Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Interview: Jennifer Pharr

Name: Jennifer Pharr, (almost - 6/8) Davis
Age: 24, (almost – 5/25) 25
Residence: Asheville, NC
Birthplace: Asheville, NC
Years Running: I have been a recreational runner since high school, but was a Division 1 college tennis player in college. I started pursuing hiking and trail-running in 2005.

Running Accomplishments: Athletic Accomplishments…
Off the Trail:
High School – All State Tennis, Basketball, and Track
College – Division I College Tennis Player, OVC Conference Team Champion, NCAA participant
Ironman Triathlete – 2004 Ironman Florida with Janus Charity Challenge ($100,000)
4 road marathons
3 ultra trail marathons (50k,50k,50m)

On the Trail:
2005 Appalachian Trail Thru-Hike
2006 Kilimanjaro Summit - Africa
2006 Pacific Crest Trail Thru-Hike and Fundraiser ($10,000)
2007 Hike for Habitat Fundraiser ($10,000)
2007 Machu Pichu and Cotahuasi Hikes - Peru
2007 Unsupported Long Trail Record
2008 Bibbulmun Track Record - Australia
2008 Appalachian Trail Women’s Supported Record Attempt
*I have hiked over 6,000 miles of US National Scenic Trails and successfully completed hikes on 6 continents (all before the ripe ol’ age of 25)

This is Jennifer Pharr. This summer she will be challenging the Womens Appalachian Trail Record in honor of a fallen female hiker. I had the honor of asking Jennifer a few questions about her upcoming adventure. Here is how it went:

What Made you Decide to take on the AT Record (why do you want to run it)?
I feel like this is the kinda stuff that chooses you, more than you choose it. I have been thinking and dreaming about blazing down the AT since first hiking it in 05. There is something beautiful about efficiently flowing down the trail. In my opinion, there is no higher test of physical, mental, and emotional fortitude than going after a long-distance trail endurance record.

This summer the timing feels right to reach for my dream. I’m hiking in memory of Meredith Emerson, the young lady who was murdered on Blood Mountain after New Year’s. I also am eager to share the trail with my new husband and couldn’t be more excited to have him run support for me and work towards this goal as a newly married couple.

What is the current female record and who holds it?
Jenny Jardine set the record in 89 days when she hiked unsupported with her husband, Ray Jardine.

Have you been in contact with any of the previous record holders for advice?
I have spoken with David Horton and Warren Doyle - both record holders on long-distance trails, although obviously not women.

When will your run begin?
My starting window is June 20th-22nd, depending on the weather at Katahdin.

How are you planning on coordinating aid throughout your run, will you have a crew?
I’m not so sure about a crew, but I will have a BREW!!! My fiance, Brew Davis, and I will wed on June 8th in Charlottesville, VA. Then after a 10-day honeymoon in New England he will run support for me going Southbound on the AT. He is committed to the hike until he has to return to teach 6th grade English and Social Studies in mid-August. If I am still on the trail at that point then my Dad will help support my remaining miles. (I am blessed with very supportive men in my life!)

How many days do you think it should take you to complete the run (target time)?
I’m aiming for a window of between 60-80 days.

What sections are you most concerned about?
I am hoping not to get held up by any bad weather in southern Maine or the White Mountains. I also heard that some of the roads up in New England might have been washed out by heavy snow and rain this spring so that could affect our support vehicle.

What sections are you most excited about?
When I thru-hiked the AT in 05 I started in March and had a very cold and gray southern section. I am excited to experience VA southward in warmer weather.

How much does weather play a role in this attempt?
Summer lightning storms will play a factor, especially on exposed terrain in New England. It will be a hot hike, but that is intentional; I love warm weather.

What type of experience do you bring into your attempt that you rely on?
I think my broad base of athletics growing up has really helped me physically succeed on long-distance trails. As a tennis player I learned how to stay positive and change strategies on my feet, as a basketball player I learned tenacity and how to make quick decisions. Mentally and emotionally I have two older brothers who like to take the credit for making me tough, but honestly my perseverance is due to a very supportive friend network, a strong faith, and a staunch aversion to quitting. Beyond that my 6,000+ previous trail miles will be invaluable experience leading into my hike this summer.

