A Long Night With Bryon Powell

If I were to make an effort to provide live updates for ultramarathons, a few tactics would come to mind. I would primarily use social media to provide information as runners pass through checkpoints. And I would probably try to get a forum or blog of some kind for people to talk about the race as it is happening. To do this, I would likely use my phone and a computer when I had the chance. Perhaps other people could work with me and we could combine forces to get more updates out from more places. I don’t know what else a person could do.

But Bryon Powell knows. You’d think I would have learned something, since I witnessed him do all of the above and much more last Friday night at the Run Rabbit Run 100 in Steamboat Springs, CO. From mid-afternoon that day until late in the night, I tagged along in his car and saw firsthand his methods for keeping the Internet up-to-date with information about what was happening in the race in real time. However, despite my best efforts, I understood very little of what he did.

Bryon Powell, as you well know, is the Founder and Editor of iRunFar. (Although “Editor” might be a bit of a stretch, since it implies that he “edits” my work which, as you can probably tell, he rarely does. Balls!) He started the site in like 2006 or something (I’m not a journalist, alright? I’m not going to do research.) and has since, with the help of Senior Editor Meghan Hicks, grown it into the best ultrarunning site in the world. Whether it’s for race updates, gear reviews, or shockingly accurate opinions from handsome young runners, iRunFar is where people go to keep up with all that is new and exciting in the world of ultramarathoning. And it’s all because of B-Pow and Meghan.

That’s why you’re reading this right now. Because you like to keep up with all that is new and exciting in the world of ultramarathoning. But what you may not realize is how much effort goes into the behind-the-scenes work at iRunFar. For one thing, B-Pow has to continually maintain a website, which is something I don’t understand personally but from movies I know that it involves a lot of leaning way back in leather chairs and looking up at three massive screens arranged on the ceiling and doing a lot of typing on ergonomic keyboards. For another, he has to read through countless submissions and decide what gets published and when. Beyond that, he has to organize trips to such far-off places as UTMB or Steamboat Springs and maintain on top of it all a steady stream of updates to keep people involved in the website. Oh, and he also runs a dubious porn site. And all of that is probably not even half of what he does, but at the end of the day all of this work creates a stimulating and informative location for people to learn about long-distance running.

One of the things that iRunFar does best, as you know because, don’t lie, you’re a nerd about this stuff just like me, is live updates while races are in progress. But though we all enjoy the fruits of this effort, we rarely think about how his fantastic race coverage is made possible. His methods have remained a secret for years, but now–finally!–the truth comes out. I witnessed firsthand much of the coverage for Run Rabbit Run, and I’m willing to tell my story.

Here goes nothing. Are you ready?

The idea is simple, in theory. Make a list of the relative positions of the runners as well as the occasional anecdote, then put that information on the Internet. The primary component of race coverage is mobility. Bryon Powell needs to be lots of places quickly, so he uses the “iRunCar” to get around. It’s a Prius. Once at an aid station, he sets up shop with a fold-able table (iRunBar?) and takes notes of everyone who passes through the aid station with a quick scribble. With these notes he then updates the website and Twitter.

It seems simple, but many obstacles get in the way. The primary difficulty, given the mountain terrain of most major ultras, is cell-phone service. When an aid station has no service, B-Pow gets creative. He owns a massive array of electronics with more options and capabilities than the space shuttle, which he distributes to volunteers or staff members (i.e. Meghan Hicks) to update from more aid stations or points on the course than could be reached by one person alone. In the back of his car, he keeps a team of electrical engineers, satellite technicians, communications interns, two barbers, and a bartender to do everything required to maintain a connection to the Internet in even the toughest conditions. Nothing can stop the train when it’s rolling.

That’s not everything. The fact is, I don’t understand everything that went into his race coverage. Beyond all that I just described, B-Pow was also: sifting through file folders, loading and updating mysterious spreadsheets, reading (and likely policing) your comments, doing math on the splits and exclaiming in surprise at every new development, drinking beer, building charts and graphs, taking photos with adoring fans (hiRunFar!), advising me on federal tax codes, and, most impressive of all (I thought), not appearing to be tired. I couldn’t stay awake past 11:00 p.m. B-Pow charged all night long and the whole following day with only a few hours’ sleep in the early morning. His skill set so far exceeded my comprehension that I don’t even want to ask questions now. I’d rather just imagine all the magical ways he updates the Internet and idolize him for that.

I wasn’t racing at Steamboat (whyRunFar?), which gave me the unique opportunity to see what goes on behind the scenes with the trendy engine of ultramarathon stardom. The takeaway? B-Pow spends lots of time looking at screens, lots of time driving, and has little time for anything else. We should be grateful that Bryon and Meghan maintain iRunFar because without them, one of us might have to do it and no thank you. They make the sacrifice of their own fitness and goals in order to document the progress of our fitness and goals. And they do a damn good job. So, on behalf of the ultrarunning community, here’s a big thanks to them for giving us something as special as iRunFar. Keep up the good work guys!

There are 47 comments

  1. Molly's dad

    Couldn't agree more DJ. B-Pow and the team do an amazing job in inspiring and stimulating me when my work can't!

    Many thanks from South Wales

  2. Crooksy

    I second that…iRunFar is a fantastic resource and for that we should all raise a beer and say Cheers to B-Bow and his crew.

