones when running?

RJ: I was a no headphones girl for a really long time, as I preferred to be in the moment and appreciate nature around me. But this spring while training for a race on my own a lot, I really got into listening to podcasts on the Wondery on my long runs. Didn’t know I like history podcasts, but I guess I do!

Leggggs: Sorta bleeds into this question: What’s your pump-up music like?

RJ: We [Go Beyond] like to play Thunderstruck by AC/DC or Ozzy’s Crazy Train at the start of our races. Dog Days Are Over by Florence + The Machine is probably my favorite. 

Leggggs: Alright. Florence making another appearance to the Conversational Pace. I gotta listen to them more…
To stay pumped up, or maybe when you don’t feel like it, what do you do to convince yourself to run when you really don’t want to?

RJ: I’m actually really terrible at this. Really bad. For me, I need to have a goal, a race to train for otherwise I’m the first to say skip it. However! If I am digging deep to get out the door, I remind myself that I never regret going for a run.

Leggggs: Same, same, same. And speaking of goals, where are the bucket list places you want to run?

RJ: Hut-to-hut run in the Dolomites in Italy. Been a dream for way too long; need to just make that happen.

Leggggs: That sounds absolutely epic. I hope you get there! And to maybe inspire others to dream big, what no-bullshit advice would you give. to someone looking to take up running?

RJ: Just start, and find a community. Really, the people in trail running are the best part of the whole thing. It may take a few group runs and some social media digging, but I guarantee that there are people you’ll meet that will become such an inspiring and important part of your life, and it’ll be worth the effort you put into it. You’ll go places you never knew about and develop a confidence in yourself you didn’t know was there.

Leggggs: I did NOT realize how important community was/is to running until very recently. Sounds like a no-duh, but I’ve just been hitting the streets solo for so long. Been awesome to find people that support one another. (No shit, Will…)

Winding down a bit, who do you have to thank for where you are in your running journey?

RJ: Definitely my husband Todd. My running journey is about others’ running journeys. Starting Go Beyond Racing and putting on races together with him gives me so much joy and inspiration. I never anticipated owning my own business, let alone one about running, but it has been the best thing ever. And now that my kids are teenagers and able to help out at the races, it just brings me so much joy.

Leggggs: My running journey is about others’ running journeys. Love this so much. What races are you eyeing in the near or not-so-near future?

RJ: With Go Beyond’s race schedule, we have races and events just about every week from May to late October, so my personal races have to be in early spring or late fall. I had a good race this spring and think I should go out while on top. Kidding! I am not currently signed up for anything so probably should do something about that. I generally don’t like to repeat races because there are so many out there and so many places to see. Guess I need to figure something out. Any recommendations?

Leggggs: Speaking of Go Beyond, what races do you want to shed some more light on?

RJ: I’d like to encourage any new trail runners to try a Portland Trail Series by Go Beyond Racing. These races are low-key events that happen on Wednesday evenings in Portland’s Forest Park and are really a good way to get introduced to the sport and start meeting and connecting with that community. We’ve watched people, over the years, come to these races as their first trail race or first time running in Forest Park, worried about being the last finisher. And sometimes they are, but usually not. And they do a few more races and then they try a longer race, and another, and before long, they are running their first ultra distance.

And for those out there who have already got some trail racing experience and are thinking about their first 50K or 50-mile or even 100-mile, we really love seeing and helping people achieve these goals and have a lot of races where you could make that happen. The nearest opportunities are Elk-Kings 50K & 25K, which is coming up this week, and Smith Rock Ascent (at Smith Rock State Park) is in March next year. Lots more on our website.

Leggggs: I will have to get out to that Smith Rock Ascent. Love that part of the state.

Any parting shot for the Leggggs community?

RJ: I’d like to share that the Trail Mix Fund is out there and people should not be shy about using it. It’s a non-profit organization working to improve diversity in trail racing. It pays the registration fee for people from the BIPOC & LGBTQ+ communities and/or for those who just cannot afford to race. Anyone can apply. Anyone can donate too.

I can’t thank Renee enough for sharing her time with us today. The sheer amount of positivity and inclusivity coming through here is beyond compare. I haven’t met many runners that have treated the sport/life as an exclusive cool-kids-club (that’s not to say I haven’t met any… you know who you are), but the reinforcement of community through Renee’s words here is perfect.

For more information and to follow along with Renee’s adventures:

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