I’m A Competitor: Brad Ludden

Brad Ludden used to hate running — especially in the morning — but now it plays a big role in his life. Photo: Trevor Brown

The whitewater kayaker shares his thoughts on running, how he got started in the sport, and his upcoming race schedule.

With more than 100 whitewater kayaking first descents to his credit, Brad Ludden could be content to ride the sponsor circuit wave. Instead, he merged his passion for outdoor adventure and volunteering at a pediatric oncology center to create First Descents, an organization providing free outdoor experiences to young adults battling cancer, helping them regain confidence, reclaim their lives and spend time with others doing the same.

When did you start running?

I’ve always used running for cross-training, but I haven’t always liked it. I went to a kayaking academy for high school and we had dryland training every morning at 5 a.m. — sprints, distance running, running while holding our breath — and I hated it. Running at 5 a.m. was the last thing I wanted to do as a teenager, plus as a kayaker, my leg strength was lacking and running was brutal. Eventually, though, it became meditative for me.

Now that you don’t have to, do you still run in the morning?

It’s my favorite time of day to run, but I’m not sure if it’s because that’s what I used to do for training, or if it’s just the time of day I like to be out there doing it. A morning run sets a healthy and positive tone for the rest of my day.

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What was your first running race?

It was a 10K in New Zealand when I was 16. I was there training with my team and our coach thought it would be hysterical to enter all of us in the race. We were used to paddling Class 5 rapids and competing at an international level, but doing that race was more nerve-wracking. Our upper bodies were overdeveloped and lower bodies underdeveloped. I’m certain everyone watching us was afraid we were going to tip over or was thinking, “these guys should be running on their hands!”

What is the running connection to First Descents?

Team First Descents is the largest fundraising arm for our organization. We have charity slots for the New York City Marathon and Boston Marathon that get snapped up instantly. It’s a great way for people to get in shape, raise money for a good cause and experience an amazing race culture.

What’s your next race?

Maybe a trail race. I love running for hours on the trails in the White River National Forest and the Holy Cross Wilderness Area near Vail. It’s incredibly meditative for me.

This piece first appeared in the May issue of Competitor magazine.

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