So tell me about your gear? What shoes will you wear?
I am hoping to get sponsored by a few key companies, one of which is inov-8 - a British based shoe company. Inov-8 specializes in off-road running shoes and they’ve garnered a lot of praise from industry experts concerning their comfort and durability. I am excited to try them out on the trail this summer.

Can we follow your progress from home?
Yes, Brew and I will be blogging our summer for Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine. We will be contributing entries and photos weekly. To read about our summer, check out

Will you have any pacers we may know?
I am hoping that some of my friends from the AT 05 will come and hike with me for a bit in New England. Brew is very athletic and will hopefully be hiking in to pace me towards our campsite once he has shuttled the support vehicle. I estimate that I will only run about 15-20% of the trail. The trick for me will be a regimented schedule of waking up early and hiking for most of the day.

Whats your favorite kind of trail magic?
Kind words and support can be as filling as food; but brownies, fresh produce, and sodas are always appreciated.

What is your crewing plan?
Brew and I are planning to spend every night together on the trail. Where there is ample road access to the trail he will try to meet me during the day to eat lunch or replenish provisions; on more remote sections we will see each other in the morning and evening.

How do you think the other AT travelers/hikers might feel about your run?
Some will think I am traveling too fast, others will think it is an awesome test of endurance. Most everyone will be in awe that I married a man amazing enough to give up his summer and help me reach an outlandish but personally significant goal.

But if I had to choose what people were left with from my hike, then I hope folks would remember a beautiful 24-year-old woman named Meredith Emerson. A hiker who like themselves went into the woods for enjoyment and restoration yet was met by an unfortunate and heart-wrenching fate.

I want them to realize that my hike - like their own - is a way to reclaim the woods, to enjoy the natural environment and look out for those we come in contact with, and to resist evil and endorse good.

I hate that so many people I know are now scared to go into the woods on their own. I hope that despite the pace and duration, my hike and everyone’s hike this summer, would be a way to reclaim the woods as a safe environment.

Which direction are you traveling and why?
We are headed North to South for a myriad of reasons.
-I went Nobo my first thru-hike so this is a way to spice it up.
-We are honeymooning in New England and will be near Katahdin to start.
-ample daylight up North
-our window of time favors Sobo
-there is always great incentive in hiking home

How will this run affect your running plans for the rest of the year?
I am looking forward to taking the Fall off and tackling some off trail interests. Usually it takes me several weeks if not months to recover from a thru-hike. In the meantime, I look forward to running some local races with my Mom who has now built up to 10-mile runs (so proud) and also supporting my husband and helping him obtain one of his life long dreams. Right now we are talking about whether or not he wants to use the upcoming fall to train and attempt to qualify for the Boston Marathon.

Any future plans to tackle any other long distance trails?
I hope that hiking is always part of my life. In order to achieve a lifelong relationship with the woods, I realize it will have to be an evolving friendship. I am not sure whether or not I will go for any other trail records, but if so they will most likely be on shorter trails.

I look forward to completing a thru-hike with my husband on the Colorado trail next summer, and we also are hoping to hike together in Europe before we start a family. I definitely want to hike the CDT and complete the Triple Crown, but I am not in a rush and could see myself completing it in sections – perhaps in the future hiking a week each summer with my husband and children?

Post AT, I am starting my own hiking business in Asheville, which I hope will allow me to get out on the local trails several times a week. My company, Blue Ridge Hiking Co (under development) will offer: a self-published book detailing my first AT adventure, motivational and educational speaking (performed by yours truly), on-line coaching and itineraries for folks interested in hiking the AT or other trails in the southern Blue Ridge, and also guided day-hikes.

It seems that I can’t escape my love for hiking and trails, and now the big experiment will be to see if I can make a living pursuing my passion.
All of us at Team Sherpa Ultra-Running wish Jennifer the very best on her outstanding upcoming adventure across the Appalachians. We will be sure to follow her progress and lend her good tidings in the months to come. Go Jennifer!