This time we speak with Ladia Albertson-Junkans, newly minted team member of Team USA for the 2016 World Mountain Running Championships. Ladia hails from Minnesota, and now lives in Washington. We caught up with Ladia to find out what she enjoys about running, how to achieve a running / work balance, and her plans for the rest of this year, and beyond.
Can you fill us in on your running history up to this point?
I ran in college for the University of Minnesota where I was a two-time All-American in cross-country. After college, I continued to run pretty casually during graduate school, but eventually found myself pushing the pace and distance again (for the sheer joy of it, apparently!) while I settled into full-time work. I started doing some local 10ks and half marathons and, after a while, was racing fast enough to have a shot at joining a local professional group in Minneapolis called Team USA Minnesota. For about 2 years, I raced on the national road circuit while still working full-time.
Even while racing competitively on the roads, I found myself seeking out trails and traveling to the mountains (usually Colorado) as often as I could. I grew up running the trails behind my house and in a state park outside of town that my family often visited on weekends. At that time, I never really saw trail running as different or separate from road running – it was all just running to me and I loved every variety of it. For two summers during college, I worked as a counselor at two high school mountain running camps out west (in Oregon and Colorado). These camps were my first taste of mountain trail running, and I was forever hooked. After a few years of many red-eye weekend flights to/from the mountains, my partner and I decided it was worth moving closer to mountains to see if it was really as great as it seemed (spoiler alert: it is, at least for us ☺). In the summer of last year, we moved from Minnesota to Seattle where we both have family and can be in the mountains in less than an hour. Since moving out here, we have made the most of our weekends and even weeknights, getting out to the mountains every chance we get to run, ski, and just explore.
You have recently been chosen for the 2016 US Mountain Running Team after a standout performance at Loon Mountain. How did the qualifying race go for you, and what excited you about racing in Bulgaria for the team?
The race at Loon Mountain kicked my butt! Every mountain race I’ve done has been very painful and very humbling, and at the same time very uplifting and inspiring (which I guess is no coincidence ☺). Loon was no exception. If anything, Loon was perhaps more painful than I expected, in part because I thought having a whole year of mountain running under my belt (compared to the about 5 days of mountain running I’d done going into to the championship last year) would make me more prepared and, therefore, better able to deal with the pain. Turns out, it’s always painful! Or at least it still is for me. ☺ I felt utterly out of my league watching Addy, Brittany, and Kim charge up those steep hills—increasing their leads with every stride–, while I struggled to maintain a shuffle-crawl-of-sorts. Thanks to a rolling first half reminiscent of my cross-country days, I had enough of a gap on 5th going into Upper Walking Boss (or, in my case, upper *crawling* boss) that I was able to eke out a 4th place finish. But, oy vey, was that tough! Major props and respect to everyone out there that day (including spectators and volunteers!); there was no “easy” way up that mountain! (Report on the US Mountain Running Team here)
Have you qualified for a Team USA spot before, when and where was that, and what was your experience like?
In 2012, I earned a spot on the US team for the Bupa Great International Cross-Country Challenge in Scotland, along with this year’s National Mountain Running Champ, Addie Bracy. A sixth place finish at the 2015 National Mountain Running Champs in Bend, OR gave me the opportunity to race at the NACAC Mountain Championships in Mexico this past July. Both experiences gave me a fun glimpse of the local cultures and life outside my very little bubble. The opportunity to travel and meet new people through running is one of the biggest reasons I’ve continued pursuing the sport at this level.
You also have a focus on child development research. Have you found that the two separate disciplines complement each other?
I worked for about 5 years in early child development research and have since transitioned into health research more broadly. I am currently doing work related to the prescription opioid epidemic. My career in health research and having a positive impact on population health through research is as important to me as running, skiing, and adventuring (with family and friends being most important ☺). I find that the structure and routine of my job is very complementary to my laissez-faire approach to running and the spontaneity and freedom I feel in the mountains. I consider it a great privilege to have a job I enjoy and find meaningful as well as mountain hobbies that bring me joy and fulfillment (as well as a partner with whom to do all of these things). On days when my job feels tedious or frustrating or stressful (or or or), I know I have an evening or weekend in the mountains to look forward to. And vice versa, when running and adventuring feel more selfish than usual, I’m thankful to take part in work that hopefully contributes to the greater good.
Do you have any top tips for busy professionals on how to achieve a training / work balance?
For me, “balance” is less about time management and all about loving the life I live and living a life I love. Our decision to move from Minnesota to Washington is a good example of that. For a long time, I had fantasized about what it would be like to have mountains a short drive away, rather than a long-ish (and not inexpensive!) flight away (or very long drive away). Family and friends have always been my lifeblood and for many years I could not justify moving away from them to pursue this in some ways “silly” (as I saw it) fantasy I had – they are just mountains, after all, and they will never replace relationships. As cheesy as it is, it wasn’t until I met the love of my life (and current fiancé) that I found the courage to give this “silly” fantasy some serious consideration. My friends and family were no less important to me, and I came to realize that moving away did not mean that they would suddenly become so. As soon as I started (sheepishly) raising the idea with my friends, I was blown away by how quickly and enthusiastically they supported this “silly” dream of mine. Indeed, it was their enthusiasm and support that ultimately gave me the courage to accept an exciting, but intimidating, job offer half way across the country with people I had never met in person. In other words, I was off to live a life I was confident (albeit not certain) I would love. As it turns out, I do love being so close to mountains; being able to run or ski before or after work, explore new places on the weekends, and challenge myself on new terrain and over new distances. My passion and love for these mountain hobbies gives me a reason not to work all of the time – perhaps much in the same way kids or other hobbies do for other people. Similarly, my dedication to my career and desire to contribute ensure I’m not out in the mountains all day. In this way, I think loving the life I live naturally imposes and enforces a balance that is personal to me, but that helps protect me from burning out in either area of my life.
What are your goals for the rest of the year, and into 2017?
To keep loving the life I live, which hopefully involves a lot of mountain running, skiing, climbing, and time in the mountains (or elsewhere) with friends and family.
One of your favorite quotes is “Do what makes you happy—and do more of that.” How have you made sure that you keep happy with your running, and how has this helped you as an athlete?
Back when I lived in Minnesota, I knew mountain sports—like trail running, skiing, and exploring the high alpine—made me very happy. I had an opportunity to make those a bigger part of my life by moving to Seattle, so I did it. The past year of running mountains in Washington, Oregon, BC, and beyond with my partner, Adam, has been even more fun than I dreamed, and I feel endlessly thankful for the life I live right now. Moving in the mountains does not feel like “exercise” to me (“exercise” is running 10 miles after work in 10-below-zero on icy sidewalks in the pitch-blackness of 5pm in the middle of a Midwest winter). To me, moving in the mountains is bliss, even when it is hard. And because it’s fun to me, I do more of it (running, skiing) than I would otherwise – and, in that way, gain fitness without really realizing it or without it feeling like a “chore.” It’s as if fitness is a perk rather than the purpose, which I must admit is a welcomed change from the chore running had become my last year or so in Minnesota. After a year of moving in the mountains, I feel fitter than I have in years, as well as physically stronger and more agile from navigating rooty, rocky, steep, variable terrain. In general, I just feel more physically resilient – and it feels great.
Terry provides positive coaching sessions for clients, working with athletes to enable a positive focus on their status and goals. He can also create personalized guided imagery sessions for clients, delivered as an mp3 audio file that you can listen to on multiple devices.