Two Feet, 118 Miles, 50 Hours – How Ultra Runner Rory Bosio Crushed Corsica’s Insane GR20 Trail

In 1984, Rory Bosio emerged from Lake Tahoe as a fully formed ultra running human mountain lion. Well, not really. But that is how an interview starts with this joyously irreverent, hilarious long distance running machine. Last spring, The North Face athlete took on Corsica’s GR20 trail, which is one of the toughest trails in Europe … to hike. Over 100 miles-long and over 32,000 feet of rugged vertical, the GR20 diagonally traverses Corsica. It usually takes a fit hiker 15 days to complete. Bosio ran it in just 50 hours. Because, why not?

Photographer and filmmaker Matthew Irving followed along and produced this incredible film, Running On Empty.

Recently, Bosio sat still long enough to answer a few questions about the adventure and, well, why in the hell she runs so damn far.

When did outdoor adventure become a staple in your life?

My earliest memory is of skiing between my dads legs at Squaw. I was maybe 3 years old. I had no choice but to embrace the outdoors as a child. My family gave me no other option. Everyday involved some sort of outdoor activity, from hiking to skiing. We were a very mountain-centered family.

What was it about ultra running that snagged you? It is so very hard and so very long and so very painful. Was there a specific experience that was your “Yeah, this is my thing” moment?

Ultra running is long and painful … just like childhood, so I had no problems adjusting to the discomfort. I don’t find running painful, at least for the majority of the time. Otherwise, I wouldn’t do it. I’m not one for self-punishment. I got punished enough in school for all my sassy backtalk. I actually try to treat myself kindly for the most part and since I love nothing more than a day in the mountains, ultra running is a great fit. There wasn’t a specific moment of ‘A-ha, ultra running is my thing.’ It was more of a slow, insidious progression to love … like most of my relationships. For me, its very simple. I love to be in the mountains. I love to see the world on my own two feet. Thus, I love ultra running.

Scientists have described the GR20 as super-duper long and brutal and obnoxiously tough. (Statement not based in fact.) Why run it?

What scientific journal did you read that in, The Journal of French Hyperbole? It is long, for sure. It’s not as brutal as a historically awful dictatorship or the Spanish Inquisition, which no one expects, according to Monty Python. Corsica is extremely beautiful. I’m a shallow person and am motivated by beauty, hence the desire to cover Corsica on foot. That, and I wanted an excuse to skip work. And impress boys. Unfortunately, that hasn’t panned out but I did get a new pic that Matt snapped for my online dating profiles. All that effort was worth it. I bet the dates will be rolling in after the boys see my running form.

Side note, my other joke about that picture is that it took me so long to run the GR20 that my mustache grew back. Nearly true.

How did you pick your route?

I just stayed on the GR20 for the entire time, except when I got my sister and I lost for a couple hours. We weren’t technically lost, we were just on the wrong trail. She didn’t appreciate the distinction at the time, especially because we were stumbling around in the dark.

Describe what it takes to plan a run like this.

Unfortunately, it takes two things not easily purchased at the corner bodega: Lots of time and focus. The physical prep is pretty simple. Run a lot. Like, all day, most of the days. I was lucky to arrive in Corsica four weeks prior to the project, which meant I was able to recon the majority of the trail. Then it’s a bunch of tedious logistics, figuring out the crew stops, planning my nutrition, et cetera.

What was the most challenging part of the run?

I hit a low point about 35 hours in, which lasted for a good 5 hours. That wasn’t great but at least it didn’t last the entire time. The trail is very technical, steep, and long, so it was very challenging.

What was the biggest surprise?

The wolf I hallucinated seeing during my bonky-asthma-circling the drain moment. That was unexpected. Especially since I don’t think wolves are endemic to the island.

You had an asthma attack?! What happened?

Yes, it seems so. I had all the classical symptoms, wheezing, short of breath, et cetera. It was exercise induced and luckily my sister had an inhaler. But it lasted for quite a while and honestly scared me since I’d never had it happen before.

That’s terrifying. Well, what was the best thing about the run? Any epiphanies in those 50 hours?

I loved all of it, even the crappy parts. It was extremely beautiful and I got to spend 50 hours doing one of my favorite activities. What’s not to love? As my dad says, it’s not a true adventure unless someone is crying or bleeding, or preferably both, at the end. No epiphanies … I take that back. Sleep is important. I should have realized this sooner. I think if I would have slept a couple hours earlier than I did, it would have been better for me physically. And maybe I wouldn’t have bonked so hard on the second night, but hindsight …

In the film, you say that you love your alone time, that you get freaked out when you’re around people for too long. In your life and in runs like this, how do you balance your independence and the dependence on others?

