2018 has been quite a running year for Blacksburg’s Jordan Chang — and the last five months have been especially busy and successful.
In August, Jordan made the podium in third place at the Bigfoot 200 Endurance Run (yes that’s a 200-mile race), an event that took him 63 hours, 49 minutes and 52 seconds to complete.
In early October, the 31-year-old physical therapist won the West Virginia Trilogy, a three-day competition that includes a 50K the first day, a 50-miler the next day and a half marathon the final day. Two weeks later, he won the 12-mile Brush Mountain Breakdown at Pandapas Pond.
And on Dec. 8, Jordan finished the 66.6-mile Hellgate 100K, one of the toughest and most competitive ultras in the country, in 11 hours and 45 minutes to take sixth place against a strong field.
Jordan’s clearly one of the East Coast’s strongest mountain runners – but he’s much more than just an ultra guy.
Jordan’s pretty fast at any distance, someone who routinely runs sub-18 minute 5Ks and who ran a blazing 4:30 in the Draper Mile, just a week before heading to the Bigfoot 200 for the longest race of his life. He’s also a swimmer, cyclist, mountain biker and triathlete.
So, how does he do it?
“For me the key is consistency versus total mileage and specific training. One of my major goals is to stay in ‘good enough shape’ to really race any distance that I want to on any given day,” Jordan says. “I definitely do some specific training towards goal races, but I believe that staying injury free and being able to train year over year consistently has allowed me have success at a variety of distances.
“I also think that it’s really important not to give ourselves labels if we want to be successful across a variety of distances as runners. I think elite runners do need to be very specific in their training … but for us ‘normal people’ who may want to race anything from a one-mile road race to a 200-mile, multi-day event, I believe that it’s important to shed these labels and be open to trying different challenges as runners both in training and racing.”
Anyone who knows Jordan knows that his impact on the running community goes far beyond being one of the toughest and strongest runners in the region. When he’s not competing, his is volunteering at aid stations, pacing or crewing friends or his wife Kristen — and generally encouraging and cheering for every runner he sees.
Jordan says it goes back to when he first started to run in high school.
“My coach used to hammer the phrase RUN WITH PASSION into our brains. I guess that over the years that saying has transformed a little bit from something I associate just with racing to being about all things running. I figure that as passionate as I am about racing, I should make sure to balance it out by being as passionate as I can be about the other side of running, which is the community,” Jordan says.
“These races are only a small part of what running is and what it means to me. There are very few things I have experienced that are as rewarding as helping someone else accomplish a goal, and I have been on the receiving end of so much support and sacrifice from others that it only makes sense to do as much as I can as well. I also have really good friends who are an example for me to follow on a daily basis. When you surround yourself with good people…”
Job: Physical Therapist
What inspired you to try the Bigfoot Endurance 200-mile race? If you had asked me 2 years ago if I would ever run a 200 miler, I would have flat out said NO. Last fall, when I was planning out my 2018 race schedule, I saw a video about Bigfoot and the seed was planted. After not getting into either of the ‘big two’ 100 milers (Western States and Hardrock) for 2018, I decided that I would give Bigfoot a shot. I guess I wanted to try something that was different and out of my comfort zone. I also really wanted to go spend some time exploring the Pacific Northwest. Mount St. Helens had been on my bucket list of places to go and see since I was a kid and I couldn’t pass up spending the first 50 miles of Bigfoot literally running around it!
How did you decide when to sleep and how much did you sleep during that time? I did not have a solid plan on when I was going to sleep leading up to the race. I figured, based on advice from others who had completed Bigfoot and other 200 milers, that I would probably need to stop 2 times to ‘really sleep’ which would be between 1-3 hours versus quick cat naps on the side of the trail. Originally I thought I would try and make it close to 100 miles before taking a longer break, but during the race it became clear that I would be hitting the mile 75 aid station in the middle of the first night and that would be a good opportunity to stop for sleep rather than trudging through the entire night on no sleep and try to catch up on it later. I slept at around mile 75 for 1.5 hours and then again at mile 140, that time for 2.5 hours. I also took 3 smaller naps out on the course, sitting on logs and in chairs at aid stations (and maybe I did some sleep walking too, if that counts).
