We hope you enjoy getting to know Chris Neilson! Chris is part of our local running community here in Portland, and we are big fans of his two pups and his encouraging attitude, on and off the trails!
Where did you grow up and how long have you been in Portland?
I grew up in Logan, Utah, which is about 80 miles north of Salt Lake City in a smaller, slightly higher valley that is also home to Utah State University, go Aggies! I’ve been in PDX for 13.5 years…time flies! I still make it back to Utah to see family, ski the greatest snow on earth and of course to run the abundance of trails that exist there!
How long have you been running and how did you get into it?
My first “official” running memory I have is running the mile in elementary school as part of a fitness program – I remember it being hard, but fun and being close to the front. From there I dabbled in it throughout my childhood while also playing other sports such as soccer, basketball and tennis. I’m the youngest of 4 kids and we were all very active in sports growing up. I didn’t truly get into more focused running until high school when my parents made me go out for cross country as a freshman to see how I liked it. Initially I wasn’t a fan and was humbled quickly by the fast kids, but my competitive side kicked in and I quickly discovered the joy of running with friends while also evolving and becoming more fit and competitive. I guess this means that in various capacities I’ve run most of my life, but I can say that my best, most enjoyable and most focused running years have come in the last 10 years, which coincidentally (or maybe not) ties directly to when I started running more trails vs. roads.
How did you get into trail running?
When I was younger, I ran the majority of my miles on the road. Growing up in Utah I spent a lot of time on the trails, but it was almost always on a mountain bike vs. my feet. I’ve always loved the trails, but didn’t gravitate to running them frequently until I moved to Portland and found the mountain biking terrain I liked less accessible than what I had back home. As a result, I started running all the trails around Portland and the Gorge to get my trail fix.
I truly got into trail running and ultra running in 2015 after a friend talked me into doing the Volcanic 50k around Mt. St. Helens with him. At that point I’d had my fill of roads (road 1/2’s & marathons did not stimulate or motivate me much anymore), so it wasn’t that difficult to convince me to try a longer distance trail race. Volcanic is a pretty tough 1st 50k, so they required a pre-requisite 50k. I did the Trail Factor 50k (Stumptown 50k now) as my first in May of 2015 and was hooked after finishing in the top 10. I followed that up with the Volcanic, which humbled me and taught me a great deal about racing and how different each trail race can be from another. It should be noted that my friend mentioned above, bailed and did not race, but I credit him for setting the stage for me finding my true running passion on the trails.
How do you make time to train, and what is your training strategy?
When it comes to training, whether for road or trail races, finding a balance to train is always a challenge, especially when the goal is to be as competitive as possible or at the very least, fit enough to grind through a long trail race without hating myself. Fortunately, my job allows me enough flexibility to run during the day near work or I can sometimes get out on the trails in the mornings or evenings during the week depending on when my first or last meetings are. On the weekends I definitely get out somewhere in the Gorge or coastal range for my long days and of course, Forest Park is an easy fix if time doesn’t allow for getting farther out!
I haven’t trained with a coach and currently don’t. This said, I’ve been fortunate to be surrounded by many extremely talented runners whose advice, training and workout plans and sometimes whose running company I’ve been able to leverage to help evolve myself as a runner both in training and racing. Despite not having a coach, I do believe it can be a game changer based on watching other runners evolve and grow once they got a one. Having a good coach that takes the time to get to know you as a person and a runner and can subsequently provide you a great plan that includes the training, workouts, recovery, and maintenance that is tailored to you, does make a difference, not to mention provide some often needed accountability!
Do you cross-train or participate in any other sports?
I definitely get on the slopes for skiing or XC skiing this time of year and then on the bike in the warmer months (both road and trail). Personally, I cross-train a little each week and accomplish this mostly in the gym 2-3 days a week doing strength training. I also focus on a number of physical therapy exercises I’ve been given over the recent years and make sure I see a PT fairly regularly to help with the never-ending battle of staying healthy. I’m no gym rat, so I try to be efficient and get in/out without having to spend hours in the gym…circuit training has helped with that. As mentioned above, I’ve had a few injuries that have sidelined me for extended periods of time the last couple years and have really found that PT and strength training have helped with my recovery and mitigated re-injury. Preaching the advice of other really great runners I know, strength training & PT should be part of your routine with running no matter what age you are or what level you run at. I’ve gotten much better at this over the last couple of years and as a result am a stronger runner even as I’ve gotten older.
What has been your biggest obstacle in running and how did you overcome it?
For me, I think the biggest obstacle(s) have occurred in the last few years. I’ve always been self-motivated to run/train and also been relatively injury free for as long as I can remember. This has changed a bit over the last few years where I’ve had to deal with a few injuries that have stopped me in my tracks for extended periods of time. Much of this is tied with getting older of course along with having increased volume over the last 5+ years and I think it finally caught up with me.
