Those numbers sum up RJ Thompson’s goal for this September. The Vermont Long Trail is a rugged trail that bisects the state lengthwise from Canada to Massachusetts. The record for a solo, unsupported running effort is just under seven days. RJ is aiming to shave approximately 17 hours off that pace.
That goal alone is worthy of unfettered attention. But RJ isn’t your average guy. While he’s training to break records for running across Vermont, he’s holding down a full time job at a solar energy company, wrapping up a thesis for his Masters’ degree, operating a website, and raising money for the Children & Nature Network.
It’s an intense schedule. But RJ’s response to the question of why he’s tackling the Long Trail record on top of everything else seems to sum up his appealing nature. His answer? Why not.
(Interview condensed for space.)
Ibex Question (IQ): You have so much going on, but let’s jump right into the Vermont Long Trail run. The record for an unsupported run is six days, 17 hours and 25 minutes. Do you have finish time goal?
RJ Thompson (RJ): Yes, I hope to finish the run in about six days, flat.
IQ: In training for such an intense goal, how do you prioritize the importance of speed, tactics and endurance?
RJ: All three will play an important part in this attempt. If I had to rate their importance, I would start with endurance, followed by tactics, then speed. Endurance, of course, is what is going to get me to the finish line, or Massachusetts state line, if you will. I’ll experiment with tactics such as budgeting my food, where to sleep, and what to carry throughout the training process, so that’s more of a preparation thing. Lastly, the speed at which I an execute those tactics (like refilling my water bladder on the trail, for example) will play a role in how quickly I can get to the end of the run. Another key priority is staying healthy.
IQ: How do you strategize for a 6-7 day, 273 mile, self-supported run?
RJ: Great question. Because the run is unsupported, I’ll actually be carrying everything in a backpack that is currently being designed by Nathan Sports. The rules are kind of unwritten, but it’s understood that an unsupported run means no drop bags, no stashes, and no accepting food or drink from any other person on the trail. It’s purely self-sustaining, and sustaining only with what you have on your back at the beginning of the run. The only exception, of course, is filtering water – otherwise, that would be a lot of water to carry! As far as sleeping is concerned, I’ll sleep each night for about five to six hours, if all goes well.
Photo credit: Emily Wynes
IQ: We love that you’re offering truly helpful tips – on training, diet, injury prevention, time management, etc. – on your website, www.thelongtrailrun.com. You’ve alluded to time management and how to train for a huge event while still having a life. Can you give us a little preview?
RJ: Time management is definitely tricky. The first, and in my opinion, most important tip I can offer is to be flexible with your training. You’re not going to [always] be able to stay on track exactly as you planned. … [There] are real life experiences that generally get in the way of training, but that’s okay. I’m a firm believer in quality over quantity. I’d rather have four great workouts in one week than six or seven crammed, hurried, and compromised runs.
Being flexible means you can also shuffle your schedule around when those things … pop up. Don’t get stressed about having to re-arrange your workout routine.
Of course, flexibility will get a bit harder later in the game. So, I’d say preparing your loved ones about your intentions and what is required to meet those goals is very important. If you set general expectations about your absence at the beginning of your training plan, people will understand when you miss a drink or two after work. And if they don’t, well, you can join them after you crush your next race!
IQ: What is it about running, for you, that compels you not only to do it, but to set such lofty goals?
RJ: Running is a challenge. No matter how long you’ve been doing it, you’re challenging yourself each time you step out the door and put one foot in front of the other. With each successful run, you have overcome another challenge, and I think that’s very important and therapeutic for the mind and body.
But it’s not just about the challenge. I absolutely love running through the middle of a forest, scaling mountains, and traversing ridgelines. Being alone in the mountains gives me a feeling of vulnerability and freedom that is hard to describe. In an age of excessive creature comforts, that vulnerability is what I love most.
Everyone has their own goals in the sport of running, and I think that’s the beauty of it.
IQ: As a segue, one of your goals is advocacy-based. You’re raising awareness and money for The Children & Nature Network. Do you have a personal connection to the cause?
RJ: Some of my earliest memories were carved in the outdoors. Whether it was climbing my first tree with neighborhood buddies or going on my first camping trip to Canada, the adventures started at a young age, and they continue today. The Children & Nature Network is dedicated to making sure all children have similar opportunities, and that’s what drew me to their organization. I don’t work for them; I’ve simply partnered with them because I like what they’re doing, and I believe every one of us can find a personal connection to their cause.
IQ: From advocacy to our shameless self-promotion questions. We’re stoked that you’re choosing to run in the Ibex weightless wool, W2 Sport T. What’s your feedback?
RJ: Running (and skiing) in the W2 Sport T has been awesome so far. I like running in it because I can wear it a few days in a row without washing it. Gross, right?! But not really, because it doesn’t smell! Unless you like doing laundry all the time, wool is great since it doesn’t hold odors like other fabrics. I haven’t run in the W2 in super warm weather yet, but that will change shortly [when the Vermont weather heats up]. The W2 T is amazingly soft and light. It’s by far the most comfortable shirt I’ve ever worn.
IQ: And, we blush. Seriously, we’re glad you like and we look forward to your reviews when the temps heat up. Last question: Training for such a huge endeavor takes a lot of discipline. What’s your biggest indulgence/guilty pleasure outside of your official training?
RJ: Yes, it does take a lot of discipline to consume many pints of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. Oh, wait. I guess one of my disciplines doubles as a guilty pleasure. But seriously, I’ll devour a pint of Chubby Hubby or Americone Dream after a long run, no problem. Guilty? No. Satisfied? Definitely.
We like the way you operate, RJ. Best of luck with training and we’ll checking in for our regular dose of inspiration!
To follow RJ’s training, to watch his webisodes that will help you reach your own running goals, or to donate money to the Children & Nature Network (100% of the proceeds go to that organization) check out the Long Trail Run website, Facebook and Twitter.