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: RJ Thompson
Occupation: Executive Director, Vermont Huts Association | Founder/Owner, Native Endurance
Current Residence: Stowe, VT
Hometown/Birthplace: Phillipsburg, NJ
Twitter: I hate Twitter
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?
Like most kids, I started running in pre-school during games of tag or red light/green light. My love of running evolved pretty quickly, and by the age of 5, I was competing in my first race. I think everyone is born with the “habit” to run – some just can’t seem to enjoy it, while others become so addicted that they burn out at a young age (after college or so). I’ve done my best to walk the fine line between competition and fun, which I think has made it easy for me to sustain my love of the sport.
Racing… Did you start racing right from the beginning? What has been your favorite or best racing experience… Your worst… Why?
My first race was a “turkey trot” on Thanksgiving morning in 1989 with my dad. He was running the 5k, and there was a short, quarter-mile race for the kids. It’s one of my earliest memories, probably because we (the kids) were all freezing our butts off at the starting line. I was only five years old, so yeah, I guess you could say I started racing from the beginning.
My favorite racing experience would have to be the 2013 VT 50K
. I had placed 4th in 2011, and then 6th in the 50 miler
in 2012, so I was really hoping for a podium finish in 2013. I trained my ass off that summer, and my dad (who was my XC and track coach in high school) made the trip up from Pennsylvania to spectate and “coach” me again. Seeing him at the finish line brought back fond memories, and I was fortunate enough to come away with the win this time.
My absolute worst race experience would have to be the 4 X 800-meter relay race I ran in high school just a few hours after donating blood. I don’t know why I thought I’d be fine after giving up a pint of blood, but I wasn’t (duh). My three teammates before me had opened up a huge lead over the second place team, and when I took the baton I easily had a 100-meter advantage. I knew immediately after starting my two laps that I might die. Everything hurt after 300 meters, and my lungs were screaming. My legs did not want to turn over. It felt like someone had…sucked the blood right out of me. I rounded the last corner of my second lap and could hear the crowd (all 40 of them – who goes to high school track meets anyway?), which only meant the second place runner was gaining on me. It felt like I crawled across the finish line, but luckily my teammates had given me enough cushion to thoroughly embarrass myself without losing the race. Live and learn.
Do you have a favorite distance…Why?
I don’t really have a favorite distance. I definitely place better in the ultra distances, but I still love a fast 5K every now and then to remind myself why it’s important to focus on speed workouts.
Any pre-race rituals or superstitions?
I eat two eggs and a bowl of oatmeal with cinnamon, maple syrup, and coconut oil every morning, so I do the same on race day to keep things routine.
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?
Other than racing and training, I love a good game of sandlot football. It’s a good way to get the body moving in a different way than your standard running gait allows. Also, mountain biking is a great way to cross-train.
Running In Vermont… What do you love about it? What do you wish was different?
Vermont is my favorite place to run. No doubt about it. The forest canopy of the Green Mountains provides shade from the sun on hot days, but if you’re looking for a little ridgeline exposure, you can find it on Mansfield, Camel’s Hump, and other summits above treeline. I also like not having to worry too much about other apex predators (lions and tigers and bears, oh my!), which were always on my mind when I lived in Jackson Hole and was running in the backcountry (OK, maybe not the tigers, but grizzlies and cougars are for real!). Of course, we have black bears in VT, but my encounters with them on the trail have been pretty standard and harmless. That said, I always clap my hands and sing Tom Petty songs to let big animals know I’m in the area when I’m running on the Long Trail
by myself in the middle of the night.
The only thing I’d change would be the precipitation. Less rain (some years) would be awesome.
Do you have a favorite route/trail here in Vermont?
The Skyline Trail in the Worcester Range
is a blast. Also, there is a section of the Long Trail
just north of Route 4 that makes me believe unicorns might be real. The hardwood forest in that area seems to have nothing but lush ferns below it, giving you the feeling that maybe you could spot an elf, gnome, or some other mythical being during your hike/run.
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?
I do a good amount of backcountry and cross country skiing (classic and skate). I also try to skin up Stowe
once or twice a week. Sometimes I won’t run for an entire month or more. I think it’s important to give your body (and, more specifically, your joints) a break from the pounding.
Can you provide some advice for running during the cooler months then into and through winter?
Invest in some good wool base layers, buy those nerdy running tights, and get out there! It’s also important to be seen, so be sure to have a decent reflective vest and headlight so you don’t get smoked by a car. I also love my Marmot Driclime
for cold-weather running. That plus a thin base layer is all I need on my upper body.
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?
There is nothing to focus on but focus itself.
Favorite/best piece of running gear you own or wished you owned?
Every pair of Darn Tough Socks
is a gift to my feet. Also, my Ibex
(Rest in Peace) shorts, which often go a couple hundred miles before being washed when I’m on the Long Trail
(yes, super gnarly, but I swear the wool barely smells).
Favorite thing to eat during a long run/race?
or homemade energy bars from my awesome wife, Olivia.
Favorite aid station food?
I don’t always eat aid station food, but when I do, I eat bacon.
Favorite reward (do you do anything to treat yourself… food or other) after a long training cycle/race?
Next season what event or events are you are most looking forward to… Why?
Though I can’t compete in it because I’ll be directing it, I love the Mansfield Double Up
. Those racers are hardcore, and since it’s capped at 70 runners, there’s a good intimate vibe to the event. I’m a little biased, of course.
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?
Rest. Don’t overtrain. And always have fun.
Do you have any running/training tips or tricks you’d like to share?
Rest. Don’t overtrain. And always have fun.
Who is a Vermont runners that inspire you… Why?
I like what Lance Parker
has been doing. Since he’s a bit younger than me, I’m excited to see where he takes his running career.
Anyone out there you want to give a shout out to? Sponsors/Friends/Partners/Coaches/Etc… Why are they important to you?
Big shout out and thank you to my wife, Olivia. Nothing I’ve accomplished over the past four years would have been possible without her support.
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! If you know someone that runs and they live in Vermont… Please connect them with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Train Smart. Run Well. Do Good.