Monday, April 23, 2018


Darrell and his wife, Lynne, at the
USATF awards banquet.
Photo by Tuyet-Anh Tran
Earlier this year I was fortunate enough to present the 2017 Runner of the Year awards for USATF Minnesota. Minnesota’s incredible running community is never far from top of mind for me, but being able to speak about each of the 26 winners really reminded me just how great it is. It also reignited a spark in me to be able to share some insights from these top runners. I’m happy to kick Running Minnesota off (again) with Darrell Christensen. Last year, the 80 year old Bloomington resident was able to overcome a 1.5 year long injury just in time to earn enough points, in basically the last month of the racing season, to win his fifth Runner of the Year title. Now healthy, he’s eager to get back to racing a couple of times per month. He already has 3 races under his belt in 2018 and is currently leading the 80-84 rankings again. 

You won your first Runner of the Year (ROY) title in 2007 at age 70? What is your running history prior to winning that first title?
1996 or 1997 I was just walking around Normandale Lake in Bloomington with my wife. We’d see people running and I thought maybe I could do that. But when I tried, I ran a couple of blocks and I was tired and would have to walk. By the end of 1997 I was able to run around the lake without stopping.

Then in 1998, I saw in the news that the old Lincoln Del Restaurant sponsored a race called the Kaiser Roll that was an out and back race from Normandale College. It was the first race of my life. In 1999 I ran the race again and heard about the inaugural TC 10 Mile which I finished in 1:21. I was 3rd of 6 in the 65 to 69 year age group and it really piqued my interest in what I had gotten myself into.

I signed up for the 2000 Twin Cities Marathon but suffered an injury leading up to the race and struggled the last few miles before finishing in 5:06. That injury took awhile to recover fully from and although I did some shorter races, it was 3 more years before I did my next marathon. It was during those 3 years when I joined the Lifetime Fitness running group in Bloomington, led by Ken Cooper, and I really learned a lot. Up until then I’d just been running by myself.

In 2003, after 3 years of giving up on marathons, I ran the TC marathon for the second time in 4:14:56. A few days later a friend told me that was a Boston Marathon qualifying time. I said “no way.” I knew about Boston’s history, but didn’t know anything about what it took to qualify. Sure enough my friend was right, so in 2004 I ran Boston. That turned out to be one of the most exciting events of my running career and that’s really when I consider that my competitive running started – at age 67.

When I was 68 and 69 I was running really well, but when you’re competing against 65 and 66 year olds in the ROY rankings, those 3 years really make a big difference. In 2007, when I had turned 70, I was the youngest in my age group and won my first ROY title, as well as my only age group win at Twin Cities Marathon.

After that first title, you won 2 more titles in a row. Things have slowed down a little after that as it’s taken you 8 years to win 2 more titles. Is that a function of motivation, staying healthy, or strength of competition?
It’s never been about motivation for me. It’s more a combination of injuries and competition. For example, I’m just now coming back from a year and a half of being injured. I had an issue with a tendon in my arch. I couldn’t do anything about it so I just decided to rest it.

This injury occurred when you were 78 to 79 years old. Did you ever think that was the end of your running?
Well, I didn’t want to be done. I’m an very competitive person and I really didn’t want it to be the end.

How much emphasis do you put on things like the Runner of the Year rankings and the MDRA Grand Prix each year? Are these titles your primary goal each year?
I certainly do monitor it. Honestly, the only reason I won the Runner of the Year last year was because I was monitoring it. Because of my injury, I didn’t run my first race of the year until the Victory 10K in September. Then I looked at where (leader) Alan Philips was in the ROY rankings and I was able to calculate what I needed to do to catch him.

When you don’t start racing until September, that doesn’t leave a whole lot of races to generate Runner of the Year points. What races did you end up doing?
In addition to the Victory 10K, I ran the City of Lakes half marathon, and the TC 10 mile. When I signed up for the TC 10 mile I realized a still needed another race to win the ROY title, so I did the TC 5K the day before the 10 miler. That gave me enough points to edge Alan by 2 points. 

Darrell at the 2018 O'Gara's Irish Run
Photo by Tom Ruen
What are your goals for 2018?
I’m really looking forward to doing a couple races each month. After missing most of the last 2 years, I’m eager to be racing again. I want to run at least 1 race at each of the distances that make up the ROY rankings and I’d like to win another title. I have signed up for Grandma’s Marathon. That’ll be my first marathon in 3 years. I have one standing goal for all races and that is to not let anyone older than me beat me. 

Do you have a favorite race? Favorite distance?
I don’t know if I have a favorite distance, but I’ve never liked the 1 mile. Even though I’ve run 11 of them, they’re just too hard. They don’t last that long, but from the very beginning you’re just worn out. I probably like the 10K, 10 mile and half marathon the best.

What do your friends and family think about your running, especially now that you’re in your 80s?
I don’t think they’re worried. They’re more likely to use me as an example, like “look what grandpa can do.” I think they look up to me for it. I like to think it helps them to realize that running is a healthy sport.

Do you have any advice for someone that might want to start running, say in their 60s or 70s?
I highly recommend starting without any goals in mind. Just start by doing it for the exercise. Even though in your mind you may be thinking about competing, just focus on improving your fitness. And when you do decide to compete, don’t set any specific time goals at first.

What is your fondest running memory?
One thing I’m very proud of is having the state age record for 73 year olds in the marathon. In 2007, I ran 3:45 at Grandma’s. That's still my PR, although I've run several others under 4 hours.

I was also selected to run a marathon in Japan. Bloomington has a sister city in Japan and every year each city selects people to run their marathon. I was selected in 2010 and made the trip the following year. I stayed with a host family for 3 nights, ran the marathon, and was welcomed by the mayor. They really treated us like royalty the whole time we were there. The year before we had hosted a lady from Japan who ran the Twin Cities Marathon, so when my wife and I went to Japan, we stayed with her.

I also have to include my first Boston because it was just my third marathon and it was unexpected. Nothing in my mind was thinking of Boston. I knew of the history, but I didn’t even know what it took to get there. I wasn’t running the race to qualify for Boston.

What are your strengths? Weaknesses?
Dedication, persistence and my competitive nature. Although my competitive nature might also fall under a weakness. It helps to push me, but it can also cause me to push too hard at times. Especially as I age, I have to constantly evaluate how hard and I can push and what my body can handle.

If you could run with any Minnesotan, past or present, who would it be?
I’d have to say Greg Prom. I knew him fairly well, but I wish I could have run with him over a longer period.

Finally, what do you know now that you wish you’d known when you first started running?
I wish I’d known that you can’t just sign up for a race and try to keep up with everyone. You actually need to put in some training prior to signing up for a race.

Also, I now know that progress is never as fast as we hope it’ll be, but experience is the most important part of progress. It’s like life in general. We can all read and listen to advice from coaches and experts, but we learn best by taking this information and doing, making mistakes and learning from those mistakes.

Finally, when I started running, I didn’t realize how big a part it would have in my life. Not just because of the running, but because of the people. Even though I am much slower now than the many friends that I met and ran with over the last 15 or 20 years, I still enjoy seeing them at races and celebrating many life events with them. They have made retirement and running a a wonderful part of me life.

Sunday, May 14, 2017


I could make a bunch of excuses for not publishing any interviews in the last 4 years, but I won’t waste your time – or mine. It is time to fire this thing back up, and what better way to do that than with Ladia Albertson-Junkans? In case you missed it, the Stillwater-native who now resides in Seattle, won the Chuckanut 50k in March and earned the right to represent the U.S. in Italy next month. Of course, I wasn’t the first to notice as Ladia received some nice press in each of the two leading trail running publications; Ultra Running and Trail Runner. Three words came to mind as I read Ladia’s responses to my questions; energy, spirit, and gratitude. Enjoy! 

