Interview and Photos by Mack Robertson
It’s an uncharacteristically clear day on the Olympic Peninsula. I’m here to meet up with Rich Lockwood, recent winner of the highly competitive Run Rabbit Run 100, for some miles in the mountains. Despite an impressive list of ultra wins, Rich flies relatively under the radar. I first met him in the summer of 2021 at a slew of trail races here in the PNW. It was quickly evident that Rich was a unique talent. Not only was he winning these races by huge margins, he was doing it with a smile on his face.
Rich and I are out in the Olympic mountains to run the St. Peter’s Traverse, a 17 mile cross-country alpine route with a summit of Mt. Stone in the middle, having a cumulative 7500 feet of elevation gain. Rich’s idea of “keeping it easy”.
I consider Rich to be a true mountain athlete. In addition to being a competitive ultrarunner, he is also a rock climber, backcountry skier, and mountain biker. His mountain prowess is on full display on our route. Rich effortlessly bounds up the long, steep inclines to gain the ridge of our traverse. Sporting relatively minimalist trail shoes, with lugs only marginally better than road shoes, he somehow stays upright running on late-season, hard-packed snow. Watching Rich boot ski down steep scree fields is the type of thing that keeps mothers up at night.
We asked Rich to share with us his journey into trail running.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I am 35 years old. I live in Seattle, Washington (specifically in Magnolia, across the street from Discovery Park). I grew up on the Olympic Peninsula, in a little town called Port Townsend. I work at Harborview Medical Center (Level 1 Trauma Hospital for Washinton, Alaska, Montana, and Idaho) as an x-ray tech. I specifically work in "interventional radiology" working with teams of vascular surgeons to perform minimally invasive surgeries. We reperfuse the brain in stroke cases, the heart in myocardial infarction, embolize bleeding vessels in the case of pelvic trauma...the list goes on and on. It's a very exciting line of work. Extremely rewarding and always engaging every day!
When did you start running?
I didn't start running until I was 25. I grew up playing soccer year-round, never really giving myself time to explore other sports. I was obsessed with soccer, haha! I began running road marathons at 24; I would train and run one race every year. I was an avid backpacker, rock climber, and skier. At the end of my last quarter at college I found out about ultra trail running, and decided to sign up for the Beacon Rock 50k. It lined up perfectly with my school schedule and I ran it the week after I graduated and passed my board exams for x-ray. I think I had only run on a trail twice before the race, I was very busy at the time, and didn't think it would be too much different from road running. Boy was I wrong! Trail running immediately engaged my entire soul! The running was dynamic, the scenery was mind-blowing, and the community was the most welcoming and exciting group of people I had ever interacted with! I camped out at the start/finish and made so many friends at that first race. I really thought to myself, "Why did I wait so long?" I was hooked.
Did you have immediate success with trail running? If not, were you able to envision the success you’re currently having?
I did podium at my first race, 3rd place [Beacon Rock 50k]. I ran White River 50 mile later that year (2017) and placed 5th. So that was another reason that I was immediately enthralled; I could tell that I had some small bit of talent and just loved the movement and feeling of running in the mountains.
What’s your favorite terrain and distance to race?
Mountains are where I thrive! I love big technical mountain races with amazing views and technical climbs and descents. Distance is a tough one, I think every distance has its own pros and cons. But I have found myself gravitating towards 100k races as of late. It's a pretty perfect distance, it feels like an epic day but you don't get totally depleted and have a vision quest the same way you do in a 100 miler.
Where is your favorite place to run?
The North Cascades and Olympics are both really special and wild places that I love to run. But honestly, I am such a glutton for any new zone or range of mountains to explore. There's nothing better than taking a road trip to a new area and having that giddy excitement at the trailhead as you lace up to explore new river valleys, ridges, and peaks. If I had to pick one specific trail as a favorite... I'd say the Marmot Pass/Buckhorn Lake area is a super dreamy place to run.
What does a typical week look like for you? How do you balance running with your “normal” life?
I work a kind of funky healthcare schedule: 2x12hr shifts, and 2x8hr shifts. I have Thursdays and weekends off. I also have to take "call shifts" (one weekend of 60hrs straight, and 2 over nights each month). I always take Monday as a rest day. And fit running in after work most days. Thursdays are for adventures, whether it be a 10-14 mile run, a backcountry ski day, or a mountain bike mission, I love to explore on that midweek day off when the wilderness is so nice and quiet. On weekends I run long, sometimes back-to-back. But I also have a wife and dog that I make sure to prioritize with hiking, climbing, or biking time. It's a really tough balance, and it feels like a crazy scheduling puzzle to make everything happen each week. But I can't imagine living any other way. That being said, I think I average 60 mile weeks, I can't fathom running many more miles than that each week, there's just not enough time!
You have been having success for a while now, but you seem to just keep getting better. This year alone you won a half marathon, took 2nd at Gorge Waterfalls 100k, won Tushars 100k and most recently won Run Rabbit Run 100 Mile. What do you attribute to your success?
Thank you so much, that's really kind of you to say! I honestly attribute a ton of my recent success to my new coach, Jason Schlarb. I started working with him in 2021, and he has really changed the way that I train for trail running. It seems to be making a huge difference. He's a really great guy and has a wealth of knowledge and experience in the ultra mountain running world.
How do you feel about being a dark horse? Despite consistently performing at the top of sport, you remain relatively under the radar.
Haha! That's a great question. I kind of like the darkhorse status. You have no pressure to perform, but can also take people totally by surprise when you lead a race, or come flying in towards the end to upset what people think should happen during the day. I'm a somewhat introverted guy, and don't really brag very much about race results. Maybe that has something to do with never being noticed?
I think that regionally every trail running community has such a huge roster of total low-key crushers that no one knows about outside of that particular area. I could easily name 25 people in the PNW that are so talented and interested and pushing hard in their endeavors. I try not to concern myself with how well-known I am though.
You have a reputation for always having a smile on your face while doing these incredibly hard events. How do you keep running fun?
The mountains are my happy place! I don't ever force myself to run or train, and working at a level 1 trauma center gives me a constantly intense perspective of how fortunate we all are to be able to run in the mountains. Health and fitness are a huge privilege, and so I always treat every run (especially a race) as a celebration. I'll always be the first one to hoot and holler as the group heads into a ripping descent, or the first dude to offer a high five to the whole crew after an amazing day traversing some backcountry ridgeline. These experiences are so dang special, I can't help but be overjoyed!
That being said, I definitely have low points in races, especially 100 mile races. I love mantras for grounding myself whenever I start to lose touch during a dark point of the race. "Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional" is a favorite. Jason is really good about reminding me to smile throughout a race, and remain grateful out there.
What’s next for you? Any goal races or projects? Things you’re trying to improve?
I'm in the process of sorting out the rest of this year and my schedule for 2023.... I'm signed up for Transgrancanaria 126k in February!! That's been on my bucket list for years, so I'm very excited for that adventure. I plan to attempt the "Tatoosh Traverse" down on the south side of Rainier every single fall season, so hopefully this is my year. For right now I'm just basking in the recovery from RRR, and probably going for some mountain bike rides with friends later this week.
For the next season I would really like to work on maintaining intensity in the final hours of ultra mountain races, and probably a bit more speed work...