Thursday, April 14, 2011

An interview with the reigning Charlottesville Ten Miler Champion and a 2:20 Marathoner

---Seth Hutchinson of Ragged Mountain Racing---

Humility is the last thing I would expect in an elite marathoner but the first thing I experienced when learning about Seth Hutchinson the runner and the person. See, if I were on the cusp of qualifying for the Olympic Trials in the marathon, I would have a hard time with humility. Talking to non-running friends, one common criticism is that runners are too self-centered, egotistical, or selfish. Running is a sport that is not conducive to socialization, unless it is shared with other runners. It’s easy to get caught up in an obsessive world of running. One wakes up in the morning to run, but that is just the beginning. From there the runner thinks about nutrition, stretching, napping, and the next run. At least that is what has happened in the past with my running. After interviewing Seth, I have a deeper appreciation for how running should fit into the bigger picture. Furthermore, I am awestruck by the humility Seth displays, despite how revered he is by the running community. He dispels myths about the egotistical runner and is quick to redirect the conversation to your running goals and not his.

Myth One: Runners are obsessive and don’t live life.
Truth:  Seth eats all sorts of foods that wouldn’t be on the list of a nutritionally obsessed runner. From jamocha shakes at Arby’s to white chocolate macadamia nut cookies, Seth isn’t afraid to indulge in something sweet. In addition to these snacks, Seth enjoys chicken quesadillas, mangoes, his mom’s buffalo burgers, and much more. The next time you sit down and wonder whether or not to let your palate live a little, take a deep breath and dig in.

Myth Two: Runners spend their free time only thinking about running.
Truth: Seth is an elite marathoner who lives in the Charlottesville area. He ran a 2:20 marathon at Boston in 2010. Day and night he is logging miles in order to train his feet for such a feat. Outside of running, Seth studies exercise physiology (towards a Master’s degree), works at Ragged Mountain Running Shop, and frequents the Aquatic Fitness Center at University of Virginia. Those are the places one would most likely find Seth on a given day. What one cannot see, from the outside looking in, is what goes on inside the head of a 2:20 marathoner. If you guessed running, you’re wrong. When he isn’t on the road, studying, or working in a running store, Seth is focusing on art and music. Some of his favorite genres are folk and rock. You’ll catch Seth jamming out to Arcade Fire, Avett Brothers, or Iron & Wine while he is drawing or hanging out with friends. Other activities he enjoys are playing piano, hanging out with his friends at the South Street Tavern or McGrady’s Pub, and reading.

Myth Three: Elite Runners have always been runners.
Truth: Seth, the youngest of three, watched his older brothers run cross country and track. Their school, Field High School in Brimfield, Ohio, won multiple state championships. Also inspired by his high school science teacher, Mr. Conroy, he gave cross country a shot. Seth admits, though, that basketball was still more of a passion than running at the time. Struggling through his first season, he quickly learned the sport, and excelled as the fastest runner on his team by the season’s conclusion. To think that one of Charlottesville’s top runners used to run to stay in shape for basketball. In describing his high school and college path to the marathon, Seth says that the most important thing for him is and has been self-improvement.

Running can be a microcosm for many other things in life. Many runners are very driven to accomplish faster times and run smarter races. When encountered with a tough goal, runners often push themselves to persevere. They learn how to overcome failure through patience, persistence, and experience. They set goals that take work ethic to achieve. They try to be better people each day they go out and train. A mistake made yesterday is a lesson implemented to become a better runner. When a runner takes these lessons and translates them into other areas in his or her life, the outcome is often the one desired. Seth’s positive attitude and focus on self-improvement is clearly evident in his character. Equally as impressive is his focus on succeeding in other areas of his life.

Seth sums up his mindset for training for the marathon by saying, “With the marathon, you can’t always focus on time, but also on having a positive experience and taking positive lessons out of it.” Last year he nailed a 2:20:56, which is less than two minutes off of the Olympic Trial standard of 2:19:00. Sticking with his mantra of self-improvement, he says that he will be happy as long as he runs a competitive race. A self-proclaimed newcomer to the distance, he hopes to stay healthy and compete for as long as his body allows. Last fall was one of the harder hurdles he had to clear.

While training for the Chicago marathon, Seth developed symptoms that affected his training. He was extremely fatigued, having trouble sleeping, and fighting off sore muscles and headaches. Dr. Wilder, the sports medicine expert in pain management and rehabilitation at UVa, ran a battery of tests with Seth, unable to find, conclusively, the cause of his symptoms. Nearly dropping out of the Virginia Beach Half Marathon was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Seth wanted to find out what was causing his inability to recover from these symptoms. Halfway to Chicago, he decided that the longevity of his running career was more important than that one marathon.

