Ryan Keeling is a true chaser of stoke, a climate change mitigator, mountain peak explorer, and a believer in the pure and freeing facets of lacing up your shoes and going for a run.
I first came across Ryan Keeling when he tagged Leggggs in an Instagram post. First off, hell yes, thank you Ryan for the tag, but second, damn, dude, I am so stoked this happened. When I started Leggggs, I thought, “I’ll meet some cool people, probably. And there may be some learning opps along the way…” But as I continue this Leggggs project, I am continually and thoroughly blown away by not only the caliber of people I am fortunate enough to talk to but also the incredibly rich and engrossing stories they tell. And Ryan Keeling is a shining example of the ethos of Leggggs incarnate.
I could talk more about Ryan’s passion for running, community, the outdoors, summiting the impossible peaks, and doing everything with a captivating smile, but instead, I’ll give him the mic. Ryan, stoked you’re here. Let’s do this….
Leggggs: Ryan – So good to chat with you, man. Thank you for being here. As we always do, let’s start at the top with who you are and where we can find you online and otherwise. Then feel free to tell us what you do.
Ryan Keeling: Ryan Keeling | Seattle, WA / Instagram: @ryan.w.keeling / Strava: ryan_w_keeling
For work, I am the Sr. Manager, Technical Operations – GIS at DroneSeed.
We are a full-service reforestation start-up based in Seattle with a mission to make reforestation scaleable to mitigate the worst effects of climate change. Reforestation is incredibly spatial as you may imagine, so it is my job to ensure that we’re leveraging geospatial technology and GIS data (maps!) to help to get the right trees, in the right place, and at the right time. At DroneSeed, we do everything from cone collection to seedling production, aerial seeding via drone, aerial survey, and planning, and help landowners impacted by wildfire with project finance and conservation easements. I joined early days (<10 people) and have since watched the company grow significantly including acquiring the 130-year-old Silvaseed, a major conifer seed bank and tree nursery. It’s been exciting being a part of the company from the early scrappy days until now where we are truly making a difference by helping to plant millions of trees every year. Exciting things to come – give us a follow (@droneseed.co)!
For fun, I am an aspiring mountain goon who spends much of my time stoke chasing, bouncing from one outdoor activity to the next. Running is my primary activity and my daily go-to, but I also enjoy mountaineering. I have climbed several of the major Cascadia region volcanoes and mountains all over the cascades. Biking is great too, and I get out a few times a week to commute or cross train.
Last season, I picked up skiing after a few years of FOMO from my friends and absolutely loved it – definitely not something that I had access to growing up in the Midwest. Hope to do much more light alpine touring this year! When not active, I love a good road trip. My wife and I recently acquired a 1987 Volkswagon Vanagon Westfalia and have enjoyed taking that out to the mountains – nothing better than a van hang after a big adventure.
Leggggs: Damn. DAMN. Will make sure DroneSeed gets a follow and encourage everyone reading now to go ahead and do the same. I feel like you and Glenn should chat about chasing stoke through the mountains. Seems like a lot of similarities there.
Getting more into who you are as a person, what’s your personal mission? If you had to sum yourself up in one sentence, what is it?
RK: Lead a sustainable life with patience, empathy, and a sense of adventure.
Leggggs: And when did you first get into running? Why?
RK: It wasn’t long before I learned to walk that I got into running. Some home videos consist mostly of me running in circles around the backyard or at the beach. I was one of those weird kids who trained for the mile in elementary school during recess.
Baseball was too slow for me, and soccer was better, but I truly fell in love with running and haven’t looked back. It’s such a pure and freeing activity and allows you to see, do, and feel the world around you.
Leggggs: Yeah you definitely need to sync with Glenn.
What type of run gets you going most? What moves you, as they say?
RK: Big mountain runs are definitely my favorite! There is nothing better than getting to the high alpine, running ridgelines, filtering water from an alpine lake or melting snow, and soaking up mountain views. Yewww!
Leggggs: Love that shit so much. Only done a few bigger hills like this but the stoke and adventure of being up there… Nothin like it.
That said, tell me about your favorite run ever? What, why, where, how, who, when…. Etc. All that goodness.
RK: This year has been filled with some really good running. I was fortunate enough to join one of my running groups Cowgill Trail Collective this year for a lot of big days in the mountains.
Highlights: several runs in the Teanaway area, a Goat Rocks Wilderness weekend, and a Mount Saint Helen’s (Loowit) circumnavigation.
Maybe because it’s so fresh, but the mid-October Loowit circumnavigation was especially rad. I knew it was going to be a good day when my wife Liz and I rolled out our Vanagon to giddy pre-sunrise trailhead excitement. The day was pretty epic, with vibrant sunrise colors enhanced by smoke from the nearby wildfires, running through a powerful dust storm on the west side of the mountain, helping each other with route finding and stream crossings, seeing Liz and our other friends who were on a point-to-point – so good. It was such a great group too. We all took turns riding the highs and lows of the ultra rollercoaster and lifting each other up throughout the day. The trail is so diverse from boulder fields, to rope climbing drainages, big climbs, and flat and exposed sections (the Plains of Abraham was so fun!) and flowy forest sections.
