Interview with David Laney, 2015 UltraRunner of the Year

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At age 27 you are the youngest Ultrarunner of the Year ever, dating back to 1981, how does it feel to earn this distinction?

So many guys have had a great year, I was really surprised to be voted the UROY. I’m really thankful for all the people who have helped me this year and in years past. Without encouragement from friends and family I would have stopped running long ago.

What drew you to ultrarunning?

I have been a runner since I was very young and as long as I can remember I always had dreams of heading to the trails and running 100 miles. But I thought that would be after a lot of road running. In the end I just headed to the trails much sooner than originally planned. Living in Ashland and working at Rogue Valley Runners, taking inspiration and guidance from Hal Koerner, Erik Skaggs and others, was a huge influence in heading to the trails and doing ultras.

Why do you think ultrarunning is becoming more popular among younger and faster runners?

There used to be a perception that running 100 miles would ruin your body and you would not be able to run fast again, so people went to ultras after a road career. I think young people are also realizing that the ultra/trail community is something special and they really enjoy being a part of it.

How did your upbringing and family influence your running?

I always loved running and was brought up spending a lot of time in the outdoors. My dad ran marathons and would take me on pretty long backpacking trips when I was very young. I was really competitive and always wanted to be faster than my older siblings. From a young age I learned that there is a lot of freedom in the mountains. Ultrarunning is perfect for me, I get to spend a lot of time running in big mountains.

Is there a person who has been a role model or inspiration for you in pursuing ultras?

Sir Ernest Shackleton – he was an amazing leader and could weather any storm, literally and figuratively.

How does ultrarunning fit into your lifestyle and your daily life?

Right now training and racing is a major priority and I have been able to fit my life around running. I realize that isn’t something I will be able to do my whole life, but for the time being I am able to focus on running.

Do you have advice for other young runners getting into ultrarunning?

I’m not a patient person at all, but I think when it comes to ultrarunning you have to just chill. There are major ups and major downs in this sport, if you can’t take a deep breath and deal with a disappointment or injury it’s going to be a rough road. Talking to people who have been in the sport and being a part of your local ultra community is important for anyone getting into the sport.

When you look back on the year, what is your most satisfying memory?

Working at Steens Mountain Running Camp is always a highlight of the year. Steens is a wilderness running camp in Southeast Oregon for high school age runners. It is amazing helping young runners do things they never imagined they could do. One of the days amounts to about 50k of hiking and running, at the end of the day the kids are totally obliterated but it’s all they talk about for the rest of the week. I attended Steens as a high schooler and it made a huge impact on my life and on my running career. I love going there now and being able to help young runners have a great trail running experience.

In terms of your races, which one do you think was your best?

I think Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc was probably the best race of the year. I moved into my car after Western States and spent the next two months training in big mountains all over the West Coast. I think spending that big chunk of time alone in the mountains made me really ready for the challenges of UTMB.

What was key to your first time success over there?

I treated UTMB more like a battle than a footrace. I understood the attrition of UTMB and how important the last 35 miles was. I think that focus along with a really good summer of training resulted in a successful race. I think rolling with the punches is vital on the UTMB course, keeping within yourself the first 100k is key to a successful race.

What is the biggest difference in the ultra scene over there?

The fans in Europe are pretty amazing. The fans hike up to remote sections of the course and are so excited. At UTMB we ran through many towns at night and people were lining the streets, standing around bon fires yelling and cheering at 2 in the morning. The excitement makes the experience really unforgettable.

Ultrarunning feels really grass roots in The States, and it typically has a low-key and friendly feel. In Europe it’s much more structured and developed. I really enjoy both experiences and I think as trail running becomes more popular in the US, structure and development will follow. I just hope it is able to keep its old school vibe.

What was your lowest point during the year?

The weeks following UTMB were really challenging. The comedown from a marathon is really tough. For me the comedown from a 100 is harder than the race. Your body and mind are pretty destroyed, I guess it takes a while to get them back in balance.

Have you had any major injuries?

Yeah I’ve had everything in my running career. Getting better takes time but the biggest challenge is just knowing that eventually the injury will heal, and you will enjoy running again.

What does your peak training look like for an ultra?

About 120-130 miles, with 10-15k feet of climbing, and a couple of hard workouts per week.

What is your favorite training run/location of all time?

