October 2014 a guy walked into Lantau Base Camp with a huge travel bag looking like a fit runner and obviously new to Lantau Island. Come to find out it was Joseph Gray from the US, an elite runner, here to run MSIG Lantau VK. Well, he won, set the record and we were able to share some great running talks while he was in Hong Kong. Joe returned to Hong Kong in 2015 to race and won again.
Some of you in Hong Kong may have had the opportunity to meet Joe and talk with him. If you have spoken to him you likely saw his passionate enthusiasm for running. Get Joe talking about running or food and you’re in for a long chat. – Two topics Hong Kong runners love.
Joe is a sponsored elite runner living in Colorado. His running resume(below) is extremely impressive. This guy has some legs! He likes to run, race and compete. Not just compete – but compete to win. He is no stranger to the podium. Talking to Joe you see the humble personable guy he is and the serious competitor.
Recently we reached out to Joe, who is currently preparing for the World Mountain Running Championships in Bulgaria in early September.
Joseph Gray Running Resume:
(from Wikipedia & http://clubnorthwest.org/index.php/team/athlete-profiles/215-joseph-gray)
All Time Personal Bests:
· 5 km: 14:15
· 8 km: 23:22
· 10 km: 29:03
· 10 mi: 48:04
· Half-marathon: 1:03:41
· 9 Time USA National Champion
· 19 Time USA National Team Member (2003, 2008-present)
· 8th Place while Representing Team USA at Bupa Cross Country International Challenge (3rd American)
· 6-Time USA Mountain Runner of the Year (’08,’09, ’10, ’13, ’14)
· 2016 Olympic Trials qualifier
· Washington State and Colorado State Mt. Washington Road Race record holder (CO 59:09; WA 60:33)
· Washington State 50k road race record holder (2:55:19)
· 2015 USA 25k Road Championships, 1:19.28, 10th place
· 2015 Pan American Games Cross Country, Team USA, 7th place
· 2015 GoPro Games Spring Run Off 10k, Mountain Games, 1st place
· 2015 Mt Washington Road Race, 58:15 (American record), 1st place
· 2015 World Mountain Running Championships, Team USA, 5th place
· 2014 Became first athlete in USA Mountain Running history to win back-to-back USA Mountain Running titles while also becoming the first male athlete to win both Uphill/Downhill and Uphill formats for the Championship.
· 2014 First athlete ever to win NACAC Titles in XC and Mountain Running
· 2014 Mt Washington Road Race Champion
· 2014 Sierra Zinal Mountain Race – American record holder
· 2014 Itzaccihuati Skyrace Champion and record holder
· 2014 Mt. Sac Relays 10k Champ
· 2014 Mt. Sac Relays 5k Road Champ
· 2014 Washington State Road Running Champion
· 2013 USA Trail Half Marathon National Champion
· 2013 USATF Club Cross Country National Champion
· 2013 USA Mountain Running National Champion
· 2013 USA 50k Road Running National Champion
· 2012 USA 50k Road Running National Champion
· 2011 Pacific Northwest Regional Cross Country Champion
· 2011 Pacific Northwest Association Cross Country Champion
· 2011 USA 15 km Trail Running National Champion
· 2011 Washington State Road Running Champion 12 km (also 2008, 2009)
· 2011 World Snow Shoe Championship Sprint Course Champion
· 2011 North & Central American & Caribbean Mountain Running Champion (also 2010, 2009)
· 2010 USA Mountain Runner of the Year (also 2009, 2008)
· 2010 USA National Mountain Running Championships, 3rd
· 2010 World Mountain Running Championships, 10th
· 2010 PNW XC Champion, 10 km (also 2008)
· 2010 World Snow Shoe Invitational, 5th
· 2009 USA Mountain Running National Champion
· 2009 USATF Club Track Champion, 10 km
· 2009 World Mountain Running Championships, 16th (also 2008)
· 2009 Xterra World Trail Running Championship, 2nd
· 2008 Northwest Mountain Running Champion
· 2003 USA Junior National Track and Field Team, Pan American Games, Steeplechase
-He has been a 19-time national team member.
-He is the only African-American to be part of the U.S. Mountain Running Team at any level.
-He was also the first ever national champion at the 30k trail distance.
-In 2012 he was the co-winner of the XTERRA Trail Run World Championships.
Like I said, this guy has some legs!
Shane: Joe, What is in your garden? You are quite prolific on Facebook about your garden and cooking tasty treats. Following you on Facebook I would swear it is half running and half food. Just like Hong Kong runners.
Joe: My garden is mostly spicy with a touch of sweet! I grow various types of Chile peppers with the hottest ones being ghost pepper and Habanero. I have a few mild ones as well like Anaheim and Kung Pao. Watermelon is another of my favorites along with many herbs like oregano, basil, cilantro! My wife grows the other veggies such as bell peppers, collards and acorn squash.
Shane: Joe, you went from track/road to mountain trail. How did that happen?
Joe: My collegiate transition from track to trail was quite an eye opening experience. I literally went from my last track race to 6 days later racing my first mountain race at high altitude! A very rough day and I got crushed. I loved it and I wanted to try it again so I prepared a little better and ended up making my first USA Mountain running national team the following year. It was an easy transition for me as I’ve always loved the outdoors. Since childhood I’ve always been an explorer of the outdoors spending lots of time just being curious and searching paths out in the woods to see where they went!
Shane: Besides putting in the running miles what else do you do? Cross training?