A friend and rad human Bret Jorgensen, who you chatted with back in September, filmed us and put together a short film documenting our day. Check it out: Running the Loowit Trail with The Cowgill Trail Collective
We all took turns riding the highs and lows of the ultra rollercoaster and lifting each other up throughout the day.Ryan Keeling on keepin the group stoke high
Leggggs: Bret is so rad. Thanks for telling that so vividly. Can honestly put myself in that moment and feel equal parts FOMO and honest-to-goodness thrill.
And with that in mind, what has been the worst run of your life? What made it terrible and how did you push through (if you did)?
RK: Ohh geeze. There have been a few over the years.
One of the more recent memories sticks out. In the summer of 2021, despite being fully vaccinated, I got COVID and was hit pretty hard. That first day I was really sick – I had a super high fever and felt terrible. I didn’t want to give up on my run streak, so I took off my poofy jacket and wool blanket, double-masked up, and laced up my running shoes for a short run. It wasn’t fun and definitely high-up on the list for worst run of my life.
Leggggs: So that thing I said about FOMO and thrill, I can, without a doubt, say I feel the exact opposite about this. Do not envy you. But, man. Hats off to ya for pushing through! Keep the streak/dream alive.
And speaking of puffy jackets and keeping the streak alive, what’s some running gear you can’t live without?
RK: As a map nerd, perhaps the one thing that I wouldn’t be able to give up is a GPS watch. I love the mapping abilities and the data insights that are captured by a multisport GPS watch. I’ve recently upgraded to the latest Garmin Fenix 7x and I’m obsessed.
Less fun, but also essential for a fair skin northern European mutt like me, a sun hoody has been essential to keeping me from frying on big alpine days.
Leggggs: What is your go-to kit for running?
RK: Altra Lone Peaks trail runners, Darn Tough micro crew socks, Dirty Girl Gaiters, Patagonia Strider Pro Running Shorts or Boa Moove shorts (for Cowgill Trail Collective adventures), a Seven Hills Running Shop shirt, Ombraz sunglasses, and one of my many Territory Run Co. hats.
Leggggs: I just interviewed Brett at Territory… what a cool dude, too.
And on that note, too, what are your thoughts on the best shoes for road / trail / recovery / short runs / long runs, etc.?
RK: I’m a big fan of all Altra Running shoes. My favorites for the trail are the Lone Peaks and for the road, the Torin. In my basement, I have about 15-20 pairs of different pairs of shoes that I rotate through. There is nearly every model of Altra to Brooks Cascadia and Catamount to Solomon Wild Cross. It’s all about the type of run, the expected conditions, and how my body is feeling.
Leggggs: I can dig that.
Shifting gears a bit, and getting into the motivation for running, what’s a quote you repeat to yourself mid-run when shit is getting real?
RK: There are two that I use most often. One serious, and one funny:
“Remember, you chose to be here. You WANT to be here.”
The latter is something that Scott Jurek wrote above his signature in a book I had him sign 10+ years ago and it’s stuck with me.
Leggggs: Nice, dude. I like that whole, “you chose this” vibe. I think Bret even said something similar, but it’s such a good reminder.
Now when you’re talking to yourself on runs, are you doing this with or without headphones?
RK: No headphones! I like to get in my head and truly sense the world around me. Occasionally, like when I was working on running every single street of the Ballard (Seattle neighborhood), I would pop in headphones. The Dirtbag Diaries podcast is also pretty fun during a chill long run!
I like to get in my head and truly sense the world around me.Ryan Keeling on purposeful undistractions
Leggggs: Follow up – Pump up music for/after/before running? What’s your perfect song?
RK: Picking a single song is tough! Here are some of my favorites: ‘Sunflower’ by Vampire Weekend, ‘New Slang’ by The Shins, ‘I’ll Be Loving You’ by The King Khan & BBQ Show, ‘Are You With Me Now? by Cate Le Bon, ‘Dorothy’ by Polo & Pan, ‘Weekend Friend’ by Goth Babe, ‘Put a Flower in Your Pocket’ by The Arcs.
All of these songs have been added to the CONVERSATIONAL PACE playlist, btw.
Leggggs: YES. I don’t meet many people into King Khan. I knew we were destined to meet for some reason.
How do you convince yourself to run when you really don’t feel like it?
RK: Keeping up the motivation to run when I’m really not feeling it has been the biggest challenge of my current 1000+ day run streak. Turns out, it’s really hard to convince yourself to run when it’s dark, cold, and rainy, work has been rough, it’s late, you’re hungry, sore after a big race, etc. I’ve found that despite how much I resist or how long I sit by the door waiting to go outside, I never regret a run. Plus, the movement has proved to be so good for my mental and physical health.
