Born again runner

Terry Chiplin is trail running’s evangelist

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Courtesy of Terry Chiplin
Terry Chiplin, founder of Active at Altitude, runs a trail on Mount Ida in Rocky Mountain National Park.

They say you can’t run before you walk, but Terry Chiplin may be the exception to the rule.

The British-native is the founder of the Estes Park-based Active at Altitude, which could perhaps be best described as an athletic experience provider — but listening to Chiplin talk about his business is like listening to a former alcoholic talk about the AA group that saved his life. For Chiplin, Active at Altitude is more than a business. It’s a way to connect people with themselves, with one another and with nature. For Chiplin, running is everything, and everyone is capable of being a runner.

Along with his wife Jacqui, Chiplin has dedicated his life to helping people engage in healthy, active lifestyles, whether they are seasoned professional runners looking to take their skill to the next level, or casual athletes who want to see what their bodies and minds are capable of. To help folks reach their goals, Active at Altitude runs a number of programs, including co-ed and all-women trail running camps, altitude training, running vacations, personalized endurance coaching, mental training workshops and the nation’s first and only trail running conference.

For Chiplin — the man who says he felt like he ran before he walked — the choice to quit his comfortable job in the automotive industry in England and move to Colorado to start Active at Altitude was simple.

“I reached a point back in England that the intrinsic rewards in working with athletes were much greater than the extrinsic rewards from working my day job,” he says. “I felt this balance isn’t right — spending a few hours a week [training athletes] and it fills my heart, and the rest of the hours doing [my day job] and it fills my bank account. Which is more important? So I decided to follow my heart and my passion.”

Chiplin’s passion stretches back to high school, when he grew up dreaming of becoming a world-champion runner, competing in the 100-meter race on the track team — but his dreams started to change when he lost his first race at 15.

“Then the other guys that I was running up against started getting bigger muscles, and I stayed long and lean,” he says. “Instead of winning races I was coming in third and fourth. It really shocked me. I thought my future was set. It really knocked me sideways.”

And as high school drew to a close, Chiplin began to tread a darker path, discovering, as he says, “sex and drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.” He stopped running.

“I had a 10-year dark period in my life,” he says. “I remember waking up one morning and thinking to myself, ‘If [you] carry on like this, you’re not going to have a long life.”

So he asked himself what he could do to break the cycle. What did he used to enjoy that he had given up for this shallow existence? He wasted no time when the answer came to him.

“I put some shoes on, and I went for a run,” Chiplin says. “I got blisters on my feet. I’d run some, I’d walk some, but I remembered how good it felt. How free I felt.”

At 28 years old, Terry Chiplin was a “born again runner.”

Once he found his stride again, Chiplin began coaching runners in his spare time around his day job. He trained groups to run the London Marathon and did health and fitness seminars at his day job.

And just as he discovered running again at 28, Chiplin discovered school again at 38. He quit his job to focus on school full time, earning a degree in sports studies and leisure studies from De Montfort University in England. His dissertation on motivation and physical activity set the foundation for the work he would do through Active at Altitude when he made his way to Colorado, which he and his wife Jacqui did in 2006.

“It just struck me that Colorado is such a beautiful place, and there’s altitude training that can benefit anyone — it doesn’t matter what kind of athlete you are,” he says.

IMG_1926Courtesy of Terry Chiplin

Active at Altitude got up and running in 2008. The business was initially based around training camps for women and for trail runners in general. The Chiplins also set up a personal coaching program, mostly online for remote clients, setting up interviews and creating personalized agendas to help clients meet their goals.

It wasn’t until a few years following the start of the business that the idea of the trail running conference came to life after Chiplin connected with famed runners and American Trail Running Association members Nancy Hobbs and Adam Chase.

“They’d come in on [Active at Altitude trail running] camps and they’d be additional coaches, going on runs — they really helped promote trail running, which was important to me,” Chiplin says. “Having fallen in love with trial running, I wanted to encourage people to do it because it’s such an incredible experience. I got in a conversation with Nancy one day and she said, ‘I think trail running has gotten to the point where it could have its own conference.’”

