In this addition of Inov-8 Athlete Profile we head west of the Mississippi to meet up with trail saavy and uber-consistent trail runner and biker, Kelli Lusk. Some of Kelli's accolades include: two time member of the US Mountain Running Team, two-time winner of both the Barr Trail Mountain Race and the Northfield Mountain Race, USSA National Champion and team member, as well as qualifying for the 2000 Olympic Marathon Trials. Kelli was kind enough to take time to answer some of my questions about her running philosophy and experiences on and off the trail.
Inov-8 Athlete Profile Interview: Kelli Lusk
Interviewed by: Wynn Davis
1. Can you tell us a little bit about how your running career began?
I started running on the junior high track team, then ran 4 years of track and 3 years of CC in high school. I didn’t compete in college, then in 1992 I started mountain bike racing. I was riding and running more, so I did my first road marathon at Columbus in 1995 to qualify for the 100th running of Boston. I qualified, then a year later broke 3-hours (2:59) at Columbus. It got me hooked! I moved to Colorado in 1997 to race mountain bikes and qualify for the 2000 Olympic Marathon Trials. I lived in Denver for a few years, then moved to Manitou Springs in 2000 when I started working for USA Cycling.
I stopped racing my mountain bike in 2000 after I found out I had mono, but continued running. I started running with the Incline Club the 2000-2001 winter and that’s when I found out about competitive mountain running.
2. Manitou Springs, Colorado seems to be a Mecca for runners and other athletes. Are there any trails in particular you enjoy that would interest a wandering trail runner visiting the area?
Manitou Springs is really incredible for training. There are so many trails from which to choose…anything from gradual, rolling trails like Intemann, to the Incline, to Barr Trail, to other less-known places like Longs Ranch Road. Of course, there’s also Garden of the Gods and Red Rocks Canyon/Section 16/Palmer. I don’t drive anywhere to get to trails…they are right out my door.
3. Can you tell us a little bit about your profession as a USA Cycling Mountain Bike Events and Program Director?
I started working for USA Cycling in 2000 and my main focus has always been with the mountain bike racing. My current job involves managing the mountain bike National Championships, National Calendars, State/Regional Championships, promoter relations, and working with the NORBA BOT. It does require quite a bit of travel during the season and it’s definitely a full time + job! I usually work an average of 45-60 hours a week.
4. What sparked your interest into Mountain Running? Did you start out in a different background, such as road running?
I’ve always been drawn to the trails and mountains. Mountain running was a natural progression once I moved to Colorado. I used to train on the trails back in Michigan and when I lived in Denver (1997-1999), but my interest was sparked in 2000 when I moved to Manitou Springs.
5. What are your strengths and what are your weaknesses?
Strengths: My passion for running, my flexibility with my training
Weaknesses: I need to be more disciplined with stretching, cross-training, and weight-training. I’m very happy to just run, but understand the need to mix it up in order to keep the injuries away and to strengthen my running.
6. Can you tell us what your training philosophy is and what some of your favorite workouts include?
Train hard, try to be as consistent as possible, and keep pushing yourself to become better. Some of my favorite workouts include hilly tempo runs (both road and trail), hill repeats, and the Incline. It takes a lot of motivation to hit the track for speed sessions, but if there’s a group meeting at the track, it’s easier for me to be there.
7. In 2003 you were the National Snowshoe Racing Champion and a National team member for three straight years. Can you tell us the attributes that snowshoe running has in regard to running in general?
Snowshoe racing is excellent for a low-impact, hard workout. It will push you mentally and physically in the off-season, so by the time the spring races hit, you’re better prepared.
8. You have had a very consistent running career. What has kept you so consistent?
Again, it’s my dedication to running. I know if I don’t run, I’ll be anxious and in a bad mood, so it feels better to just get out the door, even if only for a short run. I also give myself complete days off if I feel mentally or physically drained. I usually try to allow myself one complete day off (no cross-training or running) once every four weeks.
9. What was the toughest race you’ve ever experienced? Can you describe what it was like and how you were feeling?
The toughest race was Sierre-Zinal in 2003. I had just broken my toe on the Barr Trail Mountain Race descent (about 1.5 miles from the bottom) in mid-July and had already arranged to go to Europe and race Sierre-Zinal, Tyonne-Dixence, and Susa (Challenge Stellina) in August. I struggled with the toe-issue, then to top it off, it was incredibly hot. It was also the hardest mountain race I had ever experienced…steep climbing for 7 miles, rolling terrain in-between, then a steep downhill to the finish. It’s also much more competitive in Europe, so it was an eye-opener with the level of running there.
10. You have had very good success racing in Europe. Is there a particular country, race, or trail that stands out in your mind?
Sierre-Zinal! I ran it in 2002, 2003, and 2004. The races in Switzerland are so incredible. Jungfrau Marathon is also a great mountain race. I had a bad accident at the start of the race when I did it in 2007 (a crowded start resulted in some people going down, me being one of them), but I’d like to go back and do it again.
11. What do you know now that you wish you would have known when you first started running?
To keep a structure to my training (which I didn’t start doing until 2001)
12. Is there a particular INOV-8 shoe that you gravitate toward and why?
I like the F-lite 285 because it’s the best trail and off-road mountain racing shoe out there. The Mudroc 280 for great for off-road training and longer races.
13. Finally, in your experience as a Mountain Runner, what qualities make for someone interested in Mountain Running/races?
Anyone with a high pain threshold and ability to train a lot…this is the sport for you!