Glenn Randall excels at running up and down mountains
He thought he was training.
Instead, he was climbing his next mountain — literally and figuratively — and doing it so well he gets to represent his country in international competition.
Plateau Valley High School and Dartmouth College alum Glenn Randall, who lives near Mesa, is one of six members of the United States team running in the 2012 World Mountain Running Championships today in Italy.
The 25-year-old’s ascent to the elite in the world happened quickly, which appears to be the norm for a young man who excelled in cross-country skiing and long-distance running in high school and college.
“He has a huge aerobic engine,” said Glenn’s father, Greg Randall, who has coached his son in various endurance sports since Glenn was in the seventh grade. “He’s very aerobically strong. When he was 7 years old, he climbed his first Fourteener.”
Glenn Randall hiked up 14,433-foot Mount Elbert then. He’d run up it now.
Randall gravitated to mountain running as if he was running down a mountain, but making it his main competitive sport was not his intent. Upon graduating from Dartmouth, where he won the NCAA Division I Nordic skiing championship in the 10-kilometer freestyle, Randall thought he was going to continue competing in cross-country skiing. He said he decided to try mountain running in 2010 as a way to train during skiing’s offseason “because it would be a good workout.”
The main difference between mountain running and cross-country running, he said, is cross-country courses are much shorter in length and may have some hill climbs, but they tend not to take more than a minute to ascend. The shortest mountain races, he said, are at least six miles long, and hill climbs are much longer.
“In mountain running,” he said, “it’s rare for a hill to last less than 10 minutes, often going up for an hour.”
Plus, a course may have stretches of singletrack, doubletrack, dirt roads, paved roads and cobblestone all in one race.
He instantly liked the new challenge with the sustained climbs and embraced it even more when his first races brought immediate success.
“I started doing really well in it,” said Randall, who appears to be prone to understatement. The more accurate assessment: He won his first three races.
His first race was up Mount Evans, where he posted the second-fastest time in the race’s history. Then he won the Vail Hill Climb. And in the third race, the Pikes Peak Ascent, which he said is a half-marathon with an elevation climb of 8,000 feet, his time set records for rookie runners and runners in his age group. He was 23 at the time.
Each race brought a different collection of runners, and he assumed someone more experienced would win.
“Each time I said this is probably the one I’ll get demolished, but I didn’t,” he said.
This summer he placed fourth in the Mount Washington Road Race, which doubled as the 2012 USA Mountain Running Championships, and that earned him a spot on the U.S. Mountain Running Team. The top six finishers at Mount Washington made the U.S. squad and qualified for the World Mountain Racing Championships.
Mountain races in Europe are significantly different than in the United States, Randall said. In Europe, races don’t use switchbacks, he said. They go straight up and straight down, and the first time Randall encountered that, during a mountain race in Switzerland last year, he had to adjust because he wasn’t used to it. He still finished seventh, he said, in a race with several thousand participants.
What awaits him today in Ponte di Legno, Italy, is a course slightly less than nine miles, and he said its location is “about as middle of nowhere as you can be in Italy.”
The course starts in Temù and has varying steepness, including parts that are about a 35 percent grade for sustained stretches, he said. Runners will race up Tonale Pass, where the race concludes.
He will run it without a set place or time in mind.
“I’m just going to try to have a good race,” Randall said. “I realized a long time ago if I’m thinking about a time or a place, it probably won’t happen. Instead, I focus on having a good race, and the results will take care of themselves.”