Adam Peterman returning from injury
(Photo by Western States)
By Henry Howard
As quickly as Adam Peterman burst onto the trail and ultra running scene, he vanished due to a serious injury that has kept him sidelined for almost this entire year.
But now, after surgery and recovering by walking then cycling, Peterman has begun running again and has his eyes on a return to Western States via a Golden Ticket.
Peterman found running as a fourth-grader when his mom signed him up for a 5K in Missoula, Mont. “I wasn't a very athletic kid, and I struggled to find a sport or activity that I really liked and that got me excited. But I was excited to train for that 5K.”
That race led him to middle school and high school cross-country and track before running for the University of Colorado in Boulder and eventually taking on ultra marathons.
In this exclusive interview, Peterman talks about his entry into running, impressive series of victories in 2021-22, the subsequent injury and his plans for 2024. This Q&A has been edited for clarity and brevity. (If you like stories like this, subscribe to my #MondayMotivation newsletter at RunSpirited.com and never miss one.)
Adam Peterman injury then recovery
Question: Once you found your passion for running, did you find early success or was it more just the camaraderie that kept you coming back?
Answer: I don't think I had much success early on. I just made some good friends on the team and liked it so much more than other sports. In seventh grade, I actually started having success and won my city cross-country meet. That was really cool. I loved it. It was super fun to actually start getting good at a sport.
Question: How did you transition then up through high school and then at college?
Answer: I was really lucky because we had a great cross country team in high school. They'd consistently been one of the top teams in the state. We had really good coaches who were super committed to being there every day. After a few years, I was one of the best kids in the state. Cross country was what I cared about the most, and where I chose to go to college was completely based on running. I ended up getting pretty good. I won state in the 3200 my senior year and was a sub-nine minute two-miler. But it took a long time. I was really committed and super focused, but I loved it.
Question: Tell me about running at UC-Boulder.
Answer: I feel like being there, under Coach Wetmore, was kind of a dream come true. I don't know if you've read the book, Running with the Buffaloes, but it's an account of one of the seasons Colorado had as a cross country team. It recounts every day of the season. But I remember reading that in high school and then being inspired to try to make it to University of Colorado. And, you know, it was great. I loved running on the team. It was quite a bit different than high school, just a different coaching style and just a lot more intense, which for better or for worse makes you a really, really good runner.
I had a great few years there. I did deal with some injuries at the tail end of my career, which was a bummer. It made me feel like I didn't reach my potential athletically in college. But now that I'm five years after that, I don't think I would've run trails if I hadn't gotten injured in college. I think getting hurt at the end of college made me hungry to keep trying to be an athlete. I wanted to try something else. When I was healthy running for Colorado, it was super fun. And when you're fit and running with a group of guys like that, it's pretty cool. But getting injured was tough, for sure.
(Photo by Bryon Powell of iRunfar.com)
Question: I like what you said about the positive part of those injuries, leading you to the trails. What was it about the longer trail races that really inspired you to not only stay on the trails but see what you could do at longer distances?
Answer: I honestly felt the same way. When I started running trails, I finished up with college, moved back to Missoula, and I didn't have any ambitions athletically anymore. I just liked being outside. I liked bagging peaks and riding my mountain bike and stuff like that. It just so happened that all these new people I met after college in Missoula were trail runners. I just ran with them and was probably influenced by the Missoula running community. They all did trail running and ultras.
The first trail race I actually ran and trained for and tried my best at was the Moab Trail Marathon. I guess that's what I gravitated toward at first, the marathon distance, and then it just took me. And suddenly I was doing a 50K, and then a 50 mile, and then a 100K, and a 100 mile, all within a year. I didn't expect it to happen. I honestly didn't think I'd be able to run that far without some old injury popping up from college or something, but it was fine. I felt the same way when I started running trails. I thought I was going to run no further than the trail marathon, but once you get out there and do the ultras, it's just unbelievable.
Question: You won your first 50K (Speedgoat by UTMB), 50-miler (JFK), 100K (The Canyons by UTMB) and 100-miler (Western States) in less than a year. Tell me about what you think led to that breakout.
Answer: It was crazy. Honestly I didn't expect to have success immediately. I started trail running in 2019 and then COVID happened and there weren't really any races in 2020 that I could do. Being in Missoula, I had a whole year where I got to be on the trails and get better at it. I think between 2019 and 2021, I realized I could be a really good runner on the trails. Where I live in Missoula, Montana, there's a mountain in town, called Mount Sentinel. It has a hill climb that's kind of an iconic race around here, running to the top of Mount Sentinel. It's a mile and a half and it gains 2,000 feet in that time. The guy who had the Fastest Known Time was Jim Walmsley, in 19:45 or something. In 2019, I decided to try to run up Sentinel as fast as I could, and I ended up beating his time by a minute. When that happened, I realized that I might have potential to be good at trail running.
I know it's just a hill climb, but I feel like early on that gave me some confidence that maybe I can do well at trail running. I started training with some sponsored trail runners in Missoula, and I felt like I was doing better than them on training runs. I felt like I had a lot of confidence going into the races, but looking back, it still surprises me that I was able to win all of them thus far. We'll see if I can keep the ball going.
Question: Let's talk a little bit about your setback now. Your injury, if I remember right, was a sacral stress fracture?
Answer: The sacrum is just like the very base of your spine, kind of where it becomes your pelvis, as well. I got a sacral stress fracture in May.
Question: Was it related to a repetitive stress injury from all the pounding that area takes when running? Or something else?
Answer: Yeah, it's funny. It is a really unusual injury, except you see it in distance runners. It's almost always related to overtraining and oftentimes, and unfortunately, you see it in people who may have a problem with running too much and not eating enough. That's why I was really surprised. I consider myself a garbage can because I eat so much.
Now that I've had a few months to talk to doctors and nutritionists and specialists, I think what happened was I was just doing too much leading into Western States. Specifically over the winter I got really into Nordic skiing, and I was doing a ton from December up until March, and not a whole lot of running. I was intentionally just skiing to have an off-season from running. Looking at some data now, it looks like Nordic skiing is a very calorically intensive sport, because you're using not only your legs, but also your arms and upper body. I was training the same hours per week I do running, but put it on the skis, and I think I just wasn't getting enough calories. When I finally did start running again in February and March, I immediately started having problems. I was not running as much as I was hoping, so I was biking to get my hours higher. So, I think I did too much cross training, put myself in a caloric debt, day in and day out, and that’s what led to this injury.
Question: Do you think going forward you learned more from that setback, or from that string of victories you had?
Answer: It's probably both. I feel like people say they always learn more from failure but I don't know. They're all a really unique experience. I wouldn't say those victories came easily. I had to work really hard during those races to win. It didn't just come effortlessly. I feel like I've had my fair share of running injuries in college and stuff, but I would say now going forward training, there are some things I need to change, especially surrounding nutrition, as well as incorporating a few more rest days. I'm definitely going to change some things going forward, and hopefully it leads to a healthier and more consistent version of myself. But it was surprising. I hadn't been injured in four years, and I'd never had an injury like this. It's hitting the hard reset button. I'm just really hopeful that I'm able to be back out there and doing it again soon.
Question: On your Instagram you wrote about aiming to get back to running in September after some hiking and cycling. Are you back to running a little bit now?
Answer: Yes, I started three weeks ago. I haven't shared anything on Instagram yet, but I probably will soon. (Note: he posted this short IG video of a run the day after we chatted.) I just wanted to make sure the runs went OK before I got all excited. But, it's been good. I've been running Monday, Wednesday, Friday. I just do run-walks, and progressively they're getting to be more and more running and less and less walking. So, yesterday was great. I did a three by 12-minute run with just a three-minute walk in between. It's improving. I have not had any pain in my sacrum probably since mid-August, or not even any sensation. It's doing really well. And then on the days that I don't run, I go for a hike with a pretty heavy pack for about two hours. I do these loaded hikes. It's been good.
Question: It sounds like patience is the name of the game for you.
Answer: Oh yeah, totally, and I'm pretty lucky. It requires a lot of patience because it's just so slow compared to what I'm used to.
Question: That all sounds awesome. So, I have to ask this. It's Oct. 10, winter's coming soon to Montana, are you going to be skiing again?
Answer: You know, I will. But I don't think I will even do half of what I did last year. I'll definitely be skiing, but I think it's just going to be a lot less than what I did last year. I usually do a hybrid, some ski mountaineering stuff and a little bit of Nordic skiing and then a little bit of running. I don't know what it was about last year, but I got so into Nordic skiing, and I did very little skimo and I did very little running, and was just skiing 50k skis like every other day. I'll just continue this running progression, and then I'll go skiing with my friends and maybe do some fun skimo adventures. But I think Nordic skiing is something I need to be a little more careful with because I just didn't realize how much you have to eat to be a Nordic skier. It's crazy.
(Photo by Andy Cochrane)
Question: What was that first run back like?
Answer: Oh, it was weird. I was just doing a five by two minute run, with a three-minute break in between. You know, it was pretty funny. The night before I was supposed to do it, I hadn't really run at all. I'd just been doing these hikes. I actually went to the gym and wanted to test this out. So I hopped on the treadmill and ran for a minute just to make sure everything was OK. And it was fine. So when I did five by two minutes I thought that my sacrum doesn't hurt running, so we'll be good to go. It was weird. I've intentionally gained about 20 pounds of muscle to try to recover faster. That's what I was told to do. So that first run back I felt massive, I felt bulky. But obviously by the third run back, that went away. I think it was all just in my head because my body composition is exactly the same today as it was a month ago. But the first run back, I was like, man, I feel like a football player or something out here.
Question: That's great to hear. What do you think you've learned most about yourself throughout this whole process?
Answer: I guess two things. I feel like I am a very competitive person, but I realize it's not the competition necessarily that drives me. It's definitely a partial thing, but I felt like what I missed the most this summer was not being able to do these runs and be outside like normal. I missed just doing runs up high or in town with my friends. Of course I've missed not being able to race Western States or try to do CCC like I had planned, but I think it reiterated to me that what I really enjoy is being out there. And competing is a huge part of it. But, I don't know. I just miss being able to go outside and do stuff the most. I think what was really nice was, because I still went to Western States this year and I got to do some stuff for Hoka and watch the race, but I got to run into a lot of people who I competed against last year and everyone was so nice. That was probably the hardest time for me because I just felt like I wasn't recovering very quickly from the injury, and it kind of seemed to me at that point I was worried I wouldn't come back and be able to run again. I don't know why, it was just the headspace I was in. But all sorts of athletes who I'd raced against and who were my competitors were like, oh dude you got this, like I had this back in the day, or, I know someone who had this, and everyone just so supportive, especially the time when I think I needed it the most, and that was super cool.
Question: It’s so awesome that you are back to running. Are there any races you've got your eyes on at this point, or are you kind of waiting to build up a little bit more first before picking something out?
Answer: Ideally, I am kind of looking at maybe just doing a fun 50K in February or March just to test things out. I love going down to Moab, so maybe I would try to do Behind the Rocks 50K, which is in February. But we'll see. I feel like everything's been going really well with the runs. I think something like that would likely be my first race back. But, oh man, I really want to go back to Western States again. So I would probably be looking at running the Canyons 100K, if everything goes well.
Name: Adam Peterman
Hometown: Missoula, Mont.
Number of years running: 15
How many miles a week do you typically run: “At full volume, it would be around 100. I probably average 70 to 75 miles per week for the year.”
Point of pride: “Not giving up on running after college athletics.”
Favorite race distance: 100K
Favorite pre-race or training food/drink: Coffee and a pop tart .
Favorite piece of gear: Hoka Tecton X2s, currently.
Who inspires you: Patrick Mahomes
Favorite or inspirational mantra/phrase: “Keep going.”
Where can other runners connect or follow you: @adampeterman_ on Instagram.