I’m Brianna, known around here as Spruce. I was introduced to Salty Running when I serendipitously met Laura Parson on an outdoor conservation trip in Utah this spring. The alluring combination of running and writing immediately drew me to the community, and I wanted in.
I grew up in Anchorage, Alaska, where my friends and I were always outside. Spoiled with endless trails and incredible access to the mountains, we became endurance athletes at a young age, continuously transitioning year-round between cross-country running, cross-country skiing, and soccer. These sports, especially running, became the backbone of our friendships: we were never together without a run, ski, or hike figuring into our plans. This continued even after we all dispersed around the country for college, reuniting for summers and holidays; a run always the default activity. Years later, we’re still best friends, and still spend most of our time together on the trails, sweating through one type of exercise or another.
After I moved to Colorado for college, and more recently, Seattle, Washington for graduate school, I maintained running as my exercise and stress management tool of choice, but began to add other outdoor sports to my repertoire, including ski touring, rock climbing, bikepacking, and mountaineering.
Although I was a fairly competitive runner in high school, my love for running and sports is now rooted in a passion for spending time in the mountains and covering distance and experiencing the landscape in a human-powered manner, rather than focusing on competition or speed. I’m happily a Jack-of-all-trades when it comes to outdoor recreation, where I can confidently, but at a mediocre level, participate in a variety of sports on the trails and in the mountains.
I prefer using the seasons to prioritize my activities for me, rather than assigning running (or any other sport) as my primary focus. However, running is my through-line activity – always in the background – and for better or worse, Seattle winters don’t require micro spikes or homemade screw-studded running shoes (is this just an Alaska thing?) to run year-round here.
Although the outdoors monopolize a lot of my attention, I’m actually a full-time scientist, currently pursuing a PhD at the University of Washington. I study infectious disease and immunology, and am working to understand our bodies’ cellular response to viral infections so that we can one day create vaccines for the diseases that burden global health. I’m also passionate about writing, science communication, and climate and ocean science, and have become increasingly invested in environmental advocacy as we face greater political and environmental damage: if we don’t make time now to protect our earth, we won’t have wild spaces to run/hike/enjoy later! When I finish my degree, I hope to merge my interests in global health, environmental science, and the outdoors in some sort of yet-to-be-determined career. Outside of school and the mountains, I love knitting, playing trumpet, and reading novels. I’m also quite obsessed with greyhounds, and have a retired race dog named Javier.
Running is one of the greatest joys of my life, but this is the part of the post where I have to come clean: I actually haven’t been able to consistently run in almost two years. What started out as some minor nagging hamstring twinges devolved into multi-year mystery sciatic nerve pain that has kept me off the trails, perplexed my providers and extremely frustrated me. However, just this summer, I finally received a correct diagnosis for the root cause of my nerve issues. I have hip impingement, where my femur head and hip socket are antagonistic and cause downstream nerve compression, due to both structural and functional imbalances.
Although this diagnosis scared me, I was relieved to finally understand the cause of this unexplained pain, and the targeted physical therapy and massage that I’ve since started has tremendously improved my symptoms. After many a deep-dive on the topic, I’ve read that hip impingement is incredibly common in runners and endurance athletes, although wildly under-diagnosed, but usually is completely manageable with the correct care and maintenance. With the goal of helping others with these run-halting symptoms (many of whom may not even realize they have hip impingement), I’d like to write a series on the recovery process, documenting what I’ve learned and my progression back to running. Unfortunately, I have become somewhat of a pro in sciatic nerve and hip physical therapy, so I might as well disseminate that knowledge to other runners. However, I’m hoping that this series will only last a few months, and I’ll soon be able to write about the amazing trail runs and races I’m enjoying around the beautiful Pacific Northwest.
I’m looking forward to reading and writing much more soon, and am excited to be part of the Salty community. There are no friends like running friends!