I think I misspoke. I’m not like a skittish pound puppy freaking out around people, but I do love my alone time and, in general, do not love big crowds. However, to accomplish my goal of running the GR20 I had to rely on my wonderful friends and family to help me along the way. That was great because there were other people to blame when things didn’t go exactly as planned. Kidding, again. I would never blame the people who volunteered to help me with this crazy idea. At least, not out loud.

You’re a pediatric intensive care nurse. The schedule that career offers seems perfect for your mountain adventures. To me, the team work needed in that job and the dependence of your patients, these children and babies who are completely reliant upon you for their well-being, seems to run contrary to your desire for independence and solitude. Can you explain that?

Life’s full of contradictions.

The nursing is a great balance for my more selfish exploits. I like having a job that focuses on others and has nothing to do with me. It’s nice to finish a shift and think that you had a positive impact on an innocent little kiddo.

Sometimes during long days in the mountains a Disney song or some absurd Mariah Carey tune will get stuck in my head. Anything like that happen to you?

No, that didn’t happen to me because no Mariah Carey song could ever be described as absurd, so this has never happened to me. She has some bangers. What about “All I want for Christmas?” Total banger.

In reality, only Pitbull. I love a song that teaches you the location of all the party capitals in the world. London! Tokyo! New York! Omaha!

Explain the “Anti Chafe Glove?” How? Why? I am confused and intrigued…and a little scared.

When two body parts rub together it creates friction, which leads to chaffing. Unpleasant. Necessity is the mother of all invention. Usually Vaseline or some body balm will do the trick but I had nothing else to stick down there to stop the rubbing besides that glove. Look for it in The North Face stores Spring 2019.

What was the ‘Oh my god, I am so glad I had that’ piece of gear? And food?

One piece of gear, my sense of humor. Otherwise all those jokes I told myself would be a waste of breath. That and also a really good headlamp. I used the Petzl Reactik ($109.95). Love it. Not as bright as the NAO but lasts longer and is nearly as bright and lighter.

One piece of food, cheese sandwiches. And Pringles. And enough Coca Cola to kill a hippo, which are the deadliest animals on the planet by the way. They kill something around 3,000 people per year. Maybe they should try the cola instead. More humane. I drank about 20-liters of the sugary stuff during my two days on the trail. That, unlike the rest of the drivel I’ve said thus far, is no exaggeration or lie.

How much food did you eat during the run?

Plenty! Maybe 400 calories per hour. Luckily I didn’t have any stomach issues and was happy with my nutrition strategy. Eat real foods, lots of potato chips, cheese and bread. That’s my strategy. ‘Cause what goes in like gel, comes out like gel. Too much information?

Where does this run rank, in terms of difficulty and overall challenge, amongst all the runs in your career?

Most rewarding by far because it was extremely challenging. Running the GR20 was the most memorable, happy experience of my life. It meant more to me to finish that trail than any race ever will. It was also super nice to have my sisters and two best friends along for the ride. Sharing the incredible experience with them was the highlight of all my running escapades.

Running that terrain, that mileage, in 50 hours is ridiculously impressive. Did you have a time goal when you started?
Thank you for the compliment, but I don’t find it that impressive. It’s just one foot in front of the other. Brain surgery or rocket science are much more impressive. I’m just a silly runner who can be very stubborn about accomplishing her goals. My number one goal when I started was to finish it, hopefully in one piece and without crying or screaming expletives too much. Mission accomplished.

Think you’ll always be a ‘go far, go fast’ athlete your entire life, or will you do something like try for longest sweatpants-clad movie marathon?
Only if it’s a Step-Up movie marathon. But I’d wear gold sequined leggings and a tutu while watching it just to get in the dancing mood.

No, I don’t always think I’ll be a ‘go fast, go far’ athlete. I do not mind slowing the pace down once in a while. Better for appreciating the scenery. I do think I’ll always try to go far though, just at a more leisurely pace. I like a good lunch break at a refuge or mountaintop.

What’s next?

The Hula-Hoop World Championships. I have to qualify first though. Lots of awkward hip motions in my future.

Climbing El Capitan With Adaptive Athlete Wayne Willoughby

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