    Here to you team from Oz

  3. Shelby

    Hey where's the graph that usually complements these amusing posts, Prez? I love me a perty picture with colorful lines.

    No seriously, amen & hallelujah. I've witnessed firsthand the hard work that goes in to this play-by-play reporting and am grateful for Bryon & Meghan's stellar work out there. Tho' it does nothing to dispel the notion that some of us are addicted to Twitter…

    Now if Bryon could figure out a way to get the insanely stacked UROC race updates to those running/hiking/walking/puking/hallucinating their way through The Bear, then I think my first world problems would be solved.

  4. Amanda

    Agreed! I witnessed Bryon zipping around at the TV trailhead during TNF50 race last year in the mudslide that that was… and he did an amazing job. Thanks for all that you do!

  5. Vern L

    I couldn't agree more – they're both amazing. I found Bryon through his interviews of top ultra-runners in the world on Youtube. From there I checked out his site. Wow. To think that it's just two of them doing all of this! Great job guys. Love the video interviews most. Will check out the live updates on one of the next races. Best of luck and life! Cheers, Vern

  6. SCottB

    What better way to say 'Thanks' than the Support iRunFar link at the top of the page? Click now while you're all aglow with appreciation!

    Also, I am so impressed with how erudite and clever of wit these elite ultra marathon runners continually show themselves to be on this site. Balls!

  7. astroyam

    Bryon is truly an ultra long distance worker. No doubt came in handy as a lawyer.

    It seems that coverage has moved away from the shorter distance races almost entirely now though? Ultras are great, but it was cool when there was more coverage of the La Sportiva and other shorter trail races as well (short meaning 10-25 miles…)… But maybe I'm a minority on that.

  8. Emir

    Great post Dakota. And this website is absolutely amazing. Definitely a go to place every single day. The racing coverage is probably better than anything you could watch on TV. Thank you to the whole team. Keep up the good work.

  9. Morgan Williams

    Bryon and Meghan

    Thank goodness I didn't ask to write a piece explaining about the rigours of live coverage. Asking Dakota to do it instead (or agreeing to print his no doubt un-edited submission ;-)) was a way better idea.

    I've said it before. You haven't truly lived in ultra running terms until you've done an all-nighter with the iRF live coverage crew. I'm quietly proud that I have.

    UTMB live coverage must have been great prep for the 2014 PTL, right?

  10. Patrick L

    Spot on, Dakota. I, too, was there at Run Rabbit Run this past weekend to witness his hard work. The man is possessed when it comes to providing the best coverage; you should have seen him running back-and-forth through the rain with his equipment trying to capture Schlarb's march up the steps to victory. Even after I came back from a short siesta, B-Pow was there again amidst ultra royalty putting in work. Oh, and he even found time to run each day. He's simply a beast.

    Thank you Bryon and Meghan for all that you do. Keep up the phenomenal job.

  11. Tonya

    Big props Bryon and Meghan!!! Your hard work is appreciated and the iRF site informs and inspires many.

    And as usual, Dakota delivers an entertaining yet informative article.

  12. Charlie

    It will be interesting to see where technology will take Bryon and his coverage in the next few years. GPS trackers, Dakota Cam, aid station streaming, helicopters:)

    Love the coverage Bryon and Meghan

      1. Jimmy Mac

        How about those little drone 'copters they have at all the big races in Europe? They've gotta be sorta cheap-ish, somewhere in the used-motorcycle-to-year-of-college-tuition range, right?

        1. Bryon Powell

          That's sorta in our budget… if Meghan and I both sell our cars … and I give up a kidney. ;-)

          More seriously, I worry about these flying machines at races. (No worries in filming solo runners or small groups in a discrete film shoot.) I saw one crash in testing the evening before Run Rabbit Run. It'd be an ugly scene if that happened over a massive starting crowd.

          1. Eric

            I remember a camera crew flying one of those things over the starting line at Leadville in 2012. Every time it moved directly overhead and hovered there the temp would feel like it dropped another 10 degrees from the wind chill. Does anyone know who was filming that? I never saw any footage from that helicopter!

  13. Pierre Loïc

    I am Irunfar fan here in France ; you make the sport alive and kicking. Thank you Byron ! Dakota, besides being an incredible runner, you have a writing talent. I always have good fun to read you !

  14. Adam C.

    Love the website and appreciate the passion for the journey!

    Thank you B-Pow and crew!

    But also thanks to everyone that supports and contributes to irunfar, with review, interviews and stories!

    All the Best!

  15. Alexander Nunn

    Alex from Honolulu HI, mahalos for all that you do. I am indeed one of those nerds on the edge of my seat anticipating the latest tweet on the whereabouts of runners. On behalf of all HURT Mahalo and Aloha.

  16. Norcalrun

    Thanks so much Bryan! Love seeing you out at races running around, getting photos, and posting. It's really a treat to get to read the updates if races we can't be at. We all live and appreciate your and Meghan's work!

  17. Buzz

    Good call Dakota!

    A race w/o the iRunFars is hardly worth it … RD's should be flying them in in private jets.

    Next step is for Toyota to comp them a new iRunCar. (Loved that one :-)

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