When I was in kindergarten we had career day. I was ready for this. I hurried home and told my mother exactly what I needed. First was a lab coat. Next, we went to get the best and most realistic bug stickers from the craft store. I meticulously covered my new, white lab coat with all the bug stickers I could fit on there. Next was my bright -neon orange bug net, and finally, the biggest and most important piece of all – my bug collection. On career day I marched right into that kindergarten class room declaring I wanted to get PH. D. and be an entomologist – that’s someone who studies bugs.


Although my passion for bugs shifted from career to hobby – I built my future around pursuing a scientific career. I got a scholarship to a private liberal arts college to study chemistry – with sights on graduate school. I accepted a Ph.D. candidate spot at the University of Colorado Denver, where I had plans to earn my Ph.D. in neuroscience and structural biology. I was in my element. I was doing it. I was making my little kindergarten Hillary so proud.

But with all that work in the lab and countless hours at the lab bench, I needed a break and a way to let my mind rest. I found a local running group and started running a few days a week before heading into the lab.

This is how my running career started.

Running helped my creative process in the lab. As a neuroscientist it made sense – I needed a pause, space and time to let my mind wander and create. The more I worked, the more I wanted to run. It became a sacred space, time warped and I could just enjoy and be free. No matter how stressful my day was, the time I spent running was my meditation. I would be drawn into the sounds of birds chirping, insects buzzing and the rustling of leaves of tress. Plus, it was a time to create and think about science in real time.

I can search for bugs, salamander and wildlife. I can think about photosynthesis, plant physiology, evolution and see it all happening right in front of me. It’s my own personal lab.

Although my hobby quickly turned into running and racing professionally, running has not lost its wonder or fascination. In fact, I believe this playful relationship with running has allowed me to find balance. To race hard, while not getting burned out. To really enjoy the times when running is hard, because it can be pretty difficult at times. I use running to explore my surroundings, to play and learn. It’s that curiosity in running that has led me to discover other ways to explore the outdoors – like cycling, ski touring, rock climbing and traveling.

Running might be my favorite way to move through the world, but I believe it’s much more than that. It’s an avenue I use to survey the scientific world. It’s the application of my scientific mind and opportunity to dream, create and continue to be curious. It’s what turns a simple run, one I’ve done one hundred times, into a new world full of discovery, excitement and learning. Running feeds my perpetual curiosity, and leaves me eager for more.



  • Bob says:

    I do love this Hillary!!!! As a fellow scientist (albeit an interdisciplinary one who mostly does wildlife and habitat conservation policy stuff these days), I can totally relate. I unfortunately didn’t discover running until much later. I honestly can’t imgaine not running on trails because I’d be disconnected from te natural world and THAT is what keeps me running as much as the addiction I’ve developed to the faster-than-walking movement. Good luck with your rehab and recovery – i’ll be cheering from the cyber sidelines.

    • hillygoat says:

      Thanks so much for reading Bob! I’m so glad you understand the scientific perspective! It’s what keeps me coming back to the trails and loving the outdoors in general!

  • Awesome essay Hillary! I love how the running feeds the curiosity. Have you by chance read Bernd Heinrich’s book Why We Run? It explores some of the same ideas (and a lot more).

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