Ansel Adams Wilderness, followed closely by The Wallowas in North East Oregon, and The Enchantments in Washington.

Are there keys to your training that keep you healthy and injury-free?


I foam roll daily, and do some light stretching but the whole thing takes about 10 minutes total.

What does your nutrition look like?

I would say I eat pretty…Liberally. I eat a lot of fruits and vegetables but I also don’t shy away from the top of the food pyramid. Needless to say, I rarely go a day without ice cream. My diet is dictated much more by what is on sale at the grocery store than the latest diet fad.

What is your favorite ultra distance and race, thus far in your career?

100 Miles. The spectrum of experiences in 100 miles is unrivaled. You get to a place in 100 miles that you only get to if you run 100. Western States is my favorite race, with UTMB a close second. Western States is a race I have been dreaming about since I was a little kid so it holds a lot of weight for me.

What is your take on the FKT phenomenon?

I think it is awesome. There are so many iconic trails in the US, I can’t wait to join in the FKT fun. I like people but I also understand the appeal of doing something really challenging alone. Many of these trails are also in areas that don’t allow races, but are so amazing they need to be experienced on foot.

You also are super fast at the marathon and qualified for the Olympic Trials – how do you compare road marathons with trail ultras?

Road marathons are super precise, exact, and take a really strict training schedule. Trail ultras allow a lot more flexibility. While there are really tough workouts when training for an ultra you get to enjoy a lot more long days in the mountains.

What is the culture of shorter road running like compared to ultras?

Ultrarunning can be a harsh sport, so you take care of each other on the trails and in the mountains. I think you form a closer relationship with runners of all abilities having run the same trail, and experienced the same challenges. Ultrarunners are unique people with common values that connect us, and I think we are all really lucky to have that community.

The road community is close at the top end, but as many marathons have thousands of runners it doesn’t have the same intimate feel.

Your marathon PR is 2.17 – what is your goal at the Trials?

My primary goal is to run 2:15:XX, but I really want to be in a competitive position with 10k to go.

What are your racing plans/goals in ultras for 2016?

Do everything I can to be ready for States and UTMB. Chuckanut was my first ultra and is probably one of my favorites so I’ll do that as well to kick the year off. I plan to improve on my 2015 performances at States and UTMB.

 

You are on the Nike ultra team – how has that experience been for you?

The Nike Trail Team has been great, it is an amazing group. I’m really lucky to have teammates that really care about each other. It is like a family reunion every time we go to races together. It’s a young group but I think we are all learning from each other and with each other.

How does Nike view ultrarunning?

Nike has a lot of roots in trail and ultra and the Nike folks are very excited to be back and involved with the sport. I think their involvement will continue to grow in an organic way.

How pervasive do you think PEDs are in ultrarunning?

In the United States I don’t think PED use is very prevalent in ultrarunning. The financial incentive in ultrarunning is so minimal I don’t think doping is a huge problem yet. I think as the sport develops and more money comes in, PED use will inevitably and unfortunately rise.

What do you think the sport should do about doping?

I think dopers should be banned from competition for life. There just isn’t the financial structure behind ultrarunning at this point to test or regulate substances. The state of sport in the US will likely change dramatically in the next decade.

When you aren’t training for or racing ultras, what do you do for fun?

Until recently I enjoyed riding my motorcycle in the hills around Southern Oregon, but as I sold it, I now longingly look at pictures of new motorcycles online. I really enjoy swimming in mountain lakes.

If you weren’t an ultrarunner, what would you be doing?

Hopefully I’d be building wooden boats, maybe canoes or small sailing boats. We had a canoe when I was a kid and always enjoyed paddling around Oregon lakes and rivers. Being on the water is similar to being in the mountains in that there is a lot of freedom in that environment.

What is your favorite media?

Book: Endurance by Alfred Lansing. Movie: Peter Pan. TV: The Office and Music: Ke$ha… AC/DC, The Kingston Trio, Led Zeppelin, Florida Georgia Line, John Denver, Michael Jackson…

What’s on your bucket list in ultrarunning?

Run the PCT. Mount Marathon. John Muir Trail. Mount Fuji. Tarawera.

Ok, here’s what everyone wants to ask – so Rob Krar has his beard and you have the ‘stache. Does it have a name?

Haha, I don’t really remember how it first started, but I think it will stay for a while.

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