After heading home for the holidays and moving into a new apartment, his symptoms went away. Dr. Wilder and the Lorenzoni family were very supportive during the time Seth was fighting through the mystery illness. Mark and Cynthia let Seth stay at their place for some time, and Seth noticed a small difference. Seth was able to rebound this year, and he has trained hard in preparation for the 2011 Boston Marathon.

Myth Four: Elite Marathoners must run at least 120 miles per week.
Truth: Seth isn’t running 120-150 miles per week, but instead he is typically between 90 and 105. His recommendation is to do what feels right for yourself and not what those around you are doing. Seth again puts to rest the notion that marathon runners have to be obsessed. He says, “The mileage is what you have time for, but also what your body can handle.” Be it 50 to 150 miles each week, marathoning has many sizes and shapes for training. Seth’s typical week breaks down into three quality runs and many more for recovery. He will complete two workouts during the week, usually on Tuesday and Friday. Over the weekend, on Sunday, he will have a long run. The rest of the days he runs for recovery in the morning and up to three times in the evening.

Seth supplements the road miles with yoga, strides, and lifting. Once a week, Seth will take a yoga class for deeper stretching. During training he only lightly stretches, doing so when he feels tight and not on any structured schedule. Again keep in mind that each person is different. Some runners feel comfortable only if they stretch daily and receive deep tissue massages. Others refuse to stretch or subject their legs to any masseuse work. For Seth, stretching is done when needed and yoga for relaxation.

Strides are incorporated at the end of some of Seth’s runs. He will do this a few times each week. Like stretching, different strokes for different folks. You might need to stride before and after each run. Seth appears to be a bit more religious about his total body workouts. The workouts center around core strength, but he has a routine that allows him to complete a total body workout in as fast as 45 minutes. This sums Seth’s workout regimen: 90 to 105 miles per week with multiple double days and three quality runs, light stretching and yoga, strides, and total body workouts.

Drawing by Seth's Mother

Myth Five: Sleep is the second most popular activity for an elite marathoner.
Truth: School and priorities come before sleep on many occasions. Seth is back in school, studying for a Master’s degree in exercise physiology at UVa. Some nights he may get as little as five hours of rest. He will try to get an hour or two of shut eye the following day if he misses a lot of sleep one night. Many think of the elite marathoner as a person that naps each afternoon and puts in nine hours each night. Seth is able to accomplish what he does while distributing his energies between work, school, and his social life.

In terms of nutrition, he admits, “My diet is pretty good, though far from perfect.” One thing I found interesting is the size of his portions. For breakfast he will have a normal portion, but during the day he eats light to avoid drowsiness and fatigue. At dinner he will take in most of his calories for training, eating lots of chicken, rice, and fruit throughout the week. He also admits that he could use more vegetables in his diet. He does not like to eat his larger dinner right before bed, otherwise he feels groggy in the morning.

For the detail-oriented runner, here is what Seth has to say about morning nutrition:

“On most of my easy morning runs I actually don't eat anything before and afterwards I'll have something like cereal, toast with peanut butter, and yogurt. If I've got a workout or a race that morning, I'll eat a little bit of a banana or some oatmeal and raisins. I like to run on a fairly empty stomach for the most part, but eat beforehand depending on the workload.”

I asked Seth what he does to recover from a taxing workout, and his response echoed one that is widespread throughout Charlottesville’s running community, “I drink mass quantities of chocolate milk.” He also downs quite a few pb & j sandwiches, but he did not say whether or not he likes his crust cut off. The pace of his recover runs can be as slow as a slug on a dry day, but he values the recovery needed for the three quality runs each day. Lastly, he says that he likes to wear his compression socks through the course of the day. For those in need of Seth-like compression socks, seek him out at Ragged Mountain Running Shop. (This week we may see a record high in compression sock sales).

Myth Six: Elite Marathoners are extremely motivated all day every day.
Truth: “My motivation shifts throughout a season,” regards Seth. He will contemplate his goals, how he will approach his races, and what is needed to get into shape, but his motivation goes through various phases during a season of running. A piece of advice from Seth – don’t train too hard early in the season because you are pumped for the season to begin. Seth will keep himself busy with his other interests: drawing, reading, and socializing. When racing season begins, Seth says, “That is when running becomes a bigger part of my life. I put the blinders on and focus on my goals.” Anyone that has seen Seth in the midst of a workout knows exactly what those blinders look like. He wears a big smile while working, but when he is in the zone, one can see the look of determination.

