Ladia Albertson-Junkans leads a full life. She's been a high school state XC champion, nominated for the NCAA Woman of the Year award, took a two month trip to Ethiopia in 2008 working with the Tesfa Foundation, which provides early childhood education to disadvantaged children. And she's currently juggling a career in Child Development research with her professional running career. Below she talks about how she fits it all in, the USATF XC Club champs, her "vacation" from running after finishing her undergrad degree, and representing the US in Scotland.
Down the Backstretch: You have an interesting history in that you don’t fit the stereotype of the top rung athlete who focuses primarily on the sport. In a way you are a dual career person with your work in child development research and a pro runner. How do you handle juggling dual careers?
Ladia Albertson-Junkans: I am definitely still learning how to manage it all. Some days and weeks I do better than others. That said, my success in both careers can be largely attributed to the support I receive from family, friends, colleagues, and especially Team USA MN and my employer.
My boss and co-workers have been supportive of my running from day one; following my racing schedule and even coming out to see me race occasionally. When the opportunity arose for me to join Team USA MN—on the condition that I could meet for team workouts and have an active presence in the community—my officemates were more than willing to let me flex my schedule so that I could accommodate bi-weekly team workouts and still maintain full-time status.
Their enthusiastic interest in my athletic pursuits is as invaluable as the support provided by Team USA MN and the community—especially on those days and weeks when I feel on the brink of being stretched too thin.
DtB: What is the allure of running for you? What brought you back to top level competition after taking “time off” to get your masters in public health?
LAJ: As it is for many folks, running is my stress-release, my get-away, my reset button. It is a way for me to see and learn about the world, to meet new people, and make life-long friends, to explore nature and be active. It also offers an opportunity to challenge myself daily and feel a tangible sense of accomplishment.
Racing offers yet another way for me to challenge myself, and I think this is ultimately what brought me back to high-level competition. Each time I run a personal best in a road race, I want to try again and see how much better I can do in my next attempt. At the same time, there are always new distances to try, new places to race, new people to meet, new goals to set, new things to learn.
Running is new and exciting, while also familiar and comforting; both deeply personal and refreshingly social; a means and an ends. It is so many things to me that I just can’t imagine life without it!
DtB: What are your goals for this year? Do you have a particular event that you are either fond of or you consider your best event or are you searching to find one that may suit your talents?
LAJ: I am enjoying exploring the many distances that road racing has to offer. I have had some success at the 10K on the roads, but I plan to continue challenging myself in other distances as well.
DtB: You seem to do well in cross country. State champion as a sophomore at Stillwater high school. Helping the Gophers win three Big Ten titles, 19th at NCAA Division I Nationals. Now fifth in the USATF Club Championships. Does something about cross country suit you better than on the track or roads?
LAJ: In some ways, metronomic running does not come easily to me; it is more my nature to run as hard as I can, for as long as I can, and just hope I can still kick at the end. In essence, I run by feel, and I think this “style” of running lends itself well to cross-country and road racing. Moreover, my athleticism and agility can really come in handy on technically challenging courses.
DtB: Is your “day job” flexible enough so that you can train, rest, race when it suits you or do you fit in running when you can around the job?
LAJ: A little bit of both. Prior to joining Team USA MN, I did all of my weekday running before and/or after work (i.e., 6 AM and 6 PM). Now that I am on the Team—and thanks to the support of my co-workers—I flex my work schedule such that on workout days I arrive at the office very early, leave mid-morning for the workout, and then stay late if needed to get in my 8 hours.
I use my vacation days to travel to competitions. It’s possible that I don’t rest as much, or in the same way, as other pro runners. However, I am a fairly restless person so I’d probably stay pretty active during the day even if I wasn’t at work.
In some respects, my job forces me to sit down (sometimes, although I usually stand when I’m at my desk) and maintain a schedule. It also limits the amount of time I have to run, thereby limiting my mileage to some extent. I actually view this as protecting me from over-training and risking injury.
DtB: I assume you kept up your running when you were doing your schoolwork for your masters, correct? You’ve made a gradual return to competitive running, was that something of a test to see if you could handle both your non-running and running careers?
LAJ: Throughout graduate school, my days were a series of moving parts, and running was not a high priority, although I did continue to run casually. Once I started working full time, my schedule became more predictable.
It certainly took at least eight months for me to adjust to the demands of full-time work before I was able to consistently run 60-70 miles a week. In the past couple of months, I have been able to gradually add one or two workouts per week to my regimen without feeling completely spent by Friday.
Moreover, I relish the challenge of pursuing growth and excellence in both professions, as well as personally. This desire to be the best that I can be and to always keep learning and growing really underlies it all.
DtB: Did the outcome of the USATF Club Championships race surprise you or was what you anticipated you could do?
LAJ: The outcome of XC Club Nationals pleasantly surprised me mostly because I had been sick with a lower respiratory tract infection for much of October and November that significantly interrupted my training for at least three weeks. Thankfully, I had a strong base of summer and fall mileage under me—and a fierce desire to make the team competing in Scotland—so I still managed to have a solid race.
DtB: Are you looking forward to the trip to Scotland and stepping up to international competition? Do you view it as more of a new challenge, a bit nervous about taking it to the “next level,” or a little bit of both?
LAJ: I am beyond thrilled for the opportunity to travel and compete internationally, to meet new people and see a different part of the world. This to me is the ultimate vacation. On top of it all, to don a US uniform will be an extraordinary privilege. The generosity of the many folks who work hard every day to make these opportunities possible for folks like me is incredibly humbling. I am much too excited to be nervous.