Mud, Rocks, Blazes: Heather Anderson on Her New Book (Plus a Giveaway)

Heather “Anish” Anderson’s latest book, Mud Rocks, Blazes: Letting Go on the Appalachian Trail is available for purchase on March 1, 2021. Win a free copy by telling us in the comments why you want to read the book (contest details at the bottom of this post). 

Falling Down, Getting Back Up

Heather sat down in the middle of the trail and thought to herself, “I really am incapable.” Tears streaming down her face and blood running down her legs from cuts, she contended with the possibility of failure. It’s a feeling we’ve all experienced, long-distance backpacker or not. Everything’s going wrong, you’re tired, frustrated, probably hungry, and the three-year-old child inside you attempts to take over and force you to give up.

The difference is, Heather isn’t on just any hike. She’s attempting to set the speed record for a self-supported thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail—2189 miles from Maine to Georgia. 

Known in the hiking community as an FKT, or fastest known time, speed records of the world’s long trails are inhabited by a small group of endurance athletes. It’s a choice, to intentionally speed through some of the world’s most beautiful places, that many nature enthusiasts don’t understand. But it’s one Heather Anderson finds herself making over and over again. 

That day on the trail, Heather stared failure in the face and forced herself to keep walking. “Get up,” she told herself one week after stepping off Mount Katahdin, the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. It’s a feat of endurance that she is destined to repeat over and over again during the 54 days she spent setting the self-supported FKT of the Appalachian Trail in 2015. 

Anish began her FKT attempt of the Appalachian Trail from Mount Katahdin on August 1, 2015. Photo courtesy of Heather Anderson.

Meet Heather “Anish” Anderson

Better known by her trail name, “Anish,” Heather Anderson has held FKTs for the Pacific Crest Trail, Appalachian Trail, and Arizona Trail. She is a Triple Triple Crowner (meaning she’s hiked all three of the country’s major long trails three times each) and most recently, she completed a Calendar Year Triple Crown, a title she shares with just five other people.

Before Anish found thru-hiking, before she even found the name Anish, she was Heather, an unhappy kid who always felt different. “I grew up having really low self-esteem,” she says. “Not feeling like I was capable of anything…especially when it came to athletics. My life really began with Anish, began with hiking because that’s when I found something I enjoyed.” 

When Anish looks back on herself before thru-hiking, she tries to look back with gratitude because “that person didn’t give up on their dreams and didn’t accept all of the labels and the beliefs that people tried to put on her…she was able to walk those off and find out new truths about herself.”

Days after graduating college in 2003, Heather headed to Springer Mountain in Georgia for a northbound thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. She had $500 to her name, no sleeping bag, no rain jacket, and no tent. She did have, as she puts it, “an incomprehensible ability to suffer.” That hike, completed in four months instead of the six it takes most people, would birth the name Anish and mark the beginning of a new life of continuously pushing herself beyond what seems possible.

When asked what keeps her going back for more, Anish credits the same instinct that drew her to thru-hiking in the first place. “It’s a deep curiosity of what I’m capable of doing and what’s out there to be seen,” she says. “When I first started hiking, I never wanted to stop for the day because I was so curious about what was next.”

Mud, Rocks, Blazes: Letting Go on the Appalachian Trail

mud rocks blazes  mud rocks blazes

Anish’s latest book is a memoir recounting her 2015 FKT of the Appalachian Trail and her first thru-hike along the same trail in 2003. These dual stories follow Anish, a trained and tested endurance athlete speeding southbound along the AT and her younger self, inexperienced, ill-equipped, but with the same boundless motivation making the same trek northbound from Georgia to Maine.

Over the course of Anish’s record-setting hike, she looks to her younger self for motivation, recalling the dollar store gear, Pop-Tart diet, and lost toenails from her first hike. “Here I was in high-tech gear, comfortable footwear, and over a decade of experience under my hip belt,” she writes, “and yet I was lying in the mud and rain, bawling.”

Young Anish has the familiar attitude of a 21-year old who can’t be told to slow down. “What would my younger self have said if she saw me sitting here crying simply because I was tired?” Anish wonders. “I smiled—I knew exactly what that girl would have said: Suck it up, buttercup.”

In reading Mud, Rocks, Blazes, it’s clear that the DNA of an endurance athlete has lived inside Anish from the beginning. When a stranger asks 21-year-old Anish why she is attempting to hike all of Connecticut—50 miles—in a single day, she simply responds, “I want to know if I can do it.” It’s that same motivation that pushes Anish day after day during her record-setting southbound hike twelve years later. 

