Exclusive Athlete Interview: Abby McQueeney Penamonte

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One of the most prestigious and competitive ultra runs in the country is the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Race.  The 40th running of the 100.2 mile race took place last Saturday, June 29th, starting in Squaw Valley, California and finishing in Auburn.

The great thing about races in this day and age is the technological ability to follow each and every runner throughout a one hundred-mile race, and computers in and around Colorado were hitting “refresh” on their live feeds of the race last weekend as they followed Colorado-based Abby McQueeney Penamonte climb the women’s leader board.

McQueeney Penamonte, a 30-year old humble transplant from New York, didn’t run her first ultra race until 2010.  It’s clear that the trails, mountains and ultra itch caught on fast, as McQueeney Penamonte beat the majority of the field in the Silverton 12-hour run in 2012.  Fast-forward to June 29th, 2013 around 3:00am MST, and you’ll see McQueeney Penamonte cross the finish line of the 40th Western States 100 in 10th place for the women, in an almost storybook-like ending.

But that’s not the ending for McQueeney Penamonte.  In fact, that’s just the beginning.  McQueeney Penamonte is taking on the Grand Slam of Ultra Running, consisting of four 100-mile races within 10 weeks of one another.  Come July 20th, 2013, you’ll find McQueeney Penamonte on the trails of the Vermont 100, and a slew of Colorado virtual spectators and fans hitting their “refresh” button as they watch this strong and determined woman excel in a field of competitive athletes.

Quick Stats

Name: Abby McQueeney Penamonte

Age: 30

Hometown & Current: Rochester, NY // Moved to Denver, CO in 2008

Professional & Educational background: Registered Dietitian & Nutrition Coach @ LifeTime Fitness in Parker, CO.

(Metabolic Efficiency Training Specialist)

B.S. Dietetics from The State University of New York @ Oneonta

Dietetic Internship @ Keene State College, New Hampshire

Sports participated in: Ultra Running/ Mountain Running

Years in current sport: Have been a runner since I was 6. Ran my first 50 miler in 2010, and first 100 in 2010.

Racing Team: Runner’s Roost

Sponsors/Affiliations: Runner’s Roost

Significant Other:  Husband, Daniel Verdi, is also a runner. We met in college on the XC Running Team. He is a speedy marathon man with a PR of 2:34. He has completed 8 Boston’s. He is looking to become a trail runner, so hopefully we can share this passion together.

The Long Run

What are some of the biggest highlights in your racing career?

I think that my recent Western States finish goes down in history for my most magical, memorable race. It was the perfect race- where my diligence with my running, heat training, and nutrition execution resulted in a PR and good for 10th Female Overall. I honestly went in to the race simply wanting to get a silver buckle (sub-24). I far surpassed my own expectations, and I think I stunned a lot of the running community (including my husband!). 

Placed 1st @ Silverton 12 Hour Run last year (2012) with 50 miles. This was fun because not only did I beat the girls, but I also beat all of the boys!

What are your long-term goals?  What do you want to achieve as an athlete?

This summer I am completing the Grand Slam (GS) of Ultra Running. The GS consists of completing 4 x 100 mile runs in 10 weeks. This is a huge testament as to how I can continue to push my body and modify my nutrition beyond what most people think is possible. I am extremely competitive. I can’t decide if I am more internally competitive or thrive off of racing. Some people think the GS is just about finishing the 4 races. I think it is always about a finish, but it’s also important for me to run each race with as much heart and legs as the previous.

June 29th– Western States 100

July 20th– Vermont 100

August 17th– Leadville 100

September 6th– Wasatch 100

By placing 10th @ Western States this year, I will get an entry into 2014 race. That will be my goal race for next year. Beyond that I want to run Hardrock 100 (have applied two years in a row).

Why Colorado?  What makes Colorado so special for endurance athletes?  What makes Colorado special to YOU?

Colorado is an amazing place to live. I don’t think anyone could pay me enough money to leave Colorado. There are so many beautiful trails and mountains to run- you can’t possibly get bored. Sometimes I have to run the same trails in the morning before work. Even running the same route, you have completely different experiences based on the weather, wildlife, smells, and how your legs feel. I am amazed and blessed every day that I go running. Living in Colorado teaches you to appreciate and respect nature and the challenges that running at altitude brings. 

Middle Distance

Take us through a “day in the life,” what type of training regimen do you follow?

I am coached by ultra-running stud, Nick Clark, from Ft. Collins. He just placed 6th @ Western States. I averaged about 80-100 miles per week. 2 back to back long runs on Saturday and Sunday (usually totaling ~50 miles), Monday’s & Tuesday’s are easy recovery days, Wednesday’s OFF, Thursday some sort of workout (hill workouts or tempo), Friday’s easy. All runs are typically done on trails and I usually average ~ 16,000’ elevation gain per week.

What are one or two things you currently do in your training that are keys to your success?

#1- Nutrition is key to any training program- let alone when training for 4 x 100 mile races within 10 weeks. I follow a low carb (<80g/day), high fat (>60% total calories), and moderate protein diet. Through my every day nutrition/Metabolic Efficiency, I have taught my body to be more reliant on internal fat reserves which means that I don’t have to take in as much fuel during my runs/races. This often means less risk of GI distress and more stable energy.

