On April 30, professional trail runner Gina Lucrezi and boyfriend Justin Patrick Keller locked up most of their belongings in storage and hit the road.
Although they were jumping on the recent #vanlife trend in their tricked-out 2016 RAM ProMaster 2500 cargo van, their intent was to spend several months touring the good ol’ US of A while spreading the gospel of trail running. They bought the vehicle used and worked for six weeks to convert it into livable space, adding things like insulation, flooring, sleeping quarters, more storage space and a functional kitchen—including a sink, a two-burner stove and a compact refrigerator. The goal of the road trip? To share the vibe of Trail Sisters, the online journal Lucrezi launched in 2016 to promote education, inspiration and empowerment for women in the outdoor space with a focus on trail running.
“We’re full-on van people,” jokes Lucrezi, who also works as a promotional specialist and team manager for Ultimate Direction, and as the team manager for Vasque footwear (both of which jobs she can do from the road). Keller ended his role as sales director for Ultimate Direction just before the road trip kicked off, and is helping Lucrezi with the back-end of the TrailSisters.com website. And Keller, mostly by watching YouTube videos, handled the building-out of the van, and continues to make updates.
The pair has made tour stops at specialty running stores and outdoor shops in cities they visit, where Lucrezi puts on a presentation based on the local running community’s interests. She presents about community, camaraderie, empowerment, safety and motivation. In certain locales, like in Bozeman, Montana, she has local runners like ultramarathoner Nikki Kimball be part of the presentation.
“We talk about the current state of the trail running industry,” says Lucrezi, “what role women are playing, what products are available, equality issues.” Of the latter, she implores that she’s not trying to stir up trouble or point fingers (she recently wrote about the inequality of men’s versus women’s pay from sponsors and in prize money). Rather, to “give women opportunities to speak up, to strengthen empowerment.
“Women are the leading consumers in outdoor sports, but there’s not that much out there for them in terms of educational pieces, promotional pieces. I want to get the conversation going,” Lucrezi says.
Lucrezi was a track athlete in high school and college (winning an NCAA Division III title in the indoor 1500m as a junior at DeSales University) but she caught the trail running bug after graduating while working for the United States Olympic Committee in Colorado Springs. She started out running short-distance races but eventually moved up to 50K, 50-milers and 100-mile races too. She’s able to offer tips from her years of trail and ultrarunning experience, which she says newbie trail runners are eager to hear.
“It boils down to the fact that a lot of women are scared of the space,” she says. “I try to educate them. Once they have answers to what they’d do in certain situations, they feel more confident and empowered.” One tip? Make eye contact with people you pass while running urban trails. “That way, people know you’re aware of their presence, and if you get hurt on a trail, that person might remember seeing you and be able to send help, if need be,” she says.
On top of giving presentations at running stores and outdoor shops around the country, the Trail Sisters van has traveled to a handful of races, including Colorado’s Leadville Trail Marathon and Hardrock 100, as well as the Cradle to the Grave 30K in Pisgah, N.C. In Silverton, Lucrezi hosted a panel with top female competitors to talk about the women of Hardrock, the history of the race, and answer questions for the audience about training, nutrition, gear and more.
And amid miles on the road, giving talks and hosting panels, Lucrezi is training and racing for her own races. Getting in substantial trail miles in new locations has been challenging, but doable, Lucrezi says.
“For instance, there are no hills in Virginia Beach!” she laughs. Aid from local runners has been paramount, however. Local runners led Lucrezi and Keller to great sections of the Appalachian Trail in Virginia, and on the 10 miles of trails in Percy Warner Park in Tennessee. Some of their other favorite routes include The Enchantment Loop in Leavenworth, Washington, Ruby Crest Trail in the Ruby Mountains outside of Elko, Nevada, a route up and down Lewis Peak near Ogden, Utah, and Sewanee Perimeter Trail in Tennessee.
They’ve slept in the van during most nights, but they’ve also camped outside on occasion, too. They make most of their meals from the van and do laundry when and where they can, either at laundromats or at friends’ houses on the road.
The piecemeal approach to training seems to have worked out just fine. During a return trip to Colorado in early July, Lucrezi raced—and won—the Silver Rush 50-Miler in Leadville and returned in late August to finish ninth among women in the Leadville Trail 100.
What’s next? More miles on the road, more tour stops, more races. And more refurbishments to the van. Lucrezi and Keller plan on kitting out the vehicle with luxuries like pull-out trays for their bikes, and additional drawers. “Space is at a premium,” she says. The two might park their mobile home/office in Carbondale, Colorado, in the fall for a more permanent stay. But for now, the wheels are rolling. Says Lucrezi: “I like the gypsy lifestyle.”