Chris Vargo finished third in a surprise (to him and us) performance at The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championships last year (post-race interview). In the following interview, Chris talks about what he’s learned over the last year’s racing highs and lows, and who he thinks will be in it to win it.
There may or may not be some smack talk in this interview, which seems par for the course for Chris’s lighthearted take on running.
[Click here if you can’t see the video above.]
Chris Vargo Pre-2014 TNF EC 50 Mile Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar, and I’m here in the Marin Headlands of California with Chris Vargo before the 2014 The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championships. Good evening, sir.
Chris Vargo: How are you?
iRunFar: Swell. Are you?
Vargo: I’m good.
iRunFar: Yeah? You’re racing in a day-and-a-half.
Vargo: I know. It’s crazy that it’s already been one year since coming back. Yeah.
iRunFar: How are you doing?
iRunFar: You have a quasi-I-don’t-know-mullet-tail-thing happening.
Vargo: Yeah, a little bit. I’ve had that a couple times… race day.
iRunFar: Good-luck charm?
Vargo: I guess, yeah.
Vargo: Yeah, we’ll see. I might have to shave it off. I think Alicia [Shay] wants me to shave it off anyway.
iRunFar: Yeah? Well you are returning to this race as a podium finisher last year. You were third in what was a great performance—just a really solid first half of the race and then a super-strong finish. That’s going to be a hard battle to beat—your own performance even.
Vargo: Yeah, it’s kind of scary, actually, because it was fast. There were a lot of good runners last year, but this year it’s just… it’s like stupid fast.
iRunFar: There are a lot more good runners.
Vargo: Yeah. I think Rob [Krar] is always obviously a favorite, but—he won last year and put that big surge on at the end—but he’s got to be a little bit scared, too, because there are so many people. He’s got to be a little bit nervous.
iRunFar: Sure. Sure.
Vargo: So, I think, I don’t know, we’ll see. I think if it’s really muddy, it may level it out a little bit. It may be a group for awhile. I originally said sub-6:15 would be the winning time, but with the rain I don’t think that will be the case.
iRunFar: Not quite as fast.
Vargo: Yeah, not quite as fast, but, yeah, I’m excited to come back. After Les Templiers I wasn’t feeling that good, and I was like, Ahh, I’m just going to call it a season, but I had a good month of training with 100-plus miles/week and some solid training in Flagstaff, so yeah, I’m feeling pretty good. I’m in good… I’m happy to be here, too, so I’m having fun.
iRunFar: You feel good about it.
Vargo: Yeah, I’ll have fun no matter what. We have this house here and tons of friends. It’s great that everyone comes back for this race. It’s kind of like a reunion. Yeah, we’re all looking forward to it. It should be fun.
iRunFar: I don’t know if you feel it, but there’s definitely a little bit of pressure on your shoulders having been part of the podium last year. How do you take that energy into Saturday? Are you going to think about it or are you going to put it in a box?
Vargo: Yeah, last year I didn’t think I would podium, so it turned out pretty well. Yeah, I guess there’s a little bit of pressure, and with Nike on board, too, you want to do better than the year before. But all the guys on our squad, any one of us could really win…
iRunFar: Be on the podium…
Vargo: Yeah, so, it should be interesting. I think there are going to be some guys that no one has even heard of that are going to be in the top three, top four, top five. Who knows?
iRunFar: Yeah. When you were here last year, you were fairly new to the ultra world. You’ve put some more ultras under your belt, and you’ve had a ton of learning experiences—a lot of either success or, for lack of a better word, not success.
Vargo: Yeah, yeah. I think I’m used to pulling out of races. It’s too easy now.
iRunFar: Talk to me about what you’ve learned this last year.
Vargo: I think one of the biggest things is kind of running within myself and kind of pacing myself a little bit better instead of, I get so excited in the beginning of races…
iRunFar: Are you like a Border Collie?
Vargo: Yeah, yeah, it’s just pfffff—go, go, go, go, go. The guys that are having success, Rob, is always very patient. He’s a guy a lot of us will key off of. But then you have guys like Zach [Miller] who won Sonoma out of the gate. I don’t know if anyone will get away this year like that. It’s the end of the year race and people are a little bit tired. Patience is what I think I’ve learned this whole… I’d say my season has been decent, not great. The wins that I have are in races that were not exactly stacked or anything. It would be good to run with 20 people that are fast, so it should be good. Yeah, I don’t know.
iRunFar: You know what the course is like. What parts of the course suit your personal strengths? Where are we going to see you sort of shining?
