Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Athlete's Corner: Interview

Salomon Running Canada Flight Crew athlete Jeff Pelletier 

Nepal, 2014 - Photo by Jane Osborne

Chloe: Tell us more about the Flight Crew program, what are the commitments and what do you aim to accomplish in this role?

Jeff: After working with Salomon locally as a member of last year’s inaugural Salomon West Vancouver Shop Team, I was fortunate to have been asked to join the 2014 Salomon Flight Crew which is essentially the brand’s Canadian team of trail running athlete ambassadors.

The Flight Crew is a grassroots team of locally based runners from across Canada who aim to promote trail running through the brand, chosen not just for their competitiveness (although most are very fast!) but for being engaged with and active in the community and for being considered ambassadors for the sport as a whole.

Our goal is to be as active as possible throughout the season both on and off the trails. This will most likely include shop runs and trail running clinics, running in and volunteering at races, and of course being quite active in social media. I think that something unique I can perhaps bring to the team is my photography and video production skills, as I’m really interesting in producing more exciting content for my Instagram and YouTube accounts.

These next couple of years are all about adventure on the trails, and I think Salomon is a perfect fit for that. Trail running has already given me so much and I see ambassadorship as a great way to give back as I continue to improve as an athlete and to tell my story.

Diez Vista 50k, 2014 - Photo by Jay Klassen

Chloe: You’ve been a Salomon Running ambassador for over a year now, what has been your go-to favourite in their product line?

Jeff: The one product that I absolutely could not live without is the Sense Ultra.

When I began running longer distances on the trails, I really struggled with finding the right shoe. Those with too much structure would hurt my feet and cause blisters after a few hours, and yet lighter shoes would start to fall apart on me after less than 300 km – in one case, mid-race.

Going into my first 50 mile race last year, I started to panic about my shoes the day before the race. I actually ended up borrowing a pair of used Sense Ultras from a friend – a pair I happened to have tried out once or twice before, so I knew they fit me quite well - and finished the race with my feet in perfect shape (and the shoes perfectly in-tact). From then on they became my go-to shoe for all of my training and racing.

Chloe: Has your approach changed from last season in terms of how you train or select races?

Jeff: Since really having just moved into the longer distance races last season, I have begun to change my approach with regards to how I train and select races in order to better take advantage of my strengths and to mitigate my weaknesses.

I started running pretty late in life at 27 and I’m far from what I’d consider a natural athlete. I’m very cerebral in the way I approach my training and how I connect with my body so a big weakness of mine tends to be on the technical descents where quicker reactions are needed and, I suppose, a slightly less developed sense of self-preservation. This is something I’m trying to really work on this season as I believe it’s a skill I can develop with practice.

Climbing, on the other hand, is definitely something I’d consider a strength, thanks in part to a good strength-to-weight ratio, but mainly because it’s something I can ‘think’ my way through. There’s nothing more motivating than being able to settle in to a good rhythm on a big climb late in a race and having the strength left to pass others who are falling apart!

Nepal, 2014 - Photo by Jane Osborne

Chloe: What are three things you do or swear by in your training?

Jeff: Speed work is a big one. I personally like doing this at the track where it’s more measurable, but this can include hills and threshold work on the trails. I find this important as an ultra runner to keep up leg turn-over, to improve lactate threshold and VO2max, and to develop mental fortitude that can be drawn from late in a race and can make other efforts seems easy. Periodization is important though as it’s hard to build on both speed and volume simultaneously, and I’ve realized that different energy systems should be focused on depending on where I am at in my racing season.

I’m a firm believer in the benefits of strength work, especially for trail runners. This is an area I could see improving on myself in order to focus on more functional work, like explosive plyometrics.

Lastly, I like having a coach. I’ve been working with the Peak Centre for Human Performance here in Vancouver for years, having them design all of my training programs based on regular Lactace and VO2Max testing. I find the biggest benefit specifically for ultra runners of having a coach is not in having someone to hold you accountable, but to have someone to hold you back at times.

Chloe: What are your qualities or strengths as an athlete and what are you looking to improve?

Jeff: I’m very analytical in my approach to running which I think works well as an ultra distance athlete. Endurance sports are almost as much a mental as a physical challenge and a big part of successful racing strategy is being able to pace yourself and to properly plan and execute on your nutrition.

I’ve got a well developed central governor which has helped me to finish pretty well every race I’ve done feeling strong, but it can also hold me back in shorter races where I’m still, on some level, trying to conserve energy for 2, 4 or 8 hours later in the race. For these shorter efforts, I definitely need to learn to just let go and leave it all out on the course. My goal is one day to puke after crossing the finish line – and I’m only half-kidding.

Chloe: How are you feeling, generally coming into the 2014 season?

Jeff: Starting the 2014 racing season, I was feeling faster and stronger than ever. I had a very long and healthy 2013 season and didn’t really take any time off over winter but instead spent a few weeks trekking and running at altitude in Nepal. The time off from structured training gave me a good mental break, but I managed to keep most of my fitness and came back ready to train and race.

Unfortunately, I made the decision to push through what started out as only a minor pain in my ankle during my last race, the Diez Vista 50k in March. This led to a peroneal tendon injury that will have me sidelined for at least a few weeks, but I know I’m going to come back hungrier and determined to work harder than ever – I just need to respect the recovery.

Chloe: What’s on your bucket list in the short and long term?

Jeff: I’ll be running several 50k’s and maybe a couple of 50 milers throughout the year, but the focus will be on doing my first 100 miler in late Summer or early Fall. I’m also hoping to do at least one big backcountry adventure, similar to our Grand Canyon double-crossing last year. As a filmmaker, I really enjoy documenting these trips as well.

Next year I’ll have to re-assess, having then had a taste of all of the major race distances. Longer-term, I’d like to focus more on destination running and adventures, and less on racing. Trail and ultra running has become much more about getting to spend time exploring in these incredible places that I otherwise wouldn’t have a chance to experience.

I would definitely love to set a fastest known time somewhere one day soon too - even if I only hold it for a short period of time - and I think I have an idea of where that might be.

Chloe: What advice would you give to athletes hoping to join a sponsored team?

Jeff: Trail running can be an expensive sport, when you consider the cost of shoes, clothing, nutrition, travel and race entries. Running with a team or the support of a sponsor can of course help with this as well as many other, less tangible benefits.

As a sponsored athlete, however, you need to be willing to truly act as an ambassador for the sport and for the brand, like a member of a grassroots marketing team. This typically means working hard to represent them in the community by attending and perhaps volunteering at events and by producing quality content for social media on a regular basis. If this isn’t something you’re already active in doing, then your time might in fact be better spent elsewhere. It’s important to consider why you’re hoping for a sponsorship to begin with and it should not be to simply get something from a company without giving back at least as much value in return.

Think of your own personal brand and the story you’re trying to tell. Does a given company or product make a good fit with your core values? If so, then start networking and selling yourself by focusing on the value you can provide.

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