In Conversation with Hilary LeBeuf
By day, she is a digital marketing strategist, specializing in financial services. By earlier in the day, she a mountain runner.
Hilary LeBeuf is what nowadays we know as a“digital nomad”. She prefers to live a pretty minimal life, keeping everything simple enough to pack up in one suitcase and go whenever she pleases. She almost always picks her destinations with running in her mind. Although she is originally from the United States, she considers Mexico more of her home.
We know you're traveling at the moment.Tell me more about that. Where are you right now and what are you planning next? What's the purpose of your travels?
- As we speak, I’m in Huaraz, Peru: the gateway to the Andes’ Cordillera Blanca. I’m here for the mountains. As my trail running habit has escalated over the years, my desire to explore the world vertically has become pretty ravenous. Perhaps more importantly, thanks to trail running, my beliefs in what I’ve capable of accomplishing with my own body has been redefined. I’ve got some pretty big dreams in pretty big mountains, but l lack a lot of very high altitude experience and technical know-how. I’m here to learn so I can keep pushing my limits.
Peru is is the first stop in my tour of South America, The alpine climbing season is almost over here so I’ll head south to Chile soon and eventually spend most of the South American summer in Patagonia.
I’m not a fan of traveling like a tourist. I like to find community and share in daily life as much as possible. When I travel, it’s important to me that to learn from people who are different than me. Throughout my trip, I’m doing volunteer exchanges, where I use my professional skills to help small businesses in exchange for housing, food, skills, or here in Peru, mountaineering training.
Tell us a bit about your connection to Mexico. We know you've spent some time in Baja and now you're mostly based in Mexico City. What attracted you to this country?
– Well, it sort of all started with Tijuana and snowballed from there. For a brief period of my life, I was working towards an academic career studying neuroscience and psychology. I had moved to San Diego to study, but I couldn’t find my groove there. It’s just not my scene. One day, it clicked that there was this whole other country to explore, right in my backyard, and so it began.
People in San Diego talked about Tijuana as if were an active war zone, a place where nothing good could possibly happen. The general talk always left a bad taste in my mouth, so I had to find out for myself.
I’m from another city with a bad reputation, Detroit, and I think for that I’ve grown up with this understanding that there is always a richer story and a most times a vibrant community once you dig past the barrage of hype and bad news.
I began crossing the border more and more and eventually moved to Tijuana for a time. I soon made friends and found running buddies and trails and plugged in to the community in a way I never able to in San Diego. There’s a warmth to Mexico, an openness to the people that’s hard to justify with words. Mexico just felt like home, immediately.
Mexico City came about after I visited a good friend who moved there. I fell in love. I was attracted to the ability to wake up early to run in mountains and come home in the afternoon to a vibrant city life, and still have that Mexican warmth and openness. Before I left for South America, I spent the last few months in Guadalajara, mostly by accident. My intention was to stay for a week or so to visit friends before I started traveling but the vibes that are so uniquely Mexico, the community, the hospitality, totally hooked me. Not to mention, the trail running opportunities in Guadalajara are killer.
At this point in my life, I’ve done my share of travels and I really think Mexico might be the friendliest and happiest country I’ve been to yet. Honestly, in my current travels I’m finding myself missing Mexico every single day.
What is the role of running in your life, what are the core benefits of this practice and how does it impact the rest of your life?
– It never quite sits right with me when people refer to my running habit as exercise. Running is my lifestyle. It’s an approach to daily living. It’s a practice. It’s a means of knowing myself through the good and bad. It’s celebration. It’s release. Sometimes it’s community and unconditional support, but sometimes it’s luxurious solitude. It’s whatever I need it to be that day, whether I realize it or not.
How do you feel that your running practice has evolved throughout the years? What has changed in your practice since you started?
– I jogged on and off over the years, but finally took running up as a daily habit when I lived in New York City. I was an aspiring art curator. Running was my salvation from the sensory overload and hyper-competitive nature of living in the Big Apple. It was my me-time. No e-mails. No schmoozing. No French philosophy. No second thoughts about my outfit. I started running to shake myself free of the art world lifestyle that was clashing with my intuitions about the life I wanted to live.
But what started as an escape, quickly turned into so much more. When it dawned on me that my body in movement was a vehicle, and not just a means of huffing and puffing my way to catharsis, everything changed. My weekends quickly turned to following my feet to experience every avenue & block of the city that I could. I’d grab my metrocard, just run until I was lost and then take the subway home.