First off, congrats on winning the Chuckanut 50k – and more importantly – earning the right to represent the U.S. (again) in international competition. You’ve received some good press on and and I don’t want to rehash those interviews. However, in one of them you mentioned that you had two goals for the race; 1) not to go out too fast and 2) to run your own race. Then it sounds like you pretty much ignored those goals, pushed the pace on the first climb and held on over the last 10K. Where does that confidence come from – especially considering this was your first trail race over 25K? 
Thank you! You are right that I went out faster than I had planned. When I took the lead on the first climb, the effort level actually felt “right” to me. In that way, it felt true to my goal of running by feel as opposed to trying to mimic what the other women were doing. I wouldn’t say I felt confident that I could maintain that effort; in fact, I worried that I was making a rookie mistake by taking the lead so early in such a long race. But my desire to experiment -- to just see what would happen if I ran by feel every step of the way -- outweighed those doubts. So, from that point on, I decided to focus on the moment and take it one step at a time, rather than worry about whether I’d slow down, or bonk, or both.

The win at Chuckanut means you’ll be traveling to Badia Prataglia, Italy in June for the IAU World Trail Championships. That sounds sweet! Is there anything you learned at Chuckanut that you’ll try to apply in Italy?
 I am so excited to race in Italy and be a part of Team USA! First and foremost, Chuckanut reminded me why I love to race; the energy, community, camaraderie, and enthusiasm at races is absolutely soul-quenching. Running through the aid stations at Chuckanut was a thrill I had never before experienced in racing. I wanted to hug and personally thank every spectator out there for their energy, enthusiasm, and encouragement. It ignited my heart in a way I could have never imagined. From a more process standpoint, I plan to add more variety to my fueling in Italy. At Chuckanut, I ate only one flavor of gel and drank only water. My stomach went very sour about half-way through and, as a result, I had a very hard time choking down any calories in the final third+ of the race. A friend suggested afterwards that I try mixing it up a bit more. I also want to get in a few more 20+ mile runs leading up to Italy. I could tell in the final third of the race that my legs and body (a-hem, stomach) just weren’t used to maintaining that kind of effort for that many hours. I managed to hang on those last 6 miles but I would like to finish stronger next time around.

You’ll also be running the Cranmore Mountain Race in North Conway, NH the week prior to the World Trail Championships. That is the U.S. Mountain Running Championships and serves as the selection race where you could represent the U.S. at the World Championships in Permana, Italy in July. Have you given much thought how you’ll approach those 2 weekends – specifically traveling, racing, recovering, and racing again? 
As of a week ago, I truly thought I could make it all work. I’ve since decided, not without regret, to forgo the US Mountain Running Championships. While I’m bummed to miss out on such a great opportunity to race in Cranmore and try to earn a spot on the US team, I’ll now be able to return to a high school running camp I worked at back in college, which I’m very excited about.

Of all the people I follow on social media, I always enjoy seeing your posts because you’re usually in some beautiful mountainous location running, skiing, snowshoeing, fastpacking, etc. When it comes to your training you’ve mentioned, “I’m dedicated but not necessarily structured or regimented in my approach.” Is it possible for you to describe how you make your unstructured training program work, yet compete at such a high level?
 In general, I try to run most days of the week, spend as much time as possible in the mountains on weekends (running and/or skiing), and anything else is just bonus. It’s unstructured because nothing is premeditated; it’s all by feel and one day at a time. It’s dedicated because I don’t only run when it’s convenient. I am very intentional about making time to run and adventure in the mountains, often finding creative ways to fit it in around my work schedule and the other ways I spend my time.

I actually think that this unstructured approach is a big reason why I’m able to compete at a high level right now. It’s what works best for me right now in my life, in the context of all the other ways I like to spend my time. By “works best” I mean that it maximizes my enjoyment (of running and of life) and minimizes burn-out, both of which ensure that I’m getting out often and eager to take on new challenges. I think I’m at a point, 15 years a runner, where consistency goes a long way. I don’t have to do anything fancy, I just have to do it -- get out the door, move, and repeat that most days of the week. The more I enjoy it, the more I’ll do it, and the more I do it, the better my fitness. For me, the biggest threat to consistency is exhaustion and mental or emotional fatigue. Having a flexible approach of running by feel, and taking things day-by-day, lets my body be my guide. If I’m totally fried after a long day (or week) at work, or if a happy hour or family event pops up, then maybe I won’t run that day. This doesn’t mean that I don’t ever force myself out the door -- I certainly do, and I see a lot of value in doing so. That 5 AM alarm in the middle of winter is one such example. It also doesn’t mean that I never run hard, or far, or hard and far. Part of what brings me so much joy is pushing myself on a run, setting a little challenge for myself like running up a hill X number of times or cruising along at Y effort until my mouth fills with iron. I also know that these harder efforts are important to building fitness that can bring me farther, higher, and deeper into the mountains on weekends, which is my biggest motivation right now. The difference is that these harder efforts are rarely, if ever, premeditated. Sometimes I might decide the night before, sometimes I’ll decide 10 minutes into an easy run, sometimes it’s socially motivated like popping into a workout with a friend. Even that early AM alarm isn’t binding; if I decide not to heed its call, then I’ll either have to figure out another time to squeeze it in, or accept the consequence of not being able to run that day (which is usually enough of a self-inflicted punishment to get me out of bed the next morning!). Between running most weekdays, and spending long days in the mountains on weekends, I’ve gained a lot of strength and fitness without much training specificity or structure. That strength and fitness has translated into some fast race efforts, and many cool mountain adventures, all of which has further reinforced that this style is not only fun but also beneficial to my running.

I have no expectation that this rather whimsical style will be what works best for me at a future point in time -- and, indeed, there have been times in my past when I’ve preferred more structure and specificity -- but I think the important thing is being willing to experiment and find what works best in one’s current situation, whether that’s a structured training plan with a coach, or shooting from the hip, or anything in between or beyond. Outside of 8 AM – 5 PM Monday through Friday, I have a great deal of control over how I spend my time. That is a luxury I know I won’t always have, and one that I’m very fortunate to have right now.

I also think that having years of more structured running under my belt, e.g. in college and post-collegiately with Team USA Minnesota, has provided me with a fairly robust arsenal of potential workout ideas. So, on those days when I feel like running harder, I can rely on previous experience to decide what to do. That said, I don’t have the expertise, like a coach does, to decide what to do based on an intended physiological effect so it all still feels like one big experiment -- or, day-to-day experiment. In general, the harder efforts are more like a tempo run, or fartlek, or LT intervals, rather than more nuanced workouts that a coach might write.

I don’t get the sense that you run for accolades at all, but you’re quietly becoming one of the most successful Minnesota runners of all time. A quick look at your running resume shows; 2001 state x-c champ, 2x All-American at U of M, member of 4 Big Ten team championships (1 in x-c and 3 in track), and you’ve represented the U.S. in Scotland, Mexico, Bulgaria and this summer in Italy. You’ve even earned some hardware at international competitions along the way. Can you speak to your “career” and what’s been a driving force for you?
Aside from simply loving to run, I think the inspirations underlying my running have evolved over the years. In the past decade or so, the biggest driving force has been a desire to get the most out of life and good health by not only seizing every opportunity, but *making* opportunities for myself to live a life I love. Having lost both my dad and stepdad before they turned 50, and seeing my best friend Gabe Grunewald battle cancer 3 (now 4) times, I feel a real sense of urgency to make the most of each day and to never take my health for granted. To me, running feels like the most natural way to celebrate my health while also making the most of this talent, and passion, I have for it. I see every opportunity as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and that includes the opportunity to run on any given day -- whether it’s three miles along a highway or 30 miles on remote trail around a volcano.

Last fall your U of M cross-country team celebrated its 10 year anniversary of winning the Big Ten meet. In addition to you, the team’s top-5 was comprised of 3 women still running professionally; Heather Kampf (née Dorniden), Gabe Grunewald (née Anderson), and Jamie Cheever, plus Elizabeth Spehar (née Yetzer). Not to mention Coach Gary Wilson. First, can you believe that was 10 years ago? Second, what do you remember most from that season? 
10 years ago?! Really?! (Checks what year it is) Oh. Three things I remember most about that season; LUDIFL (“Let us do it for Ladia”), our team huddle (i.e., sobfest) after hearing we had won by 1 point(!), and the end of season banquet when I tried to read my gratitude list to the team but started crying within the first 30 seconds.

I think I’ve interviewed more people from Stillwater than any other city – and there are still more on my list. Why do you think that city produces so much talent?
Scott Christensen. His legacy is movie material.

I truly think Scott is the driving force. It helps that Stillwater is beautiful, with great places to run that distract a young mind from the potential tedium of running. There are also hills, so you’re bound to get fit whether you’re trying to or not, as long as you put one foot in front of the other. But, most of all, there is a program that prides itself on putting in the work and getting the best out of itself; an opportunity to be a part of something much bigger than yourself. I can’t think of anyone during my time who didn’t want to do their best for Scott, including myself. There are many stories worth sharing about Scott but I’ll keep it to one. The summer going into my junior year, Scott came back from coaching a USA Team overseas at one of the world championships. He had brought back some team USA gear for his guys and he gave me a pair of the team-issued running shorts. It was the first time I realized that running extended far beyond high school -- that this was something I could do, at any level, for many, many years to come. To me, those shorts were proof that I was one of his runners (not just some girl who asked if she could run with the boys). Those shorts represented something tangible I could aspire to be, a runner for Team USA. I still have them to this day, and I’ve thought of them each of the three (soon to be four) times I’ve put on my own Team USA kit. None of the team shorts I’ve been given since will mean as much as those ones did at that time in my life.

What are your PRs? 

10k 33:18
Half Marathon 1:13:59
Marathon 2:48

I’m not sure how meaningful trail PRs are since courses take all varieties, but I’ve run 2:10 for 25k and 4:17 for 50k.

What are your strengths? Weaknesses? 
I like to think that joy and appreciation are two of my biggest strengths.

Do you have a favorite local or national or international race?
I love them all!

If you could run with any Minnesotan, past or present, who would it be?
Hands down, my BFF Gabe Grunewald! We’ve been running soulmates since the day we met, which was technically in our senior year at the Minnesota State High School Track and Field Championships when I was frantically running around the gymnasium asking if anyone had an extra pair of spikes I could borrow (because I had left mine at home -- on the day of finals). Gabe was the only person to offer me hers. They were a half size too big but the fact that she’d willingly lend her spikes to a total stranger says everything. This, and every moment of our friendship since, is what I’d call my fondest running memory(ies) -- and all the ones to come!

Finally, what do you know now that you wish you’d known when you first started running?
This isn’t just specific to running, but I wish I had known that life was only going to get better and better -- and that running, and the people it brought into my life, was going to be a big reason why.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013


As my ongoing pursuit of converting runners to cross country skiers continues, I’m excited to share this interview with you. At just 21 years old, Jessie Diggins is already one of the best skiers in the world.  After high school, Diggins took a leap of faith and decided to forego college in order to focus on skiing. The move paid off for the 3-time Minnesota State cross country champion.  The Afton resident has since gone on to win 9 U.S. Junior titles, and 5 U.S. titles. In addition, this past season she teamed up with Kikkan Randall to win the USA’s first-ever World Championships gold medal in the team sprint as well as the first-ever victory in a World Cup team sprint.  To learn more about Jessie, be sure to check out her website, like her Facebook athlete page, and follow her on Twitter @jessdiggs. If that’s not enough, here’s a recent Star Tribune article by Andrew Krammer.

First off, congrats on a terrific season. Of course, the highlight had to be teaming up with Kikkan Randall to win the USA’s first-ever World Championships gold medal, as well as the first-ever victory in a World Cup team sprint. Were you happy with how the season played out as a whole?
I was really happy with the past season…there were so many great moments, and good times traveling around the globe with the team! I have to say that while winning the USA’s first Gold at World Champs was one of the highlights, even more important to me was the team camaraderie, the fun times we had being a family while away from home for 5.5 months at a time.

The season has set you up nicely for the 2014 Winter Olympics, which will be this February in Sochi, Russia. Most of my readers are used to the track and field trials where runners have to place in the top-3 and meet qualifying time standards. How does it work with cross-country skiing? Do you still have to qualify or are you already guaranteed you a spot on the team?
Nobody is guaranteed a spot on the team yet; everyone has to earn it. But because of the nature of Cross Country Skiing, it’s a little harder to objectively qualify for the team…every race course is different, and different snow conditions can change the winning race time by minutes. But the USSA has published objective criteria, and to make the team you either need to be ranked top 50 in the world on the sprint or distance list, or make it based on discretion (if you were sick for the qualifying World Cups, for example), or you can be selected based on your FIS points and National ranking. Here's a LINK to the official qualifying criteria, if anyone is interested.

The Sochi medals were revealed recently. Did you take a look at them?
I saw a picture of them on Twitter, but I didn’t look too closely – I am motivated by the feeling of achieving a goal, not by the physical medal. I think my World Champs medal is in a drawer in the basement somewhere!

Nearly 18 months ago, on my personal blog, I wrote the following; “I really think some company should sign Jessie Diggins to a long-term sponsorship deal ASAP. Think about it, she’s having a tremendous rookie season on the World Cup, she’s attractive, speaks well on camera and writes an entertaining blog. Oh yeah, and she’s only 19. That means she’ll be 22 at the next Winter Olympics, then 26, and then 30. She will be around for a while and could easily become as the face of the Olympic Games for the U.S. What do you think? I know you have sponsorships through the U.S. Ski Team, but have any other companies come calling?
Oh wow, thank you for the kind words! I do have some personal sponsorships outside of the U.S. Ski Team and my club team, SMST2. My headgear sponsor is Slumberland Furniture, I am sponsored by the T2 Foundation, and my equipment sponsors are: Salomon, One Way, Rudy Project, and Powerbar. There are also a number of very generous individuals and companies in the Midwest that have helped me to fundraise and have donated to my training and travel fund. I couldn’t get anywhere without the support of my sponsors and community, and I’m so thankful!

[NOTE: if you'd like to donate to Jessie, you can find out more HERE - you can even donate your airline miles to help with her travel expenses.]

The Star Tribune's Rachel Blount wrote a nice article on you last winter that described your season as including 39-race, 10-countries, and lasting 5-months. You do a terrific job on your website of keeping everyone up to date on your racing, sharing pictures of these beautiful ski venues, and filling us in on all the fun you’re having with your teammates. Is it as glamorous as it sounds or does it get to grueling too?
There are so many glamorous moments, where you wake up and go out to train on perfectly groomed tracks in a beautiful town, and think “wow, I have the best job in the world!” Then there are the slightly less glamorous moments when you’re dragging your ski bag through the snow at 4:30 am after an 8 hour bus ride through Russia…and those moments are tougher. But overall the amazing moments and experiences of racing around the world far outweigh the homesickness and tough traveling moments. Especially with such a great team!

If you had to pick, what is your favorite place to ski in the world? What about the U.S.? And Minnesota?
Oh man, that’s a hard question! There is something great about almost every place I’ve ever skied in, and for different reasons. But my top picks? Les Saisies, France has some phenomenal trails that go through woods, field and have fun twisting downhills. Davos, Switzerland has wide open trails that run right alongside the town and river, so when you’re done skiing you can walk right into a shop for coffee and then hop a bus back to the hotel, which is really awesome. And SilverStar, Canada has some fantastic trails and race courses, which go through a super cute town with brightly colored and lit houses dotting the slopes.

In the U.S. (and Minnesota), I’d have to say my favorite place to ski is Giants Ridge, and especially the silver loop, because of the swooping and turning hills that you can carry your momentum over. I have such fun memories from training camp there with the Stillwater High School team; skiing all the trails, doing night sprints, going sledding.

Just one example of the beautiful ski trails of the world.
When you’re ski season does come to a close, you’re very good about giving back to the sport, especially to the next generation of skiers. What are some of the types of activities you do and how can people contact you if they’re interested in learning more?
I have a slideshow presentation that I give to schools, clubs, and ski teams, and I talk about what it’s like to be a professional athlete and travel around the world competing and training. I love doing these visits because it’s so fun to see young kids get fired up about the idea of becoming a professional athlete themselves! It inspires me to work even harder, so one day when I’m passing around my race bibs, I can also pass around an Olympic medal. Parents, coaches and teachers contact me to do these talks through my website, on the "share the success" page where I link my email address.

Another skier I interviewed said, “By definition, all skiers cross train.” What do you like to do to stay fit when you’re not skiing?
That’s one of the things I love about this sport; in order to train really hard and not get injured, you get to do many sports! In the spring and early summer especially we do a variety of cross-training, and as fall and the race season approaches we gradually do more and more skiing-only. I do a lot of running, weight lifting, some swimming, and my favorite way to cool down after strength is to learn new tricks on the trampolines at the Center of Excellence (in Park City, Utah, where the USST has its headquarters). And many of my teammates bike as well.

Since this is mostly a running site, I’d better ask what is your running background is like? Stillwater obviously has a strong running tradition, were you ever part of that?
I actually swam in high school, and never joined the cross country running team, but I had a great time in track! I used to try everything I could; the 4x800, 4x400, the 300m hurdles, triple jump, pole vault…you name it! I really love to run the trails in the park, though. I do a lot of running in the Afton State Park, since it’s 3 miles from my house, and I especially love the single track trails. It’s easy to just get into a rhythm and blank my mind when I’m running those trails, and it’s cross training that I really enjoy.

Finally, much has been written about your decision to postpone college in order to focus on skiing professionally. Obviously, it has worked out for you, but there’s still some debate as to whether or not it’s right for everyone. Can you offer some insight into why you think things have worked out so well for you?
Not going to college was definitely a bit of a gamble, and one that many people have questioned as they look into their own options. I am the type of person that can’t stand to do something halfway…so I knew that if I went to school, I’d be trying to train 700+ hours per year while getting straight A’s, and I knew that I would eventually hate both school and skiing. I had to choose one or the other.

When I decided to postpone college, I had a full academic scholarship to Northern Michigan University on hold, so I could take a year to try out skiing full time with a great plan B. I knew that if I didn’t enjoy it for some reason or got really injured, I could still go to school and focus on academics. And I feel so fortunate to have parents that were fully supportive of my plans, and they helped me come up with a solid plan for if I did or didn’t want to become a full-time skier. Ultimately, I think the main reason things worked out so well for me was because I truly love skiing and the lifestyle that is required of a professional athlete. I like training myself into the ground, I don’t mind living out of a suitcase, and I think traveling all over is fun and a great opportunity for a whole different kind of education, one that you just can’t get in a classroom.

Thursday, April 18, 2013


Of all the interviews that I haven’t done yet, this one is probably the most overdue. I first met John Storkamp in Arizona nearly 2 years ago as we prepared to run the Grand Canyon. For me, it was a unique adventure. For John, it was one of many unique adventures that have defined his running career. When I asked him his PRs he told me I could edit them down. However, I kept them all listed just to show the wide range of unique races he’s done. In addition to his own racing, the 34-year-old Hasting resident is busy directing many of the best ultras in the state. Just a warning, this interview is long, but I think we’ll worth it. (Photo by Adventure Minnesota Films)

Congratulations on finishing another Arrowhead 135 recently. For those that aren’t familiar with this event, can you give us a brief description of what it involves?
Thank you Chad. I was fortunate enough to complete the race this year, making this my 5th finish in eight attempts. The Arrowhead 135 is a self-supported winter ultramarathon where runners can compete on foot (running and walking), on fat-tire bikes or on cross-country skis. You must carry mandatory survival gear with you at all times (sleeping-bag, bivy sack, stove and fuel, extra clothing, food, water etc.) in a "pulk" sled, which on average weighs about 45 pounds when fully loaded. The race takes place annually the last week of January or the first week of February, starting in International Falls and finishes on the southwest shore of Lake Vermillion near Tower, MN. The race is held on the Arrowhead State Trail, a hilly, multi-use trail which is primarily used by and groomed for snowmobiles in the winter. There are three checkpoints over the 135 mile course where you must check-in and can refill water - you can also pickup your drop-bag with additional food for the second half of the race at the 75 mile checkpoint. Aside from the last couple of abnormally warm years, it has routinely gotten down to -20F during the race and I have experienced temperatures as cold as -38F. It is the most challenging footrace in Minnesota and one of the toughest ultra-distance events in the world.

I’ve read that this was the most difficult Arrowhead yet, as only 7 of the 42 runners finished. What made this year’s race particularly tough?
Some people have said this was the toughest year yet, I am not sure about that statement, but I guess this is a very individual thing. That being said, the finishers’ percentage was lower than the past few years. The way I see it, every time you compete in the Arrowhead 135 it feels like the toughest year - it chews you up and spits you out every time, that is just part of its charm. The additional challenge this year came as a result of warm temperatures coupled with a considerable amount of snow the first night. These conditions made it very difficult to stay dry and the 8 to 10 inches of new, heavy, wet snow provided very difficult footing for running or walking. I used this year’s race as a training run for the ITI350 and was holding back from the beginning, starting in last place. This paid off later in the race when things got tough. As a result of this conservative approach, I eventually moved up and finished in second place.

While impressive, this year’s Arrowhead was really just a “training run” for the Iditarod Trail Invitational 350, which you completed in early March. During the event you and your friend, Matt Long, covered 50 miles a day for 7 straight days. You guys agreed to stay together and walk the entire event, rather than racing it. Is it possible to briefly describe a week-long race?
This event in Alaska is something that I had been aiming to do for nearly a decade - besides its big brother, the full 1000 mile version (the entire Iditarod Trail), the 350 is considered by many to be the toughest ultra-race in the world. I had won a complimentary entry into the 2012 race by winning the 2011 Arrowhead 135, but by the time the race rolled around, life-stuff had gotten in the way and I was in no position to compete in the event. This year, things were different, preparation went really well and I was ready. I did the Tuscobia 150 and Arrowhead 135 as training leading up to ITI350 and toed the line feeling really good about it.

As you mentioned, Matt and I decided to stay together with the primary objectives being; 1) to not get lost and 2) to finish the race. So yes, we put racing out of our minds and just enjoyed the experience. The first days proved to be the toughest for me, then after about 100 miles, I was fully settled into the routine of traveling an average of 50 miles a day.

Doing this race is an incredible experience, if you look on a map, there are no roads, no cities (aside from a couple of remote lodges and a few native-villages) once you leave the start and head northwest into the interior of Alaska. You are self-sufficient over some of the most remote terrain anywhere in the world. Traveling safely through the wilderness with the skills you have developed over many years of training (winter camping, ultrarunning and racing) is a feeling that is hard to describe, it is both empowering and very humbling at the same time. There were moments of great hardship and moments of great joy - an event like this is like a can-opener, it cracks you open and you get to see what you are made of. The sights seen, feelings felt and experiences had are nearly impossible to articulate.

On Facebook you mentioned that you don’t throw the term “epic” around too much, but that you thought this event might earn that title from you. What was it that put this event over the top?
Yes, I did say that. I hear people use the word all the time... like, "That was the most epic 50K ever!". I am sure what is deemed "epic" is purely in the eye of the beholder and is informed by your personal limitations and life experiences and maybe I am just too damn desensitized, but after two decades of running, I had never called anything epic. But this one has earned that distinction. The vast distance, the remoteness, the difficulty of the terrain, the beauty, the camaraderie with the other competitors and the anchor that you must pull the entire way all conspire to create and unbelievably tough mental and physical challenge and an unforgettable experience.

What are some of your other favorite ultra/trail events?
This list has gotten very long over the years. I have run the oldest and biggest ultra in the USA (JFK), I have run the most hyped ultra that just about nobody will ever run (Copper Canyon), I have competed the double crossing of the Grand Canyon, a.k.a. R2R2R, and generally have been fortunate enough to get around and run some pretty awesome events. But I always come back home and prefer the events here in Minnesota. I think my two favorite trail races are the Half-Voyageur Trail Marathon (recently renamed the Eugene Curnow Trail Marathon) and the Voyageur 50 Mile Trail Race - these are two classic northern Minnesota trail races with tons of history. They are old-school, no-frills events and the courses are super challenging – running over really varied terrain, including single-track, double-track, service roads, gravel roads, bike paths and paved roads.

While you’re probably best known for your involvement in ultras, you’re not afraid to mix it up on the roads a little either. What are some of you favorite road events?
People are always shocked to hear this from me, but I have always loved road running and racing. They just don't always love me back! Hands down my favorite road races is the Paavo Nurmi Marathon in Hurley, Wisconsin. It’s an old-school, low-key, grind-it-out road marathon and is one of the oldest marathons in the country. The Ron Daws 25K and Twin Cities Marathon are a couple of my local favorites.

John on the trails. (Photo by Todd Rowe)
Backing up, it sounds like you’ve been active your whole life, but is there a time that you can pinpoint as to when you “became” a runner?
I have been active my whole life. Part of that I think comes by default. Growing up in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, kids were just more active. When I was little, I traveled around my hometown far and wide; on big-wheels, bikes, skateboards and on foot. My sister was athletic and in cross-country - I can remember being 11 or so and borrowing some shiny, blue Nike running tights (they were so long I had to roll the legs up and the waist down) and went for my first few runs. In 6th grade I joined the Hastings Cross Country team but got kicked off a few weeks after joining for selling weed in school. I started running again around the age of 15, but never again on a school team. However, I ran my first race ever, the Twin Cities Marathon, about a year later, just after my 16th birthday.

Tough question, but it seems like a lot of people that are really good at extreme ultras, I’m thinking of Dean Karnazes, Pam Reed and Timothy Olson, have all battled drug problems in their past. And in the video you submitted for Adventure Minnesota Films, which you can see HERE, you mention dealing with drugs in your early teens. Do you think somehow the two are related, perhaps in terms of their ability to become addictive?
Yes I certainly do, but needless to say, the two are certainly not mutually exclusive. I have a lot of friends that I run with who have battled the same demons I have and by no means think it is a coincidence that they have gravitated towards running and ultras. Without getting too philosophical here, I believe running is natural. I also believe the life we are living in the 21st century is quite unnatural; whether it be our food, how we spend our days, our lack of physical activity, the amount of screen time we are exposed to, etc. Some people don't adjust well to modern life (they belong to a different time and place) then turn to drugs and alcohol to cope. As an addict, if you are fortunate enough to come out on the other side from your addiction, turning to running (and ultrarunning) is the next great escape (and is quite a bit healthier). But maybe its not an escape at all, maybe it is just returning us to what is natural, to what is at the core of our being and to what we should be doing as a species... being physical and moving forward.

You ran your first marathon at age 16. Did distance running “replace” the drugs problems you had?
I spent a lot of time in AA and NA meetings and seeking out help from other people that had experiences similar to mine. That was the key to getting clean and sober. That being said, running, weight-lifting and an active lifestyle were all an integral part of my recovery and continues to be to this day. I protect my recovery and running as if my life depends on it. That is why my focus, when it comes to running, has always been on longevity and consistency, over performance. To this day I still consciously hold back a little in training and racing because I don't want to get burnt-out or injured. If you are a obsessive-compulsive runner (like me), the hard part is not seeing how far or hard you can push yourself (that comes pretty natural). The key is in holding yourself back and making good decisions (just as a good coach is meant to do).

Now you talk about living the “straight edge”. What does that mean for you?
I throw the term around and ultimately I believe in the message, but really, the important piece of the message is that I am clean and sober - it is just a sexier term that does not seem to scare people off as much as other "recovery" lingo. I don't try to wear it on my sleeve, but I am not afraid of letting people know where I have come from. A big part of what I strive to do in life (and frequently fall short) is to help and be an example for others who are struggling with their own addictions, particularly young people (I got clean at a very young age). It is important to let younger people see that you can lead a good life, have fun, be different and kick some ass, sober. The Straight Edge counter-culture has been around since the early ‘80s and seems like it is something kids can relate to. I identify with it.

What other races do you have planned in 2013 and what are your goals?
Goal one is to recover from all the winter racing, having raced 635 miles in just over two months. Second, is to get back to a consistent training schedule and start with some sub-marathon distance road races early this summer. From there I have been putting some thoughts into when I might reach my 100th marathon or ultra. For some reason this goal has become more important to me the last few years. I think it is to pay homage to the hard-earned longevity I have had. I don't race just to race, but nevertheless it has become a goal. I just hit my 77th (marathon or ultra) at ITI and have been wondering if I can hit 100 by the end of 2014. After that I think I will be due for a year off from ultras so I can focus on some shorter road racing and maybe a fall marathon in 2015 to try to significantly improve my Marathon PR. We'll see though, I usually just go by feel and try to keep it low stress. I am ultimately just one of a million average recreational runners out there, so it has to be fun, otherwise there is little point.

What are your PRs?

This list seems kind of silly, since I do so many types of races, but here goes! Note: I’ve still never run a 5K or 1M race.

350M Self-Supported Winter Ultra = 7 Days 5 Hours 15 Minutes
150M Self-Supported Winter Ultra = 49:19:00
135M Self-Supported Winter Ultra = 40:32:00
100M Trail = 18:16:26
12 Hour Road = 85.5 Miles
70M Self-Supported Winter Ultra = 20:25:00
100K Trail = 12:45:07
100K Road = 8:08:47
50M Trail = 7:46:00
50M Road = 6:04:00
50K Trail = 3:58:00
Marathon Trail = 3:29:00
Marathon Road = 2:53:59
30K = 1:55:51
25K Road = 1:31:19
Half Marathon Trail = 1:34:47
Half Marathon Road = 1:17:30
10M Trail = 1:05:00
10M Road = 59:00
10K Road = 34:30
8K Road = 28:45

What are some of your favorite accomplishments?
Winning the final edition of the storied Edmund Fitzgerald 100K road race. My time (8:08:00) was not super-fast by historical Ed Fitz standards, but to have my name on that list of winners is awesome, an absolute honor and something that I am really proud of. The one thing that sticks out for me is that I actually started this race a few minutes late. It was super foggy that morning and my wife Cheri and I got turned around on our way to the start. We actually passed the runners in the car as we headed to the start-line! By the time I caught the lead pack I was out of breath and Dan from Thunder Bay took off pretty hard out of the lead pack. We ran about 1:05 or so for the first 10 miles, which was absolute suicide pace for me considering we had 52 miles to go. Apparently it was for Dan too as he eventually fell off the pace. I spent the last 10 miles of this race looking over my shoulder wondering who was coming, but ended up finishing about an hour in the lead.

