When Ben and Rachel Bucklin host backyard movie nights, the films aren’t your average blockbusters. Rather, friends and neighbors come to the couple’s home in Spokane, Washington, to enjoy epic trail-running movies like Unbreakable and Desert Runners, and, instead of Pixar movies, the Bucklin’s three sons, aged 13, 11 and 7, are catching The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young.
In the past few years, both Bucklins have steadily earned significant podium finishes at tough trail races. Rachel took second at the 2015 Rio Del Lago 100-Mile Endurance Run in the Sierra Nevada foothills, in a time of 20:42. Through 2016, she finished in the front group at three other trail races, and capped the summer season with her first Hardrock 100 buckle.
Meanwhile, Ben burned up the course at the 2015 San Diego 100-Mile Endurance Run, in 17:44 for second place. In 2016, he took first at the Sun Mountain 50-miler in Washington, and missed breaking 18 hours at California’s Western States 100 by just nine seconds. Two months after Western States, he placed fourth at the Cascade Crest 100-Mile Endurance Run in 20:22.
“The Bucklins have certainly put Spokane on the trail-running radar,” says Dave Dutro, the founder and race director for the Trail Maniacs. “Not only are they incredible athletes, they are kind and humble people.”
Spokane’s motto is “Near Nature Near Perfect,” and the Bucklins are blessed with multiple trails within 10 minutes of their home. Although they crew and pace each other at races, they don’t train together much due to work, children and different training schedules.
Ben, 38, frequently trains with the Spokane Distance Project. He’s a Strava addict and a beer snob, and he’s always willing to laugh at himself. On long technical descents during races, Ben has a habit of dropping his pacers. Even with fresh legs, few people can keep up with him on the downhill.
Rachel, also 38, trains with the Spokane Swifts, and also keeps track of her mileage, but not to the same degree as Ben. She greets everyone with a big smile, and rarely posts anything about her own running on Facebook. She’s a mom first, and loves sharing family photos and commenting about her boys’ milestones.
Rachel says, “Obviously, I wish I was faster. Who doesn’t? But I’d rather run slower, long and steady, and remain injury-free.”
Not long after they returned home from Cascade Crest, the Bucklin clan agreed to sit still long enough to answer a few questions.
How do you balance training and family time?
Rachel: It isn’t easy, but we are fortunate that we both work from home. [Both work as business-systems analysts for non-competing companies.]
It allows us to run at lunch guilt free.
The weekends get difficult with all three boys in sports, so we trade long-run days or race weekends. Sometimes we have to forgo a workout or run at crazy times to make the kids’ schedules work.
Ben: This winter and spring were especially tough, with me training for Western States and Rachel prepping for Hardrock. We make sure that each of us has the opportunity to get in at least one quality long run on the weekends. Sometimes that means you have to sacrifice your plans so your spouse can get her long run in.
What is your spouse’s greatest trail-running strength?
Ben: Rachel is an incredibly positive runner. I rarely see her get down, even when she’s struggling to keep moving forward. She’s got a smile on her face and is out there making new friends at every race.
Rachel: Ben’s greatest strength is his determination. He is also pretty quick on technical terrain.
Which one of you is the greater running fanatic?
Rachel: Definitely Ben. He reads way more than I do about races, elite runners, shoe reviews, training plans or anything he can get his hands on.
Ben: Every morning I’m on ultrarunnerpodcast.com and iRunFar, checking out the daily news and happenings in the MUT [mountain-ultra-trail] world.
What are your long-term trail-running ambitions?
Rachel: I want to keep running as long as I can by staying healthy. I am always looking to improve my times. Finishing Hardrock this year has made me want to sign up for more difficult races.
Ben: I love racing, but there’s so much burnout in the sport that I’m trying to focus more on just doing a couple of big races each year and being sharp at those.
Other than that, I want to spend more time exploring new trails in beautiful places.
How do you support each other during injury or after a poor race?
Ben: We’ve both gone through major injuries during the past few years. Those times are tough, but I just try to be positive and take a long-term outlook on things.
Rachel: Ben is much better about not being able to run than I am. When we are injured, it requires us to go to the gym to train and that takes more time away from the family, so we have to be more supportive of that extra time away. We also try to limit our talking about runs or races while the other is not running.
What do your young boys think about trail running?
Ben: All three boys enjoy trail running. The most difficult thing for us is to break them free of the electronic devices and get them out the door. Once we are out in nature and cruising on the trail, it’s usually pure joy. They’re definitely fans of long descents, and I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before we’ll be struggling to keep up.