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Terri Schneider is a world-class endurance athlete, coach, and inspirational speaker who has competed in some of the toughest events on the planet. Over the course of her career she has traveled to more than 70 countries to test her speed, strength, and stamina in multiple Ironman events, ultramarathons, and adventure races, including the legendary Eco-Challenge.

Now, thanks to the release of her first book, we can add writer to her list of credits as well. Dirty Inspirations: Lessons from the Trenches of Extreme Endurance Sports is not only a memoir of her extraordinary athletic accomplishments, but also offers insights into the mindset of an endurance athlete. We learn what wakes Terri – and others like her – tick, and how we can harness some of that same focus and drive to accomplish our own goals too.

Recently we had the opportunity to catch up with Schneider and ask her a few questions. Here’s what she had to say.

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Gear Institute: What have you been up to lately? Anything interesting on your schedule?

Terri Schneider: Lots going on! My book – Dirty Inspirations – just came out, which I’m super excited to share. I have a movie that was shot of our 2011 Expedition Bhutan, Crossing Bhutan, that will be premiering at an upcoming film festival, so I’ll be heading to that and then will take off mid February for Bhutan. This will be my 7th time volunteering in the country. I’ll be in Bhutan for a month helping them with our 3rd annual Bhutan International Marathon, and will then do several days of trekking with some Bhutanese friends in a remote part of eastern Bhutan. I will also later go trekking in the Mustang region of far northern Nepal too. I did a fundraiser for Nepal last year and was able to help a family rebuild their home. I’m hoping to get to Mustang to see how I can help out there too.

After that, I’m going to be doing some bike-packing and fast packing this year in various locations in the western U.S. Some will be fun/social and some will be set up for me to really test myself. I love going solo or unsupported in the wilderness. I enjoy relying on myself as much as possible when I’m out in the backcountry—partly because there is a huge gear/strategy component to the endeavor. I have several other ideas of what I’d like to do – so lots of options. Stay tuned!

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GI: The book is an excellent read, with lots of insights into what drives endurance athletes. What inspired you to write it?

TS: My hope is that each journey in this book will inspire a personal adventure or a new thought process or perhaps slightly shift a perspective, for the reader. And the route to all those possibilities will be perhaps intriguing, perhaps entertaining.

GI: Did you learn anything about yourself as an athlete while writing it?

TS: I didn’t necessarily learn anything brand new, but I did solidify that I know myself really well. I know my strengths and challenges and how to be in each. That is useful information when being required to adapt while under physical hardship. This was also a celebration of sorts, because over the years I have done a significant amount of seeking in various ways in order to know myself well. So I learned that I have arrived at a maturity as an athlete that feels grounded and satisfying, while my spark to experience more still burns bright. Exciting!

GI: What are some pieces of gear that you always take with you when you’re competing in an event or on a more personal adventure?

TS: There are a few items that I simply don’t head out overnight without. They aren’t necessarily “gear” per se, but they are useful and important to me. For instance, Duct tape, dental floss, and camera. At the very least my iPhone. The 6s has a pretty good camera!

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GI: Those are all useful items indeed! Do you have any pieces of gear that are amongst your favorite that you’ve used in the past?

TS: I haven’t been competing and racing as much lately, so I don’t have a lot of sponsored gear at the moment, and  I don’t have any particular items that I ALWAYS use. I switch it up a lot for fun and to check out new gear regularly. That said,  I love the Patagonia Fore Runner Vest 10L – perfect pack for long mountain biking, running or hiking. I love to use the front compartments to hold the stuff I want readily accessible and it has plenty of room for some extra clothing in case the weather gets tough.

The GoLite Poncho is another favorite. I’ve used this on quite a few multi-day trips. It doubles as a rain poncho and as a shelter in a pinch, and I’ve used it for both.

I also have a very old Montbell down jacket that I still use a lot. Its super light yet incredibly warm.

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GI: Are there any special packing or gear-protecting techniques/tricks you always use?

TS: I don’t do anything special to protect my gear. If I know I’ll be getting wet I may put items I want dry in plastic bags (they are lighter than dry bags). I believe that gear should be designed to get the crap beat out of it. If it doesn’t hold up, I’ll send it back. I am not easy on gear and that is partly why I’m a great gear tester!

I generally pack based on what I’m going to use and when I’m going to need it. I want the items I will use while I’m on the move, or that I’ll want once it gets dark, super easily accessible. I also like a streamline pack – everything is put away. The only time I’ll have items hanging off the outside is if I start a trip with a too-small pack (then can put items inside once I eat enough) or if I’m doing laundry on the fly.

I want my pack to feel good on my back. I am a bit of “the princess and the pea” so I will pack so that nothing is poking into me or off balance.  

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GI: Is there one thing outdoor or gear related that you are especially excited about or interested in right now?

TS: There isn’t one particular thing I’m psyched about currently. I’m in awe that the outdoor industry is continually doing a fabulous job putting out top quality gear. I started as an athlete when we didn’t even have clothing specifically for women! So OI has come a long way. I am a fan of anything that is lighter but with improved functionality.

That said, there are a few things I’m waiting to have happen. I’d like to see a product like the Delorme Inreach Explorer that has a larger face and a more user-friendly computer interface. I’d also like to see a watch such as the Suunto Ambit 3 that can hold a battery charge for up to a week while using the GPS function. I’d also love to see an ultralight inflatable sleeping pad that is puncture resistant. If you give me a piece of gear to test I will likely find something about it that I don’t like. Designers are getting much better, but there are still a lot of packs – in particular – that are over-designed.

GI: I’d take one of each of those pieces of gear too! Thanks for your time Terri. Any parting shots?

TS:  In my new book, Dirty Inspirations, I share a detailed gear list of what I carried during two 7-day self-supported running stage races, one in the Sahara Desert and one in the Gobi Desert. This is a great reference for someone considering one of these types of events.

Any companies out there looking for a hard-core gear tester? I’d love to beat the crap out of your gear. Lets chat!

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