Callie Vinson Believes in Herself
This body-positive runner is partnering with Rising Hearts and GU Energy Labs to bring her self-belief to ultrarunning’s biggest stage: the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run
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The Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run has been a canvas for inspiration, competition, and perseverance for five decades. Runners from varied backgrounds come together each year to celebrate the simple yet powerful act of movement.
For Callie Vinson, this year’s Western States will serve as a celebration of her ten-year journey of personal transformation. In 2013, the thought of walking a mile for brunch tripped alarms for Vinson.
“One day, one of my friends wanted to go to brunch, and they were like, ‘It’s just down the street. We can walk there,’” Vinson recalled. “In my head, I was like, ‘There’s no way I can walk to brunch. It’s too painful. It was a mile away.’ And that was where I said, ‘You know what? I really need to make some sort of change.’”
Ten years and thousands of miles later, Vinson is showing everyone that change is possible if you believe in yourself.
This year, Vinson, 36, a body-positive runner from Scottsdale, Arizona, will be racing with a Rising Hearts and GU Energy Labs sponsorship. Rising Hearts is an Indigenous-led grassroots organization dedicated to uplifting Indigenous voices and fostering intersectional collaborations to pursue racial, social, climate, and economic justice.
“I couldn’t be more honored and grateful for the opportunity to run this,” said Vinson. “When I first learned about Western States at the beginning of my health journey, I immediately thought, ‘This race sounds insane, one hundred miles on trails. People aren’t sleeping. It just sounds impossible.’ And it’s funny because now we are so close to standing at the start line. I’m so excited and want to savor every step.”
From Olympic Valley to Auburn, California, Vinson will traverse the Western States Trail, passing through the traditional lands of the Nisenan, Washoe, and other neighboring Indigenous Peoples. This iconic race encompasses over 18,000 feet of climbing and nearly 23,000 feet of descent.
Building Kinship and Fostering Change
“Everywhere you go, you will always be on someone’s ancient and ancestral homelands,” said Celia Camargo, Director of Community and Purpose of GU Energy Labs. “We did not learn the truth of Indigenous histories, presence, or worldviews in school. Through partnering with Rising Hearts and supporting Callie on her journey to the Western States Endurance run start line this Saturday, I’m learning these histories of the Washoe and Nisenan communities, and am changing and expanding my perspective of the world.”
Awareness of Indigenous histories and worldviews underscores the importance of cultivating a respectful connection to the land.
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“If we see ourselves as relatives to the land and each other, we naturally have more care and compassion and act as if the land is a part of us,” said Camargo. “Being a good relative means acknowledging a respectful connection to the land you work, live, and play on. We’re so proud to support Rising Hearts and their Running on Native Lands initiative—a commitment to fostering inclusive and accessible outdoor experiences while acknowledging that the land we’re privileged to enjoy is stolen.”
The collaboration between Rising Hearts and GU Energy Labs represents a commitment to building kinship, understanding, and inclusivity. Rising Hearts spoke about the partnership and the importance of continuously improving and learning from one another.
“Callie is such a shining example of someone who exudes positivity,” said Rising Hearts founder and executive director Jordan Marie Whetstone. “She has an inspiring story to share about what motivated her to begin running, and a moment that changed her perspective and way of living to lead a healthier life.”
Vinson’s journey showcases her unwavering positivity and highlights her transformation, motivating others to lead healthier lives, physically and mentally.
“She’s an advocate for self-love and body positivity, something we need to see and hear more of in the running industry and in general,” said Whetstone. “She’s the athlete advocate we look for, want to support, and learn from. This is a continuation of what kinship-building looks like,” said Whetstone. “We are always learning from each other and looking for ways to improve for next time. We are just grateful for the kindness, patience, and support from those we have collaborated with in 2022 and now, 2023.”
Vinson’s experience at Western States is poised to create a ripple effect, inspiring runners and fostering positive change within the running community.
“Callie’s a true inspiration and exudes joy,” said Camargo, echoing Whetstone. “She speaks of the journey to find her confidence and the importance of advocating body diversity and inclusivity within outdoor spaces. We must love and appreciate ourselves and celebrate what our bodies can do.”
Most recently, Rising Hearts and GU Energy Labs have joined forces to capture and share Vinson’s inspiring journey in the Know To Run series. This film is being made through grassroots fundraising efforts. They have documented Vinson’s training to compete in a 100-mile trail race, championing body positivity, representation, accessibility, diversity, and inclusivity. The film also embodies the essence of acquiring knowledge, implementing what we learn, and practicing respect as good stewards of ourselves, each other, and the land.
Vinson’s Road to the Big Dance
“This is the first 100-mile race I have trained for with a proper plan and a coach,” said Vinson. Coach and partner Scott Traer was a top-ten finisher in last year’s Western States.
“While I’m training to just finish Western States with the back-of-pack runners, he’s training to compete with the leaders,” she said. “It’s been exciting to share the journey with someone else, even if our training looks very different. In the past, I would just do whatever felt right. But having a structured plan and a coach for this training cycle has made me feel really positive about the entire process.”
Vinson’s training focus for this cycle has been twofold: First, honing in on finding a sustainable pace for the uphills while, second, dedicating substantial time to running form for the downhill sections.
“For this training cycle, we really focused on finding that smooth and slow pace for the uphills, and then lots of practice was just running form for the downhills because if you don’t have a great form on the downhill, that’s going to tear your quads up, and it’s not going to be a good time,” said Vinson.
Reflecting on last month’s training camp, Vinson fondly remembered the experience of running on the Western States course alongside a community of fellow runners, immersing themselves in the energy and camaraderie of the trail running community.
“She’s an advocate for self-love and body positivity, something we need to see and hear more of in the running industry and in general.”
“It was so magical,” Vinson recalled of the training camp. “Just being out on the Western States course with all these other runners feeling the energy of the whole trail community, and just exploring the lands. I loved how it wasn’t just people in the race at the camp, but all types of runners who may have been training for a different race or planning to pace a friend for the race.”
Vinson highlighted the significant efforts made by Rising Hearts and GU Energy Labs to advance the sport while fostering awareness and understanding of Indigenous cultures and history.
“What Rising Hearts and GU are doing to progress the sport and educate runners on Indigenous cultures and history, I think it’s so important to build a more inclusive and diverse running industry,” explained Vinson. “The fact that I get to play a part in this movement, teaming up to continue to build a more inclusive and diverse community, and also putting my spin on it with body positivity, I think it will be so incredibly powerful for us three to come together and share this journey at Western States and continue to raise the voices and the communities.”
In a broader context, this aligns with Vinson’s message with others, encouraging individuals to pursue their dreams and embrace endeavors that may initially seem unfamiliar.
“You just have to believe you’re capable of whatever you want to get out of life. This isn’t a rehearsal for another life,” said Vinson. “This is it, so if you just believe in something that you really want to go after, if there’s something that’s in your heart that you want to try or you’re thinking, ‘This isn’t me, but I want to do this,’ go after it. Believe in yourself because you have what it takes to get it done. Just like Western States, it might take everything you’ve got, but you definitely have what it takes.”