As the weather warms up all we want to do is be outside and forget about working. There’s also the urge to get a bit more fit for summer. So, why not do both? That’s where Animals Athletics, a new-ish outdoor running company, comes in. The “animals” train in Forest Park and most of its’ members run ultra-marathons. Oh you haven’t done an ultra-marathon? We haven’t either, FYI that means 40+ miles people. Even though it sounds extreme, Willie McBride and Yassine Diboun, founders of AA, are some of the most laid back and down to earth guys you will ever meet. Why don’t you meet them…
E+E: How did Animal Athletics begin? Tell us a story about the inception.
Animal Athletics: The name and a big part of the core philosophy was founded and developed in the SF Bay area of California. I (willie) was a year and a half out of college and was living in San Francisco and working at an elementary school in the North Berkeley when I met Tony Barbero. Inspired by the views of the Marin Headlands and Mt. Tamalpais from the school, we soon began biking, hiking and running increasingly long distances and having thrilling and exhausting adventures through the hills and coastal mountains, and then soon after through Yosemite and the Sierra Nevadas. We felt like animals and reveled in raw and wild experiences in outdoors; we were in it for the love of it, to feel free and fit and have fun. We wanted to find a catchy name for our two-man crew and soon “Animal Athletics” was born.
For those years in California Animal Athletics was a philosophy and a way of life for us, but as a business it was a distant dream. It wasn’t until I moved to Portland in 2011 and met Yassine Diboun did the dream finally develop into a reality. Yassine’s experience, wisdom, positivity and good nature was immediately apparent and soon we both knew we’d made a good match. The time was right, we shared similar visions and passions, and so we went for it, wanting to share our love for these pursuits with others. We knew there would be major challenges ahead but, as long distance mountain runners of course, we’re not the types to shy away from daunting tasks. We launched almost exactly 1 year ago (May 2012), and it’s been a great adventure and learning experience ever since!
We’re coming upon our one-year anniversary and so far things are going extremely well and we couldn’t be happier about the amazing community of people we get to work with! It’s all about the love…
E+E: You do more than run through Forest Park, right? Tell us a little about what’s new with the Animal Athletics family.
AA: Oh yes, we do much more than run through Forest Park! We should say though, you could do a lot worse than to be running through the largest urban wilderness park in the country. We’ve got a few exciting new offerings for 2013. First off we’ve started working with corporations around Portland to implement group fitness classes for the employees. So far this has been a huge hit and we, not to mention all the employees, are loving it. We’re really excited about doing this and the potential to have huge and meaningful impacts on people’s health and corporate wellness.
We have several awesome mountain trips ahead in 2013. We’ve set it up so that there are two kinds of outings that we offer: our Guided Hiking/Trail running Trips and our “Community Adventures.” Our Guided Trips are 7-15 mile long routes and are designed for people with less experience in the outdoors who want to be lead by experienced guides and introduced to some of the classic, local trails in the Columbia Gorge and the Mt. Hood National Forest. These trips are really fun–hiking the uphills and slow running the downs, stopping to enjoy the views often–and bring together many wonderful folks (groups max out at 10 participants and two guides.)
Our “Community Adventures” are a little different as they are non-guided and non-profit. These outings are for experienced hikers and trail runners who have the fitness and ability to lead themselves safely through the journey (and do not need or want guides), but don’t want to deal with the necessary logistics of planning the trip on their own. There is a suggested donation to cover the group costs: van rental and gas, post-adventure meal, and so on.
All our trips and Community Adventures so far have been really great, we love getting into the mountains with good people! (Check out our blog for pictures of some past adventures.)
E+E: Marathon season has already begun across the country, but what races are you guys most excited about in the PNW?
AA: There are so many awesome races and events in Oregon and the PNW including numerous local ones right in Forest Park. I am most excited about the Mt. Hood 50, the White Salmon Backyard Half Marathon, the Volcanic 50k around Mt. St. Helens, and many more. Some of our good friends are race directors in Portland and put on many of these events. We sponsor some of the events so a few races we’ll be running and others we’ll be volunteering and helping out. My big race of the year is a 120 mile trail race through the mountains in British Columbia in August…looks like it will be stunningly beautiful!
Yassine is psyched about our local Trailfactor 50k in Forest Park on Memorial Day in May and then for his big race of the year, the uber famous Western States Endurance Run (100 miles.)
Besides all the races we’re doing we are both psyched for a long season of adventuring, guiding, training friends and clients and much more…hopefully we’ll be able to get some sleep!
E+E: Collectively, the E+E team can run about 7 miles, on a good day. Are we fit enough to join the “animals”? (Keep in mind, we have never experienced the “runners high”)
AA: The philosophy at Animal Athletics is about being all-inclusive, open to working with all levels of people, no matter what their level or their goals. Our aim is to “free the animal within” whether that means running 6 miles or 60 or not running at all! Since starting our group training classes in corporate settings we are now working with a much wider range of people and fitness levels. Some of our clients are dealing with past injuries and/or health issues and also trying to combat the toll of sitting at a desk and working at a computer. It’s progression and improvement that is most satisfying to both the client and the trainer, so it doesn’t matter where you start or where you end but how far you were able to come. We want to help people and make them feel healthy and happy.
A good place to start running more and getting involved with our community is to join of our free get-togethers. We have group runs every Wednesday at noon (the “High Noon Hill Climb” meeting in the middle of Pioneer Square) that ranges from 4-6 miles (all paces welcome), and every Thursday night at 6 p.m. (meeting at a rotating location) where we go out for food and drinks afterwards. Lately the social runs have been awesome, with big groups of rad folks coming out to join in the “active socializing.”
Personal training and coaching is a great option for anyone with the desire for a more structured approach to health and fitness, regardless of goals. We are all about customizing and tailoring a training plan that fits perfectly for you and your schedule, your budget, your life in general. Some people don’t want to run a step, they just want to get fit and feel healthy…that’s fine; we train climbers, runners, bikers, swimmers…anyone at all!
E+E: Funniest thing that has happened on the trail. Ready, go!
Willie McBride: I always find it funny when I picture myself alone in the woods at night running along making hooting and hollering noises to alert any animals of my approach as I’ve done countless times. It’s spooky to see sets of eyes glowing at you through the forest and so you shout and scream and then realize how funny and scared you sound. Falling down can be sort of funny if you don’t get hurt!
Yassine Diboun: One evening at dusk I was running leisurely down the Marquam Trail just behind my friend Amy when all of the sudden something happened that I will never forget. In a split second I ducked down as I ran because something landed on my head. My first thought was that someone threw a fleece blanket on my head because of how soft it felt. I could feel the silky underbelly of the bird on my bald head, and I also felt the wings push off of the side of my head as it flew up into the air. This happened so quickly, but as I looked up I saw a large bird fly away from me. It landed on a tree perch and stared at us with it’s big eyes and we realized it was a pretty decent sized owl! Amy laughed out loud hysterically as I yelled obscenities through the quiet forest. I couldn’t believe what had happened and to be honest I was a little scared of another altercation.
Some time went on and I told many others of my experience and some thought that maybe it was some sort of spiritual connection with the owl. I got home and searched online about “spirit animals” and meanings and symbolisms for these encounters thinking that maybe I was “special”. I soon realized that it was a classic characteristic of young barred owls who are protecting their nests, and that it happens somewhat often to hikers, runners, and other animals getting too close to their dwellings, and that the owls can get more aggressive at certain time in their lives, or times in the year. Other people have reported getting lacerated by the talons and having to get stitches so all in all I feel pretty lucky to escape without any injuries, and I have one hell of an owl story to tell!
Check us out! Hang out, go for a run, have a chat, get to know us, ask us questions. We’re cool and friendly and about as down-to-earth as they come, you’ll dig the vibe of Animal Athletics we’re sure!
Photos courtesy of Willie McBride