Dakota Jones was runner up to Mike Wolfe at the 2011 The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championships. In the interview below, we chat about how his race unfolded, what he did to prepare for the race, why he’ll race less frequently next year, and why Hardrock and UTMB will likely be on his 2012 schedule. Bonus guest appearance by the Dakota Jones Fan Club.
[Look below the video for a transcript and photos.]
Dakota Jones 2011 TNF 50 Mile Post-Race Video Transcript
iRunFar: You’ve been here three straight years, right?
Dakota Jones: Three years in a row. I finally got some money. Finally got to the podium I mean.
iRF: You are “Young Money,” I’ve got to say. What were you ninth the first year?
Jones: Alright, thank you very much. I was 14th the first year. It was my second 50 mile race. This was a good learning experience. Last year, I came back and managed to get fourth; that was a really cool race. It was really a breakout race for me. This year, I was able to come back and have the most incredible race of my life and get second. It was great!
iRF: Tell us a little about how that race was so incredible. We’ll get into the play-by-play in a minute, but what happened today?
[Dakota Jones Fan Club interruption by Mom and Aunt]
Jones: This is my crew; this is the reason I did so well today. So what happened was I ran really hard today and that was because there was a huge amount of competition. That’s why this race is so cool. There are several factors: it’s the end of the year, a lot of money, all kinds of things. They really were able to bring this huge level of competition here. That’s what I love. I think that competition makes us perform at a much higher level than we would otherwise, and I could definitely tell that today. So we went out in this huge pack for probably half the race. Then around mile 28, Mike Wolfe and I were able to break away from the pack. We ran really close together until around mile 46 and then he managed to pull ahead. I’m just so impressed with him because he ran an incredible race. I couldn’t be happier with second place. Mike deserves first place and I did everything I could. It’s the best race I’ve ever run.
iRF: One of the things I’ve heard from a couple of competitors today, whether they were second or seventh or twelfth, is they ran their butts off and had a great race and didn’t win. These are people who have won huge races before.
Jones: It’s cool and that’s the thing, the competition here was at such a high level that the race was just so much more intense. It was also a spectacular day, the weather was perfect, the trails were in ideal condition, everything went perfectly. It was just a really good experience.
iRF: So last year you were here, and at 35 miles to go you pulled ahead. Due to circumstances you’re in the lead alone.
Jones: Geoff caught up to me and Geoff and I ran together for a long time. I had a pretty similar experience with Geoff last year as I did with Mike this year, except this year we ran together for the whole race until mile 46. Mike was with the whole pack through mile 28 and then it was just Mike and I. So yeah, last year we had kind of the same thing. This year was cool to see direct improvement. Whereas last year at Muir Beach, roughly mile 42, there’s a big climb out of there and Geoff dropped me; this year, I was able to stick with Mike. We were pretty far ahead of everyone and we hammered it pretty hard, but I was able to stick with him and that was encouraging. Then, of course, on the next climb Mike dropped me, but… maybe next year.
iRF: So out at Tennessee Valley somebody mentioned to me that [the next climb] was a $10,000 hill. So many of these races actually come down to that final climb. Mike Wolfe said he was just doing everything he could because you were catching him on the downhills because you were sort of an accordion.
Jones: He actually did pull ahead of me quite a bit at the top of the Muir Beach climb and then on the downhill I caught him. Part of me was like, “Oh, no, now we have to keep competing and it’s gonna be hard.” So I caught him there. I had a lot of… you know, you think a lot about these races ahead of time and I kind of had a vision, maybe not a vision, but I thought about that. What if I come into Tennessee Valley close with someone, what’s that going to feel like? So I know what it feels like. It hurts a lot. I mean, my crew was there and I wasn’t talking. I didn’t answer any questions. I said what I wanted, drank some water, and left.
iRF: I’ve seen you at a ton of races and whenever I see you I say something and you say something back. At Tennessee Valley, no.
Jones: Yeah, I didn’t have a lot to give there. But that’s what’s so cool about this race. I was running at my absolute limit and there’s not a whole lot of times in your life when you can say that.
iRF: When did you know that that limit was reached and you weren’t going to catch Mike? Was there any point where you were just like, “I’m going to just run it in.”