Any thru-hiker knows that having a compelling “why” for your hike is essential to success.

Most of the time everything’s hunky-dory,” Anish says, “but when it gets awful and you ask yourself, ‘what am I doing here?’ If you don’t have an answer, you’re a lot more prone to quit.”

Anish knew at the start of her Appalachian Trail FKT that she was seeking answers about who she was. “I hope the answer is somewhere between here and Springer Mountain,” she thinks to herself as she stands at the top of Mount Katahdin at the beginning of her hike.

Truth, Honesty, and Inspiration

When Anish first attracted media attention after her record-setting thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail in 2013, she decided to tell her story with honesty and vulnerability. “It’s easy to stand up in front of a crowd and say, ‘I’m a badass and here’s what I did and it’s easy’,” she says. “But I knew that wasn’t true.” Instead, Anish committed to telling the whole and sometimes ugly truth about her experiences. She told people that setting a self-supported speed record is hard but she did it anyway, and anyone can do something big if they put their mind to it.

Giving people permission to dream big was the central goal of Anish’s first book, Thirst: 2600 Miles to Home, a memoir about her Pacific Crest Trail FKT. But she hopes readers take something different away from Mud, Rocks, Blazes. “You’re enough as you are,” she says. “Whether your dreams are successful or not, you are enough by yourself and you’re worthy of everything.”

It’s a sentiment that Anish still has to remind herself of as someone who’s been plagued by imposter syndrome her whole life. “It’s a tendency that always wants to come back,” she says. “But now when I start having those thoughts I can recognize them for what they are, just thoughts being brought about by all kinds of external factors and not the truth.” 

 

Anish completed her Appalachian Trail FKT in 54 days, 7 hours, and 48 minutes. Photo courtesy of Heather Anderson.

When Anish arrived at Springer Mountain, the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, in September of 2015, she could barely calculate how many days she’d been on the trail. Weary and broken, she sat back and accepted reality. Fifty-four days, seven hours, and forty-eight minutes. Four days faster than the previous record set in 2013 by Matt Kirk. She posted an update to her Facebook page, called her mom, and walked off the mountain alone.

If it seems superhuman, all it takes is reading her latest book to see that it’s actually something more impressive. It’s Anish, flesh, blood, and fully human walking in the woods, falling, getting back up, and walking some more, just like the rest of us.

Win a free copy of Mud, Rocks, Blazes: Letting Go on the Appalachian Trail by telling us in the comments why you want to read the book. See contest rules below:

  • Comment on this post why you want to read the book.
  • Deadline to enter is 3/8 at 11pm EST.  Winner will be selected and notified within 72 hours.
  • The prize will only ship to a United States address.

Featured image via Heather Anderson. 

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Comments 48

  • Avatar
    Frank Kovilaritch Jr : Mar 1st

    I am 69 really interested in the AT I don’t think I would be someone doing it in record time still very interested in how and why and what equipment and the personal struggles and HOPE in doing the hikes

    Reply
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      Joe Young : Mar 2nd

      I just turned 70 last month and am planning a SOBO of the AT starting in August this year, fully vaccinated now. I live near the AT in Western NC and look at it as walking home with just a jog down to GA. I have know about the AT all my life. But I only started to plan for it last winter when I could not put off the press of project after project that I and family wanted/needed. I love walking out in my woods, MST runs just about through my back yard, and want to get up every morning and have that as the only thing to enjoy. When are you thinking of doing it?

      Reply
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    Steve Venable : Mar 1st

    At age 60 it’s about time I “get busy living or get busy dying.” And hiking the AT is a sign of life. I’ve read several trail stories but none yet by a female author.

    Reply
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    Drew Boswell : Mar 1st

    I loved her first book and have been impatiently awaiting this one for months. Besides being a superb athlete, Heather Anderson is pretty bad-ass when she’s got a keyboard in front of her, too. Hikers who write exist in droves. Hikers who write well are more rare. Anish is the latter.

    Reply
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    Nicki : Mar 1st

    Her story sounds incredible. I’m a novice hiker who dreams of having the courage to complete a thru hike some day. I’ve read every AT memoir that I’ve gotten my hands on, and Heather’s book definitely sounds like one that I would enjoy.

