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: Rachel Long
Location: Stowe, VT
Instagram: @rachellong91 @Roaming_roots
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?
Growing up as an avid soccer player, I actually loathed running. During the fall of my senior year in high school, I accepted a challenge from one from my friends (thanks, Ethan!) to run a full marathon before we graduated in June of 2009. Flash forward to 2017, I have run 14 full marathons and 15 ultra marathons. It was just this past year that I fully embodied the confidence to call myself a serious runner because running, for me, has never been easy. I never knew how to embrace the feeling of pain and push through the pain cave, and I am still learning. I have always held back or backed off at the first sign of fatigue, but this year was a huge breakthrough for me. I can enter the pain cave and keep cranking. I love the experience, and I am happy to be at a point now where I can say that.
Racing… Did you start racing right from the beginning? What has been your favorite or best racing experience… Your worst… Why?
I initially started running just to complete that first marathon in 2009, and I definitely do not consider that racing. The Napa Valley Marathon of March, 2017 is the first course I consider myself to have truly raced. All the time in between, I ran races (courses) just to complete them and set goals of “doing a little better than last time.” It was when I started working with my Coach, David Roche, in January 2017 that I worked up the courage of being able to verbalize my desires; to actually race and get some podium finishes.
To date, my best racing experience has been Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB) just this past August. The 106 mile course brought the highest highs and the lowest lows I have ever experienced, mixed in with some very inclement weather. I believe I broke down many mental blockades over the span of the 36 hours it took me to get to the finish line, despite not feeling like I was physically at my strongest. The term – I can’t – is no longer in my vocabulary, or anywhere in my head.
I do not have a particular “worst race” that comes to mind. I have had my fair share of problems during plenty of races, but I have been able to learn something from each of them. For an example, absolutely do not consume 200-300 calories of pure maple syrup per hour for over 50km unless you truly want to feel ill.
Do you have a favorite distance…Why?
This is a tough question. I feel most confident in 50km races. I feel strong, fast and disciplined in 100km races, and I feel like I learn the most about running in the 100 mile distance. They all bring out different strengths in my running, but if I had to choose one distance for the rest of my life (however unrealistic), I would choose 50 miles, a sweet middle ground.
Any pre-race rituals or superstitions?
Not in particular, just the usual: use the bathroom, drink some coffee, eat food and rub deodorant all over my armpits to prevent chafing.
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?
Running has totally shaped who I am today and how I view myself. In college, running was a way to keep myself in check. It was a source of discipline and something extracurricular to focus on. Back then, it also acted as a way for me to ensure I would never, “get fat”- you know, every college girl’s nightmare. I was very weight obsessed from my sophomore year through senior year of college, to the point where I found it interfering with other parts of my life. I will not hold back in admitting that the same problems that plague a lot of young women have also affected me. While I loved running back then, even a few years ago, I loved it for different reasons than I do now. It was after college that I started to explore more and expand on my running. I found trails, and I fell in love with them. I remember running up the Toll Road on Mt. Mansfield for pure joy and not for any training purposes. I realized how strong I was and began to see how strong I could be. Running has taught me to fuel my body properly and has also instilled an unparalleled sense of confidence and motivation in me that I am able to transfer to other parts of my life. My favorite part about running is being able to send up any mountain I want, whenever I want, and knowing that I am strong enough and determined enough to do so.
Running In Vermont… What do you love about it? What do you wish was different?
VERMONT!!! Is there anything not to love?! I love the green in the summer, the myriad of colors in the fall, and I really love the snow in the winter. It bothers me that the east coast doesn’t get much recognition for trail running. We have the gnarly and technical trails, steep climbs, and views for days, but enough mellow, non-technical running to enjoy all year long. Oh, and check the box for unpredictable weather. It will make you tough! If you have not run through every season in Vermont, put it on your list.
Do you have a favorite route/trail here in Vermont? Something other people should experience?
For sure! My absolute favorite route that I have created for myself so far has been the following: park at the gondola parking lot on Mt. Mansfield and run up the Notch Road to the Long Trail North. Take that to the top of Spruce Peak, bomb down the access road back out onto the Mountain Road and run until you hit the bottom of the Toll Road. Climb the 4.5 miles up and then continue across to the summit of the chin. While at the chin, stop and breathe, eat a maple waffle, and send it down the Long Trail (heading north again) until the Notch Road, then it’s back to the car. The loop is about 16 miles. I add on by choosing any number of trails once atop Mt. Mansfield. This loop contains solid climbs and the terrain varies, so you can get some fast running in mixed with power hiking and steady runnable climbs!
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?
What is a ‘typical New England winter?’ I mean, it can be cold, icy, snowy, rainy, or sunny and 50… but, what difference does that make? I pick the appropriate terrain given the weather (or just blindly head into a snow storm, very exciting!), dress accordingly and carry on as I would as if it were a summer day. If it’s dark? I wear a head lamp and some reflective gear, maybe I’ll run on the bike path in Stowe. If it’s cold? I layer up and suck it up. I have always run through the winters and never thought anything of it- I was raised in Vermont and went to college at UVM, you just do what you need to do.
