Pavel during the Arctic Trail Run in August 2017
Runners Of Vermont is an ongoing series here at the VTRunCo where we get to meet and start to get to know some of the amazing people that call Vermont home and share our affinity for running. So, sit back and enjoy. The people profiled here are the main reason Vermont is such a great place to live and run. Also, if you know someone that lives and runs in Vermont who you think should be profiled here… Let us know. We’d love to be introduced and give them the opportunity to share their perspective on Vermont’s running scene.
Name: Pavel Cenkl
Occupation: Professor, Associate Academic Dean, Athletic Director, and Trail Running Coach at Sterling College
Current Residence: Craftsbury
Hometown/Birthplace: Born Newton, MA
How did you first get involved in running and what was it that kept you coming back? Did you develop your habit easily, or was it something you had to work at?
I came to running by way of hiking, so trails came first and road running evolved mostly as a way to keep up training. I’d been hiking in New Hampshire’s White Mountains since I was about 3 years old, but it wasn’t until I worked for the AMC in the late 1980s and early 1990s what the hiking turned into running — mostly as a way to get back to work on time! I finished my first ultra-length ‘fastpack’ in 1989 on the 52 mile AMC Hut Traverse, but I didn’t get back to longer adventure runs and races until 20 years later.
Racing… Did you start racing right from the beginning? What has been your favorite or best racing experience… Your worst… Why?
Much much later (see above): I did a local 5 mile trail race in Massachusetts in 1994, for which I trained by running a 7 mile road loop the day before (not a recommended training plan). But I think I caught the bug for real when I drove out to Leadville Colorado in 2011 and ran the Leadville Heavy Half
, a 15 mile race between 10,000 and 13,000 feet of elevation. I came in 19th place and thought, well, maybe this is something I can do…that race (and my return for the 100 mile race in 2016) stand out for me well above most other events.
Do you have a favorite distance…Why?
I’m not sure about this one…I really like the 50k distance, because it seems more manageable yet still very challenging. I’ve also run more of these than any other race. When I ran along the Arctic Trail in Scandianvia in 2017, I actually staged the days along 50km segments. Somtimes, though, it’s still fun to go out and run 5k with friends at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center
Any pre-race rituals or superstitions?
Nothing particular, though I get pretty anxious up until the moment the starting gun goes off. Then I relax almost immediately and get into the pace of the longer distance.
Pavel with his Sterling runners atop Mt. Haystack during the Westmore Mountain Challenge in October 2017
Non-racing experiences… Besides racing and training, what are some other ways you enjoy running, or running has improved your life? Your favorite non-racing experience… Your worst?
This is a huge question — most of my running in the past 3-4 years has focusd on Climate Run
, a project that integrates running adventures in remote places like Iceland and Arctic Scandinavia with a mission to help individuals and communities build more resilient relationships with the natural world in the face of climate change. My last 3 longer runs — 150 miles across Iceland in 2015, the Leadville 100 miler in 2016, and 220 miles along the Arctic Trail in Scandinavia in 2017 — have all been dedicated to bringing greater awareness to building climate resilience.
My worst experiences have also both been in my northern runs — in both Iceland and Scandinavia, I was severely affected by shin pain. So much so in 2017 that I had to cut the run shorter than I had planned. I’m still coming to terms with what the larger repercussions of that are with respect to future plans and training, but I can say that having to stop doubled over in pain in the middle of an epic adventure because of my own body’s limitations is no fun at all.
Running In Vermont… What do you love about it? What do you wish was different?
I love the quick access to alpine terrain. I live only 45 minutes from the east side of Mt. Mansfield, and that has come to be my most frequent mountain run. I love going up steep technical terrain, and there’s really no shortage of that here. The access to runnable terrain even on private lands is amazing, and I’m glad to see more and more trails being built and made accessible.
Do you have a favorite route/trail here in Vermont?
