|David Riddle after winning 2011 StumpJump 50k|
If you are a follower of elite ultrarunning, read www.irunfar.com regularly, or are a subscriber to Ultrarunning Magazine, you may have heard of todays “Above Average Athlete.” If you aren’t tuned into the ultramarathon community, you’d be forgiven for thinking David Riddle is just another average guy in the Midwest. After all, he works as an aerospace engineer for General Electric and lives in Cinncinnati, not exactly traditional habitat for the prototypical elite ultramarathoner.
In 2011, though, David Riddle won six 50k races and broke the course record in each one, then ran the JFK50 and broke a long-standing course record to cap off the season. He also competed at the 100k Worlds and took second at the USATF 100k championships at the Mad City 100k. In 2012, he has accepted an invitation to the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run, and will go head-to-head with some of the world’s best.
I only heard of David for the first time myself down in Chattanooga, where I completed my own first 50k. That day, he finished in less than half my own time on his way to taking a new course record. We thank David for taking time out of his clearly busy lifestyle to answer a few questions for us!
David Riddle: Yes, I would say my training has been very similar to an elite marathoner, especially with my background as a competitive Division I level cross-country and track athlete. Plus, I am pretty limited in my access to trails, so I do much of my training on the roads. Even when preparing for a long trail race, I like to do at least one track/speed/interval session per week, but I’m having to make adjustments as the trails get more difficult and the race distances increase. For a road 100k that’s relatively flat, the training would be quite similar to my marathon plan. Things start to change significantly when I begin training for a technical trail race with lots of elevation change. But, in general, I think I’m a part of a new breed of ultra marathon runner that is proving that you have to have some leg speed to compete up front. And I think that will force more ultra elites to start training like marathoners if they want to compete on all but the toughest (think Hardrock) courses.
Average Guy: I needed nearly a month off any kind of appreciable running after I completed the Stumpjump 50k, but you were shattering the Stone Steps 50k record a few weeks later, and then beating Michael Wardian and laying down an almost unthinkable record at the JFK50. I feel like amateurs like me don’t pay enough attention to intelligent recovery. What kind of recovery techniques work for you?
David Riddle: The reason you needed to take so much time off after StumpJump 50k actually has a lot to do with what happened before and during the race. First off, this wasn’t my first 50k. My body required more recovery time following my first few ultras, but seems to recover a little more quickly with each additional one that I run. Secondly, you were on your feet more than twice as long as I was. If I had run a 100k, spending more than twice as much time on the trail, I would have needed more recovery time. But probably the most important factor is the thousands of miles I have put in prior to StumpJump. Since you began running just a couple years ago, you have a tiny fraction of the mileage on your legs that I have gradually built up to over an 18 year running career. I couldn’t have imagined running 31 miles on that course when I was a freshman in high school. Basically, my legs recover much more quickly than yours because they are simply better adapted to handle the stress of a 50k.
You said in your question that you feel amateurs don’t pay enough attention to intelligent recovery. Following up on what I just explained, I’ll flip it on you and say that I believe many amateurs don’t pay enough attention to an intelligent and gradual build-up in training before attempting long races.
I don’t have any fancy recovery techniques. I try to get calories and protein in my body as soon after a race as my stomach can handle it. Then it’s just very easy running for a few days or weeks until my legs tell me they’re ready to go fast again. Listen to your body; that’s my best advice.
Average Guy: What kind of training adjustments are you planning to make the jump to the 100 mile distance?
David Riddle: I’m not planning on making too many adjustments to prepare for Western States other than my strategy and pacing on race day. If I could, I would train on the course with June weather conditions for the next 6 months. That’s obviously not an option, so I just have to work with what I have. I’m most concerned with the amount of downhill running and the heat. I just don’t have any descents around Cincinnati that replicate what I’ll see at WS100.
Average Guy: Are you accustomed to carrying your own hydration and nutrition, given your primarily 50k focus?
David Riddle: I like to carry a handheld bottle most of the time. Even in a 50k where I could easily get by without a bottle, it’s good preparation for longer races to go ahead and carry the handheld. Plus, I feel like my hydration and nutrition is much more even and consistent when I can continually sip on my bottle as opposed to chugging at aid stations.
Average Guy: Do you have any plans to do a 100k or longer trail race leading up to the Western States 100, or will it be your first attempt at a trail distance over 50 miles?
David Riddle: I hope to be named to the US 100k team again this year and that would give me a 100k road race before Western States. But, no, I don’t have a trail race longer than 50 miles planned. The World 100k race will be contested in April in Italy this year. It’s not the ideal lead-in to Western States, and I’ll have to compromise a little performance at both races, but it shouldn’t make too much difference.
Average Guy: You have a demanding day job as an aerospace engineer for GE. With that kind of career, what is a weekly running schedule and typical mileage like for you? Late nights, early mornings?
David Riddle: I much prefer to run at night after work, but I run just once a day, so I don’t get up all that early. I also tend to overload the weekends with back-to-back long runs to keep my work week mileage down. My philosophy is based in consistent high mileage. I haven’t taken a day off in over 5 years, and that really keeps me motivated to get out the door when I’m just not feeling it. I have averaged over 80 mpw for the last 5 years, and that includes taper and recovery weeks. I peaked at 120 mpw in my build up this fall to JFK. In a typical week I’ll do one track workout, a second hard effort like a trail tempo, and at least one long run, with the other days just easy mileage.
Average Guy: I saw on your blog that you picked up Bryon Powell’s excellent book “Relentless Forward Progress”…any favorite tips in there?
David Riddle: I haven’t quite finished it yet, but in general, it contains a lot of really good advice.
Average Guy: Following up on Bryon’s book, I found it interesting that he included the point/counterpoint between Geoff Roes (who is somewhat pessimistic in regard to fast finishers having success in 100 milers) and Ian Torrence (who believes strongly in speed work for ultramarathon success). You turned down an entry into Western States last year and ended up cleaning up at faster, shorter races, how do you feel about your chances as a fast finisher against a stacked deck of veteran 100 milers?
David Riddle: I am really trying not to underestimate Western States. A 100 mile trail race is so much different than what I’ve been running. It almost 3 times as long as any race I’ve run when you look at the length of time that I’m going to be on my feet. Add to the distance the heat and elevation change, and it starts looking really tough. I know the odds are stacked against me being a rookie 100 miler at Western States. I hope an extra conservative start and meticulous preparation will get me to the finish inside the top 10 so I have a chance to come back in 2013 and do it right. I really can’t worry about what the other veteran 100 milers are doing. I have to run my race just like I did at JFK.
Thanks again to David for his thoughts, and congratulations to him for all his success and for putting his stamp in the history books at this year’s incredible JFK50!