Alan Ortega never imagined how integral running would be to his life, much less the notion of identifying as a runner. He grew up in SoCal as an asthmatic, punk rock kid and only associated high exertion activity with pain. It never occurred to him that running didn’t need to be defined as monotonous pouding of pavement with burning legs and lungs. So it was with trepidation that he agreed to join friend and coworker Paul Schwanemann for a day of mountain running on Mount San Antonio, the highest peak in Los Angeles County and known more colloquially as Mount Baldy.
What began with uncertainty about his ability to ‘hang’ was quickly rewired. Out there, Alan discovered the many places running could take him, how much ground he could cover, the vast wild places he could explore and connect with peoples of the past, and his absolute favorite thing—running downhill. Fast.
Seven years—and many thousands of mountain miles later, Alan relocated from LA County to the Pacific Northwest, and despite his continued reluctance to identify himself a runner, Alan launched the Seattle REI Run Club and found himself in front of the camera making video content for REI about all things running—including running on the road!
Not one to pass up unique and likely fleeting opportunities, Alan began saying yes to everything from road running to racing in the New York City Marathon—far from his mountain running roots! For the past two years he’s been an on-camera authority on running gear and advice, and spent meaningful time running with legends like Scott Jurek, Magda Boulet, Brandon Dugi and Louie Gong. Alan’s authentic approach to the sport and genuine interest in connecting with community and place has turned him into a legend himself, whether he wanted it or not.
While Alan’s story and running journey doesn’t end here, it does follow a cyclical path. After a few years in Seattle, Alan finds himself back in SoCal and staring up at the face of Mount Baldy in a trail running race at the very place he first learned to understand and love to run. There, he reflects on his past, reconnects with people and places, and maybe—just the tiniest bit—begins to reconcile part of his identity as a runner.
This is an REI Co-op Studios production!
Director: Amy Enser
Producer/Videographer: Braden Van Dragt
Producer: Mary Beth Lavender
Videographer: Kyle Roof
Editor: Eric Munch
Executive Producer: Joe Crosby