Ladia Albertson-Junkans is a force — both in running and in life — and she’s bringing that energy to the 2022 Canyons by UTMB 100k. In this interview, Ladia talks about how the dream of running the Western States 100 again helped her through the challenges of her pregnancy, how running has evolved for her in her long career in sport, and how she’s planning to stay flexible and see what her racing day brings her this weekend.
Ladia Albertson-Junkans Pre-2022 Canyons by UTMB 100k Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar. I’m with Ladia Albertson-Junkans. It’s a couple of days before the 2022 Canyons by UTMB 100k. Hi.
Ladia Albertson-Junkans: Hi. Good to see you.
iRunFar: Likewise. It’s been quite a while.
Albertson-Junkans: It has, yeah.
iRunFar: You became a mom since I last saw you.
Albertson-Junkans: I did. Yes.
iRunFar: It’s not new news for you, though.
Albertson-Junkans: I don’t know. It actually always feels like new news. I look at him and I’m like, “Where did you come from?” Really though, it’s amazing.
iRunFar: Well, he’s … Let’s see … 16 months old?
iRunFar: And so, you’ve had some time to readjust to running again since having a baby and now coming back to competition?
Albertson-Junkans: Yeah. And I actually just want to thank you for phrasing it that way, saying “readjust to running.”
Albertson-Junkans: Because I hear a lot, “getting back to running” and that concept, which we hear that coming off of injury as well. But it’s just something that has stuck out to me in the way we talk about pregnancy and postpartum, and I think it’s really important to highlight that I never stopped running.
I mean, I certainly adjusted my running throughout my pregnancy, and there were long periods of time when maybe I didn’t run. But I didn’t stop being a runner, and I don’t feel like I’m back to anything because I don’t feel like I ever left. I really appreciate that you phrased it that way.
Albertson-Junkans: And I think that it’s important that we continue to expand the narrative and the way that we talk about running for women in particular and especially women when they go through pregnancy and postpartum. Because all those … The way we say things does matter, right? And we internalize those messages, so thank you for saying it that way.
iRunFar: I just think it’s really … Having a baby is one of the most difficult things your body can do in the course of its life. It has to change everything about your physicality.
Albertson-Junkans: Yeah, it does. And I think one thing I’ve been just so amazed by also is it has the capacity to change in the pregnancy, and the capacity to change after the pregnancy, and the capacity to continue changing, right? Because everyone’s body is continuing to change in some way. And certainly, certain times of life it’s more noticeable than others. But I’m just amazed by the human body.
iRunFar: It is just an amazing entity.
Albertson-Junkans: It is, yeah. And I mean, I think a lot of us see that in our ultrarunning too, right? And I mean, it’s amazing that a human body can move itself for 20 miles, 30 miles, 60 miles, 100 miles at a time, more or less.
iRunFar: About 59 miles uphill this weekend?
Albertson-Junkans: Yeah. That too. Hopefully, we’re hoping the body can do that.
iRunFar: Please, body.
iRunFar: So, let’s talk about what brought you back to this region of the world. We’ve seen you race the Western States 100 course going the other direction, that’s what we’ll do on Saturday.
Albertson-Junkans: Yes. And I’ve also run the Way Too Cool 50k.
iRunFar: You have, yes.
Albertson-Junkans: Not far from here, and on some of the same trail, and I love that course. I had such a blast there. I did that, I think that was 2018.
Albertson-Junkans: Just had such a great time and loved being in this region. I mean, it’s so gorgeous, and you’re right, I did Western States in 2019, and that was such a magical and really transformative experience for me. And it was a different kind of experience than more of, “Let’s see how hard and fast I can run and what I’m capable of at that 100-mile distance.” I loved the experience I had and I wouldn’t change anything about it, and I also want to try to have a different experience another time around.
Interestingly, midway through my pregnancy, when I was not running very much, I was doing a lot of walk-jogging and really just trying to embrace my body as it was in the moment, and respect it, and honor it. And running was feeling really difficult, and for whatever reason, I just started dreaming about, well, running at Western States and then winning Western States.
And I laughed at myself because it’s like, “Ladia, you’re not even running minutes at a time at this point,” right? And it’s so uncomfortable and so hard, and I was like, “You know what, that’s a lot like my experience at Western States.”
iRunFar: I was going to say, running a few minutes at a time sounds like ultrarunning.
Albertson-Junkans: Yes. Exactly. So, it’s not that different. So maybe it’s not that weird to think that’s possible, maybe someday I can win it. And it’s not even about winning it; it’s more the act of honoring the fact that I do think anything is possible and just being open and embracing of the excitement that can come with not putting limits on yourself.
So I was like, “Hey, this is a fun dream to have right now. It’s helping me get through a really difficult part of my pregnancy, so I’m going to hang on to that as long as it feels good and right.” It was like a fun thing to think about when I was deep in the pregnancy phase of life.
iRunFar: I love that.
Albertson-Junkans: Yeah. And so when registration opened, I had actually set my alarm because I know this race fills up really fast, and I set it for midnight, whatever day it was in December, November, and got registered, and there were already quite a few people who had already registered.
iRunFar: How were all of you online?
Albertson-Junkans: Well, and I was texting with one of my friends, Becca, because she did it too, and I was like, “I see you. You’re up right now.” I don’t know. It was like, I wanted to give myself the opportunity. And one thing I’ve been really mindful of in my postpartum running is, again, just continuing to honor my body as it is in the moment.
And there’s so much changing all the time, which means, maybe in this moment, I don’t feel comfortable running 10 miles. But that doesn’t say a week from now, or a month from now, or two months from now, I don’t feel great running 10 miles. And so it was like leaving that possibility open that I would feel ready for 100 kilometers in … What is it? End of April, now.