Along with running and training fully through the winter, I am an avid skier. I prefer backcountry touring (exploring with skins rather than the chairlift), but you can find me on the resort too. I have found that skiing is a great way to cross train, and paired with skinning, it makes me a lot stronger. I also arguably love to ski more, but I won’t be pursuing participation in any professional ski races…
Can you provide some advice for running during the cooler months then into and through winter?
Wear layers! I’d much rather start warm and be able to shed layers than be cold for the whole run.
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?
My friend Lucy once told my to “hunt it”. That has always stuck with me. Whatever your goal is, big or small, just hunt it.
Favorite/best piece of running gear you own or wished you owned?
I wish I owned light up sneakers for night time running. What is a girl to do?
Favorite thing to eat during a long run/race?
This totally depends on the distance. However, I am always slurping down fuel packets of Untapped Maple Syrup. I also genuinely love potatoes and salt. I am still trying to nail down a nutrition regiment, circle back in 2018 for a better answer!
Favorite aid station food?
Potatoes and salt, and coca cola!
Favorite reward (do you do anything to treat yourself… food or other) after a long training cycle/race?
I do not indulge in the “treat yourself,” attitude. I practice eating the foods I crave when I crave them, and maintain a steady diet year round. I do not align myself with the belief of a race weight or having a strict race diet. I firmly believe in finding what works best for each individual and sticking to that. Maybe someone eats chocolate every day (I do), and maybe some people do not. Whatever you do or do not do, just make sure it is because that is what works best for you.
I have been known to drink beers immediately after crossing a finish line… so if you’re ever are around for that, solidarity sips are encouraged.
Next season what event or events are you are most looking forward to… Why?
I am still piecing together my 2018 schedule, but, so far I am looking forward to heading back to Chamonix, France to race the TDS (part of the UTMB series) this year. I am really excited to dial in my nutrition and get into the mountains. The first race of my season is the Boston Marathon to get my legs used to moving quickly again!
What are 2-3 Vermont running events/races that people should check out?
Catamount Ultra 50km at Trapps (duh) – there is awesome support and it is a solid course for anyone looking to run their first ultra or for runners that love to cruise on epic trails!
Vermont 100/100km – Fast and therefore extremely challenging. You can lay down solid times at these races but you have to know how to handle the rolling VT hills otherwise you can beat yourself up really early.
Vermont 50 – Awesome course and awesome time of year in quintessential Southern Vermont.
What’s the best piece of running or training advice you’ve ever received?
Coach David always reinforces that none of this fucking matters and at the end of the day it is just running. This advice always grounds me before races and comes with a reminder to smile widely and say thank you to everyone. It is just running and we do it because we love it, not to prove anything to anyone.
Do you have any running/training tips or tricks you’d like to share?
At the end of the day you are the only one that can feel how you feel. Be true to yourself and do not worry about anyone else’s plan, race schedule, or nutrition habits. When you find what works for you and what makes you happy, keep doing that without looking back. For me, the most important thing is to be happy, and to take a rest day every single Monday!
Who is a Vermont runner that inspire you… Why?
Laura Farrell. She founded the Vermont 100 miler and the Vermont 50 in southern Vermont as fundraisers for the Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sports program (VASS). She really helped me through my first 100 miler at the VT 100 by providing encouraging words and sage advice to run my own race. Laura is an accomplished ultra-runner and has also been extremely committed to non-profit work to ensure Vermont’s beautiful mountains are being enjoyed to the fullest extent. She has opened her house to me in Southern Vermont and provided me with a warm bed to sleep in on nights before races. She is such an inspiration and really gives back to the community. I am so lucky to have been a recipient of her passion for running.
Other Vermonters that inspire me: Alizza Lapierre, Liz Gleason, and Lindsay Simpson. Running with these ladies this summer while we were all training for UTMB races was inspiring and extremely fun. Their dedication, joy, and overall badassery keep me motivated.
Anyone out there you want to give a shout out to? Sponsors/Friends/Partners/Coaches/Etc… Why are they important to you?
Number one shout out goes to my friends and family. To my best friends that show up at the finish lines (with beer), they are the people who tell me to follow my dreams unapologetically. To my family who crews me and my mother who has traveled to Europe twice to support me at UTMB, and to all the people that have been willing to go on runs with me (especially ones in the mountains this past summer). I know I am crazy and can be demanding, but I truly would not be the runner I am without everyone’s support.
David Roche – I am truly speechless. I told him I wanted to be in the top ten one time. He replied, “No, you will be on the podiums.” Thank you for believing in me and most importantly thank you for teaching me to believe in myself.
Julbo – Your shades keep my eyes happy and definitely make me look way cooler than I am. I am so stoked to be a part of the team!
Untapped Maple – What a love affair. What kind of Vermont runner would I be without you guys? Thank you for the mass amounts of maple products that have fueled hundreds of miles over the past two years.
You do you, and keep on doing you.
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 or so until we’ve profiled everyone that lives and runs in Vermont!
Train Smart. Run Well. Do Good.