While injuries will happen, I’ve now mitigated the these by being more proactive and dedicated to strength training, physical therapy and understanding my body better (something everyone should do regardless of age). Insuring I focus on quality miles vs. quantity has always been a mantra of mine (junk miles aren’t a thing for me) and has helped me properly manage volume in line with what works best for me and my body. Most importantly, I’ve learned and adopted several practices from some of my close and very talented running friends who’ve overcome their own injury/wellness issues. Some of these lessons involve insuring I take one day a week completely off from running and avoiding any rigorous activity; a true off day! This alone has been huge in both allowing my body to recover properly as well as mentally recharging my mind by giving it something to look forward to without guilt – a day off – you won’t lose fitness with one day off (or 5), but you may well over-stress your body if you don’t give it that time!! I’ve also learned to truly run my easy days easy and my hard days hard…i.e. I don’t do a lot in the middle and I’ve found I’ve had really great success in keeping myself healthier, happier and getting just as fit or more so than I would if I ran every day. I try and add strength training, core work and PT several times a week or more. It’s obviously always easier said than done, but I’ve really done much better with all of this and have seen noticeable differences for the better. I’ve come to believe all of the above are essential for healthy physical and mental running regardless of your age or level or running and ultimately makes for happy running!
What are you most proud of accomplishing in regards to running?
As a competitive person, I’m really proud that I’ve continued to remain competitive in most the races I do relative to my age, showing that my training process and work-ethic still produce positive results I can be happy with. This said, I’m most proud of being part of what I consider to be the best running community in the sport of running; the trail community at large. Regardless of whether I’m having a good or bad day out there, I think it’s pretty cool to be able to smile and share the experiences on the trails with so many amazing and talented people from all walks of life. Although I do a lot of solo running, I truly am charged up as a runner by the others I meet and see out on the trails!
What is your advice for readers who are new to running?
Make running fun! Find people to run with, find new places to run and change it up. Running is work, but it is so rewarding if you look at it as something you want to do vs. something you have to do. Incorporating like-minded friends to keep you company and perhaps challenge you while adding in cool locations periodically can and do make running fun.
What goals do you have for running this year?
My big checkbox for 2020 is CCC over in Europe at the end of the summer (this is the 100k race during UTMB week). I’ve been over to UTMB a number of times to support, crew, and cheer the various races, but am finally putting my toes on the line this year. I’m stoked for it, albeit a wee bit nervous too. I’m still figuring out other races, but plan on a 50 mile or 100k sometime late Spring and another race mid-summer to get me tuned up for CCC. Along the way, I expect to get out on a few adventures locally and elsewhere to keep the stoke high!
Can you tell us a little about what you do when you aren't running?
When I’m not running, I’m most likely juggling my duties as a dad to my two awesome pups. I have a 12 year old Frenchie named Rossi (like Rossignol) who may have spent more time on trails than most frenchies combined, along with my new addition, 6 month old Denali, who is a Blue Heeler Australian Cattle Dog. I work for Nike in footwear product creation. I feel lucky to have a super cool job that connects me with my passion on a daily basis! When not running or working, I definitely enjoy trying new beers (I’m an IPA guy) around town and the good eats that go along with it. This obviously works well post-run!
Photo by Jeff Fisher
Favorite run food: GU gels, PB&J's, and pickle juice!
Favorite route you have ever run: Tough one, but I’d have to say running around Mont Blanc in the Alps. Close 2nd would be the O-loop around Torres del Paine in Patagonia.
Favorite shoe: This changes all the time, but currently the Nike Kiger 5
Favorite jacket for wet/winter runs: I hate wearing jackets when running as I feel I get just as wet underneath regardless. This said I do run in rain jackets; my Nike plug would be the Aeroshield running jacket and non-Nike plug would be the Salomon Bonatti jacket.
Music or podcast while running: Neither, I haven't run with headphones in ages. I tend to like to hear my body and my surroundings as I run, but if I had to pick it’d be a good podcast. Just remember to keep one bud unplugged or loose so you hear others coming!
Solo or with friends: It depends, I run the a lot of miles solo, but I love running with my trail runner friends to keep a good balance and sometimes I just need the company for motivation! Any run that ends up being with a bunch of badass trail friends is a great run!
Favorite thing about running: Being able to pretty much go wherever my body is able to take me (especially when trails are involved)!
Dream run: I know it’s basically in my backyard, but I still haven’t done the Wonderland trail on Rainier and would really like to tackle that! Otherwise, running in New Zealand is hopefully next on my international adventure list!
DO YOU KNOW A RUNNER WHO DESERVES TO BE RECOGNIZED? EMAIL YOUR NOMINATION TO: LARISSA@TERRITORYRUN.CO