Catching Up With Amy and Brian Rusiecki

Catching up with ultrarunners Amy and Brian Rusiecki.

By on September 21, 2020 | Comments

Amy and Brian Rusiecki are four stages behind on this year’s Tour de France, but the finish is no less climactic. We push our call back 15 minutes so they can catch the sprint. Amy’s nursing a bottle of Whoopie Pie Stout from a brewery in York, Maine, and Brian’s sipping a glass of white wine. “It’s a weekend thing,” Brian says of the Saturday-night relaxers. Brian’s been working some hot-button issues at work that I want to hear about, but he still has an eye to the TV and so he lets Amy answer first.

“I work for the municipality, Amherst, Massachusetts,” she starts generally. Officially she’s the Assistant Superintendent of Public Works for the town of 38,000. “I’m a civil environmental engineer, a background in wastewater treatment, but it’s mostly operations, logistics that I do now,” and then she starts to nail it down. “Logistics for the Department of Public Works–highways, cemeteries, parks, wastewater.” It’s challenging times, but Rusiecki throws a virtual fist bump to her cohorts around the world. “Shout out to public works. Nobody questions the need for fire and police, but everyone else–the roads, we take care of the potholes to make the roads safe, we give you drinking water.” She keeps going with more examples, but I interrupt with another question. “I worked from home three days because I had so many frickin’ Zoom meetings, otherwise I’ve been in the office the whole time.” Projects are central to her work, and she proudly champions a few recent successes. “Just last week we finished a spray park. There are sensors in the ground and water sprays out, we’d been working on it for three years. We’ve got a new playground downtown, and we’re working on a dog park at the old landfill.” Playgrounds aren’t what they used to be, for our generation. “You can’t have anything that hair could get stuck in,” Amy said of the past decade-plus of innovation.

Amy and Brian Rusiecki (center and right) after winning the 2015 Grindstone 100 Mile with race director Clark Zealand. Photo: eco-x sports

Historically, the couple races often. An outdated blog calls them the Running Rusieckis. Brian’s UltraSignup page shows he raced at least 10 times in 2019, including three times in September alone, and Amy totaled at least nine races in 2018. Her 2019 race volume was reduced by a weekly graduate certificate program tied to her work, limiting her ability to travel to trail-race-heavy Virginia for the weekend. But what’s a couple that thrives on racing do in a time when there isn’t racing? “We did two,” Brian interjects proudly but with some sarcasm, but otherwise, they’ve managed and responded to that race absence differently.

“We did the Bel Monte Endurance Runs the day before the world ended [as the COVID-19 pandemic began]. Everything shifted in that one day,” Amy remembered.

Brian jumps back in. “When it first happened, I thought it’d be over over soon. I kept doing the same things, grinding it out, going for four or five hours on the weekend, but after a while, I lost motivation. I’m not into fastest known times or virtual races. I need a real race,” Brian said. “I’m still running, but not at the same level. It’s like I turned my brain off from running hard.” Brian keeps going. “It started really getting hot in July, wicked hot. There was a May snow, but then the heat didn’t let up for three months. It’s not worth it to train intensely in that. I’m mixing in cycling–I did that before running. I enjoy cycling a little more than running when it’s 80 degrees [Fahrenheit] and 100% humidity. I still grind it out, I enjoy getting out, but I’m just not going to put myself through the yucky part.” And it’s not just the weather that Brian sometimes finds yucky. “We’ve got these horseflies here.”

Amy’s further along though. “I’m trying to get as much inspiration as I can from what’s available. It started when a local guy threw out a challenge. Mount Toby, it’s a local place, but you were supposed to connect a few locations and get back to the start by any route you want. There’s a new challenge each month, I like that. And there was Tower to Tower, a virtual race across Massachusetts. I do some of them to support a friend, or to challenge others, a way to connect. The Vermont 100 Mile weekend, I ran 100 miles. I love race directing, but it was nice to do that, just from my house, laps around the neighborhood. All at once a bunch of friends joined and it was a little reminiscent of a 100 miler.” She pauses at first on her time, answering, “24-ish hours. I took a shower mid-run.” Brian explains that the weather was hot and humid, “It was a gross day.”

Amy calls out one more unique adventure. “I did a virtual race of the Long Trail. You had to run the miles and the elevation, 272 miles and 65,370 feet of climbing. I just finished that. I was hiking a local mountain before work trying to get the mileage and elevation gain to converge on the same day.” Talk about a logistics challenge, for a logistics wizard, I think. “It’s all fun, but it’s not the same as racing.”

Brian running the Vermont 100 Mile. Photo: Vermont 100 Mile

She reminds Brian that he did join in one such contest too, a sweat challenge. “I’m one of those guys that people ask ‘did you go swimming’ when I’m done running. You don’t have that in Colorado,” Brian starts. The challenge was to see who could lose the most weight in one hour. The couple recognizes that it wasn’t particularly wise, but it was still fun. Amy interrupts, “He got schooled,” but Brian didn’t mind. “It really sucks to do, you’ve got to get a really hot day and gas it for an hour. I think the winner set a world record for weight loss in an hour.”

As a race director, Amy normally put on six races. “They’ve all been canceled so far,” she concedes, but she’s also a cross-country coach at the 745-person-enrollment Hampshire College. Programs have been paused and the coach role has shifted into that of a teacher for a Track and Trails class. “It’s kind of like a Montessori school at the college level,” Amy explained of the unique programming that the school’s known for. “You design your own major.” The class’s final exam was meant to be Amy’s 7 Sisters Trail Race, but the reboot’s likely to be a 40-mile relay instead. “I try to lead them to develop their own training plan, to leave no trace. I really enjoy it. I like to let the students lead the conversations,” professor Rusiecki explained. Racing’s been largely gone for much of 2020, but with so much going on, a lot around running, Amy and Brian are certainly still the Running Rusieckis.

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Amy (left) guiding runner Kyle Robidoux (center) with fellow guide Cassiah Sahn (right) at the Vermont 100 Mile. Photo: Vermont 100 Mile

Justin Mock

Justin Mock is the This Week In Running columnist for iRunFar. He’s been writing about running for 10 years. Based in Europe, Justin has run as fast as 2:29 for a road marathon and finished as high as fourth in the Pikes Peak Marathon.