As part of the GORE-TEX® TransRockies Preview, Team EverymanTri caught up with Ross McMahan for an exclusive chat. Ross was the 2010 GORE-TEX® TransRockies Masters Champion (with partner Ted Russell). He will be returning for the 2011 race with a new partner, Tim Menoher.
Team EveryManTri: Why come back to the GORE-TEX® TransRockies Run event?
Ross: This will actually be my fourth year doing it, and it’s kind of like a running vacation! It’s one of the most fun races I’ve ever done, and I’ve done all types of races: adventure races, snowshoe races, mountain bike races, but TransRockies is one of the most fun events I’ve been a part of.
Team EveryManTri: What do you love most about the race?
Ross: Seeing parts of Colorado that most people don’t get to see. Your only access is by foot, and it’s just beautiful countryside and big mountains. And then, of course, spending time with other people that are so passionate about the same thing that you are.
Team EveryManTri: What is the hardest part of the race for you?
Ross: Probably the recovery between each stage.
Team EveryManTri: Tell me how you and your 2011 partner [Tim Menoher] came together.
Ross: Tim and I ran at rival colleges twenty-something years ago. So at the Xterra National Championships six years ago we ran into each other, and we kind of became rivals in the Xterra series. He won it one year, then I won it the next…he started coming out to train at altitude, and he would stay at our house with my family. We would do some training weeks together, which turned into a regular guy’s week away – we would go out to Moab for a week, or someplace different. So TransRockies just seemed like a really fun week of running together.
Team EveryManTri: How would you summarize your training for TransRockies, and do you do any cross-training?
Ross: This year I’ve had to do a lot of non-running training. I’ve had some injuries, and then Tahoe [where I live] has had record snowfall – we’re just now getting on some of the lower trails and we still can’t even get on some of the upper trails above 7,000 feet. So it’s really been difficult this year in terms of training outside. I’ve been doing a lot more weight training this year, and a little biking, some swimming, but I carry Nordic skiing and snowshoeing a lot farther into spring and summer than years past due to the snow conditions.
Team EveryMan Tri: Do you have any training tips for people doing TransRockies for the first time?
Ross: It’s extremely important to practice running downhill. There’s a lot of uphill, but that’s not what makes your legs sore. It puts a lot of people out of the race because their quads are just fried after the second day, and you just can’t recover from that. Do a lot of hill repeats, but run hard on the downhill to get your quads ready for 20,000 feet of downhill pounding, and go easy to recover on the uphill.
Team EveryManTri: The race-issued duffle bag has limited space in it. What gets priority – what can’t you live without?
Ross: Definitely my ThermaRest! I take LOTS of socks, and then just a couple pairs of shorts and t-shirts and wash them out after my runs and let them dry. I bring a camp towel, kind of like what the swimmers use, because it doesn’t take up a lot of space, and I pack a camp pillow because I sleep better with that. I bring some gels, but really just to get me through the first aid station. Once you’re into the race everything is really well-stocked. The meals are really great too. And sometimes after your run we are close enough to a town that it’s possible to walk in and get lunch. I bring a recovery mix too.
Team EveryManTri: Besides [your teammate] Tim, is there anyone you’re looking forward to visiting with at the campfire?
Ross: Yea definitely – there are a lot of people that I only see a couple of times a year or only at this event. It’s good to see Adam Chase every year – he and I were teammates two years ago. I’m looking forward to seeing [my 2010 partner] Ted Russell too. Salomon takes a good group of runners out, and a lot of us only see each other at this race.
Team EveryManTri: As an endurance athlete, when things really start to hurt, where does your head go? How do you mentally push past pain?
Ross: In the TransRockies, you just know you’re going to feel bad somewhere during the race – maybe not every stage, but at some point. You just have to know that if you keep eating, keep drinking, and keep taking salt tablets, it will eventually get better. You just expect it. Everybody’s going to hit a low point.
Team EveryManTri: How would your friends describe you?
Ross: I have no idea! Depends on which friends you’re talking to! I guess very self-motivated, typically quiet, and pretty laid back.
Team EveryManTri: Who inspires you in running and in life?
Ross: I think two people. Susan Bradley Cox is one. I spent twelve years in Lexington, Kentucky, and Susan was my triathlon coach there. She’s I think 75 years old, just inducted into the Triathlon Hall of Fame, along with Dave Scott, in Colorado Springs in January. I went out to hear the induction because she’s been such a big influence in my life. A great athlete, and a great person. Most triathlon people would recognize her name - she's won multiple World Championships and still competes at age 75. The other person would be Ron Hayes, who is another good friend and training partner of mine from Lexington. We’ve spent a lot of time on the trails. He came out and did the TransRockies a couple years ago with a friend of his, and it was great to see him. Ron is a competitive age group athlete, but he’s been kind of a mentor for me.
Team EveryManTri: What is a little-known fact about you?
Ross: Hmmm. I guess that I used to be a Bourbon taster for my job.
Team EveryManTri: You’ve been very involved in both triathlon and trail racing – which would you call your primary passion?
Ross: Trail running is my primary passion. I like the competitiveness of racing in triathlon, but as I’m getting older, I don’t have the speed that I used to, but my endurance seems to be better. I can go out on a 20-mile run and, unlike in triathlon where your heart rate is pegged for two or three hours, it’s just enjoyable. Also, with the family – I have twin 5 year old boys and an 8 month old son – actually our 8 month old son is named Solomon! – the time aspect of having a full-time job and a family, it’s easy to have your running shoes in the car and just jump out for an hour run compared to trying to train for all three sports.
Team EveryManTri: What is your favorite distance, both trail and triathlon?
Ross: I like the half-marathon distance for trail runs. But I think the stage race – the format of the TransRockies – is my favorite type of event. For triathlon, I’ve done half Ironman and Ironman distances, but I really like the Xterra distances.
Team EveryManTri: I know you have a super-sporty wife [Sarah McMahan] – tell me more about how you two support each other.
Ross: I’m lucky. She understands that I HAVE to go for a run or get a workout in – it’s a big stress release. It’s tough, but we take turns. Some days she’ll have the morning shift of training, and I’ll do the afternoon, or visa versa. We’ve done relays as a team, and we’ll literally hand off the boys at the exchange point. This weekend I did my long run and finished just before a 5K race was starting – she handed the kids off to me and jumped in the race 30 seconds before the gun went off. We just try to make things work out so that we can both get our training in and do events.
Team EveryManTri: Any other tips for how you manage to juggle the demands of job, family, and training?
Ross: [laughs] I don’t know that we do it all as well as we should. It’s crazy, but it’s fun. We just do the best that we can.
In 2006 Ross was the Xterra National Champion for the 35-39 age group. In 2008 Ross won the Xterra Fire and Ice award for the fastest combined times from the Xterra Triathlon World Championship and the Xterra Winter World Championship. He holds numerous course records in Northern California and Nevada. Ross is a member of the Salomon Trail Running Team, Atlas Snowshoe Team, and an Ambassador for Big Blue Adventure Racing.