What brought you to Missoula? And how long have you lived here?
Missoula! I make YouTube videos for a living and can thus live pretty much anywhere there’s an internet connection. I moved here last October (2014) because it seemed like a sweet northern town with a great sense of community, amazing access to the outdoors, plus I have a few work friends/colleagues here. So far it’s been a blast!
Races that you have run this year and place?
I started off the year with a bunch of cross country ski races (in MT and in the midwest), then gradually transitioned into running.
I’m mainly focused on the Rut 25km, but I’ll probably jump into various local races like the Missoula Half, Sentinel Hill Climb, Montana Cup, Snowbowl race, etc. I don’t plan to get into ultras any time soon and trail races between 10 and 30km are probably best suited to my strengths anyway. But who knows.
When did you start trail running and why?
I basically started trail running after moving to Missoula. I come from a high school/college track & cross country background in the Midwest, which tends to be more golf courses and corn fields and wide rolling grass trails in state parks. But the trails around town here are just so incredible you have to try really hard to NOT be a trail runner in Missoula. That’s not the whole picture, though – I’ve always done a ton of Nordic skiing and Nordic ski racing, and based on the experience so far, I think trail running and Nordic skiing are very much sister sports. They’re both about aerobic capacity and strength, about finding your limits out on remote trails in beautiful places. In a sense I’ve been running around on trails for decades, Missoula just finally got me to do it without skis.
What are you goals for the season and for the future?
Stay healthy and explore the amazing landscape around western Montana. And be competitive in the Rut 25km. Looking farther into the future, it would be nice to run a fast marathon and break my college 5km and 10km PRs at some point, but for now I just want to run for fun (fun can be fast, of course). I’m still also trying to figure out this trail running thing – uphills are hard.
What are your top 5 running accomplishments?
In terms of trail running, this year’s Don’t Fence Me In and Double Dip are definitely my top results, but that’s an easy list to make as they’re the only trail races over 10km that I’ve run.
Another major accomplishment of the last 3 or 4 years was giving up thinking in terms of mileage (and stopping keeping track of it religiously). It was hard but extremely liberating – now I run and ski first and foremost for the pleasure of it. Of course, I do have a training plan and keep track of hours, but only keeping track of time somehow makes me more excited about getting out and exploring, it gets me running for fun rather than always worrying “did I run enough?” (normally I run more when I’m having fun, anyway) Plus, time is more accurate than mileage when you live in a place where 10 miles could mean 2.5 hours of intense climbing in the mountains or 70 easy minutes in town.
I’m just going to lump random stuff from back in college here: I led my cross country team to a perfect score at our conference meet and to a team qualification to NCAA Nationals (DIII) for the first time in 16 years; that year our varsity team also had the top academic record (GPA) in the nation, which I’m pretty proud of. After the season, a few of us decided to run a marathon for fun on the snowy December trails of the local state park (ok, so I guess I did do a little trail running before moving to Montana), which remains my longest run (and only running marathon) ever. I had modest PRs in college: 25:05 for 8km cross country, 15:09 indoor 5km.
Describe 2 key hard workouts
Threshold runs of 5-10 miles at 5:20-5:30 pace are a longtime favorite.
Since moving to Missoula, running hard up and down Sentinel has been a great way of improving both strength and trail running technique & dexterity (which I didn’t have much of before coming here).
Describe a training week.
When I’m in serious training mode I’ll put in between 10 and 15 hours a week, and I always take 1 day entirely off every 7-10 days. I also try to keep my running to 3-4 days per week max, with the other 2-3 days a mix of rollerskiing and mountain biking – the ratio changes a bit in the winter when I switch to full cross country ski mode and only run 1-2 days per week. Oh, and add in an hour or two of strength work each week, either at the Momentum gym or on my own. Whatever the season, I try to have two or three “hard” workouts per week, “hard” being either intervals or threshold or overdistance. The other 3-4 days are an easy effort, and I mean, really, really easy. Not necessarily short or slow, but in the “nose-breathing is comfortable” range.
Favorite trail race?
Having only ever run 3 “true” trail races, I’m not qualified to answer this question. The American Birkebeiner would be at the top of my list for marathon ski races, though.
Favorite Montana trail and why?
