Forging Your Own Path
That ultra runner Stephanie Howe won her first attempt at the famed Western States Endurance Run, the first established 100-mile race, while pursuing her doctorate in nutrition and exercise science wasn’t a coincidence. Using her knowledge of what fuels the body to improve her time was always part of the plan.
Interestingly, as a young girl growing up in Minnesota, Stephanie hated running. What she loved was Girl Scout camp.
“What I remember most was getting to meet a lot of girls and getting to do all these outdoor things together,” says Stephanie, a Girl Scout for four years. “We went camping outdoors, and that was such a cool experience.”
It was in high school that Stephanie, now 36, began to enjoy running.
“I found friends in the cross-country kids. They instantly accepted me, a skinny 14-year-old with braces.”
A few years later, studying at Northern Michigan University, Stephanie took to skiing—with big results. She became a two-time All-American Nordic skiing and cross-country racer.
“In college I was still working on my relationship with running,” she says. “I liked it and had some success racing, but I wanted to pursue Nordic skiing.”
While doing graduate work at Montana State University, Stephanie found herself drawn to trail running. She moved to Oregon, where she earned her doctorate and worked as an adjunct professor—and she stuck to the trails for years. The year 2010 marked another key shift: Stephanie decided to run long distances professionally and work as a nutritionist rather than teach.
“I remember being on a backpacking trip two weeks before the semester was going to begin, and I had an epiphany,” she recalls. “It was super scary, but I decided then to quit my teaching job and open my own coaching and nutrition practice.”
Since then, she’s helped many clients with dietary and other health-related needs. And of course, there’s a lot of overlap in Stephanie’s loves of nutritional coaching and running.
“When I work with a client, I’m helping that person feel good about him or herself. It’s similar to what happens to me when I go out and run.”
She also endorses balance—in her own dietary choices and in her recommendations to clients.
“I’m not a restrictive eater. I say ‘eat real food’ and lots of it. Nutrition is important, but food should be enjoyable.”
Stephanie is equally thoughtful in planning her races. Her current goal is to compete in her most challenging race yet, most likely in Europe.
“As a runner, I’m always trying to push my limits,” she says. “I don’t like when something feels routine. It’s so cool to set out to do something you’re not sure you can complete. Because even if you don’t complete it, there’s so much to that story. Just going out and doing it and pushing yourself is the coolest thing.”
Specifically, Stephanie is seeking races that take longer and require problem solving and technical skill.
“I don’t race to check a box. The [races] I choose are well thought-out. I have to be inspired by a race or the terrain and, if I feel like I haven’t given it my best, I will go back until I feel like I executed it well and had a fun time.”
Girl Scouts of the USA and The North Face have partnered to develop 12 new Outdoor High-Adventure badges to inspire the next generation of female explorers. Stephanie Howe is featured in the Trail Adventure badge booklet for Ambassadors.