Inspirational Runner: Rian Landers
Rian Landers began her running career as a youth sprinter, and eventually made her way to college distance running. Now, she is an up-and-coming ultra runner. She just ran her first 50k, The Promise Land 50k, and won! Read about her running career, trials and tribulations, and new routine as an ultra runner below.
RC: How did you get started as a runner?
RL: I started running at St Catharine’s grammar school in 4th grade doing 1 mile cross country races and Spring track. The cross country course eventually got up to 1.5 miles but during track season I thought I was a sprinter. I ran the 200 m and 400 m throughout middle school and most of high school.
RC: Can you give us a synopsis of your running career so far?
RL: I ran for St. Rose High School in Belmar, NJ. We didn’t have a track so most of our training, including intervals, was done at the beach on the boardwalk in Belmar. We had a great group of girls on the team my senior year, including my sisters, Devon and Taryn, who are two years younger than me. We fed off of one another’s motivation and had a great year and good performances. By that time I had moved up to the 800 m as well as the 400 m. Our relay team won the 4×400 m at our Parochial state championships and I won the 800 m.
I was recruited by Lafayette College in Easton, PA to run the 800 m. However, I had a string of injuries that kept me from training and performing very well. I was finally healthy by my Junior year and started to run pretty well in cross country so my coach suggested I switch to 5,000 m and 10,000 m. As it turns out, I’m much better at the longer distances! By my Senior year I won Patriot League Championships in the 10,000 m and got the school record in the 5,000 m (I think it still stands!). Devon and Taryn also came to Lafayette to run so it was really fun to be on the same team as them again for a few years!
When I graduated I continued to train and ran for Shore Athletic Club in NJ before moving to San Diego for graduate school. I ran my first half marathon and started realizing more and more how much I enjoyed running longer distances. I took some time off from competing due to injuries and when I started up again I decided to run my first marathon. This race really solidified for me that longer distances are my strength. I had plans to train and attempt to qualify for the Olympic Trials in the marathon but another string of injuries prevented me from doing that. I got introduced to trail running during this time because I found that my body hurt less on trails and the different terrain/elevation changes helped me relax a little about pace (given the same relative effort, one mile on trails is a lot slower than one mile on the road and even that will vary depending on the trail!). I also have been fortunate to meet an amazing physical therapist, Ken Johnson, at Johns Hopkins who has played a tremendous part in helping me get back to running and training again. It took 10 years but I finished my second marathon, on trails, in the Fall of last year. Once I figured out how to train and stay healthy I started thinking that these longer races that I’ve always dreamed of doing could actually be a reality.
RC: Who has been the greatest influence or inspiration for you as a runner? Why?
RL: My family! My parents have always been really supportive and encouraging of my running and spent A LOT of time at cross country and track meets. They both have been amazing examples of hard work and dedication. As I mentioned, two of my sisters ran in high school and college with me. I have two other sisters who are also runners. All five of us are all into health and fitness and I find that they are all inspirational in so many different ways. My older sister, Caolan, wakes up at 4am to run before her kids get up and she goes to work. Devon ran throughout both of her pregnancies and ran a 15 min PR in a marathon less than a year after giving birth to her first daughter. Taryn has coached college and high school track and just ran a half marathon after dealing with some really serious health issues over the last few years. Shannon, is a fitness fanatic and has also run some incredible marathon times. My husband, Mike, is another big influence. He had a bad accident 11 years ago and isn’t able to run much anymore but he is a really talented rock climber. It’s been really motivational to see how hard he trains despite having had many setbacks. Having all of these people in my life serves as a reminder that no matter how busy you are or what you are going through in life, if you make something a priority you can get it done.
RC: Why did you make the decision to become an ultra runner?
RL: Well, as I mentioned, throughout my running career it became apparent to me that I was much better at longer distances and I enjoy running for a long time. I also really like being out in the woods exploring trails and seeing how they change with the seasons. I read a few books about ultra runners and have some friends who have done them and have been really inspired by their stories. When I figured out how to train smart and stay healthy I thought maybe I could finally make this happen for myself!
