Friday, March 10, 2006

USATF Ultrarunner of the Year, Anne Riddle Lundblad

Few ultrarunners can claim a two-year streak winning every distance from marathons to 100k’s. Anne Riddle Lundblad can. This 39-year-old mother and counselor from Asheville, NC, has been tearing up the ultra scene since she started in 1999. 2004 was a banner year, when she won both the US Trail Marathon and 50km Championships. How could she top that for 2005? Here’s how! In 2005, she placed 2nd in the International Association of Ultrarunners World Cup 100K in Lake Saroma, Japan, helping lead the U.S. women's team to a gold medal finish (Anne was only 41 seconds behind the gold medal winner). She also won the Mountain Masochist 50 Mile (course record), the JFK 50 Mile (course record at the world’s largest 50-mile race), the Promise Land 50k, the Carrboro 50k (tied for first), the Mount Mitchell Challenge, and the Virginia Creeper Marathon (course record). Whew! It was no surprise she capped the year by being named the USATF Female Ultrarunner of the Year, received an Everest Award from the Teva Mountain Games, and just last weekend, won the USATF 50k Road Championships for a 7th consecutive time.

(Anne crosses a stream at the Springmaid Splash 10k in Spruce Pine, NC, August, 2005)

How does Anne do it?!? Maybe it’s because her husband, Mark Lundblad, is also an accomplished ultrarunner (2005 outcomes include winning the Black Mountain Marathon in insane conditions, a 2nd at the Holiday Lake 50k, 3rd at the Promise Land 50k, and more). Maybe it’s because she runs a counseling business to help athletes find their internal best. I caught up with her over e-mail to see what I could find out.

Congratulations on an amazing year! Did you have any idea 2005 would have so many consistent finishes across all those distances?

No, I didn’t. Wrapping up 2004 the way I did, I really felt as if I had reached the pinnacle of my running potential. As I get older, and my daughter grows up and has her own activities, I keep telling myself that each year of racing will be my last…but then the bug bites again and I feel like I need to continue to challenge myself. In 2005, my racing didn’t necessarily get off to a great start for me. I got married in December, 2004, and between holidays and the honeymoon, wasn’t in peak condition by the time January rolled around. The spring season was a bit disappointing for me, but I kept at it, knowing that my larger goals (the 100k championships and JFK) were later in the year.

Tell us a little about your experience in Japan, and being a part of such a great US team for the 100k championships. With less than a minute between you and the leader, it must have been a race to the finish!

I went into that race fairly confidently, knowing that I had trained harder than ever before and was in good shape. After a brief injury scare a month before the race, I arrived in Japan ready to race. We had an awesome US team, both talent-wise and personalities. It’s interesting how we can all race against one another throughout the year, track one another’s performances across the country, and view each other as competition here in the States – but as soon as we get to the World Cup, we are the most cohesive team I have ever been a part of.

The race itself was interesting. I had no idea that I was that close to the leader. I started off the race in about 6th place and gradually worked my way up. At 90k, there was a turnaround and I estimated that I was about 10 minutes behind the leader, so I had no illusions of trying to catch her. Rather, I yelled “Gambatte!” (Japanese for “go!”) and gave her a smile. At 98k, our US team manager told me I was 4 minutes back, and I still had no thoughts about reeling her in. Had I known that I would end up in second by only 41 seconds, maybe I could’ve dug deeper…I don’t know. As it was, it was one of those races that you finish and pretty much collapse into the arms of the closest person. People say that with another quarter of a mile I could have caught her…but I’m not sure that I could’ve run another 400 meters!

The US team took gold in Japan. Who else was on the team?

Our women’s team consisted of Nikki Kimball, Tania Pacev, Ann Heaslett, Anthea Schmid, and Karen Scott. All amazing ultra and trail runners. Nikki, Tania, Ann and I had all been on prior US teams, so we have a fair amount of international experience, which really helps in that sort of setting.

You raced a lot in 2005. How many races do you like to do each year?

2005 was a big year for me. I raced eight ultras, one trail marathon, and a few shorter races. Each December, I plan out the year ahead. I usually choose two to three races to key on – one or two per season, then choose other events as training efforts to build up to the big ones.
I have heard that you vary your races between trails and paved roads, and compete in nearly all distances. Is that always the case, or do you focus more on one terrain/distance as certain races get closer?

I’m a big fan of the well-rounded runner. I can’t stand it when “roadies” put down ultras or trail races because of the slower pace, and similarly, I hate it when trail snobs talk trash about road races. I think there is a place for all types of competition – terrain and distance. For me, that keeps things interesting.

