Monday, March 14, 2011

Ultra - Running with Sophie Speidel

Charlottesville the Place

This week’s runner is Sophie Speidel, an ultra-marathon runner who lives in Charlottesville, Virginia. Sophie and her husband, Rusty, went to University of Virginia, left, and returned in 1995. Now with three children, Chapin, Carter, and Virginia, the Speidels are active in many niches in Charlottesville. Carter and Virginia both attend St. Anne’s-Belfield School, where Sophie is in her sixteenth year as a health educator and girl’s lacrosse coach. Their children are dedicated fans of the University of Virginia’s sports teams and prefer the small town feel of Charlottesville over larger, urban cities. Rusty is active in the music community, performing with various bands. With all of the Speidel family’s involvement, and Sophie’s running network, Charlottesville is home. From an outside perspective, it is always impressing to see a family of highly active, involved, and driven individuals.

Elaborating on Sophie and Rusty’s journey away and back to Charlottesville, Sophie shared information about their history with the University and the time spent away. Rusty obtained an English degree and now is the VP of Marketing at Encell Technology. Encell is a company that works with renewable energy. Rusty has had diversity with his work in publishing, software design, and a fast growing field: social media. With an undergraduate degree and a Master’s degree in counseling, both from UVA, Sophie has deep-rooted connections with the academic community. After living and working in Baltimore and District of Columbia, the Speidels felt that Charlottesville was where they wanted to live.

What is one thing that separates Charlottesville from other cities? Sophie says that she enjoys the connections and relationships with “adventure-seeking, like-minded people”. The Speidels engage in active recovery on their weekends. While Sophie is out on the AT (Appalachian Trail) near Sugar Hollow (Whitehall) putting in high mileage with other Charlottesville runners (Potts, Hallie, Eliza), Rusty will be on a long bike ride with his friends and training partners. Happy in their respective outdoor activities, Rusty and Sophie spend time together at Mas (tapas) in Belmont, Crozet Pizza, Blue Mountain Brewery in Afton, or on the Rivanna Trail. When they are out hiking, they may frequent Old Rag, Humpback Rock, or Spy Rock. Sophie isn’t shy, and she is emphatic that a good hike deserves a good lunch and coffee. Greenberry’s is a social center for the running community, and the Speidels often spend an hour conversing over coffee after their outdoor adventures.


Sophie’s running journey began with only 2 to 3 miles per day when she was playing lacrosse at UVA. This progressed to the Women’s 4-miler race at a time when less than 100 women ran it. Now, hundreds, if not thousands of women run and support a great race put on for an even greater cause. During graduate school, as her education progressed, so did her running goals. The 10-miler race in 1988 was Sophie’s first mid-distance race. The floodgates opened, and she began competing in triathlons, marathons, and now ultra-running. Since 2002, Sophie has been racing ultras and leaving her mark throughout central Virginia and beyond. Well respected in her sport, Sophie has a blog where she writes about what she has learned while succeeding at ultra-racing. Her blog is accessible at the following address. Also, her running club, Virginia Happy Trails Running Club has a website listed below. Lastly, Sophie recommends trying out her sponsor’s inov-8 trail shoes at Ragged Mountain Running Shop.

Sophie has had strong ties with The Boston Group since 1984, when she first met Mark and Cynthia Lorenzoni, owners of Ragged Mountain Running Shop. Advised for the 1990 Marine Corps Marathon and coached through the 2007 Mountain Masochist 50 mile ultra, Sophie has had many positive interactions with The Boston Group. One of her recent positive experiences was from the 2010 Three Bridges Marathon in Sugar Hollow. This race, put on by Mark Lorenzoni, is heavily supported by The Boston Group. Sophie has in turn had a positive influence on The Boston Group. She was consistent in her support for Harry Landers and Mark Hampton as they trained and successfully ran the Holiday Lake 50K ultra race. Despite differences in distances covered, Sophie points out what ties together the running community in Charlottesville when she says, “we all seem to enjoy the same end result – the fellowship and community that develops during and after a shared endurance experience. There’s nothing like it!”

The distance of a particular race often dictates the distance of her training. When she races 100-mile ultras, Sophie pushes her mileage into the lower-end spectrum of weekly mileage (for ultra training) with 80 to 85 miles per week. She trains at a level that allows her to feel mentally rested. Preferring 40 mile to 100 kilometer distances, Sophie will train at 55 to 70 miles per week. Here is one of her weeks of training from the Mountain Masochist 50 mile ultra that she ran last November:

Monday: 6 miles easy on trails/lift (core strength mostly)
Tuesday: 8 miles with 6 x 1:00 pick-ups on dirt roads
Wednesday: 8-10 miles with 4-5 miles at tempo pace (7:20) on a hilly course/lift
Thursday: OFF (I would swim, water run, or take completely off)
Friday: 6 miles very easy on trails/lift
Saturday: 25 miles at very easy pace on mountain trails, hiking the uphills
Sunday: 8 mile recovery run on trails

In addition to the distance of the race, and in her opinion more important, the terrain of the race determines where she trains. If she is running a hilly course, she will train on hilly dirt roads and singletrack trails. In this training she will incorporate hill repeats, including downhills. This helps her build her quads, in preparation for long downhill portions of the course. The Holiday Lakes 50K course is flatter, so in training, she ran faster miles on flatter dirt roads. This simulation approach lets her legs prepare for what she will experience over the course of 30 to 100 miles of running.

