Q&A with Ultra Runner Jay Kuehner

Courtesy of Jay Kuehner
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New Balance and RootsRated have teamed up to profile runners making a difference in their communities. We asked each of our runners a series of questions to learn a little more about what running means to them, where they like to run and what are some of their running goals.

Seattle-based runner and longtime resident Jay Kuehner has run all kinds of road races, from fundraiser 5ks to dozens of marathons – all but one of the latter in less than three hours. But Kuehner has shifted his focus away from the clock and more toward the trails. Here, he talks to RootsRated about his thoughts on why running is so therapeutic, his thoughts on today’s marathoning scene and why he always packs his sneakers in his suitcase.

What’s your running philosophy?
I used to be more competitive and now I run for health and for fun. I need to have running to keep me focused and have my mind freed up. People always ask me, why are you always running? For me, it feels like such a pleasure and joy to be able to run. I don’t see it as a pain. It’s just a reminder that I’m healthy.

What else do you get out of the sport?
Having spent so much time running, now I really love to see others get excited about the run. My current running partner is a mountaineer, a French guy who’s lived in the States for years. He was rehabbing from ACL surgery, and he told me, “I can’t run far or long, and it has to be off road.” I started taking him to Discovery Park, and we’d start running five miles, and that turned into seven and that turned into 10. And now we’re going to do a 50K soon. He never thought he could run even seven miles, and that was just over a year ago. It’s just really fun to watch others get excited about the sport, as something they do because they love to do it.

Discovery Park is a favorite among Seattle-area trail runners.
Discovery Park is a favorite among Seattle-area trail runners. Razvan Orendovici

How did you transition from the roads to the trails?
I did a lot of West Coast marathons, including Seattle, Portland and Tucson, and for maybe a decade it was three marathons a year. It was going well but it wasn’t sustainable. That’s when I found myself getting off the road and on the trails, and Seattle is an incredible place to be for that, with my interest in running and just being in the outdoors. People always talk about the rain here, but when you’re running here in the winter, you’re transcending poor weather by being out in it. We have this amazing forest, and within a half hour I can be at a great park or out in the hills.

After years as a marathoner, what are your thoughts on that aspect of the scene now?
The scene here is very competitive and there are some amazing runners, and people are signing up for races and ticking them off their list, which is great. But now I am into more free form. I want to know how far I’m going, but to me it’s more an exploration of my body’s limits. Since I ran a lot of races, I got tired of the clock. Trying to run a sub-six mile for 26 miles is intense. I like taking the competitive edge off a little bit, and age will do that too. I’m in my 40s.

You travel a lot for your job as a film critic and entrepreneur. How do you work running into your professional mix?
Whether I’m traveling or at home, I’m always looking for green space, and if I can’t find that, there’s always road. When I was in Peru, I had this amazing opportunity to run at altitude. I was on a tour with a cab driver, and I said to him, “Why don’t you just drop me off here and pick me up down the road?” On another trip [in Utah], I got a day pass and I spent the day running in Monument Valley. It was super hot, but it was fantastic. I ended up meeting a lot of people, including a Navajo on horseback. In Barcelona, I ran up Montjuic (a hill about 560 feet high within city limits) and took the funicular back. And I ran in St. Sebastian last year. The Spanish running scene is pretty amazing.

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