The loop from Underhill up Sunset Ridge, across Mansfield, and down Maple Ridge is a classic run — especially in the afternoon. I’ve also really enjoyed the Monroe Skyline a little farther south on the LT.
During a typical New England winter what do you do to stay in shape, keep motivated, and have fun? Do you continue to run? Do you engage in any other activities?
The team I coach takes a short hiatus for cross-country ski season between December and March, but I keep up running mostly as training, and mostly on gravel roads. Other than that, I try to ski as many days as possible. I can get on cross country skis for an hour a day at lunch or after work during the week, and I really appreciate the skimo series at Bolton
to keep up the vertical!
Can you provide some advice for running during the cooler months then into and through winter?
I don’t think that I change much except for a few more layers and insulating my water. Dealing with frozen waterbottles on a long run is a super pain. In the past 3 years, I opted to do one long run indoors because it was -17 degrees and windy that day. I drove to Stowe and did 17 miles on the treadmill. Never again.
Do you have a mantra or strategy to get you out the door when you don’t feel like running, through those tough moments in training, or during a long event?
I think every runner struggles with this at some point. For me, accountability helps a lot. When I trained with a coach, that was a key point for me: I was accountable to someone else. When training for a Climate Run event, there’s a huge group of people I feel accountable to. On a daily basis, it’s my two dogs — my Alaskan Husky / Greyhound mix, Dragon, is an especially good running partner, and he knows how to help me get motivated.
Running with students from Pavel’s Trail Running Class on the Long Trail south of Belvidere in October 2017
Favorite/best piece of running gear you own or wished you owned?
My Salomon Race Vest. I take it everywhere, and it has served me from 10 milers around home to the Leadville 100. I rarely run without it.
Favorite thing to eat during a long run/race?
Favorite aid station food?
Perogies. Hands down.
Favorite reward? Do you do anything to treat yourself after a long training cycle/race?
I’m a big fan of naps…especially if they’re well earned. Hard to think of a better reward!
Next season what event or events are you are most looking forward to… Why?
I’m still planning on a big run (or two) next summer…until I get a little closer to solidifying plans, I’m relucant to share too much. Suffice to say at least one of them will be a lot closer to home than the last 3 years have seen. I don’t foresee stopping my Climate Run
projects anytime soon.
What are 2-3 Vermont running events/races that people should check out?
What’s the best piece of running or training advice you’ve ever received?
Consistency in training is absolutely essential and will pay dividends like you wouldn’t believe come race day.
Do you have any running/training tips or tricks you’d like to share?
As I get older (I’m 46 now), I’m realizing that a more holistic approach to training is becoming more and more important — more core strength, more complementary exercises, more diversity. That also makes training more fun.
Pavel and his wife, Jen, from the Craftsbury Single-Track Shootout Biathlon race this October
Who is a Vermont runners that inspire you… Why?
There are so many runners who inspire me, but to be honest, the most important members of my running community are the students I run with every week — I’ve seen student athletes complete their first races, their first marathons, and first ultras; I’ve seen them win ultramarathons; I’ve seen them graduate Sterling and continue to follow their passions in running. It’s really these folks that get me up in time for our 5:00am Wednesday morning practices and take weekends to head off to races across New England. I don’t know if I’d be the runner I am without them.
Anyone out there you want to give a shout out to? Sponsors/Friends/Partners/Coaches/Etc… Why are they important to you?
Again, this is a long list, but here are a few: Jack Pilla, who was my coach leading up to the Leadville 100, was invaluable; the Craftsbury Outdoor Center’s athletes, coaches, and facilities are an incredible resource and an inspiration everytime I train there; Sterling College has supported my passion through its support for our Athletic Programs for the past 5 years now. And really all of the New England runners who are at the top of their craft whether here or around the world.
Thank you for taking the time to read this far. Stay tuned for our next installment of Runners Of Vermont. Our goal is to post a new interview every week until we’ve profiled everyone that lives and runs in Vermont!
Train Smart. Run Well. Do Good.