Anne Riddle Lundblad is one of the most successful ultrarunners in the country. For the past 13 years she has lived and trained in the Asheville area. Lundblad’s specialty is the 100 kilometer, a distance in which she placed second at last year’s International Association of Ultra Runners World Cup in Lake Saroma, Japan. She also dominates the ultra-marathon circuit in the eastern U.S., with wins last year at the JFK 50-mile in Hagerstown, Md., the Mountain Masochist 50-mile in Lynchburg, Va., and at the 40-mile Mount Mitchell Challenge here in WNC.
When she’s not running, Lundblad works as a counselor at Warren Wilson College in Swannanoa and spends time with her daughter, Emma, and her husband, Mark, who also runs ultras. I recently sat down with Lundblad to find out how living in WNC influences her running and her life.
Molly Malone: How did you first get into running?
Anne Riddle Lundblad: I actually started when I was 14, and the main reason was I had moved to a new high school and didn’t know anybody, and I thought sports would be a good way to meet people. Cross country was the only team that didn’t have any cuts [laughing]. So I knew that if I showed up and stuck with it I’d be on the team, and I just found that I loved it and had a talent for it.
MM: When did you start ultra-running?
ARL: My first one was in ’99, but shortly thereafter I found out I was pregnant with Emma. So that kind of put them all on hold for a little over a year. I guess I really got into it in 2000 — that’s when I started running them consistently.
MM: What’s your favorite distance in competition?
ARL: I guess my best distance competitively is the 100k, and that’s the distance that’s contested on an international level, so I’ve gotten to travel for that. But I really like 50 miles too. I did try one 100-miler, and it’s not for me. It’s a whole different beast.
MM: What’s your favorite terrain for running?
ARL: I like trails. I don’t like the really rocky, gnarly single track. I even like forest roads and things like that, where you can get some turnover and run kind of fast but it’s not as hard on your legs.
MM: When did you move to Asheville?
ARL: I moved here in ’93, so [Mark] could go to grad school. We were coming from Boulder. I was from Virginia originally, and wanted to get back to the East Coast. We knew we had to choose a place in the mountains, and Asheville seemed like a neat community. And that’s when I got into trail running, actually. I came to town and met some people in the Asheville Track Club and heard about the famous Shut-In Trail Race. It goes from the [North Carolina] Arboretum up to the top of Mount Pisgah.
MM: Has living in the area helped your running career?
ARL: It really has. All the trails are so accessible, and we have such a great outdoors scene. The Asheville Track Club is pretty active, and we’ve got the running store here [Jus' Running, of which Lundblad was an original owner] and just so many other athletes, you know — the mountain bikers and road bikers and paddlers and climbers and hikers. And so it’s just the whole sort of healthy, athletic, outdoorsy atmosphere. Anytime you’re around that kind of atmosphere with a lot of similar, like-minded people, it encourages you to get out there.
MM: What are some of your favorite trails in the area?
ARL: I run a lot on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail because it’s so accessible; It’s really easy to get to. And I run out at Warren Wilson a lot. There are about 26 miles of trails out there, and since I work there and live close to there, I can bop out during my lunch hour and do a run.
MM: What’s your favorite race in the area?
ARL: I guess I’d have to say the Shut-In. It’s 18 miles with about 3,000 feet of climbing. It’s one of those kinds of legends in the area: It’s been around for over 20 years, and it’s pretty hard to get into. It’s fun because it crosses the [Blue Ridge] Parkway, or goes up [alongside] the Parkway, I think like 10 times over 18 miles.
MM: Why do you think WNC is a good place to be a runner?
ARL: Well, I think our hills and mountains help, because anywhere you go to race, chances are it’ll be flatter than what you’ve been training on. So I think it makes you really strong. I think there’s a lot of varied terrain. I mean, you can do everything from the really gnarly, single-track, Mount Mitchell kind of stuff to the more low-key Bent Creek logging-road kind of stuff. And then there are good runs in town, too — like today, I ran up and over Sunset Mountain. I just think the terrain is great, and the weather is pretty good. You can pretty much get out year-round.
MM: Do you have any advice for people who want to get into trail running but aren’t really sure where to start?
ARL: I would say start off somewhere like Bent Creek, or the Mountains-to-Sea Trail where it’s not real technical. Just go out and try to experiment. I think the biggest thing to know if you’re going from roads to trails is that your pace is going to be a lot slower, and that can be discouraging. I think it’s a good idea not to pay attention to mileage but pay attention to time. So if you’re running your road five miles in, say, 45 minutes, go out and run 45 minutes on the trail. And then as you get more agile and better at handling the technical aspects, your speed will pick up a little bit. A good pair of trail shoes also helps a lot.
[Molly Malone lives in Asheville.]