Interview: John Ramsay, King of Beasts

This interview is the fourth in a series of exchanges with local elite runners. These are the men and women who train hard, take their running seriously, and work to compete--and win--on a local and national level. For all of these folks, running is a hobby. None of them make a living doing it. They continue to represent the best of amateurism, the idea that excellence in athletic endeavor is valuable for many reasons beyond financial compensation.

Most of these folks are friends that I have met during my time as a runner. They have offered me untold amounts of training advice, motivated me to get out the door, whipped my butt in races, and shared many a post-run beverage. Though this sort of runner is not famous at a national level, they are often locally known and help establish and maintain local standards of racing and training.

John Ramsay's race times are very good, but they are not exceptional. He has met the benchmarks that separate out the top local runners from the rest: sub 17 in the 5k, 34 something in the 10k, solidly under 3 hours in the marathon. He recently earned a sub 25 hour belt buckle at Leadville, and he competes regularly in ultramarathons. All of this is notable, in its own right.

However, John is best known around town and beyond for the way he has achieved these times. An admitted "fat kid" in his teens and early 20s, John came to the sport late and has approached it with a peculiar and inspiring intensity. Over the last two years, John has run a stunning volume of miles, regularly stringing together 400 and 500 mile months. His log tells the story pretty plain.

This devotion to training, his relentless drive, and willingness to hurt has earned him the nickname of "King of Beasts." He also happens to be an excellent training partner and a close friend. I had him in mind when I wrote this post. Enjoy the interview!

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LLD: You just got back from a runner's dream--a full summer of training in Leadville, CO. Can you describe your daily routine? 

KOB: Wake up at about 7:30-9, walk down to Provin’ Grounds coffee shop, walk back, get a few hours of work done, run, work, run, work, then sleep. Long run [30+ miles] most weekends, if I was not doing a single really long run I would do a triple long run [back-to-back-to-back days] of 21 miles over some good hills. I spent 10 weeks in Leadville and ran just over 1300 miles. [Yes, that’s an average of 130 miles per week on trails at 9,000 feet of altitude.]

LLD: So, yeah, you've run more miles in the last two years than I've thought possible--right at 10,000, averaging something like 96 miles per week. This sort of commitment to running so much seems to me to be about more than training. What keeps you out there running? 

John smiles every now and then.
KOB: Most of my running is about the next goal race, or because my friends are running, and sometimes I guess because of the demons. But I’d rather not discuss all that.

LLD: I think that a lot of people relate to you because in a weird way you represent "the everyman's" approach to running. Have you seen this? Why do you think that people are attracted to your style of training and racing? 

KOB: That is something I have noticed. I think it’s because I did not run in high school or college, I am not exactly runnerly in build, and I run a bunch. People might be attracted to my style of running because I don’t do many workouts that are worth bragging about - just lots of miles per week / month / year and sometimes I can do well in races.

LLD: For the running geeks: How do you manage to absorb the volume of training that you do? I find that when I try to run sustained mileage, I start breaking down. Any tips on recovery for the masses?

KOB: From experimenting, and we are all an experiment of one, I seem to run well when there is a large disparity between my easy run pace and my workout paces. For example – easy run pace at about 8 mm and run tempos at 6-6:15 and mile repeats at 5:25 – 5:40. That gap and the actually easy pace of my easy runs might help me absorb the workload.

Tips on recovery, nothing new I am afraid, I don’t have any big secrets:

Your blogger and two dudes who run A Lot.

  • Start your easy runs Very easy, and then settle into your easy pace. 
  • Get lots of sleep. 
  • Eat enough. 
  • Drink enough water. 
  •  Get massages by a person who knows their stuff. If you are in Tennessee go see Juliana
  • Ice bath after a hard workout. 
  • Hot bath the night of a massage. 

LLD: What's your take on the old question of quantity vs. quality in running? Do you worry that the mileage you do comes at the expense of quality? 

KOB: I think you need both, quality and quantity. Variety in pace is important. Depending on the person of course I am not sure you can have one without the other and stay healthy in the long term. I think we run the workouts not in spite of the high weekly mileage but because the miles. The easy miles give you the ability to recover and the durability to complete the workouts, and the change in pace and effort give your body a different stimulus than easy running.

So, I don’t worry too much that the quantity of miles I run affects the quality, so long as the day before a workout I run easy. It’s a bad idea to run with the half steppers or hammer heads in your running crew the night before a workout.

LLD: What's the most beautiful spot on the Leadville course? 

KOB: The finish line, haha. For real, the downhill inbound section of Hope Pass. From the top of the pass you have about 10 minutes till the aid station and you can see the Llamas, Twin Lakes, and every other running fool that is around you. I also enjoyed the last aid station before the finish line, May Queen, this year. I saw the lights and heard the people cheering, and I was pretty sure I could hold a strong pace the last 13.5 miles.

LLD: You race at distances from the mile to the marathon to the 100 mile, on roads and trails. This sort of variety of racing is really rare. Having some experience at all of these distances, can you give your opinion on the debate about which race is the most difficult? 

KOB: In terms of muscle trauma and the odds of ending up in the hospital, the 100 mile is the most difficult. If you are looking for the classic legs filled with lactic acid lungs searing type of running pain the last 2k of a 10k, 5k of a half marathon, and 3 miles of a marathon are pretty special.


  1. Will anyone ever truly be able to delve into the mind of John Ramsey? Good try Jeff. Loved it :)

  2. Ha, yeah, John is anything but prolix.

  3. Great interview, Jeff. As someone who didn't run in high school or college I definitely identify with John... even if I don't run even half his mileage.


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