Alex Varner has burst onto the ultrarunning scene this year and put an exclamation mark on his season by taking third at The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championships this weekend. In the following interview, Alex talks about his season, his race, and his post-race party shoe choice.
For more information on how the race played out, check out our results article.
[Click here if you can’t see the video above.]
Alex Varner Post-2014 TNF EC 50 Mile Champion Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Alex Varner after his third-place finish at the 2014 The North Face Endurance Challenge. Congratulations, Alex.
Alex Varner: Thank you very much. Appreciate it.
iRunFar: That was quite the finish. You’ve had some great performances this year—fourth at Lake Sonoma, sixth at Western States?
Varner: Seventh at States.
iRunFar: Seventh at Western States, but third here today. It’s probably your best finish at an international-caliber ultra.
Varner: Yeah, I couldn’t be happier about it. Honestly, I was kind of running for third from the top of Cardiac on. When Dakota [Jones] dropped down, I was, Yeah, that looks really fast. The trail was so sloppy down there with 50k out-and-back, marathon. People were getting out of our way really well, but it was either two inches of water or two inches of mud.
iRunFar: How close did the course come to any place you’ve lived?
Varner: The closest… the problem was they cut out Dipsea. It would have been 1.4 miles from my door.
Varner: Currently. I guess the closest we got was Cardiac—five miles was the closest we got. It played a role. It was an advantage.
iRunFar: I was wondering about that because, obviously it’s helpful to know the terrain and what comes next, but on the other hand, there are a lot of you; you push each other hard in training; there’s sort of a lot of pressure because you guys are the home crew.
iRunFar: But it certainly worked out for the Marin boys.
Varner: Absolutely. Jorge [Maravilla], man, Jorge had a huge race. That guy…
iRunFar: A smart race…
Varner: Yeah, I was running with him at mile 20 and it was like, “Oh, this is kind of like Western States. We were together at mile 26.” I made the mistake of saying, “Oh, only three marathons to go,” and then I was like, “Oh, I shouldn’t have said that.” Yeah, it was great chatting with him and seeing him coming strong into McKennon Gulch. I was so excited to see him right on DBo’s heels. Dylan [Bowman] ran a great race, too. I heard he had some stomach issues from what I gathered.
iRunFar: There was some puking.
Varner: Yeah, that’s what he said. Let’s not mince words here. But, shoot, fifth today, top 10 today is a strong performance from anybody.
iRunFar: Is third here probably your best performance?
Varner: Yeah, I’d say so. I’m probably a little more excited finishing Western. Coming in here and seeing the field and hearing all the hype going into this, I thought… you know, nobody ever wins a race without thinking they can. There were 30 guys who got to the start line today—at least 30 guys—who were thinking, I have a shot at this. So you’re sitting there, Well, I have a shot at this, but so does he and him and him and him and him and every guy around me. Yeah, it worked out. Dakota and I kind of made a move on the out-and-back. We were just talking and he said I kind of pulled him along. Then as soon as we hit the downhill, he just took off. I was okay with that. I had to pee, so I stopped and peed and that was where the gap was. It just kind of sat. Every checkpoint I got was, “Sage [Canaday] is five (minutes), Dakota is two.” Although apparently somebody said they got within 30 or 45 seconds of each other at Cardiac which was misleading to me because I could see Dakota going up Steep Ravine…
iRunFar: Coming down Steep Ravine…
Varner: Going up Steep Ravine, up to Cardiac the first time…
iRunFar: Oh, the first time?
Varner: Back up to Cardiac the second time, so out of Stinson Beach.
iRunFar: It was pretty close. It was, like, 90 seconds.
Varner: Okay, so it was a little bit further than I was led to believe, but I didn’t realize it got that close for them.
iRunFar: And he looked really good.
Varner: Somebody told me at one point Dakota passed Sage, but Dakota is the only guy I ever saw in front of me. If Sage was in second at any point, I did not see him in second.
iRunFar: So you kind of let Dakota go, and Sage was off the front. Were you thinking about the guys behind you, or were you just putting your head down?
Varner: I was thinking about—I didn’t know who was in fourth. There were a couple of Salomon guys who, on the out-and-back, were coming down. On that turnaround, there were probably 10 guys in a half a mile. It seemed spread out because of all those turns and you look back and nobody has come around the ridge behind you, but as soon as you get on that road, oh, they’re 100 meters, 200 meters, and literally just far enough where you get around a turn and they come right around, I’m sure. So it kind of solidified the realization that, Alright, people are chasing us. Then, yeah, into Stinson, you’re listening for cheering. I could hear people clapping for Dakota going down Matt Davis, but I didn’t hear anybody behind me. That gave me a little bit of a confidence boost, but coming up—Steep Ravine, I felt alright—the Coastal [Trail] climb out of Muir Beach was a pain in the butt and Marincello was just a sufferfest.
iRunFar: It always is.