Myth Seven: Runners have a hard time adapting to changing circumstances
Truth: Seth is open to all sorts of workouts and really appreciates what his coach, Dana Thiele, does during the season. He believes that each of her workouts serves a purpose, be it hills, fartleks, intervals, or tempo runs. Seth’s strongest area is the tempo run, but he enjoys varying up his training through his coach and Ragged Mountain Racing teammates.

He doesn’t mind varying the terrain, either. Some mornings Seth will hit the soft surface out at Green Springs in Louisa. Other days he will run hillier courses at Dick Woods Road or Ridge Road. Then there are long runs out at Keene and recovery runs at Camp Holiday Trails. He doesn’t hold himself to a particular course or terrain. He is flexible with when he runs and where he runs. His favorite time of day to run is in the morning. If he is running at night, he will do so right before dinner.

Seth trains with his “fantastic teammates” (I’ve met some and agree) during workouts, but he prefers to do his recovery runs solo. He pays attention to how his body feels and lets that dictate the pace of his recovery. Without any outside influence he is able to cruise at a pace that makes him feel physically and mentally rested for the next workout. He is consistently varying many aspects of his training, breaking the mold of the ritualized runner. While there is consistency in his training, he is not so rigid that every ‘t’ must be crossed and every ‘i’ dotted.

Seth’s mindset changes based on what distance he is racing. In marathon training workouts, he will focus on pacing and remaining relaxed. If one were to get inside Seth’s mind, they wouldn’t hear much. He argues, that when in the zone, “I’m thinking about nothing in particular.” When he is racing he will keep in mind when he wants to make a move, maintaining pace, positioning himself in a group of runners, or his form. A very talented runner, Seth’s look of determination grows from a positive mentality and strong focus.

Returning to myth one, Seth makes sure to live his life when he isn’t running and when he isn’t training for a particular race. He is not obsessed to the point of no return. “You need some downtime to recuperate. I like to go hiking, play basketball, draw, spend time reading, or just chill out and play video games,” remarks Seth. It is refreshing to see that Charlottesville’s fastest male marathoner is humble, enjoys his life outside of running, and is a well-liked and revered member of the community.

Concluding Remarks

Seth will be gunning for his main goal, “self-improvement”, in the 2011 Boston Marathon. The rest of the community will watch and hope for him to achieve that goal, as well as the 2:19:00 standard for the Olympic Trials. Either way, whatever the outcome, he will come home a champion in the eyes of his peers in Charlottesville. Representing Ragged Mountain Running Shop, Ragged Mountain Racing, and Charlottesville as a whole, there is no better person than Seth Hutchinson.

Myth Eight: There is a better community of runners other than that in Charlottesville
Truth: Take it away, Seth:

“Training under Mark and Dana has been fantastic. They are both extremely intelligent, with a ton of experience and sometimes differing viewpoints. I am enjoying running now more than ever. Charlottesville is a great place to live. I love how active and community-oriented this town is and I feel blessed to know so many amazing people thanks to my connection to the sport. Training here helps me sustain a positive outlook, because even if my training isn’t going particularly well at a given moment, someone I know and care about is probably running well and I can cheer them on.  Not only that, but everyone is so upbeat that if you are down, you get the impression that you won’t be down for long. I am extremely grateful to have been given the opportunity to live and train here. I know so many remarkable people in Charlottesville, many of which will run along with me in Boston this year. My training has ups and downs like everyone else and being part of such a tight-knit group makes it so much easier to get through the downs. I wish everyone luck who is racing in Boston and I look forward to a fun trip! Thank you to Mark and Cynthia Lorenzoni, Dana and Bob Thiele, Heidi Johnson, Dr. Bob Wilder, and all of my RMR teammates for making running such a great and enjoyable part of my life!”

Seth, good luck in the 2011 Boston Marathon!

written by,
steven kozusko


  1. This is a cool blog. The Charlottesville running community seems really tight-knit and supportive.

    I had the privilege of meeting local runner Louise Knudson a few weeks ago and got to write about her. She qualified for the Olympic Trials at the Boston Marathon, with a time of 2:42, and now she's training for the trials. Thought you might find her story interesting:

  2. I found this blog when I googled "running routes at night near Charlottesville". I'm happy to have found it!!

    Quick note: Seth, if you enjoy hanging out with friends, you should check out Fellini's #9 downtown for trivia night on Tuesday nights! I am "Trivia Master" and have had several trivia questions relating to marathon running due to my newfound love of the "hobby" and the fact that I fully control what questions are asked. :)

    anyway, happy to read this blog and looking forward to more!!