Running towards something

I’ve just finished a couple of hours conversation with Lauren Batcheck and reflect on our time-zone crossing video call. At barely any point did we cover the “what”. No mention of grades climbed, races run or placings. Not a second on training plans, nor preferred gear. What we did talk about though, is “why”.

Before we go any further, then, maybe I should start with some “whats”. Lauren is a multi-talented climber and runner, based in the USA. She’s been a Mountain Hardwear sponsored athlete for a number of years, partly thanks to her physical talents, but also thanks to her openness around mental health and her active role within the climbing (and running) community.

“Five days of freedom; exploring the Swiss Alps. Justification for an adventure in itself, but for Lauren, this trip represented a homecoming of sorts; to a turning point in her life.”

Where were we? Why? A dangerous question. Especially when it comes to sport and the things we love. It feels as though we need to justify spending time having fun. In a world where so much is measured, a value assigned, utility counted, surely there must be a deeper reason for doing something than “it brings a smile to my face”? 

Everyone has their own why. For some, it may represent escape, others immersion, others the very optic through which the world is defined.

Why might be to spend time alone, or to feel part of a community of like-minded and like-hearted people. Why could be the pursuit of performance, whether that be personal goals or world records. What if why is the very opposite and why is reconnection with nature and a mindful interaction with the places we love? Why? I think someone once said something along the lines of “because it’s there”? The oh-so-human instinct to answer the question of “I wonder whether it is possible to…?”

Running away, or running towards something?

“Everyone has their own why”

And of course, why need be nothing more than simply because it's plain, unadulterated, childish (in the very best kind of way) fun, and that’s all the justification we need.

Someone dear to me once said, “people who compete in ultras (as we both did at the time) are always running away from something”. It was said with tongue firmly planted in cheek, but we both knew that there was an uncomfortable truthful undertone to their statement. So, perhaps for many, why is simply to run away…

Returning to the interview, Lauren’s why runs a little deeper than many and touches on all of the above and more. A childhood spanning continents. Joy and trauma. Relationships and finding meaning beyond them. Her why – as it is for many of us – is a moving feast and a journey in changing priorities. She also demonstrates that it is possible for us to rethink even our most basic of emotional drivers and reframe our relationship with a part of our lives that defines many of us.

Lauren was joined by her partner, Matt and photographer Clayton on her Swiss adventure.

Beginning somewhere in the middle

We begin at a turning point. Or, to be more accurate, revisiting a turning point. I’m looking at the photos that accompany this piece. A trip from the summer; fast and light running in the Swiss alps. Almost the very definition of freedom – long days and longer views. Five days exploring the Bernese Oberland; Schwarzwaldalp, Grindelwald, Wengen, Obersteinberg and Murren.

Hut nights, alpine meadows, scree surfing and stream skipping. Sinuous singletrack and stinging climbs. Sticky heat and afternoon storms. Wild flowers and moraine. And as amazing and beautiful all of that is, it’s the “what”. In many ways it is justification in itself, but for Lauren, the trip represented a kind of homecoming.

“I first went to Switzerland in 2012. In many ways it was a huge turning point for me. Even though I’d spent much of my life to that point in the outdoors, it was the first time I truly set foot in proper mountains. I went there by myself and stayed in a little village called Gimmelwald and ran out from there. Each day I’d choose a different direction and each day, it took my breath away.

There was a majesty in the mountains that I’d never experienced before and it kindled the fire in me to seek more adventures. I had forgotten the exact place that I stayed back then, so there was this beautiful serendipity when we ran into a small hostel for hot chocolate and I recognised it instantly. It felt good to literally return to those roots.”

Roots; and climbing trees

Lauren’s roots span continents. She was born in Columbus, Ohio, but her family moved to the “kampung” of Bandung, near Jakarta, in Indonesia when she was 4 years old.

“I was a highly sensitive child. I have vivid memories of moving and this real sense of the need to adapt to survive. I went to an all Indonesian school, so I quickly had to learn the language and way of life. I adored it though.

We lived in a network of villages connected by dirt roads. I was outside all of the time and explored as far as I dared. I walked around with no shoes, climbing trees, discovering cool plants and animals. I felt absolutely at home living this wild existence; connected to nature and the world around me.”

If the move to Indonesia was a wrench, it was nothing compared to Lauren’s return to the US when she was nine. 

“I adored growing up in Indonesia. I felt absolutely at home living this wild existence; connected to nature and the world around me.”

“We would travel back to the States every two years to visit family, then one year my parents decided that we weren’t going back to Bandung. I felt this deep sense of loss. Not just for the friends that I had made and didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to, but for the culture and freedom that I experienced there. I hated the materialism and concrete of America. Hated it. “Fuck this place” became my mantra for a while.”

Perhaps the most challenging part of relocating was Lauren’s loss of places to explore. 