When did you start trail running? Have you always been an athlete?

I started running at age 14, basically because I wasn’t good enough to make the high school soccer team. My parents told me about cross-country, which sounded like fun. I liked the idea of running through fields, up and down hills, and over streams. I ran competitively throughout high school and college, then took a break from racing for several years. I discovered trail running while living in Boulder, but didn’t run my first trail race until moving to the mountains of western North Carolina in 1993.

(Anne sets the course record at the Virginia Creeper Marathon, 2005;
photo courtesy of Frank Kibler)

How has your counseling business helped your performance? Can you tell us more about it?

Actually, my counseling business developed as an outgrowth of my own racing. I began using mental training techniques in 2001, while preparing for my first national championship race. Over the past few years, I have continued to explore the mind+body connection and have seen it really impact my own performances. I hadn’t really thought about it in terms of developing a business until a friend suggested it earlier this year. It made a lot of sense to share with others what has worked so well for me. So now I do it as a small side business, continuing with my main job as a college counselor. What has evolved is sort of a combination of coaching, motivating, and inspiring. I work with athletes to help them develop specific psychological tools to aid performance, and have also begun counseling injured athletes who are dealing with the emotional aspects of physical injury.

What inspires you to run? And keep up the training?

I don’t know if I could even say what inspires me any more. After twenty-five years of running, my daily run is as natural as brushing my teeth. I don’t even think “why” – it’s more where, when, and how far. For me, it’s a chance to be alone in the woods – to clear my head and find my connection with nature – basically, to get myself grounded before I spend all day counseling other people on their problems or parenting my daughter.

Now training is another matter. There are days when it is really, really hard to get on the track for an interval workout or to head out for a long run in nasty weather. That’s where goals come in…I am always thinking about my next race and how this particular workout fits into the overall plan.

Do you use pacers? It seems like Mark is always running the race with you, and I don’t suppose your six-year-old can quite keep up.

Most of the races I compete in don’t allow pacers. Mark did pace me in my first (and possibly, only) 100 miler, Vermont. It was not such a fun experience. Mark tried his best to support and encourage me, but overall, I think there would have been a lot less whining on my part if I had chosen a pacer who was not also my spouse!

What does Emma think about mom and dad going for these crazy runs?

Emma’s at that age where she is beginning to ask every once in a while, “Why do you have to go run again?” That breaks my heart and I try my hardest to get my runs in while she’s not around, so as not to take time away from her. Sometimes that involves long runs on the treadmill after she’s gone to bed. Not ideal training, but you do what you have to do. She does get a kick out of all my trophies, however, which she keeps in her room. At my last race, I won a plaque instead of a trophy and she said, “Mom, you know I’m collecting trophies, not plaques. You’d better get a trophy at your next one.” I hope that as she grows up, I can be a role model for her – not necessarily around running, but more in terms of finding your passion and pursuing your dreams. Right now she’s saying she doesn’t want to be a runner, she wants to be an artist – which is just fine with me.

Asheville, NC, seems like an ideal place for training and racing. Have you always lived there? Where do you train the most?

I grew up in a rural area of Virginia, moved to Colorado for graduate school, and returned east in 1993. I wanted to be closer to family, and Asheville seemed like the natural choice because of the variety of outdoor sports and the beautiful setting.

What are some of your favorite races/locations?

I’d have a hard time choosing, because there are so many races I love for a variety of reasons. I’ve only run one West Coast race, and the scenery was spectacular, so I’ve been meaning to get back out there. We have great races in NC and VA – beautiful, technical trails, big climbs, tough competition. I especially enjoy some of the races put on in the Lynchburg area by David Horton. He’s a terrific race director and his races are notoriously challenging.

Lastly, a few training questions. What’s a typical training week look like for you? How many miles? When do you add in speed work?

My training varies according to the time of the year. I’m a big fan of periodization, so I’ll usually begin the year building base, anywhere from 75-90 miles per week, mostly easy trail runs. During the 10-11 weeks before a big race I’ll start focusing on the speed stuff – usually one interval session on the track and 1-2 tempo runs. During my peak, I’ll reach about 95-105 mpw, usually done in 10 runs. I usually try to have two periods during the year – last year it was January and July – when I’m really taking it easy, running simply by feel and doing a fair amount of cross-training.

Mark is an elite trail runner as well. Does he ever get bummed out about getting “chicked” by his wife?