In town, Sophie will train with Bill Potts on two tranquil trails, the O-hill network and the Secluded Farm trails. The former includes UVA’s observation center and the latter is near Monticello. Both of these trails are great places for them to run tempo paces while incorporating hill training. Outside of Charlottesville, Sophie recommends the following places for training:

“In the Shenandoah National Park (20 minutes west of town), I am currently loving the Doyles River/Jones Falls loop off the AT above White Hall and Brown’s Gap. The waterfalls are spectacular and the trails are gorgeous. I also LOVE the Wild Oak Trail west of Harrisonburg, and the Priest/Three Bridges/Mauhar Loop near Montebello is another favorite.”

Nutrition and Fitness

Dynamic strength and core training are important in Sophie’s training. Both are very important in all distances. These types of training styles help runners stabilize adductors, abductors, gluteus muscles, hip flexors, ankles, and other parts of the body that are not naturally strengthened by a lateral running motion. When she isn’t on the trails, Sophie will be swimming and water running (she would be at yoga or Pilates if time permitted).

If you are in need of physical therapy, Sophie recommends Eric Magrum. He helped her recover from IT band syndrome in 2004 using a strength and core regimen that she has stuck with ever since.

Mark and Cynthia Lorenzoni pioneered pool running when Cynthia was training for the Olympic Trials. Currently many of Lorenzoni’s athletes train in the pool. Sophie, coached by someone in the ultra community, but with a longstanding relationship with Lorenzoni, is another runner (with a longer distance goal) that promotes pool running. When she needs to clear lactic acid, overcome sore legs, and train, she will water run at the Smith Pool. In addition to this, she will run trails at a slower, conversational pace or hike the fields near her house while walking her dog (her modus operandi after a race).

Lastly, in terms of recovery, Sophie drinks Ultragen (Cappuccino flavor) after every hard run or race. Day to day, Sophie says focus on complex carbs, plenty of water, and some dark chocolate. Jokingly, she says, “margaritas at Continental Divide, and the bacon-wrapped dates at Mas” enhance her nutrition. Some (maybe many) will argue that there is no joke there – margaritas at Continental Divide are good for the soul. Here is what she does when she races and trains:

“When I race and train, I don’t typically eat solids. I use Hammer products that I buy at Ragged Mountain: Hammergel and Perpetuem Caffe Latte. I also use Nuun for my electrolytes. These are the fuels of choice for all my races. It took me a long time to figure out my nutrition needs but I think I have it dialed in (for now). In ultras, what sometimes works in one race doesn’t in another, but for the past few years I have been very happy with these products. I try to take in about 250 calories an hour during my races and this comes in the form of Hammergel, Perpetuem, and Nuun with water, with perhaps a burger or eggs later in a 100K for the protein.”


Please access Sophie’s blog link below to hear about her race experience at Three Bridged Marathon in December 2010.


I asked Sophie to give five or six pointers for someone entering the ultra scene. Here is what she had to say:

“1. Leave your watch or GPS at home and run by feel. This means power-hiking the uphills and keeping your heart rate in the aerobic range. Don’t worry about splits. David Horton, RD for Holiday Lake, is famous for his “Horton” miles which are always longer than advertised, and this tends to frustrate first-timers who come from triathlon or marathon backgrounds. The nice thing about ultras is that you can run the entire race chatting away with friends and not have to stress about splits unless, of course, you want to.

2. It is totally OK—and encouraged, even by the elite runners—that you walk the uphills in ultras, even for a few steps. This aids in recovery, gets the heart rate down to the aerobic range, allows time for fueling, and breaks up the monotony of running after four or five hours. Look forward to the hills and enjoy the scenery around you!

3. Your feet will get wet. Prepare for it by lubing your feet with Vaseline and wear wicking socks like Smartwool or Drymax.

4. During an ultra, try to get in between 230-250 calories an hour through food and fuel that your body tolerates. That is all the calories a body can deal with during a race and if you eat too much, you will most likely deal with stomach distress and nausea down the trail. Best to practice in training what you will be eating during the race.

5. Be flexible. Inevitably something will go wrong during an ultra (blisters, stomach, bonk, bad attitude) but, as they say in ultrarunning, “It never always gets worse”. In fact, I look forward to the “bad patches” because they are inevitable and also mean the “second wind” is coming. My most memorable ultras were the ones where I came back from the dead, (so to speak) to finish.”

Racing an ultra is an experience that I have not had, and I’m not sure it can be put into words. Sophie talks of the opening of one’s soul to a fellow runner, confronting vulnerability and growing from it, and learning something new about oneself and an intimate training partner. At the same time, ultra races can be low-key, easy-going, and inclusive. One thing I gathered is that the ultra scene wants nothing to do with egos, bombastic personalities, and pretentious attitudes. There is a feeling of camaraderie and caring competition – ultra runners look out for each other and that takes precedence over placing in a race.

Sophie and Bill Potts both have run a double crossing of the Grand Canyon. At 48, she is competitive and hopes to do well in her Masters age group (as well as the Grand Masters group for ages over 50). With six to eight races per year, she shows no signs of slowing down. Her first stage run this season will be at Shenandoah National Park on the AT. With a sense of adventure in her heart, Sophie will continue to shine.

written by steven kozusko

1 comment:

  1. Great way to showcase Charlottesville runners and they could not have picked a better person to showcase.