Keene State Alum Ferenc to compete in World Marathon Running Challenge on Sunday
KEENE, N.H. 9/7/12 – Things have literally been looking up for Josh Ferenc since he left Keene State College. Used to tackling an occasional challenging hill while racing for the Owl cross country team, the 2004 KSC grad has graduated to more steep terrain these days and will face one of the biggest challenges of his running career on Sunday, when he competes in the World Mountain Running Association (WMRA) Marathon Challenge in Interlaken, Switzerland.
“I always loved cross country because you’re outside on the trails, and I like to be in the woods and the mountains,” said Ferenc. “I’m going to Switzerland to run up the Alps. You can’t get much prettier than that, but you also can’t get much harder than that.”
Not your typical run in the park, the 20th anniversary of this world-renowned event, hosted by the Jungfrau Marathon, features a 42 km (26.1 miles) course that climbs to 2,200 meters over terrain that includes wide and narrow trails and steep mountain paths.
Originally from Westmoreland, N.H., and now living in Chester, Vt., the 29-year-old Ferenc earned a spot on the five-man United States team, which was selected based on running results. Ferenc, who is a member of the Boston Athletic Association, has impressive credentials. He finished fifth at the 2012 USA 50km Road Championships and was second in the same race in 2011. In 2004, Ferenc was on the U.S. Mountain Running Team.
The team also includes Sage Canaday of Boulder, Co., who won the 2012 Mount Washington Road Race (which also served as the U.S. Mountain Running championship) by two minutes in his first attempt at the race.
An All-American cross country and track runner at Keene State, Ferenc was undecided as to which trail to take after graduation. After coming up short in his bid to qualify for the U.S. track championships, he took the advice of KSC coach Peter Thomas and hit the mountain running circuit.
“Josh always did real well on our hill workouts,” said Thomas. “When he didn’t make it with track, I encouraged him to give mountain running a go.”
Ferenc concurred with his coach. “I think my versatility helped me make the transition,” he said. “I could do the 10K, the steeplechase, or almost anything for Pete. But I excelled at the distance races and the hard cross country races.”
Accepting the new challenge with the same ferocity he displayed at KSC, Ferenc, at the age of 22, became the youngest runner ever chosen to the U.S. Mountain Running team. “I was very strong and very fast,” he said. “Put those two together, put a mountain in front of me, and I’ll get up that mountain.”
Ferenc, who also runs an occasional marathon, has competed all over the country as well as abroad in Italy and the Netherlands. He finished 21st at Mount Washington in June and won the 4.3-mile Mount Mansfield Road Race in August.
“I’m not surprised how well Josh is doing,” said Thomas. “He’s a tough kid who focuses well and that’s what you need to do when you’re mountain racing. It’s challenging, but plays to his strength.”
Ferenc began preparing for the World Mountain Running Challenge over the summer. “Every single run served a purpose to prepare for Switzerland,” said Ferenc, who averaged 120 miles a week alternating between hill and road workouts.
Josh says the higher attitude isn’t a problem. “I’m pretty tough mentally, so I tell myself I’m not going to be affected by the air,” he said. “It’s mind over matter. If I’m not thinking about it – it’s not going to matter.”
Ferenc, who teaches middle school in Saxtons River, said he has to run a smart race. “It’s a fine balance. You can’t go out too fast or too slow,” he said. “I need to be comfortable until I get to the mountain. Then I hit the accelerator and just go. You have to grind with every fiber you have left.”
Can Ferenc and the U.S. return home with a medal? “That’s what the goal is,” he said. “They wanted to pick a team that would have the best chance of getting the best results. I realize how very fortunate I am to be chosen and don’t want to let my team down.”