Anita is a lot of things. She's a Mother, a school teacher, a powerful competitor, an inspiration and a humble champion. She is somebody I greatly admire for many reasons and I think she's an excellent role model, both for her own children, as well as the entire ultra running community.
If you've ever seen Anita at a race, you've witnessed the wild intensity that she displays when she's focused on a masterful performance. She runs with a tremendous amount of power and equal amounts of purpose and passion.
Anita has been dominant at every distance she's raced, and she's illustrated diversity and skill in every fathomable type of terrain and course condition. Anita just gets it done.
I chose to take a few minutes to interview Anita because she represents the kind of story that inspires me, and undoubtedly, many others as well. Anita Ortiz is the kind of Champion, and the kind of person that I strive to be in my own life. When she speaks, I always pay very close attention.
Me and Anita: 2014 Speedgoat
You ran your way into Western States with your awesome performance at the Sean O’Brien 100k. Was that your ultimate goal going into the race?
No. I scheduled SOB for 2 reasons: 1) I had an airline ticket that needed to be used before April. 2) I wanted to run a 100K each month before racing Cruel Jewel in May. Cruel Jewel is a 100 that would allow me to put my name in the Hardrock lottery. Buuuuuttttt…when I found out that SOB was a WS qualifier, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I’d love the spot if I could get it. So I did work for it!
You won your Western States debut in 2009 by more than an hour. In 2011, you had a much slower race and finished 22nd. How important is it for you to be up front in the 2015 race? Do you feel like you need redemption on that course?
Only self-redemption. I don’t care if I am 22nd or 222nd as long as I race better. That’s all I really want. Being up front is not even a thought in my mind. There are some young, strong and fast racers out there.
You don’t run many 100-mile races. Do you change your training methods leading up to the longer distance?
Yes and No—Maybe. I typically love high mileage. So I’m always fairly ready for any adventure. I’ve never had to change things too much for a longer race. I did do a lot of long downhill for Western. That said…I have a coach going into this year of racing (this is new for me)--Adam St. Pierre. He is trying to keep my miles smarter. So I’m doing some stuff differently. As I get older I need to be less abusive and train better. That is why I found Adam. If SOB is an indicator, I think he’s doing a fabulous job.
How does your fueling strategy change for 100-mile races?
I typically don’t fuel much on shorter races. I’m bad about it. I just don’t like to carry. But for 100 miles you really have too—and not get behind! So I start fueling within the first 5 minutes. No solid food, however. Basically just Tailwind. If my tummy feels hungry, I’ll take a gel.
You’re running at a competitive level at 50 years old, crushing talented runners half your age. Your longevity and ability to perform at such a high level is a rarity. How are you able to stay on top for so long?
Crushing??? Haha! I’m just trying to keep up with Meghan Arbogast. She’s setting the bar pretty high. Also, I think I do well because I didn’t compete in college. I raced in high school but didn’t race again until I was 36 years old. I ran daily for the love of it, but that was all. So my legs were pretty fresh. Another thing that helped me stay competitive was that I began racing only mountain trail races. As I got older and injured (thus slower) I morphed into an ultra runner. It’s good to ‘see the writing on the wall’ and change things up. I still do lots of mountain races. But I do them at my ultra speed!
You had a rough day at the 2014 Speedgoat 50k and ended up with a DNF. I know that hit you hard. Was it difficult to shake that off and get your head back into your training?
The DNF did hit me hard. I was REALLY ready for that race. But in retrospect it was a great thing! Several things happened after that DNF. Most immediately was the ‘trash talking’ and gossip surrounding the DNF. It really opened my eyes to the DNF or Not-DNF debate. I’m a much kinder/understanding person now. Second, it was a true test of ‘me’. How well was I going to bounce back? I went home and immediately signed up for the Mt Werner Classic 50K to be raced the following Saturday. It forced me to quit sulking and hold my head up. Finally, I signed up for Pikes Peak Marathon and UROC because of that fail at Speedgoat. Once my goal race didn’t happen (Speedgoat) I turned that training effort toward a new goal race. Of all the things last summer-- Speedgoat was one of the worst yet best things to have happened to me.
(Editorial Note: What Anita doesn't mention is that she went on to WIN the Mt. Werner Classic 50k the following weekend. She followed that up by also winning the Pikes Peak Marathon and then UROC.)
You’re scheduled to return to Speedgoat in 2015. What keeps you coming back to that race?
My big quads.
Seriously, I’m a mountain runner. It doesn’t get more real than Speedgoat.
There are a lot of amazing female ultra runners emerging right now. Of these young ladies, who are most impressed by?
All of them. It takes great maturity to run an ultra. It requires patience, dedication, sacrifice, and talent. I was none of those things at that age.
Who were some of your role models in the sport when you were getting into ultras?
Another laugh here! When I first got into ultras, I didn’t know what an ultra was. I remember my friend telling me about it and my response was, “I’ll never run more than a marathon. Why the #&%$ would a person do that?!” Then the switch flipped—over night—as every ultra runner understands—and I started learning: Ann Trason, Anthea Schmidt, Nikki, Darcy.
You have four children. Will any of them follow in your footsteps and join the ultra running community?
2 of them will. They shall remain nameless here, lest they pull ‘teenager’ on me, and refuse, just out of spite.
What kind of advice would you give to a young lady that was considering getting into ultra running?
Okay—this may sound sexist. I DON’T mean it that way: Don’t put off having a family for running. You can run anytime. But you want to be a mommy that can still run and play with your kids. Plus you’re being a great role model!
Anita Ortiz continues to be a dominant force in ultra running and I expect that to be the case for many years to come. My hope is that young ultra runners, both men and women, will have Anita to look up to and learn from as they shape their own careers in this wonderful sport.
I'm eagerly looking forward to running with Anita at Western States this year, where I know she will have an amazing day in the mountains.
See you in Squaw!!!