1. Tell us a little about yourself, how you got started with endurance sports and why you decided to make the jump to ultra-running.
Currently I am a senior at Virginia Tech set to graduate this spring with my degree in Urban Forestry, a follow-up to my first degree in Natural Resource Conservation. Growing up, swimming was my life, my entire family was involved with it. Though I pretty much peaked around age 12, I continued with it until my junior year of high school before giving it up. I attribute my swimming upbringing for my time management skills and for instilling a strong work ethic for sports and life.
As a freshman at Virginia Tech (2010), I joined the VT Triathlon Club. On a whim that following spring, I decided to run the Holiday Lake 50k with a few other teammates. Though I went into the race very much unprepared and ended up injured afterwards (IT band), I was intrigued by the challenge of running for the distance and wanted to give ultras a go. I still love triathlons too, but really, I love anything that involves being outdoors and active!
2. Hellgate 100k (Dec 2013) was a breakout performance for you. At one point you mentioned how things just "clicked," something all of us competitive athletes strive for in a race. Can you describe that feeling and how it played out on race day?
At the start of Hellgate (as early as mile 3) I knew pretty early that it was going to be a great race. I consciously made the decision to start out fast so as to stick with a solid group of runners I'm familiar with through the night section (the race starts at midnight). As I was running in the pack, I noticed my effort level was considerably less than the other guys. I was feeling relaxed overall and my legs just felt "on." Even so, I stayed conservation through the night.
The combination of early patience, having a huge base of mileage through the fall, course knowledge and running with a solid pack of runners really contributed to my success. Once the morning came, I began to push the pace and my legs and mind just felt in sync. Positive self-talk really made a difference once daylight came and I was running alone. I would verbally motivate myself with a mantra, "You're crushing this. You don't have to run fast, just run steady." This helped me to put forth one of my hardest race efforts ever and was rewarded with a 2nd place overall finish (by only 8 seconds!) and PR'd by about 1 hr, 20 minutes. It's paradoxical because, though I've received a lot of outside affirmation for my performance, I often think more about the internal satisfaction that I gained by reaping the benefits of my hard work.
3. Describe your training gearing up for your fall 2013 races and a little about how you fuel for those epically long training sessions.
Grindstone 100, my first 100-miler, was set to be my A race for the fall. I was highly motivated and took my training seriously all summer, putting in high mileage weeks* (100+ miles) and many over-distance runs which attributed to building a huge endurance base. Once Grindstone was cancelled (government shutdown), I lost my motivation for the specificity of training but continued to be highly active in other ways. I put in one 22 hr week of triathlon training (major luxury of being a college student) and raced a flat 50k and even flatter 50 miler, setting big PR's in both. These two races allowed me to realize that I can drop time by running ultras, something I love moreso than just hiking through them. After these races I just strived to put in a few faster tempo-like runs and then maintain my fitness through Hellgate.
As for fueling, I experimented a lot with liquid calories throughout the summer months with Gu Rocktane being my go-to choice. In general, I aim for 250-300 calories per hour of liquid + solid calories. I have experimented with other foods in my training sessions, but ultimately I stick to a few key reliable fuel choices that work best for me.
**Note: Rudy took time to build up to his high mileage over the span of a few years... it did not happen overnight and is not for everyone :)
4. How do you fuel on a day-to-day basis to support and optimize your training? What are some of your favorite foods?
Breakfast tends to be my biggest meal of the day and I load up on big bowl of oatmeal with almond butter, cinnamon and honey. I also tend to eat a lot of cereal, PBJ sandwiches and egg-bean burritos. At dinner, I try to include a large portion of steamed vegetables, mainly broccoli, edamame or green beans, paired with whatever else I'm having for the evening. I don't typically buy or prepare meat but I don't restrict it from my diet. I also love fish and wish I ate more of it! So in general, I eat a lot of food to support my active lifestyle and prefer to keep things simple.
5. What big races do you have in mind for 2014. How might you change up your training this season based on your experience and performances in 2013?
The Bighorn 100 (Wyoming, June 22nd) will be my A race for 2014 and my first 100-miler. I would love to throw in a random road marathon sometime this spring, otherwise the rest of my racing schedule is still up in the air. As for training, 2014 will be the "year of workouts" for me. I've never consistently done workouts for running and I think a bit of specificity and focus will help take my running to the next level.
6. You recently spent 2 weeks out west "living the dream," exploring new running trails, sights and scenes. What states did you visit and what was your favorite trail or run?
We spent the majority of our time in Colorado, and then traveled to Utah, Arizona, and hit up Tennessee on the way home. My favorite trail/run by far was Canyon Lands National Park in Utah (7,000 ft elevation), which is the most remote I've ever felt on a run and the most unique, diverse terrain I've ever run on. We did an 8-mile tempo run starting on the sunny side of the canyon, ran up and over the canyon and into the dark side where it was snowy and icy. At one point mid-run we just stopped for 20 minutes and took in the scenery before racing back.
7. What future races are on your "bucket list" and where do you see yourself as an athlete in 5 years?
Western States 100 is definitely on my bucket list along with the HURT 100 in Hawaii and the Leadville 100 when it gets back to its more traditional production. I also want to be competitive in some 50 milers, my favorite distance right now, because they are certainly runnable but you really have to dig deep to endure.
In 5 years I would love to still be in California (moving there this summer!) or in Seattle. I plan to still be running ultras, just slowly continuing to build up my fitness while maintaining a love for the sport. I would love potential sponsorship if the cards line up for me, but that won't be my focus in training or racing.
8. What's one major obstacle you've had to overcome as an athlete and how did you work through it?
I have a tendency towards burnout, mainly because of how passionate I am about everything I do. To avoid going there, I try to keep longevity in mind when training and racing. I make sure to not race every ultra I participate in because I eventually want to be that 60-year old dude still kicking it! Training with others definitely enhances my enjoyment of the sport long-term while keeping me grounded. Also, at times I can be insecure as to how other athletes and racers view me, but I am continually reminding myself that I am training and racing for my own personal satisfaction and not to appease others.
9. Do you have a favorite 'recipe' to share?
I love to cook but don't do elaborate recipes often. As I mentioned, I love simplicity, especially as a busy athlete! One of my favorite combinations is black beans on a wheat tortilla with shredded cheddar cheese and gobs of "red hot" sauce!
10. Any other thoughts, tips or words of wisdom?
Do what you do because you want to, not because it's the latest trend or someone else is doing it.
Thanks for reading and hope you've found some inspiration through Rudy's story. I'll leave you with his favorite quote (one that I love too!)
Kristen Chang is Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD) and endurance athlete residing in southwest Virginia alongside her husband and dog. Through this blog she aims to share favorite fueling recipes, general wellness and sport nutrition tips and stories from her athletic endeavors.
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