Jones: No, I wouldn’t say that. Well, maybe I realized it after some certain amount of time, but after Tennessee Valley, I was just behind him maybe 20 feet back and he just kept pulling, kept pulling it ahead, kept stretching it out a little, little bit more as we went. I was giving it everything I had. There was no way that I was going to run faster. He managed to pull ahead and after awhile he was out of sight kind of around some turns. You know, you realize that’s it because we still had a ways to go to the top and I wouldn’t catch him on the downhill. So I kind of knew but that didn’t make me slow down because how much would that suck to slow down and then get caught.
iRF: That’s the perfect segue to what I was thinking about. You’re racing your butt off against Mike Wolfe and there is the ultrarunning all-star list behind you.
Jones: Yeah, somebody was giving us splits here and there and I kept hearing the name, Geoff Roes, and you know, I don’t think he had the race he wanted to here today because he was fifth. He’s done much better. He could have caught up with us on a good day. But Geoff’s track record is incredible, so I was like, “Oh my, Geoff’s gonna catch us, Geoff’s gonna catch us!” But fortunately he didn’t.
iRF: What was a little bit of your training like the last couple months before the race? You focused on Hardrock 100 for so long.
Jones: And then after Hardrock, [it] took a lot out of me, and I knew it. I could feel it obviously. Mentally and physically I was just depleted after Hardrock. But I had UTMB and I knew I had to do that and so I forced myself to train for it. I really didn’t enjoy the training and then I went out there and didn’t enjoy the race. It was just a bad situation. I feel like it was a failure but a failure from which I’ll learn a lot, which I already did learn a lot. Kind of too bad to do that, but it happened and it’s behind me.
So after that I needed to rejuvenate, so I took a full month off pretty much. I didn’t run for probably two and a half weeks. I’d go out and run five miles twice per week. What was cool was that I started wanting to run again. That kind of makes sense, but I think I got to the point that I was so into forcing myself to run, so used to it, that I didn’t realize that that’s the thing… that you would just want to go run. I’d get up and man, I really wanted to go for a run. So I kept doing more and more and then I was doing 60 mile weeks and it was like, alright, it’s mid-October, I’d better start training. So I did.
And then I went down to the Grand Canyon the first week of November and set the [FKT for Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim] there. It was just a really good run. I went out there with some friends and had a great trip. I ran in a beautiful place; it was such a cool trip. Then after that I didn’t want to do so much longer stuff. I wanted to recover, which was actually perfect for this because I had a really good long 42 mile hard run for training and then I did a lot of shorter faster stuff to recover. But it was also training that I think worked out really well. I think this was the best training cycle I’ve ever had and I feel like it paid off.
iRF: So you’ve only had two plus years in the ultra scene. What have you learned during that time that you’re going to use going into next year? Is there anything, any improvements you’re really psyched to make training-wise or racing-wise?
Jones: That’s kind of a broad question. I don’t have a set answer, I’m no politician. But I’ll race less, I think. I’ve said this before and not followed through on it, but I think it’s cool to pick races that really mean a lot and space them out adequately and then really focus on them. My problem this year was that I was racing once and sometimes twice a month. That burned me out by after Hardrock or maybe by the middle of Hardrock. So I’ll do that and then really just enjoy it. Like I said, it just felt so good once I finally started getting back into running after taking time off after UTMB, to just be going out there. It’s just become such a part of my life to go out and run through the mountains for hours. I think I’d kind of forgotten that for awhile.
iRF: So are you going to take some more time to recharge the batteries or are you going to go home next week and put in some miles?
Jones: I’m not going to race for several months, that’s for sure. Probably not until March or April, but I will be running. That’s what I do. I like running. But I also am going to try to do some other things through the winter. It kind of sucks running in Colorado in the winter. It’s snowy and cold and I don’t want to have to force myself to do it. I’ll probably doing some skiing and some other things and kind of just not have to compete for awhile.
iRF: When you do get that competitive juice flowing, is there anything on next year’s schedule that if you get in…
Jones: Well, the Hardrock lottery is tomorrow.
iRF: Dale [Garland, the Hardrock 100 RD] are you watching?
Jones: Dale, this is you, man. I hope that works out. That would be the main goal. Do it in the other direction from this year, hopefully do a bit better, get some more experience. I’ll probably do maybe two 50 milers before then. I was thinking about Leona Divide. I’ve got a few on the list, I’m not sure.
iRF: Hardrock’s the…
Jones: Yeah, that would be the one.
iRF: In the unfortunate circumstance that you don’t get in, is there any…
Jones: Yeah, I haven’t really planned it out that much. I was thinking maybe UTMB again. You know, I have to go back there eventually and do it. Do it right.
iRF: You’re still excited about the race?
Jones: Yeah, it is a cool race and it’s a race that’s worth doing right.
iRF: Well, congratulations on a great race, and two days in advance, Happy Birthday!