Joe: Outside of running I really enjoy basketball and also mountain biking! I also have a great yoga instructor that I work with on occasion in Jordan Ciambrone. She has really helped me find weaknesses in my body I had no idea existed. I also enjoy yard work, which sounds strange I know. Sometimes it can be strenuous and I sort of write it off as strength work while also getting some special one on one time with my plants. Supposedly it’s beneficial for plant growth!
Shane: You have a fast marathon time. You ran the US Olympic Qualifier. What are the differences in planning for a marathon and a mountain trail race? How do you approach it?
Road racing is so different in terms of the overall feel of the race and of course the technical demands as compared to mountain running. When preparing for each I try to specifically focus on the terrain that I plan to challenge myself on. Mountain season is all about familiarizing yourself with the terrain and getting used to the change in cadence, speed and steepness of trails. Road season is more about finding a groove and holding a consistent cadence and really focusing on rhythm.
Shane: In the introduction I posted your running resume. You have represented the USA quite a few times. -I like wearing the USA shirt you gave me last year. Thanks again! – When you are planning your races for the year are these considered extra bonus races or something you target?
You deserve it! World Championships are definitely races that I target. Specifically the world mountain running championships because it is the most competitive Mountain race in the world! I also take pride in representing my country so lining up with my Team USA teammates and putting on the USA jersey is such a great experience.
Shane: You live in Colorado – big time running state. Sage Canaday is there too. You both are quite outspoken, as should be, about PED’s and doping in running. You have an academic interest in this topic. Can you tell the audience why you chose this area to study and what challenges our sport faces in the future?
Trail running is at its youth in most of Asia. In essence, if Hong Kong were to begin testing seriously they could preserve the sport and deter athletes who cheat the sport from coming to Hong Kong to compete. I believe Hong Kong definitely has the funding to test athletes and they definitely should.
Shane: You came to Hong Kong twice for MSIG Lantau. Compared to Colorado are there any similarities in the trails? Obviously 900+ meters is our highest elevation. How about the quality of trails?
Colorado and HK are quite different. Colorado tends to be a little more dry while HK has a lot of rainfall. One thing similar is that both places have a variety of steepness and offer many trails that give you the freedom to be alone in nature and just enjoy the trail all to yourself! A major difference as you pointed out is the altitude. 900 meters of Altitude allows you to run with much more power and efficiency whereas when racing at say 3000m one must learn to race quite differently so as to not lose too much time by racing unintelligently. At altitude if you don’t pace yourself properly things can go bad, really bad, really fast. Altitude sickness can make an athlete feel as if they weren’t in shape and hadn’t trained for years. At sea level you can really fly and even if you go out too hard you can still run hard without the dizzying, lung fatigue or simply lack of power you will face at altitude.
Shane: You now have more sponsors. Ultimate Direction is one of them. Quite a popular brand here and in USA. Many people who run trails carry that dream in their head about being a sponsored athlete. You are the real deal. Pro’s and Con’s if you can?
The pros are obvious. Having a company supporting a passion is priceless and something every athlete would cherish including myself. The con is that sometimes you have companies who support you only when you’re winning or companies that push you to become a social media athlete rather than the competitor you were when you entered the sport you love. In essence, some companies push athletes to be something that they are not, making the athlete lose their character and genuine nature of competition. Thankfully, the Pro side is that you can find companies that truly provide you all the necessities to allow you to be what and who you are while providing support to keep you on track for your dreams while also working with the company to grow together. I’m blessed to have companies like that and not the other!
Shane: Fun questions:
– What is your favorite post run food?
– Favorite post race food?
– Favorite recovery food? (When you are tying to eat healthy)
– Trails or Road? Which do you prefer?
– Do you do track intervals? Love it or Hate it?
– Running or Sports hero’s?
Post run food favorite is hands down Gnocchi ai Quattro Formaggi or Yaki Udon!
Favorite recovery food will almost always consist of something local. Preferably 2 dishes with one being sweet and one savory. It’s all about balance!
I love both trail and road. What I’ve found is that at the end of either season I start to desire the other. Right now I’m in the middle of my trail season so I’m really pumped about the upcoming events and not looking forward to road season really.
Track intervals are more important for me during cross country and road running season. Loving track sessions is highly dependant on the type of workout and the effort level. Some tend to really press themselves far too hard and too frequent so it can make them dread track sessions. I really enjoy track when the workout is controlled and not too demanding. The tough workouts are of course important but I try to limit those as to not burn out mentally.
My all time favorite athlete is Jesse Owens. He raced through a period of time where racism was at an all time high in athletics and he handled it with class and simply executed his goals and won big races in stressful situations. A true class act and role model.
Shane: Sept 11th, 2016 you will be at the World Mountain Championships in Bulgaria. Excited for this race?
Joe: Really excited to represent Team USA for the 20th time in my career! Competing in Bulgaria with the best mountain runners in the world is always a blast. You get to really test yourself with the best and see where you stack up. Our team is also very strong this year so medal potential is also highly likely. As we’ve found at the World Champs, you can have a great team, but most importantly you need everyone to show up race day ready and healthy. It’s hard to get 6 different athletes with different goals and races for the year to show up at the same race 100%. If we can manage that, a medal is the goal for team USA! I’m hoping you individually place higher at the championships than I have in my past. I want to always progress in effort to help my team get a team medal.
Shane: Joe, Thank you so much for the interview. Best of luck in Bulgaria. Hope to see you in Hong Kong again running and racing.