Atlanta, GA-based Janice Anderson has been a fixturein the ultra scene since the early 90s. Among her accomplishments, she counts setting course records at five different 100 milers, most notably the first ever sub-17 hour finish of a 100 mile trail race by a woman (16:03 at Rocky Raccoon in 2000). Anderson has also competed for the US at five World 100km Championships. To see a complete list of her accomplishments (there are a LOT), please visit USATF’s website. Janice recently took some time out of her busy schedule to meet for sushi and an in-person interview. (all photos courtesy of Janice)
You were a successful high school and college runner. Describe your evolution to running on trails and longer distances.
I’ve always been attracted to running longer distances. Growing up in Huntsville, AL, I ran my first marathon in the 8th grade. In college, I ran shorter distances, focusing on the mile in particular [editorial note: with a PR of 4:55].
After college, some of my friends got into ultras and eventually talked me into running one, which turned out to be the Strolling Jim 40 miler up in Tennessee. The first few years, I focused mainly on road ultras, running about two or so a year. My first real trail ultra was out West at Big Horn. I was completely unprepared for what I would encounter, including snow at the top of the mountains, heat at the bottom and especially the altitude.
However, that didn’t turn me off to ultras. I started training with a guy who was getting ready for Western States. Once I saw that he could complete it, I figured “I can do that, too” and managed to get in through the lottery the following year. [ editorial note: Janice has done extremely well at WS, placing top 10 female a total of five times with her highest finish in 1997, when she placed 2nd to Ann Trason]
You have competed in so many different races. What is your favorite?
I really like Vermont 100. It’s a fairly low key race and Vermont is absolutely gorgeous in the summer.
The Mount Mist 50k in Huntsville, AL is another favorite of mine. I grew up running on those trails, so it holds a special place in my heart.
Tell us about your most memorable running experiences.
Placing second at WS was definitely special.
Then, of course, Rocky Raccoon in 2000 [where Janice became the first woman to break 17 hours for a 100 miler on trail, finishing in a mind-boggling 16:03]. I had just recovered from a case of pneumonia that winter and wasn’t in top shape. Really, the only reason I ran the race was because I was trying to complete all the East Coast ultras in one year. I had worked all day the Friday before and flew out to Texas that night barely making it in time to pick up my race packet around 8 pm. The next day everything just felt great. At 100k, I looked at my time and was surprised at how fast I had been going. I was without a crew or pacer and finished early enough to get back to the hotel and get a full night’s sleep before attending the awards ceremony the next day. It was just one of those days where everything went just right.
What does your average training week look like? What are you favorite cross-training activities?
I have been injured for about two years now [a nerve injury that causes Janice’s leg to go numb during runs; it is puzzling both doctors and Janice alike ; please send her your well-wishes]. Up until then I was running about 60-70 miles a week with a strong focus on my long runs on the weekends. Now, I run about half that distance. My work has a gym, so I do some weight training and bike work there.
What areas of Atlanta and the South do you most like to train in?
I do most of my hard long runs in North Georgia on the Appalachian Trail. That’s where I would go to train for WS in particular. I do some long runs at Pine Mountain as well.
Do you have any advice for novice ultra runners?
My most important advice would be for new ultra runners to learn how to stay on your feet for a long time. It is equally important to learn how to take in fluids and food in order to keep going and know what it feels like to run on tired legs. I have trained a few people for their first 100s. The key thing we would work up to is 5-6 hour long runs in the mountains on Saturdays followed by easy 3 hour runs on easier trails around Atlanta on Sundays.
Are there any runners you especially admire or who inspire you?
Ann Trason, Greek runner Yiannis Kouros and Eleanor Adams of the UK come to mind.
What are your favorite foods for training and running?
To be honest, whatever looks good. During 100s I usually eat light in the morning waiting to have “lunch” around mid-day. I usually like to have sandwiches and chips, sometimes fruit. I carry gels with me in between aid stations, but you can only have so many of those. Recently, I have become a big fan of Sharkies.
How do you manage training between your job and family?
Well, I have a very understanding husband who is ok with planning our vacations around races. It’s also my only hobby, and I don’t do as much running during the week as on the weekends. I believe that if ultra running is something that you really want to do, you can schedule around it to make it work.
Many trail races sell out early, some even have lotteries. How do you feel about the surge in popularity of trail and ultra running?
It’s certainly a change (except for WS, which has always been that way). It’s a lot harder to schedule 8-9 months in advance. And when you cannot participate in a race for whatever reason and it is sold out, you’ll have most likely taken somebody else’s opportunity to run unless, of course, there’s a waiting list.
What are your plans for 2008 and beyond?
I have no real specific goals as long as the injury keeps me guessing as to when I might be able to run or not. But I would like to join the 50 States Marathon Club. I have about 15 states left.
I will also continue to be active as president of GUTS (Georgia Ultrarunning and Trailrunning Society) as well as on the boards of various other running organizations.
Thank you for your time, Janice!