RC: You just competed in your first ultra race… and won! What was it like to not only finish the Promise Land 50k, but also win it?
RL: It was incredible! I honestly had no idea how I would place because hadn’t done the distance before and I’ve heard about some really talented runners who have raced Promise Land in the past so it was a bit intimidating. My main goal was to finish without a major injury and then I thought maybe I could try for top 10. The race is directed by ultra-running legend, David Horton, who is known to put on a great race with a challenging course. He is also very “generous” with the distance and added 3 extra miles to the 31 mile race distance. The course involved running up and down a mountain. Twice. It was an amazing course and it also kicked my butt. My quads were trashed from all the descents! The race ended with 3 miles downhill on fire road. You may think that a downhill finish would be welcomed after 31+ miles but I was just hoping my quads wouldn’t give up on me and send me rolling down the hill to the finish line!
RC: What is your training routine like now that you are an ultra runner? How did your routine change to make the transition to this type of race?
RL: To be honest, my training isn’t all that much different! In fact, I am running about half the mileage than I was when I was training for the 5k. I am an exercise physiologist and my PhD advisor was part of a study back in 1977 where they incorporated a high intensity cycling workout in conjunction with running to see how much maximal oxygen consumption went up after 10 weeks. They were sedentary subjects but after 10 weeks of this program their maximal oxygen consumption increased by 44%! My PhD advisor is a big track and field fan so we decided to experiment with this plan in my own training when I started coming back from injuries. I was already pretty well trained so I didn’t see as big of a difference as they did in the 1977 study, but I did improve by 4% with only running ~25 miles/week! Since then, I’ve continued to supplement my training with high intensity cycling 3 days/week and running 3 days/week. I also strength train 2-3 days a week and rock climb a few days a week. This was all stuff I did before training for this race though. The biggest differences are really just the incorporation of a long run one day a week and getting on trails as much as possible!
RC: If someone asked you for advice about becoming an ultra runner, what are the three most important things you would tell them they need?
RL: Well, I’m still a newbie myself so I’d probably direct them to someone who has been doing this for longer! There is a great ultrarunning community in the MD area and they have helped me a lot. I invested in a hydration vest for my long runs and races. It comes with collapsable bottles so the water doesn’t slosh around when you run and it has pockets for snacks. It took some time to get used to because it’s heavy but it’s been really useful! I have also been introduced to Tailwind which has been a game changer! Some people can eat whatever they want when they run but I am not one of them. This product has calories and electrolytes and it just dissolves in your water. It’s easy on the stomach and provides even energy for the whole run. This is what I trained with and was all I took for the whole 50k. I also started wearing more padded wool socks. There are a lot of stream crossings so the wool dries faster and the padding makes a big difference on longer, rocky trails.
RC: What is the most shocking or surprising thing you have discovered about being an ultra runner?
RL: Walking uphill!!! The exercise physiologist in me knows that this is more efficient for longer, steep climbs. However, it still creates this internal conflict for me. After racing and competing in shorter races for so long it just seems so foreign! At Promise Land there is a steep ~3 mile climb up Apple Orchard Falls toward the end of the race. I power hiked almost the entire thing and was convinced that I was going to be passed the whole way! It was the longest stretch I have ever gone in a race where I was not actually running! This becomes critical in longer races so I have to learn to get over this feeling.
RC: What is the next ultra race in which you plan on competing? Why did you choose this particular race?
RL: I am signed up for the Patapsco Valley 50k in the Fall. The course is on trails that I run all the time so I thought that could be fun. I want to do a 50 miler one day but I’ll do a few more 50ks first so I can get better at training for and racing this distance.
RC: What advice would you give to runners of any distance that feel like they want to give up?
RL: Not all that long ago, I would tell them to keep running because running is awesome and they shouldn’t give up. However, some people just get burnt out and need a break from competition or a change of scenery. I would suggest that they think about why they started running in the first place and try to get back to that. Take off the watch and just enjoy what your body is capable of doing. Try cross training or a different type of training for a change of pace. Go run around the woods for a while and pretend you’re a kid again!