Albertson-Junkans: Sixteen months postpartum.
iRunFar: And five months after that midnight day.
Albertson-Junkans: Yeah. And at that point, I was not ready for 100k at all. I wasn’t ready for 50k yet, either. But again, I just wanted to give myself the possibility, the option. And I’m also really privileged that I can afford a race entry and potentially not show up at the start line. And I want to acknowledge that because I think there are a lot of women out there where that’s a real barrier. And honestly, that’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about because I was registered for five races last year.
Part of that was a carry-over from COVID-19, and again, leaving the opportunities open postpartum, not knowing necessarily what I was ready for yet. But I only made it to the start line of two of those five races. And most of the reasons I didn’t make the other ones were directly related to parenthood and also just postpartum body and where I felt like I was in my running. But it’s like, you don’t know, and you have to sign up for these things so far in advance.
iRunFar: And you’re right, it is a privilege to feel like, economically, that you can take up that space, and who knows what’s going to happen.
Albertson-Junkans: Right. Yeah. Anyway. So I’ve just been thinking like, “How could we help support other people who want to be able to sign up for a race that is six months down the line?” But financially, it’s a big commitment, right? Anyway, that’s just sort of an aside.
iRunFar: I see a project for somebody, maybe.
Albertson-Junkans: Yeah. Yes. I forgot what your question even was.
iRunFar: It was just the choice to be here.
iRunFar: Yeah. To dream big and to look towards an opportunity to find the best version of yourself on a day, sometime in the future.
Albertson-Junkans: Yeah. Exactly. And I’m so glad that I did sign up because I do feel ready to try 100k. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but also if any of us are honest, we never know what’s going to happen when you …
iRunFar: And that’s why we do ultrarunning.
Albertson-Junkans: Exactly. But I feel how I would feel going into 100k at any point, right? And that’s just really empowering, and so I’m glad I gave myself the chance to be here.
iRunFar: Yeah. You have had quite a journey with running over your long career. When you look back out in the collegiate version of yourself, and maybe the pre-mom version of yourself, and then the today version of yourself, do you see the different forms that this has taken for you?
Albertson-Junkans: Yeah. Definitely. I think the collegiate version of myself was much more wrapped up in trying to be perfect, and my self-worth was really wrapped up in my results. And I think it would be surprising to people to hear that I had low self-esteem, but I didn’t value myself. And so running was the way I tried to add value, but that’s obviously not how self-worth works. You can’t get it from external things, and I tried really hard, and it made me miserable, and it also …
iRunFar: But we were just kids. You were just a kid.
Albertson-Junkans: Exactly. No, I have a lot of compassion for my younger self and I have a lot of compassion for anyone who’s in the throes of that right now, and has been themselves, and I think most of us have some point in our lives. And so, it’s a very common experience to have, especially I think at that age, and in the college setting, and probably exacerbated a bit by the collegiate athletic experience. And thankfully, I think I’ve evolved.
iRunFar: You have.
Albertson-Junkans: Thank you. Appreciate that. I don’t know. The thing about the perfectionism was that it really took a lot of the joy away from running, and I had this intrinsic joy and love of running. That’s what got me into it, that’s what kept me into it, and that’s why I’m still in it. And I’m just so grateful that I’m in a place in my life where the joy really overpowers everything else.
There’s still nerves that come with it, there’s still times when I wonder if people have expectations for me, I have expectations for myself. All of that is part of being human, right? But it’s just extraordinary to be in a place where the joy feels really front and center, and also feels like the thing that’s pulling me onto the trail, and to keep doing it. Because it is hard to do, anytime in life, and I think especially when you’re caregiving.
iRunFar: Well, you segued yourself to my last question for you. I’ve only had the privilege of knowing you for about four years now, but one of the things that I see in you is that there’s this just white-hot energy inside of you that just goes out. You direct it out to the people around you. You have so much energy to give to the people who are surrounding you. Where does that come from and where can the rest of us get some?
Albertson-Junkans: Oh, thank you. That’s really sweet of you to say. I feel a little emotional, and the sun is coming out.
iRunFar: This is amazing.
Albertson-Junkans: So, white-hot energy is coming out of the sky.
iRunFar: It’s you.
Albertson-Junkans: Well, maybe that’s where I get it.
iRunFar: No, really, you are so infectious. You seem to have so much energy to give. Where do you create it? Where does it come from?
Albertson-Junkans: I honestly think it comes from the people around me.
iRunFar: Do you think?
Albertson-Junkans: Yeah, I do. I get energy from other people and I don’t know, just like the love and the support. Even what I feel right now, being here with you, it just gives me energy and gives me joy. And I think maybe that joy is the energy that you’re talking about a little bit. But thank you for saying that. I mean, that’s just such a lovely thing to say. Thank you.
iRunFar: Yeah. This interview was very little about running and a lot about life, but I feel like I’ve interviewed you a couple of times and that’s how they all have gone.
Albertson-Junkans: Yeah. Guilty of that. Sorry.
iRunFar: It’s great.
iRunFar: Running is the thing that connects us, right? It’s just one thing that brings humans together.
Albertson-Junkans: Yeah. For sure.
iRunFar: So good luck to you in that running thing that you’re here to do this weekend, and I hope you find the best version of yourself on Saturday.
Albertson-Junkans: I hope so too, and I think all of us will, because we’ll be out there doing it together and … Can I give you a hug?
iRunFar: Oh, of course.
Albertson-Junkans: Thank you.
iRunFar: All right.
Albertson-Junkans: This was awesome.
iRunFar: Good luck to you, lady.
Albertson-Junkans: Thank you so much. Thank you.
iRunFar: That was fun.