#2- Listen to my coach and work with other professionals. I love enlisting the help of professionals- whether it’s my coach, a Registered Dietitian (yes, even I have worked with a RD), naturopath, MAT Specialist, massage therapist- these people get me to the start line healthy and sharp.

#3- Sitting in cold water/streams/lakes post-run. My PR is 30 minutes, and boy is this challenging! I figure if I can submerge my body in cold water for 30 minutes I can finish a hundred miles :)

Do you have any recommended resources to share (books, seminars, websites, coaches)?

Metabolic Efficiency Training- Bob Seebohar

Nutrition Periodization for Endurance Athletes- Bob Seebohar

The Art & Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance- Jeff Volek & Stephen Phinney

What is your biggest challenge, and what do you do to manage this challenge?

My biggest challenge is myself! I often lack confidence and doubt myself. Working with a coach (Nick) and focusing on my strengths (hill climbing), but also trying to work on my weaknesses (downhill running, speed) has been helpful. Nick has certainly helped me to believe more in myself by setting goals for me and doing very race specific training. He has also acted as a mentor and helps me troubleshoot my worries and anxiety that come from training and racing. 

What are your favorite races in Colorado?  Why?

Quad Rock 50 (Ft Collins)- Very well organized, over 11,000’ vertical gain in Lory State Park. What’s not to like?

Leadville 100- It’s my home course :). I love the quaint town of Leadville, the volunteers, spectators, Hope Pass, and that shiny buckle!! 

Where do you like to train in Colorado?   Why?

On weekdays I am limited to Green Mountain, Matthew Winters, Apex Mountain due to time/work. Weekends are fun times to explore- I enjoy White Ranch, Lory State Park, Grays & Torrey’s (14’ers), Bergen Peak, Mt Falcon, etc… Eccles Pass in Frisco tops as my fave run! Spectacular views and climbs, with water at the bottom for post-run ice bath!

Sprints

Favorite running shoe: Mizuno Wave Ascends

Favorite post-run/race beverage: Full Fat Coconut Milk + ½ frozen banana + 1 avocado + 2 scoops LifeTime Fitness VeganMax Protein (Pea & Rice Protein) + 5g Glutamine + ice= YUM & perfect for recovery

Favorite post-run/race meal: My homemade Almond-Coconut Bars. Full of healthy fats and fiber and very tasty!

Role models:

My parents (John Penamonte & Maryanne McQueeney)! They are the 2 hardest working people I have ever met. Their dedication and work ethic, desire to better themselves and enjoy life is what inspires me. Without ever saying anything, they set an example that it was so important to fulfill my goals and never quit. They are both runners too, which helped me get involved in the sport when I was younger. 

Laurie Nakauchi- my Runner’s Roost teammate and best friend. Laurie and I met 3 years ago when I was training for my first 50 miler and 100. She took me under her wings and really taught me everything I needed to know to successfully finish. She is such a strong runner and person and just has such an enormous heart and powerful mind. She is so inspiring. This year will be her 9th Leadville 100 finish!

Day job: Registered Dietitian & Nutrition Coach @ LifeTime Fitness in Parker CO

Solo runner, running partner or team/group? All of the above. Some days I love running solo on the trails. It’s so easy for me to lose myself in the mountains and solve all of life’s problems in a matter of hours. I also love running with some of my Runner’s Roost teammates- Laurie Nakauchi, Ryan Kircher, Amy O’Connell. They make for great conversation and laughs, and can help me get out the door on those back to back long run days. I can always count on my buddy, Kircher, to set up adventurous runs that cover parts of Colorado I have never explored on my own… and it’s almost guaranteed that we will get lost!

Favorite Restaurant: La Loma (Mexican restaurant in the Highlands)

Favorite Coffee Shop: I have never had coffee before :)

Favorite Bar: Anyplace with Gluten Free Beer :)

Favorite Running Store: Runner’s Roost (Denver)

Favorite non-running activity: I am pretty lazy outside of running 100’s of miles. I love napping, watching TV, and hanging out and laughing with friends and family. 

Favorite TV Show: How I Met Your Mother

Favorite book: Metabolic Efficiency Training, by Bob Seebohar (the man is a genius and has forever changed my nutrition world!)

Favorite movie: Into the Wild

Podium

Have you experienced a breakthrough, and if so, what led to it?

Western States 2013 (see fave race memory)

What was the best advice you were ever given?

Put in the work and your finish time will show! My coach told me this before Western and it helped ease my mind about split times, pacing, etc. Just like with any aspect of life (work, relationships, etc)- your results will illustrate the work you put in.

Do you have a saying or motto that you live your life by?  That you train by?

My one friend, Kircher, always reminds me of why I run. He says if you aren’t having fun, you’re taking it too seriously. Thinking about this makes me relax more and enjoy the moments as they come.

What keeps you motivated?  Where do you draw your inspiration from?

I have a strong desire to be the best I can be. I am very self-motivated, but also gain inspiration from the trails and mountains of Colorado, and from my coach who pushes me beyond what I ever thought I was capable of.

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