Kensington, CA-based Lon Freeman has been an endurance athlete and ultrarunner for many years, but when he took the 2007 Miwok 100k by storm (8:09, taking 12 minutes off an 8-year-old Carl Anderson course record), he got the ultrarunning community abuzz about a potential top performance at the 2007 Western States 100. This 32-year-old is no stranger to the course (he set a course record 4:28 at the 2004 Rucky Chucky 50k), and has done 100-milers (4th overall in 20:38 in his first 100-miler at the 2004 Los Angeles Crest). Not to mention both of those were done the same year he set a course record at Ohlone 50k (4:51, age group record), won the Skyline 50k (4:00), and finished 3rd overall at the Ultraman (double-Ironman), soon followed by course records at the Stevens Creek 50k (2005), Muir Beach 50k (2006), and other top finishes. Whether he expected it or not, he has the ultraworld talking!
I caught up with Lon after his win at Miwok to learn about his mix of tri’s and ultras, and his plans for the grand prize for winning Miwok – an entry into the 2007 Western States.
1) First, congratulations on a killer run at Miwok. How did it go for you? Did you have a new course record in mind when you started the race, or did it just fall into place?
Thanks, it was an ideal day. You never think you’re going to have a race where everything goes right, but the weather, course conditions, training program, and especially my crew, everything was just perfect. I did two training runs on the course earlier in the spring, and I had an idea that my splits were close to CR pace, but those were about half the race distance. So, I wasn’t sure how my body would respond when I put everything together for the full distance. Needless to say, it worked out well.
2) Well you certainly got everyone’s attention! A few other top finishers said you are the man to beat at Western States. I know that’s a big expectation, but what do you think? What are your personal goals for States this year?
Well, my number one goal is to stay healthy before, during, and after the race. Anything else will be icing on the cake. I’m not really trying to dodge your question, but see my list of injuries in question 3 which might help explain my perspective about expectations this year.
photo courtesy of Jeff Vendsel at the Marin Independent Journal)
3) You have competed well in Ironmans, Ultraman, and ultraruns of all distances. How has your training evolved as you switched from Ironmans to ultras? And, can you give us a typical training week and the kinds of things you do?
I stopped competing in triathlons after Ultraman in 2004. In 2005, I focused exclusively on trail running and by early April, I had overtrained myself into four stress fractures in my pelvis. It was a case of too much running and too much enthusiasm. This basically erased my 2005 racing season.
In 2006, I thought I had the training figured out and I felt great going into May, but on May 16, I was diagnosed with multiple “stress reactions” in my pelvis. This is one step away from stress fractures (and can only be remedied by 8-10 weeks of non-running activities). Frustratingly, this erased my 2006 season. At this point, a friend of mine said I should start my own web site called "runtilyoubreak.com".
After two failed attempts at training properly for ultras, I greatly reduced my mileage on weekend long runs, added more cycling and started swimming again to fill in the void. Currently, my training involves 2-3 hrs of swimming per week, 8-12 hrs of cycling per week (which is only slightly lower than in my triathlon days), three separate 20 minute core building sessions, and two days of indoor rock climbing. My running is generally 25-30 miles spread over Monday through Friday and then Sat/Sun combined varies from 25 to 50 miles depending on the upcoming race.
I envy the folks who can put in the 100+ mile weeks because I really love being on the trail. I’ve learned the hard way that I’m not built to withstand that type of mileage for long. But, hopefully I’m on the right track to finding out what is optimal for me.
4) What are your favorite foods/drinks, both before, during and after a race?
I have no standard favorite pre-race meal, and I don’t really carbo-load per se before the race. But, on race morning, I have to have a Chocolate Chip Clif Bar. During the race, I use different combinations of Ultrafuel, Endurox, Gu, and Mountain Dew. I also have an occasional Boost meal replacement drink for a change of texture and flavor. It’s not exactly standard aid station fare, but it works for me.
After the race, I really like a protein powder and Endurox shake. Then, about 30 minutes later, when my legs and stomach settle down a bit, I’ll have cereal with frozen blueberries, almond milk and vanilla Pro Score (protein powder). This goes down easy and is great for race recovery. Later on, I really enjoy something salty and reasonably greasy like pizza or spring rolls. And, of course, you can’t completely recover without a good dose of ice cream!
5) Any training partners or groups?
I currently do my weekend cycling, all my swimming, and an occasional run with my girlfriend Justine Owen. Other than that, I usually train solo. I really enjoy running with other folks, but that can often be a logistical challenge. Before moving to Kensington in 2004, I lived in Livermore (CA) and I did several training runs with Joe McDonald and Beth Vitalis (both stellar ultrarunners in the East Bay) and I’ve done a ton of long bike rides with my crew chief, Dave Hinds (an Ironman athlete from Livermore).
6) What have been some of your favorite events/experiences so far?
Miwok and Ultraman are my two favorite events thus far. Both went extremely well and were a ton of fun.
One of my favorite ultrarunning experiences so far was the first real trail run I did with Joe and Beth on New Year’s Day in 2004. They invited 10-20 folks for a low-key group run, but the winds on the Ohlone Trail close to Rose Peak (near Livermore) were up to 60 mph and it was sleeting like crazy. I was the only other person to show up that morning, and we took almost 4 hours to go 12 miles. I was totally hooked on trail running. In fact, the next day, I canceled a planned trip to Ironman New Zealand and decided to try to become an ultrarunner.
A close second place would have to be many training runs on the Western States course in 2004, 2005, and 2006. I did most of my overtraining runs in the canyons, and, given the beauty of the course, these runs are some of my most memorable thus far. I can’t wait to see what the course is like on race day!
7) Tell us a bit more about yourself. Where do you live, train, work, and what else do you do for fun?
I work for the Berkeley National Lab as a financial resource analyst and I live in Kensington, CA. Fortunately, Justine and I live half a mile from Tilden park, which connects us with hundreds of miles of fantastic trails so it’s really easy to get in some very long runs out our backdoor. I also enjoy backpacking and this summer we’re planning to do the John Muir Trail.
8) What is it that motivates you to do endurance sports? What do you get out of it physically, emotionally, and spiritually?
On a very basic level, it’s extremely rewarding knowing you can get from point A to point B under your own power. And, once you complete a certain distance, its fun trying to figure out how you can do it better or how you can go farther. Also, my background is in mechanical and aerospace engineering, and the science and experimentation involved with ultras in particular is very intriguing. Connecting the dots of nutrition, training, recovery, hydration, pacing, etc., is a fascinating puzzle because if you’re out on the course long enough, you’re tested in just about every way imaginable. I really enjoy exploring how far I can go.
9) Where else might we see you race after States?
Hopefully, you’ll see me at Western States in 2008. I’d really like to give it a go without doing a big effort like Miwok seven weeks prior! I’d like to try Wasatch and maybe Hardrock at some point. The Quad Dipsea sounds like a great time, and the allure of Ultraman will probably pull me back there in a few years.
I'm glad to hear you are recovered and running well. Thanks for the interview, Lon! I wish you the best of luck at States and beyond, and hope to race with you soon (well, see you at the start anyway). - SD