Chiplin says he kept the idea of a trail running conference on the back burner. The idea surfaced again during a meeting with a surgeon and runner from Estes Park who wondered aloud to Chiplin how to draw more athletes to Estes Park. Checking the back burner, Chiplin suggested a trail running conference.

“A few months later I’m at the medical center (in Estes Park) talking about a trail running conference — how do we get this going, and sharing ideas with a group of interested people,” he says. “At end they said, ‘Terry, we’d like you to organize it.’ I had never organized a conference before but I was like, shoot other people can do it, I’m sure I can.”

The first U.S. Trail Running Conference took place in June 2013 with 100 people attending the two-day event. It has since grown to a three-day event that happens in the fall, with the first two-and-a-half days focused on sessions for trail race directors. These sessions cover topics to help directors hold successful races that are also environmentally aware.

This year’s conference will begin on Sept. 28 and through Oct. 1. There will be a Trail Running Film Festival at the Reel Mountain Theater in downtown Estes Park, with the Estes Trail Ascent closing the conference out. The race covers nearly 6 miles of rocky terrain and 1,800 feet of elevation gain.

To hear Chiplin speak of the conference — of his business, of his passion for running — it would seem trail running is a religious experience for him, and he is its evangelist. His delight is infectious, his mere presence enough to make you hit the trail right then and there, even if you’ve never been a serious runner before.

“We get ideas in our minds and even though they might not be true, we believe them to be true,” Chiplin says. “I’d love to open people’s eyes that trail running is for everybody. You get to run in beautiful places and connect with nature in a way you never could on a road run. To feel trails that are smooth, some have rocks and roots and different angles. For me, it’s much like going back to running like our ancestors. Running on animal trails. Doing it to survive. At the same time, they get to connect with nature, and I think that’s a big part of the problem with society is that we see ourselves as separate from nature. If we put concrete and tarmack over it, this is our world. This is a great way of reconnecting with who we are, with what’s in our hearts.”

Chiplin has placed those positive vibes into everything he’s done, including his newest ventures through Active at Altitude.

With help from professional athlete Melodie Fairchild, Chiplin has just launched his first running app, activacuity, a guided imagery program. The app is divided into segments, programs and sessions. Each segment is centered on a specific aspect that sports psychologists (as well as Chiplin’s own research with Fairchild) has shown to be a critical area of mental preparation for athletes. Each segment has a maximum of 10 programs and each program has up to five sessions. The goal of the app is to create positive athletic experiences with increased confidence, enhanced focus and elevated performance.

Active at Altitude is also about to launch the Positive Running Movement, a worldwide community of runners that support each other positively. The movement will include a newsletter with tips, techniques and stories of positivity; positive race workshops at selected races and the ability to schedule sessions with positive running coaches.

For Chiplin, the idea is simple: everybody is a runner. And that’s more than just his message — it’s the way he lives his life. Through running, Chiplin was able to overcome depression, low self-esteem and drug addiction. Because of this, his life’s work is to show others their goals are more than dreams. Especially for women.

A main goal of Active at Altitude is helping people — especially women, according to founder Terry Chiplin — connect with their potential as runners through a number of programs. Here, women pose during a women’s-only trail running camp.Courtesy of Terry Chiplin
A main goal of Active at Altitude is helping people — especially women, according to founder Terry Chiplin — connect with their potential as runners through a number of programs. Here, women pose during a women’s-only trail running camp.

“There’s this notion or this ideal that you’re only a runner if you can run at this kind of speed and if you can’t, you’re not a runner,” Chiplin says. “That’s the biggest thing I hear, especially from women. One of my goals is to open the eyes, especially of women, to the potential they have inside.

“We believe things to be true about ourselves, but they’re not. Someone has said something, maybe a peer, a parent, teachers: ‘You’ll never be a runner,” whatever the words are. We internalize it and repeat and repeat it until we believe. But I believe everybody is a runner.”