DeNucci at the Gorge Waterfalls 100K. Photo by Luke Tamagna-Darr
On March 28, Chris DeNucci, 35, of Menlo Park, California, crossed the finish line of the competitive Gorge Waterfalls 100K a speedy second place, beating the old course record, and secured a spot at June’s high-profile Western States 100 (WS100).
A lot of people watching asked, justifiably, “Who?”
We’re glad you asked. Here’s what you should know about one of trail running’s newest rising stars.
1. He keeps fast company
A lot of people had the same reaction when Matt Laye, now 34, won the Rocky Raccoon 100-miler in February 2014, beating course-record holder Ian Sharman, among others.
Like Laye, who resides in Oakland, California, DeNucci (pronounced da-NOOCH-ee) is part of the fast-growing and star-studded Bay Area trail community. He says training alongside athletes like Alex Varner (third at The North Face [TNF] 50 San Francisco and seventh at WS100 in 2014), Dylan Bowman (fifth at TNF 50 and third at WS100 in 2014), Brett Rivers (ninth at WS100 in 2014) and Jorge Maravilla (seventh at TNF 50 in 2014 and second at New Zealand’s Tarawera 100K in February) has helped kick his own running into high gear.
“Running regularly with guys who finish in the top ten at big races really alters your perspective on what you can do,” says DeNucci. “You start out just trying to keep up with them, and if you’re able to, you can really pull from that and improve. We run hard and we push each other.”
2. His brain matches his brawn
DeNucci first moved to California to begin his residency in radiology at Stanford University; prior to that, he simultaneously completed medical school and a Ph.D. in immunology at the University of Minnesota.
His work focuses on musculoskeletal imaging. “MRIs, stuff like that,” he says. “I’m mostly looking at knees, shoulders and hips.”
At the moment, he says, he hopes to make a career out of sports medicine. “I’d like to get a fellowship in the Bay Area doing sports imaging,” he says. “Stanford has a really good connection with the 49ers, among other places, so that could be something I look at.”
3. His schedule is nuts – and he uses that to mold his training
Unsurprisingly, doing a medical residency at Stanford will keep you busy.
“I probably average 65 hours a week at work,” says DeNucci. “One day a week will be 7:00 a.m. until 11:00 p.m. or so, and the rest will be 7:00 to 5:00 or 6:00, plus some random weekend days of 7:00 till 11:00 p.m.”
As I talked with him, he was about to start his first-ever set of night calls – a week of six straight overnight shifts, which will happen once a month.
“My schedule definitely limits the amount of training I can do, and I’m completely limited to the free time I have,” he says. But, he adds, “That’s the same for everyone, isn’t it?”
He says the limited free time has probably helped keep him from overtraining or getting injured – always a risk when your hometown boasts perfect running weather year-round and a slew of fast training partners. It also means he can’t stick to a too-rigid training plan; he gets out when he can, even if that’s the middle of the night. “I’ve done long runs into midnight,” he says. “It’s certainly easier to do that here with the weather than in Minnesota.”
Once he’s out on a run, he says, if he feels good, that day will be a hard effort. If he doesn’t, the workout will have to wait. His workouts are more free-form than the highly-structured intervals he would use when he was training for marathons in years past; these days, they usually consist of a progression run where he runs harder and harder over several miles, or focuses on running hard downhills to strengthen his legs.
“I do a lot of my runs with Mario Fraioli, who’s a coach, so I’ll run a lot of things by him,” says DeNucci. “I go hard when I can, and I really use my non-running time, even the time at work, to recover.”
He also uses his time at work to practice power hiking, by taking the stairs.