Q: First of all congratulations on consecutive UROY awards– how does 2014 compare to 2013?
It’s a huge honor for me to be voted Ultra Runner of the Year. It was a year full of amazing performances by so many great runners and individuals, to be honored with this distinction a second time has left me feeling both humbled and gratified. I was a bit of a deer in the headlights in 2013 and in retrospect, by riding the wave I feel I may have taken the amazing experiences and success for granted. 2014 presented significantly more challenges, physically and personally, which has also made it a more fulfilling year in many respects. I really tested my limits and came away with a greater appreciation of the challenges of putting together a strong and consistent year of healthy running.
Q: How was it different/similar?
As I said it’s such an honor to be recognized and I’m so grateful for the support from The North Face, it goes a long way in making what I do possible. 2013 was a year of exploring, learning and growing as I introduced myself to a brave new world of running that I quickly embraced and fell in love with. In 2014, as I’ve tried to make more of a career of running I’ve felt increased pressure, both externally and internally. It’s important to me to represent my sport, my sponsors, and myself well and I take the responsibility very seriously. So this year has been an exploration in finding balance between the attention and support and the pressure that often accompanies the simple act of running.
Q: Looking back on the year, what was your most memorable moment?
Thnking about my first few steps on Placer High track still gives me goosebumps. The smell and feel of the track brought back so many memories of my years of racing and it was the moment I’d daydreamed about the most the previous year, even more than crossing the finish line. It was a wonderful sense of relief and fulfillment, I was able to let go of the steely reserve and focus I’d maintained for 100-miles and really soak in the energy and excitement of the moment.
Q: What makes you most proud of this accomplishment?
Winning Western States was the most significant goal I’d set for myself in many years. It was a scary thing to set such a lofty goal for myself and required a great deal of sacrifice and commitment over the year to see it to fruition. It was a risk and leap of faith I hadn’t had the confidence to take for so long and I’m thankful I had the courage to quietly set that goal for myself and chase it throughout the year.
Q: What was your lowest point during the past year? How did you overcome it?
Leadville was my low point this year. Only two weeks after winning Western States, the initial euphoria had quickly subsided and I found myself in the hole. I put enormous pressure on myself to test my limits this year with three 100-mile races and it took its toll on both my relationships and myself. I struggled all year to find the balance between my personal, work, and running lives. These factors coupled with some errors in my training after Western States led to a really rough day on the trails in Leadville. I was able to work through it but it definitely redefined what suffering means to me and I was fortunate to have had close friends crewing and pacing to help me through it.
Q: What single thing did you do differently in 2014 vs 2013 that was key to your repeat UROY performance?
2014 has been all about stepping out of my comfort zone and taking risks. I put myself out there in new ways—racing, training and personally. I’ve learned so much about myself the past year, how I want to train, how I want to race, and how I want to live my life. I challenged myself to tackle my fears and invite growth and change and I hope to continue this process into 2015.
Q: You pulled off an amazing triple– winning three highly competitive 100 mile races in about 2 and 1/2 months– when did you decide to take that on and how did you pull it off?
I think I began daydreaming about the three races a few weeks before Western States. Both Leadville and Run Rabbit Run were on my radar for the future and I suppose I thought if not now, when? I think it was also reflective of my confidence and mindset heading into Western States. The challenge wasn’t simply the races, but more importantly, the challenge was being the smartest runner I could be between the races.
In a way the shorter four-week timeframe between Leadville and Run Rabbit Run was easier as it left little time to train and just enough time for recovery and some easy running before resting. The seven weeks between Western States and Leadville did allow for a short training block and plenty of opportunity for mistakes. I was too aggressive during this span and it showed during my struggles at Leadville. I really enjoy long solid training blocks and in some ways it was difficult to maintain my happiness and confidence over the summer. The mental aspect proved to be equally challenging as the physical demands.
Q: How would you compare the three races– which was the most gratifying? Which was the most enjoyable?
