BLUE HILL — Last spring, Charlotte Clews did something she’d never done before. The Blue Hill woman ran 100 miles in 28 hours and 54 minutes up and down the hilly trails of the Androscoggin Riverlands State Park in western Maine. Along the way, she battled blisters, black flies, rain and, of course, fatigue. But for her, it seems, no obstacle is too daunting, just as long as she takes it one step at a time.
“I love zoning out, that’s the best part of long-distance running,” Clews said. “You can’t run one hundred miles and be thinking every five minutes of how many miles you have left to go. I suppose one could, but it would be miserable.”
In a post-race blog entry on her website, wildopenheart.com, Clews writes about how she tries to stay in the moment on a run. She might do a body scan to check if she needs any self-care, or watch her surroundings for wildlife, birdsongs and the kinds of rocks underfoot.
“But none of it sticks firm and my mind just floats along most of the time,” she writes. “It really is quite meditative and soothing, not boring at all!”
That state of mind allowed Clews to not only cross the finish line, but also work with the challenges of life beyond it.
“Running has really helped my parenting,” said the mother of two young girls. “Because when you’re having a hard time with your 10-year-old and you’re thinking ‘Oh my God this is going to be so much worse in six years,’ it’s like no, don’t go there. Focus on right now, what’s in front of you right here.”
The 100-mile trail race was one of the latest in Clews’ many great adventures. The George Stevens Academy graduate hitchhiked to Harper’s Ferry in West Virginia and walked her way back north along the Appalachian Trail when she was 19. In her 20s, Clews helped study peregrine falcons, warblers, geese and other birds and bats across North America and the Caribbean. In 1999, she solo-hiked the entire 2,600-mile Pacific Crest Trail and she also led backpacking trips through Alaska and the Yukon.
Some of the 42-year-old’s adventurous spirit can be traced back to playing in the quarry behind her house in Blue Hill with her twin brother.
“Both my brother and I were very into being adventuresome and independent,” she said. “We had a little bit of a macho streak, or a something-to-prove streak.”
As she got older, Clews got into hiking, rock-climbing and ski racing. But when she was injured while Nordic skiing in college, Clews took up yoga to stay active. Pretty soon, Ashtanga yoga became her passion.
“It’s a very athletic, energetic type of yoga where you sweat profusely, it’s a workout with a lot of push-ups,” Clews said. “Immediately I was hooked.”
Clews studied the discipline voraciously and eventually became an instructor.
“It became my sport all through college, and because I was teaching it, it also became my livelihood,” Clews said. “This was in the late ’90s when there weren’t that many yoga teachers and it wasn’t a very competitive job.”
Unfortunately for Clews, Ashtanga can also be a very injurious form of yoga. Clews’ very physical lifestyle suddenly came to an abrupt halt when she broke her wrist in the early 2000s. She couldn’t put weight on her wrist, which prevented her from rock climbing or doing much yoga. But she also had torn her ACL and stress-fractured her femur, so she couldn’t run either.
“I was very depressed,” Clews said. “It was a really humbling experience, I’m really young but I had that six-year experience of feeling out of shape and injured.”
But in 2008, shortly after the birth of her second child, Clews’ body had recovered enough for her to start running again. She started running barefoot, first to the end of the driveway in Blue Hill and then building up slowly in distance, one step at a time.
“I started running up the driveway and back and then running to Curves and doing Curves with all the 60-year-old ladies and running home,” Clews recalled. “But that’s how you do it, just a little tiny bit at a time.”
Those tiny bits add up, as proven by her 100-mile race last May. When she’s not running epic distances, Clews still finds ways to have modest adventures closer to home, such as running up Cadillac Mountain with a few friends through the snow and wind on New Year’s Day.
“I love having the freedom to do that stuff,” she said. “It’s like a clean slate: now I can go back and teach, be a mother and pay my bills and do all the domestic stuff, because I still have that part of me that gets to be wild and a little reckless.”
Nowadays, Clews has her own business, called Wild Open Heart. She teaches yoga, Pilates and functional fitness classes to groups and individuals at the Blue Hill Mountain Studio on Mines Road. The joy of movement is one of the most important lessons she tries to impart to her students.
“I always tell my students that there’s two ways to change how you’re feeling,” Clews said. “You can do it through the body physically, by changing your physical shape or location. Or you can change your mind.”
It’s good to be well-versed in both options, Clews said, because sometimes you may only have access to one. If you’re stuck on a plane or injured or disabled, she said, you may have to change your mind or perspective. But if you’re depressed or stressed and have the ability to go on a walk, maybe that’s the choice for you.
Knowing these options is especially important in Maine in winter, Clews said. But one doesn’t have to run up Cadillac Mountain in a snowstorm to feel better. There are simpler ways to get a breath of fresh air.
“I always tell people, ‘if you just commit to 10 minutes of walking every day no matter what, you can change your outlook,” Clews said.
“No one ever regrets going on a walk,” she continued. “No one ever comes back from a walk and says ‘Agh, I wish I hadn’t done that.’”
To learn more about Clews’ Wild Open Heart program, contact her at [email protected] or through the Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/wildopenheart.charlotteclews/.