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Eric Blake Mountain running interview
Craftsbury coach Eric Blake's involvement with mountain running stretches to the beginning of his running career in high school cross-country. From those humble beginnings, Eric has won the USATF mountain running title in 2006 and 2008, and qualified for the mountain running national team in 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2008, competing this year in the best ever US men's Finish - a bronze medal for the team at Crans Montana, Switzerland in September.
I emailed Eric to find out more about this unique aspect of running culture. Questions:
CRC: Mountain running courses. Can you tell us a bit about what the quintessential course is? It seems to encompass a real variety - up and down, longer/shorter, cross-country conditions to brutal paved ascents like Mt. Washington. Are there limits to the course design/layout that organizers must follow, or is the sky the limit?
Most courses fall into two categories "up and down" or "uphill only." Most races are between 10 -12k. Some are on trails but I prefer races like Mt Washington: on-road and uphill only.
There are restrictions on the course lay out such as high altitude, too much pavement and/or stairs. The course in Switzerland was tricky. Some very steep parts mixed with other parts that were not too bad. It included muddy trails, roads, and even some stairs.
CRC: Racing and training for Mountain Running. What elements do you add to your training for specific conditioning for mountain running? Any specific equipment that you find essential?
I do one or two simulation runs on a treadmill at a steep grade. Looking back it may have been good to run hard in some muddy and technical trails before the race in Switzerland.
For equipment....it's really just racing shoes. For Worlds, I chose to run in road flats over trail shoes. The flats were good on the road sections but were inadequate on the muddy parts of the course. When I had previewed the course, it was less muddy but that was also before a day or two of rain and 4 other races.
CRC: Given the high amount of vertical in the races, do you focus a lot on your weight?
I wouldn't say I focus on weight but I am conscious of it. It helps to be at your correct racing weight. I run about 15-20 miles a day so the weight usually takes care of itself. I can eat anything and am not picky about food.
CRC: Running downhill is a sore point (quite literally) for many runners. What are tactics or techniques you've adopted to deal with the stress of downhills? Any drills that we should all add?
One of the best tips is Coach Greg Wenneborg's suggestion of putting the chin down and let gravity take you. I have used that and it helps. Also it helps to be fearless when the hills are steep - just run.
CRC: How did you get into mountain running? What draws you to it, as opposed to the marathon say?
I tried a race in Vail in 2003 and finished 5th - that did it. My biggest attraction to these races is mainly that I've had more success with mountain running than other kinds of events to this point. I really enjoy all types of racing (track, road, cross-country, marathons), and still have high goals outside mountain running for other times of the year.
CRC: If the lay runner is interested in mountain running, how would you recommend they get into the sport? Do you have to live near a mountain for training to even think of competing in these events?
I would suggest trying to run an "uphill only", on-road mountain race to start. Some examples include Mt Washington and Whiteface Mountain. Mount Washington has a lottery so register early! You really can live anywhere (flat or mountainous region) to train. I have not done an outdoor mountain run in training for about 4-5 years - I do all my mountain training on a treadmill. Plus you don't want to do too much hill training because it makes you strong but I think it could also slow your turnover.
CRC: You've had the opportunity to run in some pretty unique locales. Where's the best place you've gotten to race? What were the worst conditions you've encountered?
The best place was Italy. The scenery was unbelievable. Also it was my first time running in a global competition which was quite an experience in itself.
Nigeria in 2007 was an eye-opening experience. I was competing in the Mt. Obudu Mountain Race. There were safety issues on the whole trip and the race was cloaked in exhaust from the lead vehicle. I got dropped pretty quickly because it was very strong competition with a lot of prize money.
CRC: Can you give us a little of the inside story of you and the team's race this past September?
The goal was to medal and we knew that was possible with the times we ran up Mt. Washington. We went in with confidence and things fell in place for us - our 6 guys were done before any other team. I think we are not far away from improving on our bronze medal.
CRC: What role do you see mountain running playing in your career going forward? What are your 2009 Mt. running goals?
On the world stage I would like for the USA to improve on the bronze medal that we won in 2008.
Personal goals...I still have goals of breaking an hour at Mount Washington. Only one American has ever done it and I think I would need a perfect race. Mt. Washington gets tougher and tougher competition each year so winning there is still a major goal. It's a special race for many reasons and winning a title there can never be taken for granted.