Patrick Reagan puts in the work, reels in the results
As his three mixed-breed dogs scampered about, Patrick Reagan cut up vegetables in his kitchen for dinner while doing this interview. While his dogs are all mutts — “the best kind of dogs” — Reagan himself is a rare breed: a professional ultra runner.
In the past year, Reagan won the Javelina Jundred for the third year in a row, finished eighth at Western States and in February, claimed the Brazos Bend 100-miler, which also was the USATF Trail Championship.
Reagan’s running journey began about 18 years ago in high school, followed by a “fairly successful career in university.” After taking some time off, he returned to running in 2012.
Initially, he laced up the running shoes again to train with the cross-country and track athletes he coached at the Savannah (Ga.) College of Art Design.
“I got back into running primarily just to get in good shape again and train with my athletes,” says Reagan, who stepped down as coach in February 2019 after seven years. “One thing led to another. The trigger was being back around people who were really interested in the sport, really passionate about it. I'd started to see a little success when I started to race again and thought I'd kind of give it another go and just found that I enjoyed it even more.”
He found ultra running in 2015 when he ran and won his first 50K at Buffalo Run in Bluffton, S.C., did the Olympic Trials marathon the following year and then completed his first 100K about six weeks later. His success at Mad City, a road 100K, qualified him for the world championships and launched his ultra career.
(The chop-chop-chop of the knife pauses briefly. The dogs are antsy. “Let me see if I can calm the folks down a little bit. Hey guys. Koda. Hold on one second. Koda. Koda. That's enough. Stop it.”)
Reagan continues without missing a beat. It’s like he grabbed a bottle at an aid station, paused and then quickly returned to the trail.
“I ran the UltraVasan 90K,” he recalls. “It went pretty well. I podiumed there, and then I podiumed at the world championship off negative splits and just kind of gradually moving up through the field.”
No time to be bored
In addition to his running, vegetable cutting and dog shushing, Reagan trains other athletes through his coaching business. For some professional runners, it’s challenging to shed the responsibilities of full-time work and focus constantly on their sport.
Not so for Reagan.
“My days feel very full,” he explains. “I feel like I do a lot more than just run. I spend a lot of time coaching in addition to a lot of time training. My problem before was that I didn't really think I had enough time to train. Now I enhance my program with a whole lot more strength training in particular, more stretching, more isolated stretching on a regular basis, which has really helped my mobility a lot.”
One year in and the results speak for themselves.
“My first year of running professionally, I was able to run a few more ultras, which wasn't really the goal. It was to run, just have a higher caliber of performance on a regular basis. I felt that it was a lot easier to just stay healthy. I never really felt like there was idle time, I always felt busy in a good way as opposed to busy in an uncontrollable way. My first year was just great, man. I've always kind of been an independent person that I've been in situations before when I was a private contractor and I don't really need someone to tell me to show up and work. I've always been the kind of person that just shows up and works.”
And it’s not just the physical work, Reagan brings a strong mindset to races.
At Brazos Bend, he clocked the first 50 miles in 5:58, which was his target, then took the lead around the 100K mark.
“I felt really controlled, really good at that point,” he recalls. “I really challenged myself in the last 15 to 20 miles, just kind of on and off the gas pedal, focusing on moving as quickly as possible. High cadence, focusing on nutrition for a mile or two, back into a really high cadence and really challenging myself and pushing and I mean it went great man, wire to wire.”
But during the race, Reagan doesn’t even think about his positioning until well after the midway point. Until then he pays attention to perceived exertion and a pace that feels sustainable for 100 miles.
“I'm just kind of ignoring the competition and I find that really helps me a lot,” he says. “That was sort the strategy I implemented for this event. I was thinking of it more as a championship race. I didn't particularly have time goals leading into the event. I just wanted to have a smooth day out there that and end up healthy at the end of it.”
The warmer, the better
Scrolling through the list of the top ultra runners of the year, one will find hometowns of Flagstaff, Ariz., cities in Colorado and other ultra runner hot spots. And then there is Savannah, Ga., where Ultra Runner of the Year Number 4 Reagan lives.
“Training and running in Savannah help my skillset training — the warmer it is, the better for me as opposed to the rest of the field,” he says.