I haven’t run enough Montana trails to do justice to this question, either, but the trail I run the most here in Missoula is definitely the Smoke Jumper trail up to Mount Sentinel and down the face – it’s hard to beat a run where you can leave from your front door, ascend and descend 2000’ through beautiful forests and meadows and be back in an hour. My favorite Montana trail so far would have to be the Lone Mountain Ranch Nordic Area (across from the Big Sky Resort) – it’s the most spectacular cross country skiing I’ve ever experienced in my life.
What motivates you to train?
Sometimes I’m motivated by wanting to do well in races or break PRs or run farther/higher/harder/faster than I ever have before, but most of the time it’s just the joy in being able to move effortlessly through the world, to be able to go, at a whim, up mountains and overland on my own two feet. There’s an incredible freedom that comes with being fit.
Training with other people is also very important to me – I’m a much better athlete when I have training partners or friends or teammates to train, explore, and race with.
Describe the most difficult experience in a race and how did you overcome and what did you learn from it?
I’m tempted to say the most difficult experience was badly spraining my ankle in this year’s Pengelly Double Dip with a mile to go and Seth Swanson breathing down my neck, but that wasn’t actually so bad.
The truly most difficult race I’ve ever had was in the American Birkebeiner in February this year. It was my first time starting in the elite wave (with all of the professional & olympic class skiers), and naturally the field went out fast, so I went too. Midway through the race I was just where I thought I wanted to be, so I kept pushing hard to stay connected to the group I was with – this caused me to miss a few feed stations.
And so, about 42km into the race, I bonked (which I’ve experienced before) and started cramping like crazy (which I’ve never experienced in a race) – I didn’t know abs could cramp, but they most certainly can, and I felt like someone was stabbing me in the stomach with a knife. I tried to push through it, but my abs would have none of it; I literally had to stop and wait for the cramping to end. I was losing places like crazy, but each time I tried to start racing again, the cramping came back as bad as ever, so I had to ski the last kilometers of the race getting passed over and over and not able to do anything about it – I would start skiing fast (which I oddly enough had energy for) but before too long the cramping would have me doubled over at the side of the trail. So I had to swallow any pride and ski, very, very slowly, the last few km to the finish, trying to ignore all the other racers going by. I definitely learned that I need to be more conservative from the start of long races, that I can’t rely on pushing hard to make it through races over 2 hrs long, and most importantly: DON’T MISS FEEDS!!
Describe the most memorable race experience and how did it allow you to become a better runner?
This isn’t a race I ran but one that really changed my approach to running: early on in college (when I was still doing fairly low-volume training), one of my teammates raced a 5km where every lap he split 2-3 seconds faster per lap than we thought he should. I remember a whole group of us saying to each other “what’s he doing? He can’t run that fast – he’s going to blow up!” but he didn’t blow up – he ran a massive PR. He’d put in the time and the training necessary to run that fast and he knew it; it gave him the confidence to run much faster than the rest of us thought he could. That race convinced me more than any other of the value of putting in the training and then trusting it.
Describe your training diet.
I’m vegetarian and I also avoid anything made with processed grains or sugars (white flour, white rice, sugar, corn syrup, etc). I don’t consume that much milk/dairy, either, other than a soft spot I have for strong/fancy cheese. Essentially, I eat lots of salads, vegetable stir fries, curries, ratatouille, beans, brown rice, polenta, tons of fruit and nuts, and banana smoothies. I have a banana smoothie after every single workout.
The big exception to all of this is during training (2+ hours) or races, during which I’ll happily have hammer/clif/granola/etc bars and/or gels.
How do you keep yourself injury free?
Well, having badly sprained my ankle in the Double Dip, I’m not sure I’m the right person to answer this question. But in terms of avoiding the over-use injuries typical in running, my strategy is a combination of taking one day off every week, regularly mixing up running with biking & (roller)skiing, working on core and limb strength, and listening to my body (learning which kinds of pain are good and which are warning signs).
I’m also a strong believer in the importance of natural running mechanics & constantly strive to work on my running form. It probably comes from my technique-crazed nordic ski background.
What is something unique about you?
I have a masters in theoretical physics and I run two popular science channels on youtube (MinutePhysics and MinuteEarth).
What are 3 words that describe you?
Nerdy, curious, unflappable
Anything else you want to add?
When winter rolls around, if any trail runners want to learn or improve their cross country skiing, I’d be happy to give some lessons! In fact, if anyone wants lessons before winter and doesn’t mind looking dorky, I have an extra pair of rollerskis.
Thank you Henry for the inspiring interview; we wish you the best in your future life and racing endeavors.