Being the first person ever to finish the Arrowhead 135 on foot. I was in unchartered territory and it was a real battle to finish and get the win. I died a million deaths during that race. During the second half of the race, I encountered -20 to -25F and I only saw one other competitor and one volunteer the entire time.

Completing the Iditarod Trail Invitational 350.

My 25K PR, which I ran at Ron Daws. I was nowhere near the win, but felt great the entire time and was thrilled with my finish time of 1:31:19, averaging 5:53 pace. I should have been running a marathon that day.

Winning the Door County Fall 50M in 6:04. It was nearly the perfect race for me. Myself and two other guys went out really hard at this race covering the first 10 miles in 1:04 or so, we settled down after that but still hit the marathon mark in 2:58, I believe. The only negative during that race was at about 50K I hit a bad patch, which cost me the sub-6:00 finish. But I rallied, moved up from third place to first against very stout competition and got the win.

Putting up 85 miles at FANS 12 hour in 2010. I am still a couple of miles short of the course record, but hope to keep going back and trying until I get it some day.

What do you consider your strengths? Weaknesses?
My strength is my strength (both physically and mentally). Physically: I am barely 5'8" and weigh 165 lbs. For top-end-speed this is a liability and is probably why I have gravitated towards the longer distances. Having some mass has helped to keep me relatively injury free, has allowed me to train fairly high mileage and can be of real benefit in an ultra when you need a strong core and upper-body to push through the late, painful miles. Mentally: The challenges I face during a race are usually dwarfed by some of the challenges I have faced in life. This helps me to deal with the hardships that creep up late in races and I don't get rattled too often.

My greatest weakness is probably also a strength at times; stubbornness and single-minded focus. I often times get too wrapped up in work to train properly and vice-versa, I can get too wrapped up in training and loose focus on other things. Like all things in life, proper balance is required.

In addition to your own running, you’re heavily involved with the local ultra scene. What races do you currently direct and why do you think it’s so important to give back to the sport?
I am the race director for the Zumbro Endurance Run 100M, 50M & 17M, Superior "Spring" Trail Race 25K & 50K, Afton Trail Run 25K & 50K, Superior "Fall" Trail Race 100MI 50M & 26.2M and the Endless Summer Trail Run Series (various distance trail races from 5K to 7M). I originally got involved as a volunteer because I wanted to give back to the sport that had given so much to me. Since then I have taken over as Race Director for the above-mentioned races and I volunteer at several others throughout the year. As anyone who has been involved with putting on races knows, they do not happen without volunteer support. The economics of all but a handful of real high-profile events just simply don't work out and events rely on dedicated volunteers and sponsors to help make the events happen. Simply put, it takes a village, and without the village, we don't have the great events in our state that we do now. I have been very fortunate to work with really great people in making these races happen and have formed many lifelong friendships through this type of work.

John from a familiar perch while he directs one of his many races. (Photo by Zach Pierce)
One of the unique things about your races is that you design all of the awards and t-shirts. What inspired you to start doing that and what kind of feedback have you received?
I have been doing artwork, producing music, messing with photography and been involved with graphic design forever. I sometimes joke that I took over these races just so I can push my artwork on people! I get a lot of positive feedback and a lot of questions about the meaning of the artwork portrayed on the race shirts. The way I see it is this; How many shirts with the silhouette of a runner on it can you have? I like doing something way off the charts to get people thinking and guessing a bit - I think I have yet to put the image of a runner or even a date on any of my shirts. People usually think they are concert t-shirts or are club shirts from some kind of cult or something!

If people want to run one of your events or volunteer, what are the best ways to stay informed? Do you have a website or facebook page that people can follow?
Yep, each race that I direct has its own website and Facebook page easily found via a quick Google search. Links to all of the races can also be found at Rock Steady Running. Please support the local racing scene, whether it is one of the races I direct or one of the 100s of other great races in our state. We are lucky to have such a vibrant racing scene.

If you could run with any Minnesotan, past or present, who would it be?
I don't know how everyone else you interview seems to have such and easy time with this one... I am sorry but I am going to have to circle around this one a bit. I am fortunate that many of my running mentors and heroes are fiends of mine and I get to run with them all the time. While I have great respect and admiration for the fast / elite runners, I have equal respect for those local champs or even middle and back-of-the-packers that have great consistency, strong character and a long history in the sport. Eugene Curnow, who passed away this year, Ed Rousseau and Burt Carlson are some of the local names that come to mind. If we are talking about the famous and elite, the obvious ones for me are – Ron Daws, Dick Beardsley, and Buddy Edelen would all be contenders. All of that being said, I would have to say Barney Klecker. For years, my number one passion / favorite distance was 50M to 100K on the road and Barney ruled these distances and still holds the American Record for 50M. Some day I would like to take another shot at running good times at these distances and when the time comes, I would like to reach out to Barney and learn from the best.

Finally, what advice would you give to someone that’s considering doing an ultra marathon?
If you want to run an ultra, just do it. It’s okay, its natural, it’s not as far or as hard as you think. You just need to modify your marathon training a little bit and be sensible. I used to tell young people and faster runners to stay away for awhile, so they could continue developing their speed before killing it with ultras. However, over time my thinking has been changing on this and I now believe that this really only applies to the very top, most elite runners competing at the shorter distances. For everyone else, it is probably not going to hurt your road or sub-ultra running and quite conversely may improve it as long as you don't over-race. Needless to say, once you cross over to doing ultras, continue to do shorter runs and shorter races so you don't loose your speed, good running form, flexibility, etc. Find some older guys (or gals) that have been at it awhile, even if you’re faster then them, and get in on some long runs. Be a fly on the wall and learn the tricks of the trade. Most importantly, have fun and at the same time, do the necessary work to safeguard yourself from injury so you can stay consistent. Consistency being the defining factor in most runners’ success.

Friday, March 22, 2013


After college it seems like, one by one, my cross country and track teammates stopped running.  As the years passed, I keep looking over my shoulder waiting for them to start racing again, especially as they neared 40 years old and have established their family and career.  While that hasn’t happened with any of my teammates (yet), it is the case with Lance Elliott.  If you’re a competitive local Masters runner, you’re probably wondering where the hell he came from.  Well, he’s been around – just not running.  The 42 year old Edina resident is actually a former Big 8 standout while at Iowa State University.  After a 15 year layoff, he’s back to running – and racing – and racing fast.  This weekend he’ll be participating in the USA Masters Indoor Championships, where his 4:26 mile makes him the top seed in the 40-44 age group.

First off, I believe every Master runner in Minnesota wants to know where you came from? There aren’t any race results for you prior to turning 40 in 2011. What were you up to before that?
It may seem like I came out of nowhere, but I have been in the Twin Cities for over 17 years. There are no prior race results because I didn’t run at all, let alone race. I was preoccupied with starting and running an engineering, real estate, and construction company, raising a family, fixing up our older house in Minneapolis, or designing and building our new house in Edina.