Still, Savannah sits at 49 feet — a far cry from the mountains in Arizona, Colorado and elsewhere that sit at 5,000 feet and higher. For these types of races, Reagan — who does most of his training on roads — gets creative. He wears a weighted vest to strengthen his quadriceps and also does specific work on the treadmill.
“I do a lot of power hiking on the treadmill when I get closer to events like Western States,” he says, adding that if he were to take on “an event at UTMB, I'd be doing a whole lot of hiking on a 15 to 20 percent grade.”
UTMB, of course, can wait. In fact, it was Reagan’s plan to double up on the Javelina training. He had looked at running two 100s fairly close together to take advantage of being in top condition.
“it’s getting a little more bang for your buck out of the training for the first 100,” he says. “Just sort of recovering, stabilizing, getting the body in a good position to run another one and it couldn't have gone much better.”
Our conversation turns to diet as Reagan continues to chop vegetables. Those on the cutting board represent a small part of the 20 pounds of veggies delivered weekly to the Reagan home.
“We try to get in a pretty heavy plant-based diet; that's where we start,” he says. “From there, I don't particularly eliminate anything, I'm not a vegetarian. My wife's a vegetarian; she also doesn't do dairy. So some meals are close to vegan for me, but I'm no stranger to having a hamburger, or I eat a whole lot of fish. I'm not a pescatarian, but fish is my primary source of protein.”
Reagan will eat alternative meats and non-dairy milk — oat milk is his favorite. The only thing he has eliminated is refined sugar. “I don't add sugar to anything. I eat enough sugar in races,” he says. “I don't eat fast food or anything, but I have a pretty well rounded diet in general.”
Partners in podcasting
Reagan and his friend, Mike Nadeau, launched the Tortoise and The Hare podcast in November. Their guests include elite athletes and everyday runners, similar to the hosts and their running backgrounds.
“We were fortunate enough to line up some really good guests, friends of mine, friends of his, from many different backgrounds,” Reagan explains. “That's been a really fun adventure for me and him to do something together. We don't particularly get to run together a lot. He's an ultra runner too, but we kind of run in a different spot in the race. Mike's focusing on completing ultras, and I'm kind of focusing on, running for the podium.”
Looking ahead, they are planning on expanding to include guests who are experts in nutrition or runners who have overcome obstacles such as injuries. “It’s been really fun for us to talk to people from all different walks of life.”
And that’s the majority of the ultra community. Runners who hold down full-time jobs, balance family and running commitments, and answer the early alarm clock at zero dark thirty. These mid-packers don’t live in Durango, Flagstaff or even Auburn. They train at minimal elevation and dream of conquering races that take place at 10,000 feet.
Reagan understands the challenges of such training. His coach, Magdalena Boulet, prepares him with training plans that suit his geographic home but prepare him for his epic conquests. They focus on long-term, metabolic efficiency adaptations to climbing.
‘If you want to climb, well, you need to practice climbing,” he says. “So, you become more efficient at climbing faster or hiking if you do it on a regular basis and you get it long-term habit out of patience. If you live in a flatter place, focus a lot on your strength training. I institute a weight vest where I do a lot of work with that to develop the strength in my quads, my glutes, my hamstrings in ways that, flatter terrain doesn't naturally set me up to perform on courses like that.”
And, at the end of the day, part of the goal of training is to develop the confidence necessary to succeed, however that is defined by the runner.
“You have to find what works for you and what makes you confident,” he says. “Quite an important part of ultra running is being confident in the program that you just engaged in leading into your race. That's probably my best advice — find those apparatuses that will help you to perform better on race day.”
Name: Patrick Reagan
Hometown: Savannah, Ga. (Born in Masontown, Pa.)
Number of years running: 18
How many miles a week do you typically run: 85 to 110
Point of pride: USATF 100-Mile Trail national champion, three-time Javelina Jundred champion, third at 2016 IAU 100K World Championship.
Favorite race distance: 100 miles
Favorite pre-race or training food/drink: GU Stroopwafel, Banana, Coconut Water, Oats, Almond Butter
Favorite piece of gear: HOKA ONE ONE Challenger
Favorite or inspirational song to run to: I don’t run with music
Favorite or inspirational mantra/phrase: Keep running, keep eating
Where can other runners connect or follow you: