Meet a Rogue Expeditions Runner: Liz Sponagle

What type of people go on Rogue Expeditions running trips? It seems that everyone worries that they'll either be too slow, or too fast. That the mileage will be too difficult, or not challenging enough. That they'll be too old, or too young. That the other people will be super serious running geeks who talk about nothing but training, or that the other people will all be there to take it reeeeeeally easy. That they'll be the only person who doesn't know anyone else.

In truth, there is no "type." The trips attract all sorts of backgrounds, all sorts of ability levels and all sorts of motivations for being there, and the beautiful thing is that it works for just about everyone! To prove it, we are highlighting a number of our runners using their own words. Read on to find out about the running background, pre-trip hesitations, favorite trip memories and most surprising realization of a Rogue Expeditions runner.

Next up is Liz Sponagle, manager of A Snail's Pace Running Shop in southern California and one half of our first mother-daughter duo!

Liz closes out the last few (sandy!) miles to our camp in the Sahara.

Liz closes out the last few (sandy!) miles to our camp in the Sahara.

Which trip did you do and when?
Run Morocco: Gorges and Sahara (Spring 2016)

Describe your running background:
30+ years running and racing 5k-ultra, 10+ years triathlon/duathlon
(editor's note: she's a legitimate badass)

How did you end up on that trip? What led you to the decision?
A friend in Austin told me about Rogue Expeditions. One look at the website and I knew I wanted to go! The dates matched up nicely with my daughter's college graduation. We're both passionate about travel and running, so it was a perfect fit.

Any hesitations or uncertainties going into it?
None about the trip itself. Sadly, I was coming back from an illness and my daughter from an injury, so we were not in the run shape we're usually in. It was not a huge factor, but I was hoping to be able to run more than I did.

Did you know anyone else in the group beforehand? How was it traveling with a group of strangers?
I did not know anyone going in, but came out with a treasured group of friends.

What was your favorite run and why?
I truly enjoyed all of them for different reasons. Funny enough, I really liked the challenge of the the short steep switchbacks of Dades Gorge. The run through the sand into the camp in the Sahara was tough but so satisfying when I finished and the Todra Gorge was stunning.

Food is a huge part of any travel experience. What was your favorite thing that you ate?
Tagine, of course! Lemon Chicken and Beef with Prunes were outstanding.

Both travel and running have their ups and downs. What was your most challenging moment or issue during the trip? How did you overcome it?
As I said, I wasn't in the shape I'm normally in and wanted to be able to run more than I did, so it was hard at first to let that go and just enjoy where I was. There were some stellar runners on our trip, but I never felt judged by anyone. I normally run first thing in the morning, so the late morning or afternoon runs were hard for me to adapt to, especially getting nutrition in without upsetting my stomach. The upside is, that I have since taught my body to run with food in my stomach. I'll have to go on another Rogue trip to see how I do!

What surprised you the most about the experience?
The entire trip exceeded my expectations, from the lovely places we stayed, to the mind blowing scenery, topped off by the friendly and generous people we met along the way.

"Runcation" vs a race: what do you think are some of the key similarities and differences? Or are they even comparable?
It was like a destination race without the pressure. You want to be in the best shape possible to make the most of the experience, though even if you're not in top condition, the journey is an absolute pleasure. When people ask about my trip, they sometimes can't quite get the concept of traveling somewhere to just run...without a finish line.

Sum up your Rogue Expeditions experience in one sentence:
My trip with Rogue Expeditions was the difficult to attain, perfect combination of adventure, physical challenge, cultural immersion and indulgence with a warm group of fun people in one of the most beautiful places on the planet.

Meet a Rogue Expeditions Runner: Paul Broadway

What type of people go on Rogue Expeditions running trips? It seems that everyone worries that they'll either be too slow, or too fast. That the mileage will be too difficult, or not challenging enough. That they'll be too old, or too young. That the other people will be super serious running geeks who talk about nothing but training, or that the other people will all be there to take it reeeeeeally easy. That they'll be the only person who doesn't know anyone else.

In truth, there is no "type." The trips attract all sorts of backgrounds, all sorts of ability levels and all sorts of motivations for being there, and the beautiful thing is that it works for just about everyone! To prove it, over the coming weeks we will be interviewing a number of our runners about their running background, pre-trip hesitations, favorite trip memories and most surprising revelations.

Here is the take from Paul Broadway, who lives in London and is one of the quickest and toughest runners we know (seriously - he just finished 47th place at Marathon des Sables, his first stage race ever).

morocco run.jpg

Which trips have you done and when?
Run Kenya (October 2016) and Endurance Adventure Morocco with Fuego y Agua (March 2017)

Describe your running background.
I started running at university in 2013. Mostly cross country and did a few marathons here and there. I was a mid-pack runner but loved the social element at Uni.

How did you end up on your first Rogue Expeditions trip? What led you to the decision?
In December 2015 I signed up for the Marathon Des Sables (April 2017). I'd always wanted to give it a go and it was the first time I could afford such a big race. Since July 2016 I trained for that race and on all my holidays I wanted to be able to continue to train whilst also relaxing and seeing new parts of the world. I typed 'Running holidays' into Google and hit search...  The rest is history!

Any hesitations or uncertainties going into it?
Before Kenya I actually picked up a pretty serious calf injury and was unable to run for virtually the whole trip. I was initially gutted and thought that I shouldn't go, but in terms of enjoyment it made no difference. I still had the most amazing time with safaris, the company, the food and was able to hike all of the running routes.

Did you know anyone else in the group beforehand? How was it traveling with a group of strangers?
I knew no one for either trip and what is more, was the only person not from the Americas on both. It was ace, everyone comes from different backgrounds with different levels of experience and ages. Particularly on the Morocco trip, we all had adventure in our blood and the love of running (and a bit of friendly competition!) in common too. Meeting new people is one of the best part of the Rogue experience.

What was your favorite run in each destination and why?
Kenya - It wasnt actually a run but due to injury I walked just 1 lap of the famous dirt track at Iten and it was just one of the greatest feelings to tread where so many world famous athletes learnt to ply their trade.

In Morocco, Day 3 running 30km up to a remote camp in the hills was awesome. The route is a partial goat trail, unmarked on any map and not viewable on Google Earth. I felt like a real trailblazer running into the unknown, at my own pace, with a tough last 10km of steep incline to top it off.

Food is a huge part of any travel experience. What was your favorite thing that you ate in during each trip?

The food generally is absolutely 5 stars. In Kenya the breakfast spreads were just exquisite, and in Morocco the beef tagine was a true thing of beauty. In Morocco I enjoyed the food so much that I received the 'Bottomless' award at the end of the week for my ability to eat copious amounts of food at every single meal.

Both travel and running have their ups and downs. What has been your most challenging moment or issue during a running trip? How did you overcome it?
Being injured in Kenya. I dealt with it by relaxing, hiking the trails and taking in the amazing surroundings instead of thinking just about running. There was so much more on offer than just running.

In Morocco it was managing a knee problem. This is probably not the right answer, but I dealt with it by popping some painkillers and going out and tackling it head on. It hurt, but it felt incredible to come through successful on some tough and technical terrain!

Pick one trip. What surprised you the most about the experience?
Kenya - you don't have to be a good runner to enjoy a running vacation - you don't even have to run at all!

Runcation vs a race: what do you think are some of the key similarities and differences? Or are they even comparable?
They aren't comparable really at all. On the Morocco Endurance Adventure there were some tough parts where you had to dig a little deeper than on a light run but it's still nothing like a race.

In a race you'll be happy if you smash it, in a runcation you'll be happy regardless. It's pretty much as simple as that.

Sum up your Rogue Expeditions experience in one sentence:
The best conceivable way to meet similar people, keep up good training, see the world and eat until your stomach is about to burst!

It's Not a Race: The 2017 Endurance Adventure Morocco report

by Sean Meehan

This past winter, for the first time in 30 years, it snowed hard in the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco. Visiting at the end of March, the melt water had transformed the dusty brown hues of Moroccan countryside into a verdant sea of green. Our runners arriving in Marrakech for the 2nd Annual Endurance Adventure Morocco, co-produced by Rogue Expeditions and Fuego y Agua Endurance could have been forgiven for thinking they had gotten off the plane in the wrong country. Snow capped peaks on the horizon, sheep grazing contentedly in lush meadows, pine forests alive with birdlife, babbling mountain streams - all decidedly non-Moroccan images. Not mentioning names (Haruki!) but one of our group had informed his wife that he would be running in the Sahara desert for a week…Endurance Adventure had other plans.

Marrakech though, is a trusty antidote to such romantic rural daydreaming. Our adventurers were dowsed in the noises and the smells, bewitched by the labyrinthine alleyways, and beguiled by the hawkish salesmen. Rugs, pots, lamps, camels – all those things you don’t really need, you definitely can’t transport easily, but that you somehow just parted with money for to the grinning Berber salesman now packaging your wares. “I’m just going for a wander to shake off the jetlag…” Congratulations on your new rug.

Customary Marrakech misadventures aside and with a solid night of sleep in a quaint riad (family run guesthouse) we set off in our convoy of Land Cruisers over the High Atlas, soaking in the unexpectedly green views on the way. We got underway with an afternoon run on Day 1, everyone keen to shake out legs after long flights, 30 kilometres ending at the spectacular UNESCO world heritage site of Ait Ben Haddou – a restored kasbah (fortress) on the camel train road from the Sahara; backdrop of movies like Gladiator and Babel, and TV series Game of Thrones.

Day 2 began with a cultural challenge; mixing adobe from the local soil, straw and water – a fitting construction task in shadow of the kasbah. We inadvertently sparked a village turf war by apparently mixing adobe on the wrong property! So we hastily laced up our running shoes and set off on our run through the high desert to reach the beautiful Dades Valley. On this run we passed of nomadic herders still clinging to the traditional ways living in caves in the mountainside and tending to their goatherds. Kids cruised alongside us in beat up Crocs and flip flops, easily keeping pace whilst inquiring about the availability of bon-bons in exchange for guide services.

We bookended our run with another cultural challenge, this time harvesting alfalfa with the customary small billhooks. Our runners shared a patch of pasture that would take one local lady an hour to cut; needless to say, we spoiled Westerners are not so agile with billhook in hand. A few minutes alternating between hunkers and stooping with your nose in the grass hacking away and you are left in no illusion about the stamina of these Berber ladies who can go from dawn ‘til dusk weeding, watering, planting, tilling, harvesting, and hauling. The alfalfa eventually gets carried to the goats, sheep and donkeys living next to the homestead. The animals in turn sustain the humans and all seems to be quite in balance in the carefully manicured, terraced fields along the valleys of the Atlas.

Day 3 was the start of the High Atlas in earnest as we drove up to over 2000 metres and located a hidden trailhead. The trail-runners in the group were ready to flaunt their stuff after two days of dirt roads and rolling beat-up tarmac. Immediately we were out on to adrenaline inducing trails with precipitous drops on our right-hand side. Crossing scree fields and passing waterfalls it was hard to know whether to run and enjoy, or stop and get the camera out every ten seconds. 28km of twists and turns, ups and downs, took us through some of the most off-the-grid Berber settlements in Morocco. We passed fig orchards, alfalfa fields, almond groves all flanked higher up the mountain slopes by endless goat ‘pasture.’ A cardinal rule of trail running in Morocco is: ‘No matter how high you think you are, or how sketchy the trail, there is always, always, a goat somewhere above you...

Day 3 ended far from the reaches of tourism so we camped for the night next to a village gite – the local guesthouse for passing travellers or mule drivers. Our runners had helpfully carried firewood with them from the previous village 10km downhill! So we had a roaring fire, a belly-bursting tagine, and a clear night sky full of stars to while away the evening. A pack of less than welcoming dogs serenaded the tents for part of the night, but, dogs aside, the gite would be an ideal place to drop off the grid for a while à la Jason Bourne between movies…

No dropping off the grid for our group as they tackled 20km of mostly self-navigated trail on Day 4 to emerge out into civilization again. The run ended with a notable mood of elation from a truly amazing section of trail. Technical, loose trails, scrambling along ridgelines, and steep switch-backing descents; the type of run you wish you could carry with you like a video game and replay again and again. Civilisation had its perks though; cold Coca-Cola and salty potato chips – is there any finer way to end a long hot run?

A long serpentine drive (read: queasy!) through the mountains took us to the tourist mountain climbing hub of Imlil. The following day, Day 5, was to be the final day for some of our runners. They soaked up the final 25km of trails and dirt road. We horseshoed around a valley adjacent to Imlil, before climbing up and out of the valley and dropping into Imlil valley itself on the way home.

Jumu-ah prayers (the Friday prayers deemed the most important in Islam) rang out beautifully from the many minarets in the valley below. Our group was pursuing its own kind of spirituality on the trails high above as the trail switched between faint and non-existent on some steep exposed mountainsides. One of our runners, in response to the call to prayer in the valley below, said ‘I’m praying big guy, I’m praying,’ (to be heard in Texas drawl) as he navigated a particularly treacherous part of the descent. As ever the goats were upslope, amused by the clumsy 2-legs tottering along below.

The evening was spent visiting a local women’s cooperative to try our hand at making Argan oil; one the luxury exports of Morocco. Next was a visit to the local market to pick up supplies and then our runners tried out their culinary skills in making one of the standard tagines on which we had been feasting all week. An evening of red wine assisted storytelling ensued, but all to soon it was morning and time to thin down our group. As the Endurance Adventure officially ended and some headed for the airport, most of the group remained for the bonus add-on option of climbing Toubkal; the highest mountain in North Africa.

As noted at the beginning of the article, a winter of excellent snows had passed so the mountain was cloaked in snow down to 3000 metres. We had a mix of seasoned mountaineers and folks who were not entirely sure what crampons were. We stuck together as a group though and climbed through the early morning chill to the high windy ridge that that marks the approach to the summit. The heavier in the group weighted down the lighter as some started to lift off the ground in the blasting winds! An hour or so of being pummelled by the wind and exhilarating scrambling through the snow we stood by the metal pylon which marks Toubkal’s summit; 4167 metres or 13,671 feet above sea level. Face and hands stinging from the cold we delayed just long enough to snap a couple of pictures before scampering back down out of the wind. Last to leave the summit, your author took a quick check around the summit pylon to ensure that, yes, we were finally above all the goats in Morocco; no easy feat.

Congratulations to our 2017 Endurance Adventure Morocco runners. It is still #NOTARACE and no one cares how fast you ran or what your Strava says. But, here are the official awards:

Mary Alice ‘MA’ Foster (US) – winner of the Dirtbag award for doing the entre trip despite her luggage never arriving.

Candice Preslaski (US) – winner of the True Spartan award for completing some long overdue guilt burpees.

Haruki Minaki (Japan) – winner of the Mule award for most weight carried in his pack every day. Good luck to Haruki in his upcoming stage race in Hawaii.

Pat Singh (Turks & Caico) – winner of the Researcher award for signing himself and 2 friends up despite not checking our website at all…

Len Stanmore (Canada) – winner of Lazarus award for bouncing back from serious foot pain the first 3 days…

Susan Gardner (US) – winner of the Zen award for being the most chilled on the trails all week

Paul Broadway (Eng) – winner of the Bottomless award for outstanding tagine eating ability and huge running energy throughout. Good luck to Paul in MDS!

Kathleen Stabler (US) – winner of the Girl Scout award for having all kinds of tool, knick knacks and treats stashed in her backpack.

Chris Mendoza (US) – winner of the Comatose award for outstanding sleeping ability in the face of a rabid pack of dogs.

Joaquin Campos (US) – winner of the Goat Herder award for excellent skills in spotting the dangerous and threatening looking goats (zero attacks were noted)

Troy Carter (US) – winner of the Berber award for blending into the culture so much it is almost time to leave him behind.

Mairin Clare (US) – winner of the MVP for being an all round rock star and future winner of all kinds of trail runs and ultras…

Some key stats from Endurance Adventure 2017:

76 mi / 122km run in 5 days, plus another ~18 mi / 30km for those who did Toubkal. 30 mi / 50km on trails that do not exist on trekking nor Google maps.

9800 ft / 2985m of gain in 5 days, plus another ~7650 ft. / 2330m for those who did Toubkal

440mi / 705km driving through Morocco

123,456 pieces of bread consumed, 15 angry dogs avoided and 8 mud bricks produced

Endurance Adventure will return in 2018 with another trip to Morocco and a new destination to be announced very soon! Stay up to date by following Fuego y Agua Endurance and Rogue Expeditions on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, and make sure to sign up for email updates so that you are the first to know:

Get updates!

Next up for Rogue Expeditions: Adventure running trips to Italy/Slovenia/Croatia (May & September), Bend and Tahoe (July), Kenya (October), Morocco (October & November)


Next up for Fuego y Agua: ultra trail races in Nicaragua (May) and Costa Rica (October), Survival Run and ultra trail runs in Canada (August) and Australia (November).


Getting High: Tips for running at altitude

altitude running.jpg

by Allison Macsas

The mountains. For runners, it brings to mind beautiful scenery, cool summer temps, an escape from the pavement and the allure of magical fitness benefits. For many, it also brings a lot of apprehension about the altitude – will I be able to breathe? Will I get headaches? Will my legs be able to get me up (or even down?) the hills?

Nearly all of our running trips take place at high (or at least high-ish). Our runners take on elevations of up to 5500 ft. in Slovenia, 3500-5000 ft in Bend, 3000-7000 ft in Morocco, 6500-8000 ft. in Tahoe and 5000-8400 ft. in Kenya. Surprisingly, the trip that seems to feature the most mountains in photos – Patagonia – is the one destination with no real altitude to speak of. Most of our participants are traveling from sea level and are rightfully concerned about how to handle the “thin air,” so we thought others might be interested too. Here are some of our suggestions for an enjoyable running experience at altitude:

No, you aren’t out of shape. Or maybe you are! But, whatever your fitness level was at home yesterday is still the same here in [enter destination] today. What HAS changed is the atmospheric pressure. There is not actually “less oxygen” at altitude, but there is less atmospheric pressure, which causes oxygen molecules to be dispersed, which causes you to capture fewer of those molecules with each breath than you would at sea level. This is the cause of the shortness of breath (or, you know, gasping) experienced when walking up stairs or attempting to run your typical paces.

No, you probably won’t acclimate. The general belief is that it takes about two weeks to begin to acclimate to altitude, and up to several months to fully acclimate (meaning, your body begins producing enough red blood cells to speed up oxygen transfer). Unless you’re lucky enough to be stuck in the mountains all summer, the running probably won’t get much easier, nor will you gain any true physiological boosts. Sorry ‘bout that.

Find your pace. I promise, you WILL be slower at altitude. Drastically slower if any sort of inclines are involved (and I don’t know of many high altitude places where inclines are not involved!). It’s okay! Figure out how much you have to back off to keep your heart rate at a relatively normal level – it’s all about effort, not pace. If you cannot keep yourself from looking down at your watch, leave it behind or stick some tape over it. Pace does not matter. Effort matters.

Walk up, run down. This is a technique often used in ultra running, which is often done at high altitude. If your heartrate is shooting up every time that you hit a hill, leaving you gasping for air and feeling lightheaded, then it’s time to utilize this strategy. You’ll be far more efficient hiking uphill and running down than you will trying to run uphill only to end up requiring break after break after break. It’s all about forward motion… and you can still call it a run. Cause we said so.

But do take some breaks. Chances are, you are surrounded by gorgeous views. Take the time to take it in, and regain your composure in the process. Win-win-win.

Drink up. The humidity is low, the sun is strong and moisture is evaporating quickly from both your skin and your lungs. No matter how cool the air feels or how “short” the run, bring along a handheld or a hydration pack. And don’t forget the chapstick.

Sleep it off. Your runs will take a lot longer and you’ll be working that much harder when running, so you’ll tend to be extra exhausted afterward. You’re going to sleep deeply, and you’re going to want to sleep a long time – let it happen! This is not the place for late nights and pre-dawn alarm clocks. Save that for the city.

Don’t panic! Everyone handles altitude differently – fun fact: it’s a gene thing, not a fitness thing! – and there’s no way to know exactly how you’ll react until you get there. Some extra-sensitive people may experience minor headaches or significantly increased resting heartrates at elevations as low as 6000 ft., but it’s rare.  Most people can get to 8000 ft. (or well above!) before really noticing the effects at rest; most people have to go much higher before there is any risk of more serious conditions like HAPE or HACE. Other than a restless first night of sleep, we’ve never witnessed any ill effects on our runners in any of our destinations (note: this excludes those who climb Kilimanjaro. That’s an entirely different beast). If you’re coming from a hot, humid climate, chances are that you’ll actually choose altitude as the lesser of two evils.

So, relax. Slow down. Sip your water. And get excited about all of the great things that the mountains have to offer!