    Reply
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    Paula : Mar 1st

    I just started section hiking the AT last year. I would love to read Heather’s story. It sounds so inspiring!

    Reply
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    Brian : Mar 1st

    Anish is a talented writer who takes hiking to another level and spiritual place that I haven’t read in other authors. Her first book was beautiful, like her posts on her social media, but with much more depth and clarity. Her vulnerability and openness in her writing is something I’d love to read again. It’s rare in today’s long distance hiking world.

    Reply
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    Graham Biggs : Mar 1st

    I plan to walk the trail in 2023, my 60th year. The logistics are huge, organising a 6 month trip in USA from New Zealand.
    I need all the help, hints and inspiration I can get

    Reply
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    Julie Carney : Mar 2nd

    After reading this article, I really want to read Anish’s book. I got a little emotional reading the article because I see myself so clearly in Anish. I am a 21 year old woman and I am embarking on my first thru hike this summer. I am hiking the Long Trail in Vermont, but I have dreams of becoming a Triple Crowner. I know I belong on the trail, and just like Anish, I know I am an endurance athlete at my core. I think I will see myself in the stories of young Anish and get inspired by the stories of her FKT. Overall, I think this will be an awesome read to prepare for my first thru hike. I love learning about the badass accomplishments of strong hiker women and I know this book will give me tools to start my own journey.

    Reply
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    renae cummings : Mar 2nd

    Read her first book and really enjoyed it. Very descriptive and it was easy to imagine yourself in her shoes. Excited to read another adventure.

    Reply
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    Shirley : Mar 2nd

    You’re enough as you are,” she says. “Whether your dreams are successful or not, you are enough by yourself and you’re worthy of everything.”
    I want to read about the woman who penned this statement.
    This will be top of my list for why I won’t quit when I start my hike 4/15. And if injury takes me out, it is why I will take heart, heal and be back.

    Reply
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    Anna Nissley : Mar 2nd

    I want to read this book to keep the thru-hike dream alive until I can pursue my own trip later this year or next.

    Reply
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    Larry Callander : Mar 2nd

    I am 62 years old, transitioning my career towards retirement and have decided it’s time to put my life in order at last. I have just lost over 50 pounds, a feat that I didn’t think possible just 4 short months ago. Now I am within 2 pounds of my goal. Without a good ‘why” I would have never thought I could do it.

    All my life I’ve dreamed of hiking the Applachian Trail and now I am beginning to think about that dream again. I know I can’t do it without a good reason (the why). I would love to read this book for the inspiration.

    Reply
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    JC Van Etten : Mar 2nd

    I loved Thirst and would love to read another book by you – if I win i will bring it along on my pct thru hike this year, I’m a speed reader not so much a fkt, but I get it done!!

    Reply
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    Nemophilist : Mar 2nd

    So impressed! Anish is the real deal! Her response to the question of why she keeps going back for more deeply resonated with me! “It’s a deep curiosity of what I’m capable of doing and what’s out there to be seen,” she says. “When I first started hiking, I never wanted to stop for the day because I was so curious about what was next.” Being 63, I do enjoy stopping for the day but am excited to resume in the morning! If I had a do-over in life, the younger me would want to follow in the footsteps of Anish, Apple Pie and all the other formidable women out there, but given my age, my goal is to follow in the footsteps of Old Lady on the Trail! LOL! Look forward to a good read! ❤

    Reply
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    Josh Johnson : Mar 2nd

    I could use the voice of experience and the inner dialogue Heather used to push through as fuel for my upcoming thru-hike. I want to do it, but I also want to have her voice in my head when the going gets tough. I’m really looking forward to reading this one day.

    Reply
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    Heather Anderson : Mar 2nd

    It is my retirement plan to hike the AT in four years. So I am soaking up all the info I can in preparation. Heather’s experience on the trail is impressive and I’d love to learn from her. Plus, we share the same name!

    Reply
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    Amanda Unnerstall : Mar 2nd

    Very inspiring for someone who is having trouble taking the leap into fully committing to a long distance hike. The book would certainly help get the jets going below me and stop making excuses, I’m sure of it. Especially, since I use money as a reason not to. Reading that she started the AT with only $500 to her name makes me blush for using money as an excuse.

    Reply
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    Jim Waller : Mar 2nd

    I read Anish’s first book while on the CDT. EverydayI woke inspired to hike further and acknowledge my daily discomfort was minimal in comparison to what Anish experienced. I enjoy how honest and grounded Anish is. She is like a trail companion that I hope to meet someday. I would plan to read this book to keep me inspired this summer on the PNT.