Run Rabbit Run—Relief
Western was the culmination of a yearlong goal, Leadville was discovering a new level of suffering and Run Rabbit Run was knowing every step brought me closer to realizing my goals. It really is a fascinating contrast between the three races.
Q: What is your key to success at 100 miles? How does 15 hours of fast running and racing typically unfold for you?
The key for me is running my own race early on and keeping my effort conservative and comfortable for as long as I can. It still amazes me how quickly 100-miles goes by when I’m truly present and focused on the moment. This focus is something I find hard to duplicate outside of racing and I feel very fortunate for the experience each time I race. I’m in my own world out there and there’s been more than a couple of times I haven’t recognized family and close friends as I pass by.
Q: How has your fame and notoriety changed the sport for you?
The attention I’ve received has been amazing, humbling and overwhelming. Admittedly, it’s been a challenge at times. By nature I’m a quiet and guarded person and I’ve struggled to find a balance between holding onto that security while embracing the attention and sharing with others. It’s been very rewarding for me to face a long held fear of public speaking with a number of interviews and appearances over the year. I’ll continue to learn and grow from the experience and always remind myself of the simplicity and beauty of running when I begin to lose my way.
Q: Do you ever get tired of jokes about your beard?
The beard seems to have a life of its own and I’m just along for the ride! Joking aside, I think my beard is a physical manifestation of the changes I’ve made in my life the past few years that have ultimately made me a more calm, confident and happy person.
Q: Joel Wolpert directed an extraordinary video documentary last year about you and how you have dealt with and embraced depression. How has depression played into your ultrarunning success?
I’m still working to nail down the connection myself. I certainly believe the fact that I’m willing and able to suffer contributes to my success. I also feel that long periods of dull numbness are something many people who struggle with depression can relate to. I really feel there is a strong connection with this mental space that can contribute to success in longer efforts like 100-milers. I’m really thankful to Joel for his visit and the video that came out of it—it’s given me the confidence to speak out and has also provided me the opportunity to reflect more deeply myself and begin to understand the connections that exist.
Q: How is this evolving for you?
Training and racing ultras offers plenty of time for self reflection and I continue to learn and grow as the months go by. I’m continuing to explore the deeper connection between running and my mental health. I’ve put a lot of thought into how running supports a healthy mind but also how it can raise old demons from below. I know it’ll be a continual struggle to find purpose and meaning in life but I do believe this new journey I’m on will lead to a greater self-awareness and afford me the greatest opportunity for true acceptance and happiness.
Q: Did you know that you are great role model and inspiration for others dealing with similar issues?
The response has been amazingly supportive and encouraging. It’s been eye opening to learn how common depression is amongst runners of every level. I have a heavy heart knowing so many others suffer but find comfort knowing many find some level of solace in the time they spend on the trails. I doubt I have any answers but I hope I can do a small part to help remove some of the stigma, shame or embarrassment so many feel and encourage an open dialogue about every part of the human experience.
Q: Do you have advice for people currently struggling or losing their battles?
Reach out and find someone to share with, it can open new doors to understanding and managing the struggle. Be active outside. Getting out the door is often the hardest part but I truly believe it can set you free. Lastly, be patient with yourself and be willing to learn, accept and work within your limitations.
Q: You have many admirers and fans– what can you tell those of us who worry about you?
It’s hard to know what to say. I do know that having the support from others on so many levels is more than I could ask for. Having Christina, the running community and my friends in Flagstaff continues to be hugely important. I’ve learned a great deal about myself and have made changes to better support my mental health. There isn’t a simple answer but having people in my life that don’t try to fix things that can’t be fixed and instead support and love me no matter what, has been instrumental in helping me through my darkest times.
Q: In just the 26 months since you completed your first ultra back at Bootlegger in November 2012, how have you seen the sport change?