My running practice had became a means of exploration. Eventually, I began this weekend ritual of making my way from my Ridgewood, Queens apartment to Uptown Manhattan to run across the George Washington Bridge into New Jersey. That’s where I really started trail running. It just escalated when I moved to the outdoor playground that is California. By then almost all of my running had moved to the trails. Every weekend I found myself trying to go longer or higher or steeper just to see more.
Today, I run because I want to see the world with my own two feet. Whether that’s on the streets of Bangkok at 3am or nervously jogging exposed Andean ridges. I want to experience this incredible world on a human scale.
Are you currently training for something in specific? A race or an adventure?
– I work with a coach, David Roche, and I follow the plans he gives me. So I guess I’m technically always “training.” I run mostly everyday but my motivation to focus on specific “training” waxes and wanes. That’s mostly due to my semi-nomadic lifestyle and my habit of saying yes to all opportunities for adventure whether or not they’re “good training.”
Next month, I’m heading off to Chile, where I’ll run a 50km race just for fun near Santiago with some friends of friends, who I actually connected with through an Aire Libre experience. My big focus is on El Cruce, a 3 or 4-day stage race in the Patagonian Andes in Early December. It starts on the Chilean side and the objective of the race is to cross the Andes into Argentina, hence the name.
Tell us about you experiences with Aire Libre so far. We know you've been part of our retreats and had a close connection with us while in Mexico. What would you tell future participants about these experiences?
Before I officially moved to Mexico City, I had signed up for UTMX because “altitude acclimatization” was a great excuse to spend over a month hanging out in the city. I wrote to the Aire Libre facebook page for trail recommendations while I was in town and Mau graciously invited me to join him and some friends to run that weekend. That “come and join us, everyone is welcome” attitude is pretty central to the Aire Libre vibe, I think.
Even though I have been to a retreat, I almost forget that it was a special event apart from hanging out with the people that I’ve come to know as my extended Aire Libre family.
My first official Aire Libre experience was a 4-day trip frolicking around the incredible trails of Nevado de Colima. I’m a pretty big trail nerd, but I think what struck me about that retreat is that you don’t have to be a mountain-loving, ultrarunner to enjoy these experiences. There were people that had never run a trail before in their lives that I saw walk away totally energized and changed by the experience. I myself walked away refreshed and inspired, and with a boat load of new friends.
From your perspective, what's the impact of an initiative like Aire Libre for the global community?
– In the times we live in today, it is so important to show people there’s another way to live. They can choose to say yes to adventure, to fresh air, to finding presence in sharing time with one another.
Community is priceless. It’s so easy to get caught up in an “us vs. them” or “inside vs. outside” narratives that media and economic competition can spin. Getting people from different walks of life with different perspectives to spend time together is so badly needed in a world where we’ve internalized our own niche marketing demographics. Whenever people ask me how I learned to speak Spanish, I always make the joke that it’s all thanks to boyfriends and mountains, but it’s totally true. The outdoor community worldwide is pretty welcoming and there’s no better place to stutter through a new language than the fire at a campsite. How beautiful that weekends spent rock climbing and trail running enabled me to connect with another 500 million people in the world! Without a doubt, the Aire Libre community was definitely a part of that for me.
Also, maybe it sounds dramatic, but I really think that outdoor sport has a special role to play in saving the world. Trail running in particular is a sport that depends on access to natural, often wild places. For every person that finds themselves connected to these spaces, there is one more person with a stake in protecting them, one more person who will carry those values back to their postmodern daily life. When people realize that the environment is all around them, it’s not just far off arctic glaciers or endangered rainforests, protecting that environment becomes second nature.
Are there any wise words regarding running, traveling and daily living you'd like to give to our audience?
– Give zero fucks. Excuse my French, but the sentiment warrants the language. There are a lot of things that don’t matter at all, or a whole host of things that matter to other people that you don’t have to care about too. Not everyone is meant to climb the corporate ladder. Not everyone is meant to run 6 minute miles. If you want to bike across South Africa, plan it. If you feel like singing out loud on your run, belt it out. If you want to abandon your upwardly mobile path to travel the world and sleep on couches, say to hell with the haters and start asking how.
Especially as runners, it is so easy to get caught up in pace and competition and metrics, but if you’re too hung up on external perceptions you risk missing out on all of the joy. I’m not a talented runner, but giving no fucks gives me the power to say that no mountain is too high, no race is too long, no route is too hard. Life is just too precious to not aim for the summit every single time.