Catching Up with Anna Mae Flynn and Joe Gray, Mountain Running Phenoms

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Anna Mae Flynn and Joseph Gray competed in back to back events at the 2018 GoPro Mountain Games in Vail, Colorado on June 10th: one was a 10k and the other a vertical challenge doing laps up a ski slope.

The 10k Spring Runoff is a notoriously slow 10k race. Starting at 8,200 feet and gaining 2,200, it pushes racers to dig deep, and high temperatures on Saturday added an extra layer of pain. Flynn, of Marble, Colorado, finished the race in 55:23, winning the women’s race, and Gray, of Colorado Springs, Colorado finished in 46:40, winning overall. This is Gray’s fifth win at the Spring Runoff 10k in Vail.

Then both athletes went on to race Pepi’s Face Off, a vertical race consisting of several loops up a ski slope and back down a separate singletrack. Racers complete as many laps as they can in 30 minutes. 34-year-old Gray, in his first year attempting the race, completed six laps in 32:15, coming in first. Flynn completed five laps in 35:12 and came in second, after Kelly Ahern who completed five laps in 34:39.

We had the pleasure of catching up with each athlete in Vail after their races to ask them a bit about training habits, inspirations and personal life projects.

Joseph Gray

On the competitive ultra scene since 2009, he’s placed first in every official ultra he’s entered except one in just the last two years alone, including the the Pikes Peak 30k and Flagstaff Sky Race 39k. Gray races short and long distances, road and trail and has an affinity for vert. He is off to compete in the National Mountain Running Championships for Team U.S.A in New Hampshire in July and the World Mountain Running Championships later this fall.

Gray is tall, super slim and has the big, sparkling eyes of a dairy cow. He squats down without pretense or pomp to congratulate his panting competitors lying in the grass with a handshake or fist pump. His easy interview style matches his running: relaxed, efficient and joyful.

You’re a mountain runner, ultrarunner and USATF cross-country runner: how do you describe yourself as an athlete?
I’m just a runner. I like to race it all. I just like to compete.

What’s your sweet spot with distance?
It’s really hard to say. I think cross country is probably my favorite. I just like being in the mountains and the forest.

Living at 6,000 feet in Colorado, what do you do for winter training?
That’s when I’m doing my cross-country phase or my road-racing phase. And I cross train by snowshoeing.

Any life projects going right now?
I’m giving a certain amount of my prize purse to the Candle Lighters in Colorado. It’s for childhood cancer patients. So today was a good day for that. I have another project… I can’t announce it—but it’s going to be really cool. I’m developing a project to support youth in the U.S.

Who’s inspiring to you?
I sound like a broken record but, Jesse Owens [four-time Olympic gold medalist in track and field in the 1936 Berlin Olympics] has always been a huge inspiration for me—just a class act. The way he handled pressure. The way he dealt with animosity and negativity and just performed and stayed focused and handled business. I try to model myself after that.

How has your connection to being in nature and being in the mountains changed over time?
I feel like I have ownership now of the outdoors—not like it’s mine—but, I want people to take care of it. I find myself taking care of it more. When I first started doing trail running and mountain racing, I didn’t understand how important it was to keep your area clean and take care of the outdoors and public lands and open spaces. If I see someone littering, I definitely let them know, ‘hey, don’t be lazy, have some responsibility, clean up after yourself.’

I also find enjoyment in just being alone in the woods. It’s a nice place to just be mindful. This sport has changed my life and introduced me to new ways of being thinking and valuing what we have.

Anna Mae Flynn and Joseph Gray after the Go Pro Mountain Games Spring Runoff 10k race

Anna Mae Flynn

She has been a dominant female runner on the scene since 2012 and has podium finished in notable races such the Power of Four 50k in Aspen, Colorado, the Flagstaff Skyrace VK, the Way Too Cool 50k, Lake Sonoma 50-miler and Speedgoat 50k. Like Gray, Flynn can run a variety of distances and has a thing for vert. She’s off to Europe this week to train on the UTMB course and potentially jump into a steep European race like the BUFF Epic in Catalonia, Spain.

Flynn is reminiscent of your best high school friend. She has an immediate familiarity and offers up a candor typically reserved for confidants, not media. Quick to laugh and happy to answer questions, she shed some light on her experiences as a mountain runner right now.

How do you feel?
I actually feel pretty good, considering I had a bad 55k a couple weekends back (the UltraSky Marathon in Madeira). Something just went awry and I’m not sure if it’s training or fatigue or what, so I wasn’t sure if I should come out today. But I was lying in bed this morning, thinking, ‘I’m really broke. I could really use the cash.’ [Flynn has the advantage of making a last-minute decision due to living 100 miles from the start line.] I parked with little time left—I’m not even sure where I am—and showed up right as they were counting down.

How was Spain? 
It was OK. I had a rough race and I’m honestly happy to be home in this low-key race. I’ve been noticing in the sport lately a kind of… fangirl thing. I just want to be around people who like being in nature and running for the sake of running.

What is your favorite distance?
My favorite distance is a mountain 50k, but I think I might be ripe for the shorter stuff still. I’d like to move up in distance in the near future.

You’re getting ready for Pikes Peak. How will you train for it?
I’ll be doing some training on Pikes itself with hopefully some solid hill reps at altitude. It’s time to get leg the turnover rollin’.

If you had to prioritize speed over mileage for training, which would you choose?
I think base mileage is more important with some fine tuning and speed along the way. When it’s race season, if there’s a good amount of time between races that’s the time to build in some speed.

What’s your Achilles Heel?
My love for vertical gains and pure mountain blissful running. So training speed and workouts are mentally challenging for me.

Who’s inspiring you?
I’d say Devon Yanko [third at the 2016 Western States 100 and first at the 2017 Leadville 100] is pretty badass and super inspiring.

Do you and Joe ever get to train together?
Joe’s plain awesome and so down to earth. I cherish his wife, too. I see him at races, but life is fast and he’s on the move so I don’t hang with him a ton. Plus he’s a just a tad bit faster than me, so training runs would be real boring for him.

Life projects?
My partner Paul and I would love to develop a mountain-endurance retreat of some sort. There are a lot of layers involved so right now we’re brainstorming. And I teach August through June so running and adventures are the priority right now!

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