Each year has brought more growth, the front of the pack has become faster and more competitive and the sport continues to become more lucrative in terms of money and sponsorship. Ultrarunning is undergoing a paradigm shift and it’s exciting to be a part of it. There are many differing opinions on the pros and cons of this growth but what’s certain is that it’s happening and unlikely to slow any time soon. For my part I hope I can continue to contribute in a positive manner and help the sport grow in recognition and popularity while maintaining the tightknit community that draws so many people in.
Q: What issues do you see impacting the sport most in 2015 and beyond? What worries you?
The biggest issue I see is the impact that a larger number of runners can make on the trail systems and surrounding lands. As ultrarunning grows it’ll become increasingly important to respect the ground we run on and educate and reinforce leave no trace principles. It’ll only take a few bad apples to sour the reputation of our sport and impact the health and beauty of our trails and potentially affect access to the trails we now race on. At the risk of sounding as though I’m preaching, I hope the drive to win a race, set an FKT or break a personal record never takes precedence over the stewardship and respect of the land we tread on.
Q: What encourages and excites you about the future of the sport?
On a personal level, the increase in competition offers me a greater opportunity to push myself and discover new depths and limits. It’s also really exciting to see so many others come into the sport and discover the rewards of training and completing the ultra distance.
Q: If you could change one thing about ultrarunning what would it be?
Kinder start times would be great. Leadville redefined the meaning of an early morning.
Q: Having accomplished so much in such little time – what is in the future for you and ultrarunning? What’s left for you to achieve?
I’m looking forward to travelling and racing outside the country. I’m excited to explore new trails, experience other cultures and meet new people. It’s an incredible opportunity I certainly wasn’t expecting not too long ago and I hope I find a way to take full advantage of it.
Q: Do you have some bucket list races on your horizon?
There are so many amazing races around the world it’s hard to put my finger on a few that interest me the most. The energy and excitement surrounding Transvulcania certainly has it high on my wish list for the future.
Q: How has the Flagstaff ultra community changed in the past year or so– and how has that impacted you?
Flagstaff has been a mecca for runners for ages and the interest in ultras has corresponded with the growth of the sport. Ultrarunning is one part of a large and thriving running community. On any given Tuesday you’ll find well over 100 locals of all abilities gathering for the weekly Team Run Flagstaff practice. I love the diverse and inclusive running community. Any given day you might bump into the likes of Ian Torrence, Ryan and Sara Hall, Abdi Abdirahman or Janet Cherobon-Bawcom. I love that about my town and feel it’s what makes Flagstaff really stand out. Although I do most of my training alone I can’t help but feel the support and energy of so many others.
Q: You are a sponsored runner and you have won prize money– what is your view on the increasing role of these sorts of factors in ultrarunning?
Prize money and sponsorship certainly affords more runners the opportunity to lay everything on the line and make a go of being a professional ultrarunner, whatever that might mean. The jury is still out as to how this will impact and change the sport. Regardless, I strongly believe money is unlikely to ever be the driving force that motivates a runner to push themself to train and race the ultramarathon distance.
Q: There are several 200 mile races popping up on the calendar– now that you’ve mastered the 100 mile distance do you have an interest in longer races?
With the unexpected journey my life has taken the past five years I’ve learned very well to never say never.
Q: What other ultrarunner do you admire most?
I admire and am inspired by so many of those I share the trails with. Tim Olson stands out as both a person and a runner I admire greatly. He competes at the highest level and maintains an honesty and integrity in everything he does. I continue to be inspired by his love for the sport, the outdoors, and his family.
Q: What are you doing for fun on a typical Saturday night?
Either raising a few pints with friends at the brewery or enjoying a quiet evening at home with Christina and the cats.
Q: What is your favorite movie/TV show/musician or song?
- Lost in Translation
- Hell on Wheels/
- Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros
Q: Who is your favorite actor or actress?
Q: What’s your favorite sport other than ultrarunning?
Fly-fishing is a sport right?
Q: What’s your favorite snack food?
Cereal. I’m dangerous around cereal.
Q: What’s your favorite vacation?
Can’t beat camping in Colorado with Christina.