How and at what age did you get involved with running? Where did you run in high school and college and what were some of your accolades?
I grew up in Iowa near Montezuma, between Des Moines and Iowa City. I played all the typical sports until my sophomore year in high school, when I began to focus on running. I had my breakthrough race at the Drake Relays 1600 that year placing second or third (too long ago to remember) in 4:19. I came back to win the Drake Relays 1600 my junior and senior years as well as the 3200 my senior year. In 1989, I broke the class 2A 1600 State Meet record with a time of 4:16.99, which still stands today. I also won the 800 meters at the state meet in 1:55 my senior year.

I ran track and cross country for Iowa State University from 1989-94. I placed at almost every Big 8 meet I ran (typically mile/1500), and was on the winning 4×800 relay one year. I never qualified for nationals, missing by less than .3 second one year. My best 1500 was 3:45. I ran a number of races between 3:45 and 3:47, but never had the breakthrough race of 3:42 which I was in shape to run. My best indoor mile was 4:04.

I received a number of different awards both in high school and college. I would have to dig through my boxes in storage to remember what they were.

As far as your 15 year hiatus goes, was it a conscious decision to stop running or did it just gradually fade away?
After completing my eligibility at Iowa Sate, I continued to train with the team, but my heart wasn’t in it. I was tired and frustrated with my nagging knee injury, which continued to hold me back. In December 1996, I graduated, got married, move to the Twin Cities, started a new job, and even squeezed in a 10 day honeymoon during that two week period! From that point on, my focus was on establishing myself in the Twin Cities, working, and raising a family. Running was the last thing on my mind. I felt washed up and never thought I would be able to run again.

What about when you decided to start running again, what spurred that decision?
I always had it in the back of my mind that I would love to return to the Drake Relays and run the Master’s 800 when I turned 40. But after I turned 39, I had a somber moment while playing football with my boys. I was out of shape, fat, stiff, sore, and didn’t think I would be able to run again. A few months later, my old teammate, Sean Mulheron, and I went down to Ames to watch the Big 12 Indoor Track Meet. On the way back, it dawned on me that if I am going to run at Drake Relays the following year; I had better start getting ready. So after that trip, I went out and purchased a new pair of running shoes; and on March 1st of 2010, I got off the couch and started running.

What similarities and differences have you noticed between your two running lives?
There are a lot of similarities. Looking ahead to future races, planning out the training schedule, and “fitting” the runs and workouts into each day’s other activities are very much the same. The only difference is now I am working and supporting a family compared to going to class, studying, and other student related activities.

On the other side, one of the main differences relates to today’s technology. In my previous running life, we had no cell phones, internet, facebook,, etc. We only had Runner’s World and Track and Field News. Our circle of communication was just our teammates, coaches, and a few friends. Now, the amount of information is incredible. After emerging on the Masters scene in 2011, I quickly began to have communications with other runners and media all over the country. Everyone knows what everyone else is up to.

The biggest difference personally, of being almost 20 years older, is the perspective of time. As the saying goes, “if you only knew then what you know now”. This especially goes for understanding training programs, looking at things long term, and avoiding injury. I often wonder what I could have accomplished in my previous running life if I had been able to accomplish the level of (smart) training that I have completed over the past two years.

You definitely excel at the shorter distances, having run 4:26.29 for the Masters 1 Mile at the New Balance Boston Indoor Games just last month, which was good enough for third place. What were your goals for that meet and were you happy with the results?
I was second in the same race in 2011, with a time of 4:23. I hoped to win it this year, but I knew it would be tough since a number of new guys have entered the scene. I got boxed in early and was slow through 800. I then ran a big negative split and almost caught the leaders at the end. I was disappointed after the race, but later content, as they are two of the best Masters milers in the world. In fact, the winner went on to break the world record for the 45-49 age group a couple weeks later.

Last year you stuck to the track and 1 mile road races. Do you plan on running any longer races in 2013 and what are your goals for the year?
My main goal is to repeat winning the Drake Relays Master’s 800. The other bonus this year is that there is a Master’s 800 at the USA Championships held on the same track in June.

I still plan on running the TC 1 Mile, Rice Street Mile, Minnesota Mile in Duluth, 5th Ave Mile in NYC, as well as other track races. But I do plan on running some longer road races this year. First on my list is to run a decent 5k, and then move up from there. Who knows, I may even sneak in a fall marathon.

What are your pre- and post-Masters PRs?

High School
800 1:55
1600 4:16
3200 9:18

1500 3:45
Mile 4:04
3000 8:24
5k 15:21
10k 32:18

800 2:01
1500 4:02
Mile 4:22
3,000 8:57
5,000 16:13
10,000 33:48

What are your strengths? Weaknesses?
Us guys never like to admit to weaknesses, so let’s start with strengths. My training partners will vouch for me that my strengths are focus and ability to complete incredible interval workouts and races. Whether it is 20 x hill, 6 x 1000, or negative split race, I can typically push way beyond what I really should be able to do. As for weaknesses, I struggle with longer threshold or tempo runs and longer races. I am inherently lazy and would rather work super hard for a shorter period of time rather than half as hard for a longer period of time. I have been working on this and hope to improve my longer races in the near future.

What is your fondest running memory?
Getting 2nd place in the Drake Relays 1600m as a sophomore in high school. I was the last runner to qualify for the event after running 4:32 a few weeks earlier. There was no room for me in the lanes, so I had to line up behind everyone behind the starting line. I ran a 13 second PR and finished with a time of 4:19.99. That is when I became a miler.

As a Master runner, I have two that stand out. The first was getting second place in the 1500 which was held on the final day of the 2011 US Championships at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon. My time was a new all-time Minnesota state record and was ranked 8th in the world for 40 and over in 2011.

The second, one of my fondest ever, was winning the Drake Relays Master 800 last year. Crossing the finish line in first place and jogging a victory lap in front of my “home crowd” 23 years after last doing it as a senior in high school was an incredible experience.

Do you have a favorite local or national race?
Drake Relays will always be my favorite running event. Below is a list of other races I enjoy. I hope to run more local road races in the future so I can add to my list.

Local: TC 1 mile, Minnesota Mile in Duluth, Rice Street Mile, Brian Kraft 5k, Victory 10k

National: New Balance Indoor Grand Prix in Boston, 5th Ave. Mile in NYC, and all USATF national meets

If you could run with any Minnesotan, past or present, who would it be?
As for present, over the past couple years, I have already had the privilege to run with many outstanding runners. One of my biggest highlights was helping Heather Kampf by running with her during her workouts last year leading up to the Olympic Trials. She ran very well, making it to the finals in the 800, only to come up a bit short qualifying for the Olympics. She then went on to win a record number of road mile championships. More recently, I have helped with other Team USA Minnesota members with workouts, races, and accepted an invitation to be on the Board of Directors.

As for past, I would have to say Steve Plasencia. Most people don’t realize what Steve accomplished as a Master’s runner. He broke the American Records for 40-44 in the half marathon, 25k, 15k, 5k and indoor 3,000. Steve has also done a great job coaching the U of M team.

Finally, what advice do you have for other runners who may be starting to run as a Master?
My advice to Masters runners is the same advice I give for almost anything that anyone does, and that is to have fun. If it is not fun, it is not worth doing. The next thing is to find out what motivates you. Pick a race that you would really like to do well. Don't be afraid to train harder than you think you can on the hard days, and be sure to go easier than you feel you should on the easy days. Set your sights on that race and you may surprise yourself. I see too many Masters runners that just run the same pace every day and run the same times at every race and never improve. Unless you happen to be at the top of your game at the current time, you can always improve regardless of your age.

