Today we’d like to introduce you to Shalini Bhajjan.
Hi Shalini, we appreciate you taking the time to share your story with us today. Where does your story begin?
I was born and brought up in Delhi, India. I went to school for Fashion Design/Merchandising and in 1998 I moved to New York City to further my education and work in fashion.
How did I end up here in St. Louis, MO?
In 2007 my family and I moved to St. Louis so we could be closer to my now ex-husbands family. At the time I was working as a freelance merchandiser and running was nowhere on my radar. Until the Fall of 2011, when I found myself trying to make sense of things while juggling work, home life and 3 kids under the ages of 10. I needed an outlet, a hobby to help me stay present and so I started running casually 3 miles a couple times a week on the neighborhood roads. At this point in time I was 36 years old and the last time I had put on running shoes was when I ran track in high-school.
As I continued to struggle to find a home life balance, self-worth and caring for 3 young kids. This is when my forever growing dissatisfaction with my work became more apparent and I found myself running less roads and more trails.
In fall of 2012, I ran two road half marathons and started to focus my training on the marathon distance. In October of 2013, I completed my first and only road marathon. As I stood at the finish line of the St. Louis – Rock n Roll marathon I felt hollow. I should have been celebrating my marathon finish instead I found myself asking “is this it?” What next?
Unsure of what that meant until I connected with a group of endurance trail runners, based out of Rockford, IL, the Coyotes. Inspired by stories of runners tackling 100 miles on trails, I was signed up to run my first trail 50K race in January of 2014. Before the end of 2014 I had run every distance between 50K and 100Mi on trails.
Right around this time I found myself disjointed with social norms and not being able to find meaning in my work. I was constantly being stretched between home, pursuing a career and taking care of the kids. I had made a decision to quit my job and stay at home to take care of our kids until my youngest was in kindergarten. What followed was a huge transition year for me encompassing my mental, emotional and spiritual wellbeing.
In February of 2014, I founded Terrain Trail Runners (TTR). I created this group to connect like-minded people in the ultra-running community as well as to find other endurance athletes to train together. What began as an outlet was more of an internal calling, where I was going was unclear at this point in time.
I continued to host group runs through Terrain Trail Runners, and found others in the community that ran trails and ultra-distances. Sometime in fall of 2014, I found myself asking yet another question: Why aren’t there any trail races at Greensfelder County Park or Rockwoods Reservation Conservation Area.
At this point I started to dig deeper into the possibility of creating an event and race management. This is when I realized that I had only just begun to scratch the surface of something wonderful that will shape the trajectory of my life and who I am today as a person, and as a runner. In spring of 2015, I race directed my first ever trail endurance event at Greensfelder County Park!
In 2018, I got my coaching certification and since then I’ve been an ultra-running coach. Fast forward to 2022, Terrain Trail Runners currently hosts 9 events within the St. Louis area and a 50K trail race series which includes races and race directors from other states across the Midwest. Terrain Trail Runners has shaped St. Louis’s trail/ultra-running community and all that Midwest trail running has to offer! What started as a hobby to stay sane is now my full-time job. As TTR evolves and I continue to grow and change with it, I think Confucius was onto something when he said “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”
Has it been a smooth road? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
It’s never a smooth road going against the grain and pursuing an unconventional career. Being self-employed and the only employee working has its pros and cons. So I will start with the pros of what I do for a living; I get to run in beautiful places and live a life that’s never short on adventures! As a coach I take pride in training runners and get to witness an individual’s journey as they find their why, when training for an ultra-distance race.
Now for the cons, not having any background in event management, I’ve had to learn the ropes of this industry. I’ve stumbled multiple times, worried about how I was going to pay my bills and self-corrected an uncountable number of times. I stand before the world as an autodidactic!
Some of the other challenges come with being a female race-director in a male dominated industry and outdoor sport. Being a female athlete I find myself having to prove my self-worth time after time. Spinning through all the learning curves of trail/ultra-running, I have become a strong advocate for gender equality in the outdoors. Being a mother to three growing teenagers and setting boundaries in this forever changing world, like many others out there I too find myself doubting and questioning my life choices. But I have been fortunate enough to have a strong community of trail/ultra-runners behind me that have helped me propel forward as I continue to challenge myself with my personal racing goals and help others see the meaning in trail/ultra-running!
We’d love to learn more about your work. What do you do, what do you specialize in, what are you known for, etc. What are you most proud of? What sets you apart from others?
I run trails and I manage trail running endurance events. I manage a trail, ultra-running group: Terrain Trail Runners – STL. I’m also an endurance coach and help athletes achieve their distance running goals, whether it is training for a ½ marathon or 100 miles. As a running coach and race director my focus is trail running and managing endurance events on trails.
Facebook Page: Terrain Trail Runners – STL | Facebook
I’m most proud of bringing to life the STL Women’s Trail Summit, this event took a hard hit due to Covid but in 2022 I’m bringing it back and hoping that in the future years this event will continue to inspire and bring together all women in the local outdoor community to share their experience, learn and continue to thrive in STL outdoor and trail, ultra-running community.
STL Women’s Trail Summit Website: STL Womens Trail – Terrain Trail Runners
What set’s Terrain Trail Runners – STL apart from others is we specialize in trail endurance events that range from 5K all the way up to 100 miles.
What are your plans for the future? What are you looking forward to or planning for – any big changes?
Plans for the future: In 2022 we are launching St. Louis’ first and only 3 day stage race scheduled for October 28-30.
Race website: Thunder Chicken 100K – Terrain Trail Runners
Facebook Page: Thunder Chicken 100K Stage Races | Facebook
We are also in the process of launching our first 5k distance trail race at Cliff Cave Park scheduled for January 1, 2023 – Doomsday 5K
Aside from that we continue to grow awareness across the trail running community that St. Louis has some scenic and challenging trails and not all of the Midwest is flat!
- Website: http://www.terraintrailrunners.com/
- Instagram: shalinibhajjan
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1357000663
- Twitter: Runtillyou_drop
Marcus Janzow @ Janzow Photography