For me when I’m running, it’s about movement in nature”
When you meet an ultra-trail runner, you might have some expectations even if people who perform at that level of skill and endurance can appear to be their own subset of superhumans.
You might expect to talk about the training, the endurance, the gear, the great races, maybe the environment, but a conversation with Norwegian runner Patrick Stangbye defies those expectations.
To say he is thoughtful is an understatement. This is a man who approaches life from a philosophical stance, as passionate about aesthetics, art, climate change and the workings of the world as he is about exercise. Over the course of our conversation, we talked about forest bathing, about running with wolves as a genuine prospect rather than a movie concept and that time he crashed into a deer while doing interval training.
In Japan, there is this term, ‘*shinrin-yoku, - they do nothing in the forest, It's just sitting under trees. So we even know that there is something in the plants in nature, even on a physiological level, that is soothing and calming for us, even in terms of scent. So also for me when I'm running, it's about movement in nature.”
Patrick defines himself as an essentialist. He views running as a creative tool for the other parts of his life. In how, as a runner, you respond to your environment, and how and why, you make the choices you do about the clothes you wear or the routines you set up for yourself.
Sometimes identified by others as a minimalist because of his preference for a pared down color palette and his eye for curating a deceptively simple aesthetic, Patrick in fact rejects that term. While there is much about minimalism in architecture, for example, that he likes, he dislikes the idea of losing comfort. Also, as he says, he’s a product guy, one who values design and functionality, but as an essentialist, he is always seeking the core value of the things he purchases.
I love good product. I care about quality, I care about the storytelling. But it's maybe more the essence of the product that matters. ”
Running for Patrick is the activity that allows him not just to focus but to let his thoughts have a better flow. Moving in nature is much more than a training session or workout. For him, it’s an internal dialogue with the landscape itself. It’s also part of why he believes that people in the trail running community are more aware than the average person of the problems facing the environment and committed to trying to change things for the better. There is, he says, a strong sense of community in the mountains, in how they look out for each other and acknowledge in different ways that they share a sense of belonging to something larger than individuals or races or teams, a common language even if it’s not one that uses actual words.
Be respectful of your environment, but also try to have some sort of symbiosis or relationship where you are taking and giving at the same time.”
As committed as he is on a personal level to reducing his carbon footprint and being conscious about his own actions, he feels that more action is needed at government levels and from the large corporations and fossil fuel industries. Rather than putting all the pressure on smaller brands or individuals he would love to see systemic change, feeling that at grassroots level it’s as much about advocacy as action, though of course both are important.
Having the right mindset to succeed is often at the core of effective advocacy, and it’s that same approach that Patrick brings to his training, preferring to focus on technique and efficiency rather than the number of hours or kilometers he can fit into his week.
Even the best training plan couldn’t have prepared him for the night he crashed into a deer on a route he had run hundreds of times. A surreal moment, when after colliding, man and deer took a moment to just stare at each other in shock. For him, it was also a moment to reflect on how the forests and hills so beloved by trail runners are also home to all kinds of wildlife, and that we all share the same spaces.
Encouraging more people to get outdoors is important to Patrick as part of his larger concern that the world is headed in a strange direction unless we all slow down and connect better with the environment. Marathon runner Eliud Kipchoge who sees the future of humanity in running, inspires him. Kipchoge may be acknowledged as the philosopher of the marathon world, but Patrick Stangbye might just have his own claim to that title in the ultra-trail running one.
One thing we know for sure is that he is a true original to his very essence
I'm not really scared of anything, I mean, of course there's always a risk and you need to assess that, but I really have no fears.”