Varner: Yeah, it should be. Dylan and I and Jorge have all run repeats up there. You’re going what feels like the same effort and it’s five minutes slower. I want to run and walk this thing. It’s all runnable, and I know it’s all runnable because I’ve run it 10 times.
iRunFar: But you really don’t want to.
Varner: I really don’t want to. I just want to get to the top. And then you get to the top and then you drop and then you have that kicker and then you have more climbing, but at least we know that’s coming. Yeah, it’s a little bit of home-turf advantage.
iRunFar: And now it’s done.
Varner: It’s done.
iRunFar: So, time off?
Varner: I’ve got to talk to [Jason] Koop, so we’ll see. I’ve been working with him. He had three of the top five.
iRunFar: And four of the top 10.
Varner: Yeah, so not a bad day’s work for him. It was great having him out there. I actually met him in person for the first time yesterday. So, I’ll see what he says. Yeah, I could use a couple weeks off. It’s been a long year.
iRunFar: You were already in good form at Sonoma, so you’ve been putting in some miles.
Varner: Yeah, it’s been a long season. I think my biggest sentiment coming into this race is, “I’m just ready for it to be over.”
iRunFar: So in other words, you’re ready to go to the 2AM Club.
iRunFar: I didn’t RSVP, but…
Varner: You’re welcome.
iRunFar: We’re coming.
Varner: Excellent. Bring your camera.
Varner: Probably best.
iRunFar: Work ends in about 45 minutes.
Varner: Perfect. We’ll see you there. There are rumors that Dylan is having a party although he told me he was in for the 2AM Club, so I assume it’s just a pre-party. I’m not worried. He lives a half a mile away.
iRunFar: That DBo. He’s cutting in on your action.
Varner: I can give him a call and just harass him.
iRunFar: You were third. I think you get to…
Varner: I told him I was buying the first round for a limited group. We’ll see how that goes.
iRunFar: Alright, top shelf. You got some prize money today.
Varner: I do. I do.
iRunFar: Has that happened before in an ultra or under ultra?
Varner: I don’t think so. No, I got some at Cool. No, that’s a lie. I got a bag of granola at Cool. It was good granola.
iRunFar: But, it was not green granola.
Varner: It was not green granola. Nike matched or had their own bonus, but that’s neither here nor there.
iRunFar: I assume in your road running, nothing of this…
Varner: No, like $125 bucks at a local cross-country race.
iRunFar: A little spending money for a pair of shoes.
Varner: “Oh, good for you.” Exactly. Yeah, this is great. It’s nice. It’s fun. It’s a great event. Hearing about this—I actually, on this day last year, was moving from San Francisco to Mill Valley and I was like, “Oh, I’ll be done by 11 a.m. and I’ll get to the finish line.” Of course, that never happens on moving day. So, I was a little bummed that I couldn’t see it and experience it last year because that was kind of the first time I was in the ultra community, or at least I considered myself part of it. So, to be able to get out here and run this and be able to experience it fully was fantastic.
iRunFar: Well, you certainly did.
Varner: It was a lot of fun.
iRunFar: Got anything you’re thinking about for 2015?
Varner: I paid the $400 for Western, so I have that option to exercise. I think probably Lake Sonoma and that Boston double—that’s kind of a fun one. That way I don’t actually have to race Lake Sonoma, and I can use it as a training run—although that’s a lie. Everyone knows what happens when you get to a start line and you start running.
iRunFar: I wasn’t going to call you out on that. You can call yourself out.
Varner: I’ll call myself out. Then I’m thinking about doing that Canyons 100k, that new one in Auburn in May just as a training run on the course. I’ve never done an actual 100k. It would just be a fun, long training run in a gorgeous part of California.
iRunFar: Congratulations on a great season, and we’ll see you out there next year.
Varner: Appreciate it. Thanks, Bryon. Absolutely.
iRunFar: And a quick bonus question.
iRunFar: You’re a shoe geek.
Varner: Yes. Mike Aish actually offered me a pair of spikes out on the trail today. He came up and said, “I heard you like shoes. What size you wear?” I said, “Ten.” He said, “Oh, that’s a pity. I wear a nine, but I have this awesome, custom, blacked-out pair of Jasaris. ” I was like, “Ohhhhhhh.”
iRunFar: The Jasari.
Varner: Like the mythical unicorn of the spike world. I had a pair of them that I bought in 2008, and they were just old and flat. I ran a workout in them and I was like, “I’m not going to run in these again;” so I sold them.
iRunFar: So, you’re going out to the 2AM Club.
iRunFar: What are you kicking in?
Varner: You’ll have to come find out. I have a pair of non-team issue—well, they might have been team issue for the general ACG team back in the mid-90’s—but they did a retro this year of the Talaria.
iRunFar: Alright, I’ll keep my eyes open.
Varner: It’s a pretty shoe.
Varner: Yeah, they’ve got some flash to them. I like them. I get compliments on them every time I wear them, so I can’t… why stop?
iRunFar: Why stop?
Varner: Yeah. Thanks, man. Appreciate it.