Faith E. Briggs: Ultra-runner, Ultra-advocate

By: Grant Perdue

Sitting along the Oregon Coast, Faith E. Briggs bounces between endless phone calls, meetings and entertaining Norrie, the Swiss Shepherd amalgamation who keeps losing her ball under Briggs’ new Honda Element. In short, Briggs is always running around, and in her new film, “This Land,” she runs through her journey of meshing professional ultrarunning with social and environmental activism.

Q: What inspired you to create the film “This Land?”

When I lived in New York, I felt like there were tons of headlines on what was happening with the national monuments and if it wasn’t clear what was going on. Our goal was to figure out how to create a sense of place that would maybe make people pay more attention than they would with just the headline, if they understood more about what the headline meant. I felt like I was proof of concept; I can go from living in New York and not knowing about this stuff to being really excited about it – and my friends probably can too if they’re just invited to have the conversation.

Q: To that note, what is your “climate story?” What motivated you in the transition from recreationist to activist?

I started learning more about climate when I was working at Discovery because my job was to find out what stories were happening in the world – I got introduced to a story about this island nation “Kiribati” that was sinking and they were going to be some of the first climate refugees. That story made it so real to me; people are losing their homelands. I’ve been to a few different villages in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the elders there tell you ‘the ice used to come out farther, or the mosquitos used to come at a different time, the snow used to come earlier, the fish used to be here.’ Stories like that really make it feel urgent. 

A lot of my travels have been spurred by outdoor pursuits and made it so I can hear other people’s climate stories and bring them into part of mine. 

Q: Your film focused on both racial and environmental disparities in our public lands. Especially now, with the Black Lives Matter movement retaining momentum, in what ways do you see intersectionality potentially yielding progress in social and environmental justice?

Conversations around equity are not standalone – I’m excited about the intersectional approaches, because when it comes down to it, stability in terms of being able to live a healthy life so much has to do with the environmental qualities that people have around them. So many health issues and living conditions will be exacerbated by the consequences of climate change. Ideally, what’s happening now, is that people are really understanding the interconnectedness that these issues have. The potential for greater collaboration in our country is really exciting to me. 

Q: How can individuals change the culture of outdoor spaces to be more welcoming to historically marginalized groups?

I think more-so, it’s how we create invitations that say ‘we get where you’re coming from.’ Sometimes it’s more how those individuals lobby their local parks and other spaces to do things, such as asking your park ‘what are we doing for Asian and Pacific Islander history month?’ Sometimes people don’t recognize disparities and people don’t make room for you. Being an ally isn’t always a 1 to 1 relationship; it’s sometimes a 1 to power relationship. 

Whether in climbing, running, biking, etc., we have the muscle memory to dig into discomfort. I think it’s the same thing in terms of jumping into particularly difficult conversations around equity. It’s hard and it’s uncomfortable, but we’re good at discomfort. I love to talk about being an ‘imperfect advocate.’ We can’t wait to be perfect or else we’ll never do anything.

Q: Do you have any tips for someone eager to get into trail running?

Make it fun! My first run here in Portland was mapping to Blue Star Donut Shop. Go to the trail and run/walk for 10 minutes, then turn around, and run/walk back. It doesn’t matter how fast you’re going. I remember running a race in the ultra trail Mont Blanc series in Chamonix – I saw Kilian Jornet power hiking this hill. I was like ‘I power hiked that, Kilian’s power hiking that, I’m basically Kilian!’ Everyone power hikes sometimes.

Q: What motivates you as a runner? Why do you do it?

Sometimes it’s how I get my head clear. In tricky times, I look to running – it’s such a personal body and mind experience. In a way in our adult life, without outdoor pursuits, we don’t necessarily have that many daily challenges. Sure, difficult things come up, but other times we don’t really get to have personal or physical challenges. Running is a great way to keep yourself on your toes and feel really powerful and strong. Maybe I can bring that energy into the next meeting; running for me has always been a big place where my life-confidence comes from. I know I can do this thing, so I know I can do other things too.

Q: Itching to learn more about Faith and watch her film “This Land?” Join POW on Wednesday, July 15, for a screening of the film, followed by a live Q+A from Faith Briggs and Clare Gallagher. Follow the link here to join the conversation at 5:00pm Mountain time.

All photography courtesy of Michael A. Estrada