    Reply
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    Olivia : Mar 2nd

    Wonderful article!

    I’m a 22 year old who just finished college and I’m about to embark on my own NOBO hike of the AT in just 2 weeks. Anish’s PCT FKT astounded me, and I’m psyched to read this book. I also took two years of Anishinaabowin in college 🙂

    Reply
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    Julie : Mar 2nd

    I love to read any and all information about hiking the Appalachian trail. The more the better.
    I hope someday to Hike the trail when I retire or section hikes when the broders open back up.
    If not I plan to try to hike parts of the international Appalachian trail that are on the east coast of Canada.

    Reply
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    Katie Houston : Mar 3rd

    I would love to set a self-supported FKT on the CT and Heather is an inspiration. I had never heard of her when I did my thru-hike of the AT but since seeing her name in multiple hostels that I loved and seeing her as a Trek Ambassador, I’m so happy to be familiar with her now. I’d love to read this new book! If I don’t win it I’ll definitely purchase it.

    Reply
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    Doug Wise : Mar 3rd

    Started planning a through hike in 1997, with a spring of 2000 NOBO start (As I would be leaving a 6 year enlistment from the USMC). My eldest daughter was born in June of 1998 – so my NOBO through was put off for 20 years as I would be busy with my daughter. I have sectioned hiked here and there in NC/VA/TN since then, but still have a strong desire to complete a through hike on the AT. I am working hard to retire early and start on the AT, and have high hopes of moving over to the other long trails out west. In the meantime, I enjoy reading about other people who have completed through hikes and chipping away at the trail 15 to 50 miles at a time. A few times a year I also buy a lottery ticket to speed up the process of being able to get on trail – no luck!
    I look forward to reading this book to keep myself motivated – I look forward to a long walk in the woods with very nice people –

    Reply
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    Heat Lightning : Mar 3rd

    As a 21 year old who has thru hiked the Long Trail and a young trail runner I feel like there is some information in the book that could be useful or inspirational

    Reply
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    Lance Smith : Mar 5th

    As a person who has recently completed 4 FKT’s during 2020, I would like to more understand the mind of others that decide to push their limits when they do t really have to.

    Reply
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    Sunnymay : Mar 5th

    Being in nature is called Forest Bathing and it’s renewing with the way it refuels the spirit. Anish’s book also renews the spirit with her grit and ofrtitude to complete the journey she started. She tests herself and overcomes obastacles and gets out of her own way.

    Reply
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    Lisette : Mar 5th

    I devoured the book, with ocassional breaks to cry along with her. It is a wonderful book as a chronicle of her achievement, but the writing is gripping even when you know how it ends. The journey she goes on to peel away the layers of her psyche is even greater than walking almost 2200 miles in less than 2 months.

    Reply
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    Andrea : Mar 5th

    I read her PCT book and really enjoyed it because she’s a bad ass. She has said that this book is even less about the trail and more about her personal story and that’s really the kind of hiking book I like to read.

    Reply
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    Kevin Meeker : Mar 5th

    I would really like to read this book. I want to read about her trials and tribulations she had to confront everyday. More interestingly, I interested in seeing how she picked herself up and confronted these situations whether mental or physical.

    Reply
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    Scott Sandine : Mar 5th

    Really enjoyed her first book, and I’m sure I would enjoy this one too.

    Reply
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    MT High : Mar 5th

    We need more badass women like Anish telling their stories. We need to keep teaching our girls to dream big! As the mother of two girls, I am going to share Anish’s story with my girls and challenge them to reach farther than they think is possible.

    Reply
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      Heather Anderson : Mar 8th

      This makes me so happy!

      Reply
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    Deborah Crowder : Mar 5th

    I completed the AT, but it took me 7 years because I am not the “badass” that Heather is! I have a feeling that I will identify with the low moments in her story, & perhaps I will be able to learn & be inspired by Heather’s strength so that I can become a badass, too, & not take 7 years to complete a trail!

    Reply
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    John Loose : Mar 5th

    I was fully researching thru hiking the AT and I heard that Anish was going to talk in Michigan on May 16, 2019 at an outdoors club meeting. I was there when she told about her FKT of the PCT and I bought her book at that presentation. My favorite story in the book was when she was hiking at night and I think a mountain lion was stalking her. She was wearing a Zebra striped dress and she thought to herself “Maybe this dress was a bad choice to wear…” I would love to read her new book. Fast forward to 2021. I was thru hiking the AT in 2020 but delayed to 2021 because of the “Pandemic”. I am starting the Approach Trail on 3/21/21.

