WARNING: BE CAREFUL WHO YOU PEER PRESSURE, YOU MAY UNLEASH A MONSTER
Someone should have sent the above message to some seniors on the Virginia Tech triathlon team in 2010. It was then, that they pressured Rudy Rutemiller, a freshman just starting to explore his interest in triathlons, to sign up for his first marathon. After a successful Richmond marathon, it was not long until Rudy signed up for his first 50K ultra marathon, and was regularly leaving roads far behind and tearing up trails in the mountains. But Rudy’s path to becoming one of ultra-running’s best sub-elite (this means he’s about as good as it gets without being a sponsored professional) runners started long before 2010.
Rudy grew up playing sports in his hometown in the suburbs of Cincinnati, OH, and eventually developed into a pretty serious swimmer. However, after becoming burnt out, Rudy thought he’d try his hand at something new: lacrosse. Every day, the team would have to run 1.5 miles to and from the practice field. As a mid fielder, Rudy would have to do the most running on the field too. After the end of his career as a lacrosse player, Rudy gained a serious interest in hiking, backpacking, and trails. While Rudy became a technically skilled backpacker, guiding kids in the Pacific Northwest for a summer, and New England another, and going backpacking and camping in his spare time, he couldn’t let go of the feeling that running provides. Entering college, Rudy was living two lives: one as a budding triathlete, one as a backpacker and outdoorsman. Well, after that marathon, Rudy decided to marry his two major interests. That, along with a lot of training and countless hours on trail, is how Rudy became the ultra-runner he is today.
For those that don’t know, ultra-running is the act of running long distances on trails as opposed to roads, primarily in mountains. While there are certainly many different approaches to running, ultra-running differs from road running in that the intention of ultra running to keep a consistent effort, whereas with road running you’re trying to keep a consistent pace. So, in ultra-running, there may be sections of trail where your pace slows, and you may be hiking uphill, while your effort remains the same. In road running, there’s no hiking, you want to keep your pace the same the entire time. But most importantly, for the purposes of my blog, is that ultra-running takes place in the mountains!
That is where you can find Rudy spending a lot of his time, with nature and the people he loves, running. While it’s easy to get caught up in times, speed, and winning, Rudy draws inspiration from his peers and friends in particular. He claims that the things that get him stoked are amazing things that his friends are doing, whether it be people running, hiking, climbing, etc. He feeds off of other people’s stoke, and takes that to the trail. However, some people he cites as profound influences, and personal friends, are Jordan Chang and Henry Wakley. For Rudy, these two people represent balance. Jordan (Chang Ultra Adventures), a phenomenal ultra-runner in his own right, has a full time job and is financially sound, is married, and still gets out to run and succeeds at it. Rudy tells another story about Henry Wakley (Good Red Ants), one about optimism and attitude. Rudy saw Henry after Henry had run 50 miles and broken his foot. Such a break would be devastating to a competitive ultra runner, sidelined. However, Henry acted like it was no big deal, smile on his face, saying it was “all good.” Sometimes, it is the simplest interactions and smallest snippets of positivity that stick with us. Rudy has learned a lot from the life balance, attitudes, and successes of these two men. Other influences include Anton Krupicka, Hal Koerner (the progenitor of the Palm to Pine 100K), and David Horton. He has met and knows the last two.
Because for a while, life was not so balanced for Rudy. There was a time, in college at Virginia Tech, that ultra-running was his obsession, and he invested almost every ounce of energy into it. After that first ultra, he was hooked. Rudy claims ultra-running is easy to get hooked on really quickly. Because school came quite naturally to him, he was constantly training and putting aside other aspects of his life. However, ultra-running can be really dangerous because it is very hard on the body and psyche. Rudy claims that for a time, he was over training. The effects of over training are of no small consequence, and can include a change in resting heart rate, insomnia, depression, a complete shut down of one’s sympathetic nervous system, and decreased libido, not to mention the risk of injury (learn more here). Thankfully, while his obsession may have had him teetering on the line, Rudy was able to avoid most of these symptoms.
And well, quite frankly, Rudy’s hard work has led to a lot, let me repeat, A LOT of success in the world of ultra-running. If you mention his name in the Virginia scene, it’s most likely that people know him. He’s currently developing his name in the bay area of California, doing a lot of running with the San Francisco Running Company and in Marin County, a hotbed of ultra-running excellence. When I asked Rudy about the things he’s most proud he’s accomplished as an ultra-runner, his first answer was surprising. First and foremost, he is most proud of creating the Virginia Tech ultra team along with some friends. At first, it was something to do with friends, to travel, camp, run, have fun outdoors, and contribute to a healthy lifestyle. Or an excuse to make t-shirts. But now, even after Rudy’s graduation, the VT ultra team is bigger than ever, and still competing at a very high level all around the eastern United States. However, in competition, the race he’s most proud of is his 2nd place finish to Eric Grossman (the godfather of ultra in VA) at Hellgate 100k in Fincastle, VA in December of 2013. It was about as close to a perfect race that Rudy has ever run, in less than perfect conditions. The start was at 12:01 am, and it was a day that saw almost everything except sun…snow, rain, fog, sleet, and ice. Rudy was really locked into the flow the entire time, operating at maximum efficiency. Coming down to the end, he could see Eric Grossman ahead. Despite being near the end, Rudy knew he had enough gas left in the tank to pass him, but unfortunately, ran out of trail and finished a mere 8 seconds behind Eric. Since then, Rudy has had multiple top-ten finishes in races that he participated, including ten top-five finishes, at many different distances including half marathon, 30k, 50k, 100k, and even 100 miles!
But what goes up, must come down. A struggle that Rudy pushed through took place at the Big Horn 100 mile in Sheridan, WY in June of 2014. Coming off a lot of success in Virginia, Rudy had high expectations for himself out west. However, amongst stiff competition and tough conditions, Rudy fell off around mile 15 and was really struggling to run. At many points, he was even walking downhill, an ultra “no-no.” I asked Rudy what he does to try to work through a tough situation like the one he was facing. I like his answer, because I think in a certain sense, it can be applied to other struggles in life, whether during a tough stretch of hiking or backpacking, or a problem at work. He told me that he acknowledges the situation and lets it happen. He said, “you can’t fight the trail.” He was true to himself and stuck with his own style and plan, which typically consists of starting the race pretty chill, then getting a caffeine boost at an aid station, then shredding and finishing fast. But in tough situations he may do something a bit different and take necessary steps to improve his mental and physical state, whatever it may be: possibly listening to music, eating food, or talking with a friend. Sometimes, a small change is all it takes. As a true optimist and competitor does, against seemingly insurmountable odds, Rudy changed his circumstances and ended up finishing 7th. Not shabby. Rudy feels sometimes it takes some pretty low lows to experience extraordinary highs. It’s kind of like “no rain, no rainbows.” That positivity doesn’t sound so much unlike Henry Wakley now, does it?
So where is Rudy now, and what can we expect from him in the future? For now, Rudy is grateful that ultra running has taken him to a lot of different places and allowed him to run on many awesome trails with many awesome people. At age 24, he is currently at a crossroads in his ultra-running career. He feels he is yet to reach is running potential. With a full time career (he’s one hell of an arborist!), his relationship with running has changed and he’s trying to figure out what his life balance will be: focus on work and become a recreational runner, or have the job take a back seat, and pursue his main interests that much harder? The second option might include hiring a running coach and getting even faster. Maybe Jordan Chang has a few answers for Rudy. Either way, Rudy knows a few things for sure: his happiness is based on how much running he does, how many nights he sleeps outside, and how much time he spends in the mountains. I can relate.
Well, with his sights set on the Pine to Palm 100 mile race in Ashland, OR on September 12, 2015, the answer seems clear to me: let the beast run free. Trails beware.
Rudy’s words for those looking to get into ultra running are cautionary, but encouraging: “get into it for the right reasons. Challenge yourself, get out in nature, and have fun!”
Check out Rudy here: Run Rudy and “My First Ultra Marathon! Terrapin Mtn 50k and Half Marathon”