When I was thru-hiking the AT, my buddy Quinn (trail name: Merry) and I (Pippin) hiked with Canadian Olympian Clara Hughes (Redfeather) for a few days. Such an incredibly athletic and beautiful human. Anyway, one of the things that she talked about and promoted is “movement is medicine”. That has truly stuck with me; and I feel that it helped to reinforce the running habit.
Leggggs: Movement is medicine. Perfect.
What are some of your most coveted bucket list places to run?
RK: Ohh man! SO many places. I’d love to live the runner dirtbag life and travel, run, and adventure around the world. I’ve always loved to zoom around Google Earth and examine maps and old globes and imagine visiting faraway places. High on the list is the Patagonia region of Chile and Argentina. I’d love to have my own running-focused version of Patagonia’s short film, Mountain of Storms | A Legendary Road Trip where Yvon Chouinard, Doug Tompkins, and co. load up in an old van and drive from California to Chilean Patagonia, surfing, skiing, and climbing along the way.
Does anyone want to come with me?
I’d love to live the runner dirtbag life and travel, run, and adventure around the world. I’ve always loved to zoom around Google Earth and examine maps and old globes and imagine visiting faraway places.Ryan Keeling on unending and insatiable wanderlust
Leggggs: I am in for that documentary/trip/adventure. Just let me know when and where. Kidding, not kidding. Sounds ideal.
On that motivation front and to help someone get into the stoke of running like you clearly have, what is some of your no-bullshit advice would you say to inspire a person to start running?
RK: Running has been so good to me, and I truly hope those who haven’t made the leap give running a try. Running gives you such freedom and access to community. For those just getting started or still on the fence, getting started is the hardest part. Even as a lifelong runner, I often struggle with the mental block of “is this run worth it”. It took me some time to realize that not every run needs to be this grand adventure, be a big distance, or fast paced. A run is still a run and should still be celebrated even if it’s running around the block. I never regret a run and I strongly believe, with time, you will feel the same. Get out and move – your body and mind will thank you!
It took me some time to realize that not every run needs to be this grand adventure, be a big distance, or fast paced. A run is still a run and should still be celebrated even if it’s running around the block.
Leggggs: That is so well put, man. Just get going. The hardest step is the first….which sounds like a cliche adage, but it’s popular for a reason.
I feel like this is going to be a hearty list, so let’s do it: Who do you have to thank for where you are in your running journey?
RK: I definitely have to give a shout-out to my parents back in Michigan who have always supported my running. Especially to my mom who signed me up for Cross Country in the seventh grade having no idea what it was. Thanks also to my wife Elizabeth who I met while running back at the University of Michigan – Dearborn Cross Country team. Elizabeth has been my default support crew and has made sure I’ve stayed alive on more occasions that I can count. The greater Seattle running community also is well deserving of a shout out, especially Seven Hills Running Shop and Cowgill Trail Collective who have truly welcomed me like family, introduced me to ultra running and have helped me grow as a runner.
Leggggs: I keep hearing such rad things about the Cowgill Trail Collective. You and Bret and a few others have mentioned them, then I started seeing the shorts all over IG. Stoked to hopefully run with y’all someday.
What races are you eyeing in the near or not-near future?
RK: I’ve raced a bunch in 2022 and now that the rain is back I am starting to think about my 2023 running and adventure schedule. I’ll definitely be jumping in a few Daybreak Racing events, Wy’east Trailfest.
Leggggs: If you weren’t running, what would you be doing to keep your body, mind, and soul active?
RK: It’s hard to think of a life without running! I hope my body holds up to truly be a lifelong runner, but when and if I slow down I’d make the transition to focus more on mountaineering, cycling, and long-distance hiking.
Leggggs: Anything else you want to promote right now? Be as shameless as you want, please.
It feels weird to say it, but I’d love to promote myself! One of my early goals for 2023 is to get support for my adventures through some level of sponsorship. If there are any brands out there looking for a mountain goon like me, I would love to chat!
Secondly, when I’m not busy running in the mountains or planning a reforestation project with DroneSeed, I’m working on a creative outlet through an online shop called Cascadia Mountain Goods. I’m just getting it set up, but I’ve been creating some fun mountain-themed goods. I’ve recently got into 3D printing and have been printing out the cascade volcanoes. It’s been fun to tie in my map-making expertise into celebrating my outdoor pursuits.
Leggggs: Any parting shots for the Leggggs community?
RK: Stay rad and keep chasing that stoke! Thanks for having me, Leggggs community.
The amount of excitement and sheer love of running and life pours out of this chat with Ryan, and I cannot thank him enough for spending time with us today. Please show Ryan and his community some love as well, and be sure to throw him a high five or like or follow of whatever/wherever.
Helpful Ryan links: