An In-Depth Interview With ‘That’ Dakota Jones

In my three years of interviewing runners, I’ve never interviewed anyone quite like Dakota Jones. It’s difficult to succinctly explain why exactly he stands out but my statement is meant as a compliment. In part because of his standout performances at a young age, Dakota is something like a celebrity within the U.S. and international ultrarunning scenes. At just 21 years old, he finished second at both the prestigious The North Face Endurance Challenge 50-Mile Championships and the iconic Hardrock 100, and won the perennially competitive Transvulcania Ultramarathon. But it’s his deeply philosophical mind and fervent desire to live authentically for which he should be respected. While Dakota has used his iRunFar column, which dates to 2011(!), to explore intellectual landscapes, and while semblances of his personality have surfaced during pre- and post-race interviews published on iRunFar, some aspects of his truest self are yet to publicly emerge on this website or elsewhere.

In the following interview, Dakota’s personality comes to life as he opens up on a range of topics. He offers perceptive analysis on subjects like running, social media, travel, writing, and the environment, and gives us a window into his life and worldview. Crack open a beverage, listen to this audio preview, and then read on to learn what’s on Dakota’s mind.

iRunFar: That Dakota Jones. All of your social media handles use [email protected] and your website uses the name as well. What’s the story there?

Dakota Jones: That’s not a super-good story. Basically I needed to get an email one time, and ‘dakotajones’ was taken. So I tried ‘thedakotajones’ and that was taken too. Then I landed on ‘that’ and it stuck. For the sake of consistency I just made everything that. I’m surprised I don’t get more weird emails from people who figure it out by looking and seeing that every social-media platform is [email protected]

iRunFar: I think there are a lot of stories that could come out of this interview. Where should we start?

Jones: No, my life isn’t super complicated [laughs]. I kind of like it that way. I complicate simple things enough on my own, so I don’t need to have a bunch of things going on [laughs]. So I quit school five years ago now and do the whole pro-running thing. I always feel like a bit of a douche telling people that, I hate telling people I just meet what I do for a living—I feel like, “Yeah I’m a pro runner, I don’t have a normal job, I get to climb peaks and run,” which is sweet, and is actually true, but I don’t want to rub it in or something. And sometimes I wonder if that’s the most worthwhile thing that I could be doing with my time. I feel like I’m kind of embarrassed about it because I haven’t quite figured it out for myself, I guess.

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Dakota Jones. Photo: Rickey Gates

iRunFar: You seem like…

Jones: …Like I overthink things? Yeah, I overthink the shit out of things. I think that’s why I’m never going to be Kilian Jornet—because I overthink things. Well it’s actually because I’m not as good of an athlete as him [laughs], but it’s 1% because I overthink things, and 99% because I’m not as good of an athlete [laughs]. I don’t even follow Kilian on social media because I’m so insecure about him being better than me at everything he does. I’m kind of embarrassed about it but it’s true. When I follow Kilian on social media I’m constantly feeling like I’m not good enough. So I just don’t [laughs]. I don’t follow many people on social media for that same reason. It stresses me out—everyone is out getting better than me. It’s a flaw in my character. It’s not their fault; they’re out there doing the same thing I do. I’m just insecure that way [laughs].

iRunFar: I was going to say that you seem to have lots of interests aside from running.

Jones: Yeah, I mean it’s super sweet to win races but it doesn’t feel like I’m making the biggest contribution that I could all the time. I love running and I’ll do it as long as I can, but there’s definitely other things I’d like to do.

I’m actually going back to school this spring at Fort Lewis. I’m really into environmental issues and problems and fixing that. I figure if I can just go get a chemistry degree in three years, that’ll clean up the environment and fix the problems. You’re welcome [very archly, laughs]. But in seriousness, yeah, I plan to study chemistry and geology and it might take me down a different path but I think it’ll be a cool start. It’s something. I took those classes in high school but I didn’t really give a shit. Now I can brush up on it, and I’m totally into it, and as long as I apply myself, I can do it. It’ll be a bit of a lifestyle shift but the semester is over at the end of April and it’s a four-month summer. I’ll keep doing the running and everything and go to school too and see where that leads.

iRunFar: What has you so motivated to go back and pursue environmental issues?

Jones: I feel like a huge hypocrite. My whole career as an athlete is about flying and driving around the world in these fossil-fuel modes of transportation so that I can go appreciate nature [laughs]. I fly to go up glaciers and pursue sunsets on islands—those are opportunities I’m super, super lucky to have, but at the same time it’s pretty hypocritical of me to say I love nature and want to experience nature and I’m actually living in a way that’s deleterious to it.

I’d like to make all that more apparent in my writing. The problem with writing all that stuff is that you come across as a bit preachy and telling people they’re living their lives wrong and calling good people, bad people. People get pissed about that and for good reason! “You’re telling me my lifestyle is wrong [laughs]?” That sucks, people don’t like to hear that. Anyway, I guess my point is that I want to actually understand these issues because I don’t really get it. I mean, climate change, greenhouse gases, if you take it too far, it’s bad, but what does all that really mean? I want to understand it better and then maybe I can write about it in ways that don’t piss people off so much.

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Ascending stairs in Wales. Photo: Rickey Gates

iRunFar: What’s the job you’d most like to get with a degree?

Jones: That’s the problem I’ve been struggling with. I don’t know that. I think that that’s something I need to figure out before I really apply myself to this because I think that one of my flaws is that I’ll decide on something, and think that it’s cool, and think about it for a long time, and make a good decision to do it, but I don’t think about it all the way.

I’ll be like, “Okay, I’m going to Europe for three months! And I’m going to race! And stay there! And it’s going to be great! I’m going to have an experience I can remember!” Then I go there and I sort of end up hanging out in my apartment a lot because I didn’t plan ahead [laughs], and I think about how I should have taken a class to learn French because I can’t communicate, and then I’m like, “What am I going to do now?” And then I’ll hang out with a few people once and then I come home and then I’m glad to be back home in Colorado with friends. That’s something I need to work out, planning all the way through. At the same time, I’ve had some incredible opportunities to do amazing things. I don’t want to be ungrateful, but the best way to be grateful is to make the most of an opportunity and one of the things that stresses me out is trying to do that. “Am I making the most out of my time right now? I don’t know, could I be having more fun? Could I be having a more fulfilling experience right now? I don’t know. What should I be doing?”

iRunFar: I think they call that FOMO.

Jones: Yeah, totally! And it’s a huge problem in the social-media culture too. I’m like, “OMG Kilian is having an awesome time right now in the mountains and I’m watching football. Fuck!” When you see me on social media in Europe I’m always posting pictures. That’s what you do. Try posting a photo of a football game—which I did once, and it got 10 ‘likes’—people don’t like that stuff.

iRunFar: It’s almost like a good Instagram photo determines what we decide to do.

Jones: Maybe that’s a great way to get people outdoors though. Hell, if it gets people outside… but I think it also drives us, or gives us the tendency to overtrain in ultrarunning. “The only way to live a full life is to constantly be running in the mountains.” But that’s not true. I think a lot of people understand that but I also think a lot of people overtrain and I certainly have in the past.

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“I dress nice.” -Dakota Jones. All photos courtesy of Dakota Jones unless otherwise noted.

iRunFar: Do you think it cheapens an experience when you share remote landscapes on social media that you’ve worked hard to get to?

Jones: Yeah, I don’t have the answer to that. I don’t know if this is related in any way, but I’ll say it.

In 2013 I went climbing in Alaska. I spent three weeks in the Alaska Range climbing the Ruth Gorge, which is right below Denali, it’s one glacier over—all rock and snow and ice; it’s awesome. We spent a bunch of time climbing peaks around there. I really wanted to climb Mount Huntington. That’s one of the most beautiful mountains in the world. It’s only 12,000 feet, it’s pretty small in the Alaska Range, but it’s one of the most perfect peaks to look at and it’s super difficult to climb and just a really classic mountain.

You fly in and out of Ruth Gorge and land on the glacier. Mount Huntington was right near where we were taking off so I asked the pilot to fly around it so I could look at it, which was awesome. He did and it was amazing: we flew up the valley and crested this ridge, 300 feet above it, and looped three quarters of the mountain within a mile or less of the peak. We were really close and taking photos and got a great look at it. I thought that was awesome but at the same time I was kind of sad that we could do that, you know? I was like, “I shouldn’t be able to do this; I should only be able to get these views of the peak by being on it. If I want to see this, I should be on the peak.” I think that cheapened, or lowered, Huntington, and I felt guilty about doing that. I probably should go back and try to climb it just because I want to give it that power back over me.

iRunFar: I guess that’s some of what draws you to the sport—you want to earn what you see?

Jones: It is nice to feel like I’ve earned these things. And what I mean by ‘these things’ are the runs and the races that I do. I don’t necessarily feel like I earned the right to be on the island of La Palma because I flew there, which might be a little cynical. But besides that, when I get there, and I run the race, or climb the mountain—whatever it is—and you feel that distance, that vertical, and the experience of being in that place, all under your own power, that makes you proud. It’s pretty cool. It just makes you feel good, you know? I think that’s one of the things I like about running is that you can look back over a big valley or big mountain and say, “Yeah, I did that whole thing, on foot.” It makes you proud of yourself.

It’s really quantitative that way. You can’t be like, “I’m the best writer.” You might be a good writer but there are lots of good writers, you know, there’s no way to quantify who’s best. But you can say, “I ran the Grand Canyon in five hours and 55 minutes. I now have the record. And my name is Jim Walmsley [laughs].” It’s easy to quantify even if you aren’t setting a record. You can do it and say, “Damn, I did it in 10 hours, sweet!”

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A young Dakota Jones.

iRunFar: You have a big influence within the sport of ultrarunning—you have a lot of followers and people seem to gravitate toward you. Do you recognize that?

Jones: I don’t think I think of it quite that way, but that is really nice, that’s cool. If that’s true, that’s awesome, that’s great [laughs]. I mean, yeah, I’ll meet someone at a race and they’ll want to take my photo, which is kind of funny because I’m just a normal guy. Everybody is, you know?

One of the things people say about my writing that really makes me feel good is that people like that I’m honest. So I’d like to think that if I am as honest and open as I can be—I think a lot of the time that manifests in me cutting myself down. “I’m hypocritical, I’m traveling around the world.” I think people appreciate that kind of honesty. I’m proud to provide them with that service. I just try to be as real and honest as possible, and I try to have a good time. I think people appreciate it when you can make them laugh and have fun.

I used to have a weird relationship with social media because sponsors are really into social media and they want you to post all the time. I was like, “Guys, I don’t know, social media sucks.” But I’m into it lately because it’s a little opportunity for me everyday to be creative. Post a photo, have some little funny or sarcastic comment that makes me smile, and that I hope makes other people smile. I’d like to think that with this kind of attitude, if I can take that in a broader sense—to my writing or the way that I run—I can set an example of thinking hard about the things you do, and trying to do them well.

A big part of doing them well is making sure you have fun doing them. Alex Lowe, who’s a famous climber from 30, 40 years ago, he died in 1999, but his story is cool because he was one of the most prolific climbers of the day and people called him the greatest mountaineer alive. And he said, “The greatest mountaineer is the one that’s having the most fun [laughs].” That’s a great way to approach it because I’d like to think I’m a little bit like Alex in the fact that I’m really into what I do, and I try my best to be my best at it. But if I’m winning every race I do and not having fun doing it, then it’s not worth it for me, you know?

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Dakota takes in the landscape during a Salomon team summit. Photo: Rickey Gates

iRunFar: If there’s a single goal in your writing, do you think that goal is to articulate what you just described?

Jones: [pause] Maybe. It’d be hard to say that, for sure, without thinking about it for a while [laughs]. But yeah, when it comes down to the writing I’ve done that I’m most proud of, it’s usually a story. It’s not an essay about how the world should be, you know, but a story about something that happened. It involves people and relationships and the value of those things.

In my writing I try to be super honest about people and about the way that I see things, but also about the fact that the way I see things is just my opinion and no matter how objective I try to be, my eyes are biased. I try to recognize that but in my writing I try to tell good stories that mean something to people; I try to strike a chord.

In one of David Foster Wallaces essays, he talks about his buddies in grad school, and they go to see a David Lynch movie in theater and as they watch it they get this feeling like, “Yes! This is what I’ve been feeling!” The movie articulated perfectly something they’ve been feeling but unable to make into a coherent sentence in a way that David Lynch did for them. For me, David Foster Wallace’s writing does that all the time. I read his shit and I’m like, “Yeah! That’s right! I know exactly what he’s talking about and I can never say it like that!” I think I would aspire to do that someday, but I’ve never done that [laughs]. I think that’s beyond me now but I think it’s something I’d like to work toward.

iRunFar: Do you worry about what people think of you? Some of your sarcastic remarks might rub people the wrong way.

Jones: I know what you mean. When I first started writing for iRunFar, it really stressed me out. I’d have to wait two or three days after the article came out and then I’d go steal myself away and read the comments. Most of them—95% of the comments on my articles—are nice things; people say the most wonderful things. But sometimes people don’t say nice things. That’s just the way it is.

iRunFar is where I publish the most and I want to give the readers credit: they are really thoughtful. Sometimes people disagree with me and I’ve really actually come to appreciate those comments. As long as I feel like I’ve written what I really believe, and I feel like I’ve done that correctly, then if people disagree—and a lot of the time on iRunFar when people disagree, they explain it—I can read that comment and say, “Yeah, I get it.” That doesn’t make me change my views and I wouldn’t go back and change the article if I could. What really upsets me is when people say something about the article and I’m like, “Fuck, they’re right! I blew it. I was totally wrong [laughs].” That’s a bummer. But most of the time people explain their disagreement and that’s really cool. Most of my articles are just opinion articles and stories and reflective pieces and there isn’t a right or wrong answer. As long as I stand by what I wrote, and I believe in it, I have no problem when people disagree with me.

As far as other stuff, I feel like I’m not very controversial [laughs]. I don’t really want to be controversial. I mean, I’m a white guy with short hair, you know? I dress nice [laughs]. I don’t really run shirtless. I’m not a sex figure like Tony [Krupicka]. I’m just a dude who runs, okay [laughs]? My opinions I mostly keep to myself, I think. I don’t want to cause problems. I like to write and get people thinking and cause a discussion, but I don’t want to get people all pissed off. I don’t want to break things down. I don’t like upsetting people [laughs]. As long as I believe in what I’m doing, you know, I don’t need everyone to like me [laughs]. I just want to stand by what I do and do it for the reasons that are for me. If people dislike that, I’d appreciate it if they tell me in a nice way. Like, “Hey man, I disagree with that because of these reasons.” I would take time and think about that. But if someone is like, “You’re wrong because you’re a douche and you’re ugly and have blue eyes [laughs].” I mean, I’m not even going to listen to that. If you disagree with me professionally and kindly, perfect, I’ll talk to you and consider your views.

iRunFar: Let’s step back. You grew up in Moab, Utah. What was that like?

Jones: My dad and I would go hiking in the La Sals and the canyons all the time, like every weekend. I mean, I was a kid and would always dread it but then liked it once we did it [laughs]. As I grew up I came to really like it. My thing as a kid was BMX biking. I was way into that. I don’t want to brag too much here but I’m still pretty good at it, Eric, okay [very archly, laughs]?

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Dakota, his bike, and his sister.

iRunFar: [laughs] I’m going to let you keep going about that.

Jones: Well, I was just super into BMX biking. It was super fun. I was so excited about it—now that I think about it, all my friends did it. Not all of them but I think a lot of them did it because I was so psyched. They built a skate park in Moab when I was in fourth grade and they had a BMX track. Everybody in Moab seems to be into road biking or mountain biking—mainly mountain biking. It wasn’t a huge scene but it was still super fun. I read all the magazines and got all the catalogues. I know all the names. It’s funny, I can go online and still know half the names.

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In a younger life, Dakota was a serious BMX rider.

iRunFar: You grew up near some incredible national parks. Did you gain an appreciation for them?

Jones: I think it’s hard to gain an appreciation for something you’re that close to as a kid. I liked it. Some kids want the big city. I thought it was cool where we lived and I loved going camping and stuff. But it’s not like I know Canyonlands like the back of my hand. Even now, now that I’m way into this stuff, I still don’t know canyon country that well, which is weird because I grew up in Moab. But considering all the great outdoor possibilities in Moab, I probably didn’t make as much use of them as I could have as a kid, but at the same time I was probably way more outdoors-oriented and active than a lot of kids get to be. The more I’ve traveled, the more I’ve appreciated where I’m from.

iRunFar: I feel like I have to ask you specifically about running. How did you get started?

Jones: I played every sport as a kid, as boys will. Then one time we were in football in eighth grade—I was like 80 pounds and sucked; I was pretty worthless—we got in trouble as a team. They made us run like five miles up a hill and back. I crushed everybody. I was like, “Wow, I’m way better at this! That was awesome!” The next year I decided to run cross country when I was in high school.

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Dakota during his football days.

iRunFar: Did you find that you were good amongst actual runners and not football players?

Jones: [laughs] Moab wasn’t a huge school. There wasn’t a lot of competition necessarily. But I was really into the running thing and in middle school I’d run three or five miles. When I finally joined the cross-country team, it was the first time I really trained. What was really great about the cross-country team was the team. I loved being on the team. I was mediocre at first but then when we got to the first meet—I thought I was going to be middle of the pack at best, as far as the team goes—but I was actually second finisher for the team, which was really cool for me at the time. But then I moved to Durango, Colorado for my sophomore year of high school, and I was not as good and I was sort of the back half of varsity until my senior year.

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Dakota on the track in high school.

iRunFar: But you were one of the top guys by your senior year?

Jones: Yeah but that’s because I started trying—I mean, I always liked it, I was trying hard, and I did do training in the off season. I did these half marathons, road halves—I was really inspired by the long-distance stuff. I was really psyched on that. Thirteen miles felt so far. And it was fun. Before I moved to Durango, the summer before, I did a little bit of triathlon. I was trying that kind of stuff.

Once I volunteered at Hardrock when I was 17, right before my senior year, that’s when I was super-fucking psyched on running. I did a bunch of mountain running. I think that coincided with me hitting puberty and growing up [laughs]. So a combination of getting bigger and training a ton, I came into my senior year of cross country and I went from being the fourth guy on the team to the second. That was exciting to me.

iRunFar: Was the attraction to road half marathons just about the distance?

Jones: Yeah, in my mind—even now, I don’t see that much of a difference between trail and road running. You’re all doing the same thing, it’s just where you choose to do it. I’m a trail runner and a mountain runner but I run on roads all the time from my house to the trails or sometimes it’s just fun to run fast. Lots of road runners run trails—you know, it’s all just running. Especially when I was 14 and didn’t read magazines, it was all just running. I was just psyched on the distance and seeing if I could run 13 miles.

iRunFar: But your first experience at Hardrock, when you volunteered, was inspiring?

Jones: Yeah, Hardrock was huge for me. I was really into climbing. I liked rock climbing and wanted to be an alpinist. When I volunteered at Hardrock, it was a way to get that adventure without having to spend thousands of dollars on gear, and figure out how to use the gear, and find partners and spend more dollars to get to the mountains. I lived in Durango at that point and had the mountains and so I just went for it. I had some pretty mega-epics that summer, got lost a few times, ran out of food. You know, the classic stuff when you’re just getting into it. But I was super into it. Hardrock was super inspiring.

iRunFar: And in a way that’s led to where you are now.

Jones: I’m sure I would have gotten into this stuff otherwise. I’m the same person, just maybe formed by a little different experience. It just would have taken me longer. The fact that my family happened to move to Durango when I was 15 was fortunate in the sense that I was exposed to these things way earlier so that I could be ‘that guy,’ instead of doing whatever the fuck else I could have been doing [laughs], instead of coming to the sport at 23 or 25. You know, I’m young but I’m not ‘the kid’ anymore. People remember me as the young guy because that’s what I was and what I’ve always been. It’s funny how these perceptions can shift and change. I never wanted to be ‘the kid’ in the sport or the youngest. I didn’t want the award for being the youngest. I want the award for being the best. But when you’re a kid, you can’t really be that—unless you’re Kilian [laughs]. It takes a long time to build up strength and ability.

iRunFar: You mentioned moving to Durango your sophomore year. What was up with that?

Jones: My dad was sick of his job in Moab. He was a chemical engineer and worked at this natural-gas processing plant south of town. It was purchased by several companies over the years and the last one was a Canadian company that really sucked. He hated it. He was offered a job at a company in Durango and he took it. We moved here when I was 15. My dad actually moved here a year before I did. We stayed in Moab for one year while my sister graduated from high school. After my sister graduated—she’s three years older than me—we moved here to Durango, when I was 15, my sophomore year.

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Dakota and his sister.

iRunFar: Your parents are still in Durango?

Jones: My mom is still here but my dad passed away in 2013. He had Non-Hogkin’s lymphoma and tried for a transplant and it didn’t work. My parents actually lived in Denver, Colorado for a year while they were doing that in 2011 and 2012.

iRunFar: I’m really sorry to hear that. I imagine that was impactful.

Jones: It’s okay. It happens to people. I mean, you know, I think it was nice because it took a long time—I mean it sucks because he had to suffer—so I could say goodbye. I feel pretty at peace with it, or as much as I could be. I was glad that I was 22—at that point, I wasn’t relying on him, you know? He wasn’t paying my bills. I was my own person at that point. It was cool because I got to have my dad raise me, right. Then he died when I was an adult. I guess that is fortunate. It would have been nice to share it a little longer but that’s just life, I guess.

I got to spend a lot of time with him. I would always go hunting with my dad—he was way into hunting. He never killed anything but we’d go hiking around. He called us ‘armed hikers’ because we’d always just suck [laughs].

iRunFar: Is there a way you want people to remember Dakota Jones? If you’re gone tomorrow, do you think you’ve left the legacy that you would have wanted to?

Jones: I think so. Everybody wants to live a full life and make the most of themselves. If I were to get hit by a car tomorrow and die—obviously I wouldn’t have much time to think about it if that happened—I’d be bummed about that because there’re a lot of things I’d still like to do. But even when I’m 80 years old, there will still be things that I want to do. You don’t get to choose. I think you live your life the best you can. That’s kind of a cliché, isn’t it? That’s embarrassing [laughs].

I’m definitely proud of the things that I’ve done. I can easily get down on myself, and I often do, about missed opportunities or things I should have done instead of things that I did. But overall I’ve been super lucky to do the things that I’ve done and I’ve done my best to make the most of them with the knowledge that I had. I hope so. But there’re still a lot of things I want to do. If I get hit by a car tomorrow, I wouldn’t go back to school, right? That would take away an opportunity to expand who I am over the next few years. I’d like to be able to say that forever, you know? If I’m going to die tomorrow, it’s going to cut off these potential branches I could go down and expand who I am and what I’ve done. It’s exciting to think of the future that way. But at the same time I might get hit by a car tomorrow [laughs] and if that were the case, well… well shit [laughs]. I guess I’d feel bad for my friends and family.

iRunFar: You can never do it all and every decision eliminates other possibilities.