What was the most surprising and/or difficult part of that race? The entire course was incredibly scenic and remote, which also made it just plain hard. Many of the trails we were running on were multi-use by definition, but practically, the primary use was dirt bikes, meaning they were extremely steep and fun if you were propelled by a motor… not so much on foot. … It definitely got lonely out there at times, but I had amazing pacers who ran with me for a total of 160 miles! Having my wife Kristen out there along with my good friends Josh Starner, Rudy Rutemiller and Kirby Walke made the journey so much more fun and memorable. They sacrificed so much time and energy to get me to that finish line and I know I would not have finished without their help.
You have completed over 60 ultra races and dozens of other road races. Do you have a favorite? It’s very hard to pinpoint a favorite race. I love different races for very different reasons. I love the energy, excitement and history of the Boston Marathon. The West Virginia Trilogy calls me back each year for its camaraderie, spirit and ruggedness. I just can’t stop going back to race Hellgate 100K because it’s tradition and all the people there are basically my extended family. Each race has its own unique atmosphere and traditions, and every race is a chance for me to see old friends and make new ones. I’ll try and break down my list of a few select favorites just as a fun exercise:
- Road races shorter than a marathon: Draper mile, Apple Blossom 10k, Blacksburg Classic
- Marathon: Boston, Conquer the Cove, Richmond
- 50K: Promise Land, Holiday Lake, WV trilogy
- 50 Mile: Iron Mountain, WV trilogy
- 100 Mile: The Bear, Grindstone, San Diego
Who inspires and/or motivates you? I am constantly being inspired by the incredible people in my life. Someone who always inspires me is my wife Kristen. Her dedication to training and living a healthy lifestyle motivates me to be a better athlete, and her incredible caring nature never ceases to challenge me to be a better human.
Another person I really look up to is Dr. David Horton. He has been there for almost all of my running successes and failures since I started ultrarunning 13 years ago. While almost never politically correct, he is one of the most genuine, passionate and encouraging human beings I have ever met. Hiding under his big smile and goofy humor is a fierce competitor who has set the FKT on the Appalachian trail, won Hardrock multiple times, and even raced across the USA on foot (and by bicycle). I am lucky to have him in my life…even if most of the time he is heckling me.
Advice to help runners avoid injuries? As a PT, I get the chance to work with a lot of injured runners. Some injuries are unavoidable. People trip, fall and slip. That’s life. However, many injuries are avoidable. My main advice to runners is to listen to your body. It is MUCH easier to not get injured if you stop and take stock of something in your body that ‘feels off’ before it blows up into a full-scale injury that knocks you out for weeks or months.
My other piece of advice is to be flexible in your training. Perfectionism in training has been shown to be one of the top predictors of injury. Being ok with taking a day or two off or cross training can be much more beneficial in the long run (pun intended) than hammering through a workout because it’s on the schedule despite feeling bad. Running is about the long game. Even if we have short-term goals, it takes years of consistent training to get to the point where we can fully reap the benefits. Health over mileage. Consistency over intensity.
Favorite non-Pandapas running route? I am a big fan of the section of the Appalachian Trail that runs through Giles County. From Dismal Falls, to Angel’s Rest, Rice Field, Big Stoney Creek and Wind Rock, the AT through Giles is a gem in our backyard. There is plenty of trailhead access and many loops that one can make. For a rougher trail experience, I like the Allegheny Trail on Peter’s Mountain in Giles County VA/Monroe county WV. Running to the Hanging Rock Raptor Observatory in Waiteville is a must do. Just be ready to do a little route finding along the way. My local go to for road running is down in Ellett Valley and specifically the gentle dirt on Taylor Hollow Rd.
Goals for 2019? My main goal for 2019 is to rest from a big 2018. First though, I have H.U.R.T 100 in Hawaii on my schedule in January, but after that the schedule is wide open and I am hoping to keep it that way. My other goals include doing a bit more mountain biking and supporting Kristen’s training and racing.
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