    Reply
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    Michele : Mar 5th

    I’ve only hiked about 400 miles of the AT but my time on the trail has profoundly influenced my outlook on life as well as how I approach my work as a chaplain at a hospital in New York City. I’d love to read Anish’s book to see the connections she has made from how an outward journey like the AT can affect our own inward journey.

    Reply
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    Ken Marlow : Mar 5th

    After reading National Geographic’s book on the Pacific Crest Trail and attending a PCT workshop by PCT pioneer Warren Rogers, the seed was planted and I found myself completing a solo PCT thru-hike in 1982. With intentions to thru-hike the A.T. , the years past and obligations kept me on the West Coast, rehiking the PCT as spectacular and numerous northbound section hikes with my wife. My heros, like many of yours, came by way of reading or meeting on the trail. Those of the likes of Flyin’ Brian Robinson, Billy Goat, Yogi, Scott Williamson and Anish.

    Accounts of those such as Anish keeps the flame alive, as do those of hearing stories by anyone who take a trail to heart. So, here I am, the years have past and life has found me retiring from the workplace, uprooting from Southern California, to where we last left off on the PCT, inside Oregon. Anish’s new book should be the book we all read to keep the flame alive, while waiting for the snows to melt and resume our own experiences on the trails we take to heart

    Reply
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    Sarah C : Mar 6th

    I’m fascinated about the answer to “why?”. I have to read this book!!

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    Michele : Mar 6th

    What’s Not to love, bada$$ woman hiker, self discovery and the AT. When can I start reading!

    Reply
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    Stephen : Mar 6th

    I’m impressed by her humility and would like to read more of overcoming imposter syndrome.

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    Uela : Mar 6th

    Being a backpacker myself and reading Heather’s first book, not able to put it down. I would like to read her second book.

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    cynthia wyatt-briley : Mar 7th

    I am planning to hike the AT in 2022. I have alot of health issues but I plan on doing it anyway. Heather has always been an inspiration to me since reading her story and I want so much to be as tough as she is! I cant wait to read her next book!!

    Reply
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      Heather Anderson : Mar 8th

      Thank you! Best of luck on your hike!

      Reply
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    Holly Hoffman : Mar 7th

    Anish’s honesty about hiking would be refreshing to read. Often times one does not read the hard, lonely, or uninteresting days or miles or the solutions to those issues. It would good to hear those and to hear the perspective of the 21 y/o vs now. wishing her the best!

    Reply
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      Heather Anderson : Mar 8th

      Thanks Holly!

      Reply
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    Michelle Lindsay : Mar 7th

    I want to read Heather’s new book because I felt a strong connection with her after reading Thirst. I’ll never forget the essay she had to write in her middle school gym class about her athletic goals. Even though she wasn’t an “athletic kid,” she wrote about wanting to someday set an athletic record. And then she did–over and over again!

    I can relate. As a kid and young adult, I was extremely overweight and unhealthy. I lacked any athletic interests, abilities, or skills. After learning about strong, inspirational women like Grandma Gatewood, Heather Anderson, and Jennifer Pharr Davis, I decided to give hiking a try. I knew that I needed to do something to take charge of my health, and I loved the idea of putting one foot in front of the other (without trying to dribble, kick, throw, or catch a ball!)

    Fast forward a few years later. I’ve lost over 150 pounds and I continue to hike 5-7 days per week. I’ve gotten my life back, thanks to these inspirational women and the books they’ve written (or were written about them). And that’s why I can’t wait to read Heather’s new book–to keep the inspiration rolling in as I keep walking on!

    Reply
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      Heather Anderson : Mar 8th

      Wow! This is amazing. Thank you so much for letting me know about this impact. <3 Keep walking indeed!

      Reply
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    Bill Vickery : Mar 8th

    I once ran in a ultra run race and, being my first ever ultra, I was surprised when a woman passed me. Of course, years later after running many ultras I am no longer surprised but expect women to pass me. Heather was the first woman to pass me and I have been forever honored that she beat my socks off. She obviously has a heart that endures and I look forward to her story

    Reply
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      Heather : Mar 8th

      This is great! Which race was this? Hope you enjoy the book!

      Reply

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