Well, technically he’s never been “chicked”, as he always beats me pretty handily. There was a close call at JFK last year, when I got on the towpath and caught a glimpse of him up ahead. I thought, “Oh no. He’s not having a good day and things could be rough in the hotel room tonight if I end up beating him.” It turns out that he had been stopped by the train for over ten minutes. Once he got back into his groove (and saw me behind him), he picked up the pace and that was the end of that.

What are your favorite foods/race snacks?

In races, I have had success with products by Hammer Nutrition – Hammer Gel and Sustained Energy. I’ll also drink a bottle of Ensure during a longer race – 100k or over. Outside of racing, I have a huge sweet tooth and make sure to get some chocolate into my diet every day.

Do you cross-train at all in other sports?

I used to climb and mountain bike quite a bit, but since I have become competitive in running – and since becoming a mom – I don’t have time or energy for much besides running. The exception is when I am injured or just worn out and feel a potential injury coming on – I do a fair amount of pool running in those situations.

A lot of the blog readers love to hear about “lessons learned” (ie, things that didn’t go right that perhaps they could avoid). Any you would like to pass on?

Almost all of the negative – and I’m reluctant to even use that term – let’s just say the races that didn’t go as well as planned – have to do with taking on other peoples’ goals and expectations instead of listening to my own heart and body. Ever since I began receiving regional and national attention for my running, it seems that every time I show up for a race, people have expectations that I should be able to run this or that time, win, etc. Sometimes I know that I’m not 100% fit or healthy, or maybe a particular race is really supposed to be more of a training effort for me, but it’s easy to let others’ expectations dictate how I feel about my performance. So I guess the number one lesson I’ve learned is to identify my goal for a particular race, write it down, and not listen to what others say.

Other big mistakes I’ve made include trying to train through a serious injury, or trying to race too soon after an injury. Although I still train very hard, I try my best to listen to my body and back off when necessary.

And one real “nuts and bolts” mistake I made when training for my first 100 mile race was not practicing the walk breaks. In those long mountain races, most competitors spend a significant amount of time power hiking. I wasn’t physically or mentally prepared for that, and it resulted in me having a pretty negative attitude and experience during the latter stages of the race (hence the pacer issue I mentioned before.)

Any tips you would like to pass on to somebody trying their first ultra? How about a first 100km race (such as me)?

The main thing is just logging the miles, day in and day out. Although we runners tend to brag mostly about our long runs or speed workouts, because they’re more exciting and inspiring, I think it’s the daily runs that are the bread and butter of training. There is simply no substitute for weeks, months, even years of developing a base and teaching your body to adapt to a gradually increasing workload.

Having said that, however, I will contradict myself and say that I really believe speed work is crucial, no matter what level athlete you are. It doesn’t have to be a formal interval session on the track – something as simple as a fartlek in which you run 4-5 five minute “pick ups” in the middle of a run will work a different muscle set and energy system, making you more efficient over the long haul.

What’s next on the race/run agenda? Any plans for ’06?

Your readers probably won’t approve of this, but ’06 is going to be a road year for me. My three key races will be the National 50k Championships in Long Island in March (Anne has already won this race), Grandma’s Marathon in June, and the World Cup 100km in Korea in October. I want to get on the roads to see if I have any speed left in these almost 40-year-old legs!

I wish you and Mark the best of luck. Thanks for a great interview!

Thanks! Best of luck to you too!

- SD


  1. Hi Scott,

    as always a very interesting and entertaining interview! Work, wife, mother...and 80+ mpw...WOW.

    I only just find the energy to do 30 or so mpw...and I don't have to look after a wife or kids :-)

    Good luck with your race this week-end and I'm already looking forward to read your race report.

    Mick (UK)

  2. Anne sounds to be very grounded, besides, just FAST. I wonder what her 10K road and maraton road PRs are at that got her to this highest tier of ultra-running?

  3. Scott, thanks so much for bringing these inteviews to us. They are informative, open up a personal side of elite athletes, and just a great read! Anne is a superb runner, may she have another great year and more to come!

  4. Jennifer -

    Here is what Anne replied to your question:

    "Here is the answer to Jennifer's question: My marathon and 10k PRs
    aren't anything to write home about: 2:54:19 and 37:42. Both were set in
    '97, before I started really training. I've always viewed the marathon as
    "unfinished business", which is why I've decided to run Grandma's this
    summer. I'm interested in seeing if I can lower that PR a little bit with
    some focused training." - Anne

  5. Another great article about Anne here.


  6. Ultrarunning is really taking off! Check out , some great unique products to make the runs even better!


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