Vargo: I like climbing. The climbs are pretty good footing. I like that. In Flagstaff it’s pretty rocky. So, this will be nice and pretty groomed here, so it’s fast, faster downhills or descents, pretty rolling. There are a couple flat, fast spots that I like, too.
iRunFar: Real runnable sections.
Vargo: Yeah, where you can open up and run. I think that definitely suits me. It’s not super technical. I think that Matt Davis Trail going down into Stinson is going to be a little bit sketchy.
iRunFar: Maybe a little slippery?
Vargo: Muir Woods is going to be slippery. Dipsea stairs, we’ll be going up out of Stinson, so that won’t be that bad. That’s steep anyway, so I’ll just kind of hike it out. I think it may come down to that 10 miles out where Rob went. That climb is 1,000-foot climb in two miles or something like that. I think that can be the deal breaker right there.
iRunFar: Second-to-last climb. Fairly big.
Vargo: Second-to-last climb. Fairly big. You can rip down, another big climb, and then the finish is probably one of the easiest parts of the whole race, I’d say.
iRunFar: Play Sports Center for a minute—Ultrarunning Sports Center—and take us to Muir Beach on the inbound. Who do you think is going to be there still?
Vargo: That’s a really hard question to answer. I honestly don’t… I think Tim Tolleson is going to be really good. That guy is super strong. [Alex] Varner, DBo [Dylan Bowman], all the Marin guys know the trails better than anyone. Following those guys, they rip. All those guys. Rob [Krar]. I think Tim Olson is actually going to be pretty solid, too. I know he picked up Jason Koop as a coach, so he has a little more structure to his training. Yeah, Martin Guffuri…
iRunFar: Any dark horses?
Vargo: Jason Wolfe from Flagstaff is not really a dark horse because he’s almost won this race.
iRunFar: But he’s been injured for a long time.
Vargo: He’s been injured, but he’s done a couple training runs with Rob, too, and I know they hammer each other. Jason is one of the toughest guys that I know. So, I don’t know. I just don’t know. I could not guess a top three. I couldn’t do it.
iRunFar: Nobody worth betting on?
Vargo: I think Rob won’t win it.
iRunFar: Sorry, Rob.
Vargo: No, I think it’s not going to be as easy as it was for him last year. He’s Rob. He’s an incredible runner and he’s good at everything. We’ll see. I don’t know. I think it will be fast. Rob could win it. Right? Yeah.
iRunFar: He could annihilate the field.
Vargo: I would probably put my money on…
iRunFar: If you had to put money on…
Vargo: If I had to put money on anyone it would be Rob because he’s Rob.
iRunFar: I think there’s a good chance he could kick the field’s ass starting at mile 40 just like last year.
Vargo: He could, yeah, just like last year. But I think people know that he does that now, though.
iRunFar: Yeah, but nobody could respond last year.
Vargo: Yeah, but he also has three 100 milers under his belt.
iRunFar: True. Rob, do you have tired legs?
Vargo: I’d place my money on Rob, yeah.
iRunFar: Last question for you. Shoe choice?
Vargo: I’m going to run in the Nike Wildhorse because if it’s raining it’s a little but luggier. But the trails drain pretty well out here except for a couple little sections, so I think the Keiger or the Wildhorse would be fine. But I’ve been liking the Wildhorse a lot. So, yeah.
iRunFar: Cool. Well, best of luck to you out there.
Vargo: Thank you.
iRunFar: Good luck defending your spot on the podium.
Vargo: Yeah, I hope it goes well.
iRunFar: There are a couple more spots above where you finished last year.
Vargo: I know. Hopefully I can do like a Cam Clayton where you go from third to second or first.
iRunFar: Yeah, just don’t hurt your ankle after that, right?
Vargo: Exactly. Exactly. Definitely. So yeah, thanks a lot.
iRunFar: Good luck to you.
Vargo: Thank you.
iRunFar: Do you think it looks okay?
Vargo: Yeah. I think it will be alright, right?
iRunFar: I’m feeling kind of short right now, but that’s okay.
Vargo: Well, you don’t have shoes on.
iRunFar: And also kind of fat. Look how skinny your shoulders are.
Vargo: You look great.
iRunFar: That’s the right answer.