“I was so used to just wandering into the jungle or small mountains behind our house and going where I liked. My boundary shifted from as far as I dare explore to my own backyard. We weren’t a well-off family, so there weren't any holiday or camping trips. The only time I felt free was visiting my grandparents. They had a bit of land (one acre with this amazing ravine) and I would disappear and go exploring.”

Eventually, Lauren found a new identity through sport; soccer. More than identity, it gave her a new community too. As centre-midfielder, she was at the heart of the action, playmaker, creator, and always running…

“I felt free visiting my grandparents. They had some land, and I would disappear and go exploring ravines”.

Running, escaping

“I felt like I could run forever. I just loved the feeling. I started running on my rest days. It became a means to escape other things in my life. I carried so much anxiety; often fueled by my environment, expectations, and need to manage who and what was around me, and I would use running to burn it off.”

“It was clear Lauren had a lot to run away from”

Later on in our discussion, Lauren returns to her childhood. Her family became part of the Christian church community and during that time, she was victim to childhood sexual abuse. It is not something that we discuss in any detail; but it is clear that Lauren had a lot to run away from. She desperately wanted to leave Ohio for college, but couldn’t afford to. Instead she worked full time, studied on top of that and travelled as much as she could in between. Southern Africa, Thailand, Tanzania, Indonesia again, widening her world view. Then, when she graduated, she moved to Washington DC.


“When I arrived in DC, I had left the church, wasn’t playing soccer. In so many ways I was finding my adult identity, but I didn’t have a community. It was then that I found climbing. The people I met were real and honest and had integrity. I made friends with some people from Charlottesville and I’d travel seven hours each weekend to climb with them in West Virginia.

I’d sometimes get the overnight bus to go climb, repeat the journey home and go straight back into the office with my pack - unshowered. Climbing began to fill my life. I quit my job and moved to Boulder when I was 24, then on to Salt Lake City a few years later. At the time I didn’t really have a plan – I just knew I wanted to climb. 

“I felt like i could run forever”

“I began to realise that there had been a part of me that had been lost for a long time. I needed to reconnect with nature in a literal physical way. Climbing created a more sustainable dopamine hit than running; and for a while a more sustainable connection to the outside world and life. If I’d been using running as an escape, I was using climbing as the complete opposite. It felt nourishing to me spiritually and physically; it gave me a real sense of active meditation.

On reflection, running and soccer had – at the time – been tied up with negative emotions. Climbing was a purely positive experience.”

Stepping on

Lauren speaks with calmness and thoughtfulness. Each word is carefully chosen, laden with sentiment. There is a precision that suggests that it isn’t the first time that she has told these stories; whether that is to herself, or others. I should make it absolutely clear that our conversation doesn’t feel rehearsed or hackneyed or less genuine as a result; quite the opposite in fact. The result is a deeper appreciation of how she sees the world and her place in it. 

Perhaps part of the explanation for Lauren’s articulate nature is that she has expressly already gone through much of the thought process behind our conversation before. 

“I have had a long relationship with therapy – almost all my life in fact. I first encountered it after the sexual abuse. Over time it has helped me process what happened. It has helped me deal with my relationship to the Christian church.

“Then, therapy has helped me understand my relationship with sport; how I used running as a tool for escape. How that wasn’t healthy; how it could also be a tool for reconnection with myself. I undertook somatic therapy [a therapeutic approach that places importance on what we experience in the mind and the body as well as the connection between the two]. I was definitely disconnected between how I felt and how that manifested itself in my body. I think many others are too.


If there is a single word that Lauren mentions more than any other during our conversation, it is community. “I’m a social climber”, she tells me. It is clear that is something that she values deeply, and was in many ways her route to sponsorship. 


I talk to Lauren at what feels like another pivotal moment in her life, but is perhaps simply a stopping point along the path that she has already set for herself. Lauren has recently quit her job working in HR for a tech firm. 

“I left partly due to other goals and partly because I came to realise it wasn’t the right job. I want climbing and running to be more than an escape, and while I’ve mentally achieved that, I maybe felt like I wasn’t living that. I’m now running my own workshops; helping others go through a similar process to the one that I have been through. I just ran a ‘quieting your inner critic’ workshop as it relates to climbing performance, for example. I think there is a real need in the climbing community and a need for more understanding around mental health and openness to discussion.

Next year also represents a change for me; for the first time ever, I’ve set myself some specific climbing goals. Grade targets, but just for myself. I know that I’ve never believed in myself enough and I just want to climb the hardest I’ve ever climbed. It feels like a big step to commit to that.”

Finally, I squeezed in my call with Lauren just before her wedding to Matt. As I sit and type up our conversation, I see that she’s shared photos of the ceremony on her social media. Smiles amongst friends – their community. As far as whys go, it’s a beautiful one.