Words by: Brittni Hutton & Brandon Birdsong (a.k.a. 2 runners 1 sprinter)
Images by: Austin Garza-Kilcullen

If we did not live out of a van would this story be as cool? Probably not, but it is not about being cool. This story is about the journey, the experiences, the memories, and the blood, sweat and tears (mostly sweat) involved in preparing for one of the biggest races of my running career, the 2020 Marathon Olympic Trials. I train everyday out of our 4×4 Sprinter Van with my fiancé and coach, Brandon Birdsong.

There is something about the freedom and ability to wake up and go – literally and figuratively. Living out of the van does just that. We can truly experience freedom. We travel by feel and if things “feel” right, we roll with it. One of the biggest advantages to living out of the van is following the weather patterns. We try to stick with the most conducive training environments. Whether it’s the altitude and brisk nights of the Colorado Summers or the warmer days you’ll find down South, we aren’t afraid of the time behind the wheel to get there.

At the time these words are being written, Austin is our home. It’s warm and has a very similar climate to Atlanta, where the 2020 Olympic Trials will be held.

We absolutely love it here. Town Lake – also known as – Lady Bird Lake, is one of the greatest trails I have ever run on. It is a mostly compact dirt, ten-mile loop trail shaded by thick trees and breathtaking views of the city. I love waking up early to catch the sunrise and see the sun’s rays warm the cityscape. I also love hearing and seeing the dedicated rowers out on the chilly Colorado river in the morning. They always give me a healthy dose of inspiration. Shoal Creek Road is another local favorite. It offers huge biking lanes and rolling hills that serve Brandon and I greatly for workouts and easy training days. I also love running from Barton Springs. Barton Springs is a natural cold spring in the heart of Austin. On average, the water is 65 – 70 degrees and jumping in it on a hot day is such a gift and so therapeutic. 

Something I love most about Austin is the presence of community, despite being such a big city. With plenty of farmers markets, tree lined streets and bike lanes galore; it is an amazing place to explore, live, and hangout in. The city is growing every day, but that, “home grown, Texas Charm,” won’t ever leave this place (at least I hope it never does!).

Life on the road has a way of allowing us to accept and embrace risks. It might not be comfortable at times, but it enables us to be vulnerable. It’s the foundation to new ideas, happiness, creativity, and love for one another and others. For example, when’s the last time you’ve met a total stranger who invites you into their home? It happens often when living on the road – it seems like people let their guard down towards people who are traveling, passing through. A simple “hello” and you have a friend for life. A friend that when you cross paths again, you’ll pick up right where you left off. It strips away any facade and allows you to connect and get to know someone on a deeper level.

What does a typical day training for Olympic Trials in a van look like?

  • COFFEE: We wake up, turn on the burner and boil up some water. The french press used to be our first choice of preparation, but we’ve learned along the way. For example, a french press isn’t necessarily the easiest to clean and we waste more water doing so. Now – we stick with a pour-over.
  • TRAIN: We train every day of the week (sometimes twice a day) with the occasional recovery day. We’ve been sleeping right by the trail. This means no travel time and hitting the dirt straight from our door-step.
  • BRUNCH: Brunch is our favorite. Eggs, oatmeal, french toast, burritos….. It doesn’t matter and we can prepare it in the van using our propane range. We try to mix it up, but breakfast burritos typically trump all.
  • EXPLORE: We try to spend a few hours a day putting ourselves in situations that we wouldn’t typically be in. Local attractions, museums, art walks etc.
  • NAP: Regardless where we are, we try to nap daily. It’s a necessity.
  • NETFLIX: Netflix in the van is new to us. We haven’t had a TV in years and we recently received internet through TheRVitGuy.com. It’s incredible! Unlimited access without throttling.

Training on the road doesn’t come without its challenges. We had a rocky start leading into the trials. In my first week back to training I separated my AC Joint while cycling (That really fucking hurt). I was also going through some difficult things in life and was not coping as well as I could have with them.

We had discussed approaching my training differently in the past but had never taken the time to execute it, until now. We decided to focus more on my mental health than my physical fitness during this next build up. I have a history of self-sabotaging, putting way too many expectations and enormous amounts of pressure on myself when it comes to racing. We were able to tap into my issues with the means of meditation, journaling, talking weekly about training and life outside of running.

At times, my bad attitude and ego have gotten the best of me, keeping me from finishing workouts and causing fights with Brandon. It can be really scary at moments because it can feel like our relationship is being jeopardized by running. Obviously living in such tight quarters can at times exasperate situations like these. However, this closeness has also allowed us to realize that we’re both in this together and that there are no demons we’re not ready to face together.

A couple other adjustments I’ve made during the build up to the Trials include the purposeful practice of mindfulness and self love. Starting this practice really put things into perspective for me and for us. The biggest change I have noticed are my thoughts. My negative thoughts and emotions are being replaced with an uplifting inner monologue. I am finally letting go of thoughts like “this is my story and it is always going to be this way,” as they’re being replaced with thoughts like “I love myself enough to live my passions. I am here. I am ready.”

Running the 2020 U.S. Marathon Olympic Trials is a dream come true (one that came into fruition when I was a senior in High School) and is a step closer to my ultimate goal of being an Olympian. It would be naive of me to say that I am going to place in the top three this year; I know my talent as an athlete is not there yet. I do however know that I have what it takes to place amongst the best 20 – 30 Females in our Nation. Whatever happens, I showed up (Yeah, I used Des Linden’s quote, but it’s legit!). I am fucking proud of myself for doing all I could to prepare and I am already proud of myself for doing whatever I do come race day. This build-up has been all about the journey and the lifestyle I’ve gotten to enjoy along the way.

After the trials we’re going to head to Colorado and begin building out our new van! Yes! You read right, we bought another van… and her name is Big Betty! Big Bertha will forever be our favorite van, but alas, she is going to a new home, a new family and on new adventures. Of course, I will be taking a small break after the marathon trials. But it won’t be long before I’ll begin training for another track season! I am really looking forward to what the future has in store for Brandon and I, on our next van build and beyond.

Follow Brittni and Brandon on their adventures through their instagram @2runners1sprinter.