Thursday, March 07, 2013


Last year, Suzie Fox started her season of at the Meet of Miles and finished with Ironman Wisconsin. Along the way the 29 year old Chaska resident qualified for the Ironman World Championships in Kona Hawaii this October by winning the 24-29 age group with a time of 10:38:43, including a 3:30 marathon after swimming 2.4 miles and biking 112 miles. You can read the recap of her race HERE on her blog. You can also follow her on Twitter @SuzieFoxTri.

First off, congratulations on qualifying for Kona on your first Ironman attempt. Was that the goal going in and were you surprised to qualify?
Thanks! Qualifying for Kona was never on my mind. I decided to do an Ironman to enhance my coaching career so I could coach Ironman athletes and then I obnoxiously begged and pleaded my two best triathlon girlfriends to register so we could all do our first one together. I got hit by a cyclist at a half Ironman in Iowa three weeks before the race and was really banged up so I felt lucky to even be at the start line and never dreamed I would be in contention for a Kona slot.

You were able to do a lot of your training last year with those two girlfriends, Heidi Keller Miler and Ann Snuggerud. All three of you had terrific Ironman debuts as Heidi finished in 11:03 and Ann in 11:12. Are you going to be able to convince them to train with you this summer as you prepare for Kona?
Ann loves long runs and swimming so I can always count on her. Heidi gets very busy coaching swimming in the summer but can regularly swim very early in the morning with me. Very early means before 5am but she is worth the wake up call. Last summer Heidi even agreed to do a 29 x 200 birthday swim with me on my 29th birthday which actually meant 29 x 225 for her since she is so much faster than me in the water. That is a true friend! I was crushed that both of them just missed a Kona slot, it won’t be the same without them in Hawaii. Luckily I am weird and I thoroughly enjoy a 5 hour bike ride or a 3 hour run all alone just as much as I enjoy training partners.

Team Chaska; Ann Snuggerud, Heidi Keller-Miler and Suzie Fox (left to right)

That race isn’t until October. What are your other plans for the year leading up to that?
The TC 1 Mile and Get In Gear 10K are my can’t miss spring Minnesota running races, I love both of those. All my favorite local triathlons and duathlons are in May and June so I am racing an Olympic distance or shorter event almost every weekend those two months. Then I am taking all of July, August, and September off to train for Hawaii but will do one half Ironman in both July and August at venues notorious for being hot (Racine, WI & Palo, IA). September will be strictly a very disciplined high volume Ironman training month.

Your bio on the OptumHealth Performance site says you played fast pitch softball for 17 years. How/why did you switch from softball to endurance sports? Was there a particular endurance sport that came first between swimming, biking and running or did you just start with triathlons?
After collegiate fast pitch softball ended I still had a burning desire to compete and push my body mentally and physically. In 2008, I started running and instantly loved it. My sister and I signed up for a half marathon the week before the race, without training. It was very stupid and I was very sore, but hooked. Biking followed and was the easiest for me to pick up, which led to duathlons that fall. Swimming came last and I started doing triathlons in the summer of 2009. The swimming motion still feels very awkward after throwing a softball overhand for so many years. I could throw both right and left handed so my arms still want to throw a ball on the swim recovery from muscle memory. But I loved triathlon so I much I wanted to make a career out of it. I am addicted to the intense physical challenge of triathlon and the people I have met through the sport are fabulous.

In addition to your own races, you are also a coach. What types of coaching do you do and how can people find out more about your services?
I have been a personal trainer since 2005 but my love of triathlon inspired me to become a triathlon coach in 2010. In addition to personal training I do triathlon coaching for corporate employees of United Health Care and Optumhealth and also for anyone else in the public (kids and adults) who want a personalize triathlon, duathlon, running or general fitness plan. You can find out more about all our services at OptumHealth Performance. We do coaching, testing, form analysis, and much more for athletes of all levels and abilities.

What one piece of advice do you give to your athletes the most?
Do not compare yourself or your race results to others, only compare yourself to your past times. Triathlon is your own personal journey, other people have been doing this sport longer, have more free time to train and have faster/fancier equipment. Doing your best, having fun, enjoying a healthy active lifestyle, sportsmanship, friendships and challenging yourself to improve your own personal records are what racing is all about.

Can you tell us a little about your nutrition, which on your blog you describe as a juicer, raw food, Kombucha tea and green smoothie enthusiast?
My nutrition is centered around fruits, veggies, and raw nuts. My brother-in-law got me started juicing daily in 2004, I bought a Vitamix in 2007 to make green smoothies, and my aunt who lives in Boulder got me started fermenting my own Kombucha tea in 2009. I think nutrition is very personal and I feel the best when I eat mostly plants. This is not for everyone. I have completed grad level nutrition coursework but I am not an expert or a registered dietitian. Food is fuel to me, I eat to recover from the workout I have just completed and to have energy to complete my next workout. Very sparingly when I am away from my own kitchen I eat meat and/or diary and I always feel sick after. I have the most energy and recover faster eating plant based foods but never push my beliefs, make suggestions to or judge my friends, family, or clients on their eating habits. People are quick to pick on vegans but that is how I eat the majority of the time and I feel great and eat a delicious variety of foods daily.

What do you consider your strengths? Weaknesses?
Swimming and bike handling are my weaknesses. My work ethic, bike power, and mental toughness are my strengths. I will never be the best athlete out on the course but there is not a sole that I would trade my drive, heart and love of the sport with. A quote I love is, “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.”

What is your fondest memory from tris?
Ironman Wisconsin was the most fun I have ever had racing. People ran up the hills on the bike course with me like the Tour de France. We got to run a lap around the Badger’s football field which was interesting. Seeing my dad’s smile all day behind a big camera lens, having my mom there cheering too, and hugging them both at the finish line. The energy and crowd support on State Street during the marathon was electric. I smiled the entire bike and run, chatted with volunteers in transition, gave high fives to little kids throughout the run, and really enjoyed the day to the fullest. I didn’t want the race to end. Everything just made sense when I crossed the finish line and watched my training partners cross the finish line, things just clicked like all the sacrifices I made to train were worth it, I had picked the right career, how supportive my parents are, how much I love this sport, and that I have pretty amazing training partners. I couldn’t stop smiling for days after!

Proof that Suzie couldn't stop smiling during Ironman Wisconsin.

Do you have a favorite local and/or national race?
We are really spoiled in Minnesota and Iowa because there are so many well run triathlons and duathlons with great competition. The Gear West Duathlon has to be my favorite duathlon because I love trail running, so the combo of two 5K trail runs with an all out 17ish mile bike on roads in the middle is a blast. I could probably change my favorite triathlon every weekend as there are so many, but right now I would have to say Ironman Wisconsin is my favorite triathlon and national race because it was my first IM. I will be back in 2014.

If you could swim, bike or run with any Minnesotan, past or present, who would it be?
Can I count Kara Goucher and Scott Jurek as Minnesotans? Scott’s book Eat and Run makes me proud to be an endurance athlete eating the way I do. I would love to pick his brain during a run about eating and running. Kara Goucher has it all in my eyes, she is a mom while living her athletic dreams. I want to be a mom someday while still working and seeing how far triathlon will take me. I would love to ask her questions over a run about her running career, running during and after pregnancy and much more. I think she is a great role model for women.

Finally, what do you know now that you wish you’d known when you first started doing triathlons?
Swimming is actually fun! I think an open water swim keeps some people away from trying the sport. It almost kept me from attempting triathlon but it can really grow on you if you work hard, stick with it, and find a group to push you or a coach to give you a variety of structured and helpful swim workouts. Don’t give up, just keep swimming! You will get better! As Heidi reminds me all the time, Rome wasn’t built in a day, just keep swimming!