Jones: What I just said came from what you’re saying. It is super scary to choose anything, you know? It’s super limiting. If you decide on one thing then, by definition, you’re not doing anything else. Within limits, right? You can do different things at a time. But if I choose to go to school this spring, that means I’m not going to bike tour across Africa or swim the English Channel—all those things that I totally have on my mind [laughs]. Not really. But, yeah—so it’s hard to do that. I think I get pretty paralyzed by indecision sometimes.

But that’s the worst. When you’re so worried about what to do, about choosing the right thing, choosing the perfect thing. You’re like, “What’s exactly right?” For me—I have an incredible opportunity. I don’t have to have a job, like a normal job, I can just go on adventures and run and stuff. So I’m like, “I need to make the most of this. What am I going to do? How can I possibly make the most of this?” Then I get all tied up in knots because it’s like, “What the fuck! [laughs]” There’re so many cool things to do! “What am I going to do?” Then I get so tied up in a knot that I don’t do anything. And that’s just the worst, right? I’m so nervous about doing the wrong thing that I don’t do anything and that’s the worst thing, not doing anything. So I’m trying to learn to see the future as potential avenues of opportunity and to just try ‘em, right? Do the best with the knowledge I have in hand.

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Catching air in the 1990s.

iRunFar: Right. You have to look at opportunities as potential doors to open and not as doors you’re closing.

Jones: Yeah, which is really hard to see because it’s a lot easier to see the doors you close instead of the ones that might open up further down the line. What’s on the other side of the door that you haven’t even opened? It’s easy to make yourself go crazy thinking like this. But I’d rather make myself go crazy thinking like this than to not have this introspective part of me considering things in this way.

iRunFar: Do you have any big plans for the future?

Jones: No, I can’t think that far ahead [laughs]. I’ve been working on trying to plan just to the end of 2017, which is actually huge for me. I usually can’t even plan a month in advance. I hate to close doors. But I realize that if I don’t start planning ahead better, then that’s really closing doors because I’m at a point where I can’t just wing stuff anymore. I’ve spent a lot of years training and I feel like the only way to really make use of that training is to plan in advance.

So I’m going to go to school. And then I really want to do some big European races because that’s where the competition is. One of the big things I do is mountain running and that, to me—if I want to race the best competition I have to do some of the European races. So I’m going to. That’s the plan. I’m going to go over there at the end of April and do some races. I’m pretty keen on shorter races, like the marathon and shorter. I definitely want to do more ultra stuff—I really like ultras and I’m going to keep doing them. But I think after running the Kendall Mountain Run this year, I didn’t realize how exciting—well I have raced stuff like that but it was super fun and I didn’t think I could be good at it until I did that race. And then I did well at Kendall, which admittedly wasn’t the most competitive race but still I was like, “Hey man, this is fun! I want to do more races like that!”

Dakota Jones 17

Exploring the Welsh countryside at dusk. Photo: Rickey Gates

iRunFar: If you’re within two minutes of Joe Gray’s time there, which you were, it doesn’t matter how competitive it was, that’s solid.

Jones: Yeah it was a fun time, so I’m going to do the Zegama Marathon next year, I think, and maybe the Mount Blanc Marathon, too. That’s the plan. I might run Pikes Peak Marathon too. I’m thinking about doing that.

iRunFar: Last question. If you’re still able to compete at 45 years old, do you still want to be doing that?

Jones: I think I’ll always be running around the mountains—as along as I can. It’s hard to say how I’ll feel in 20 years. I don’t think I would be disappointed—no, not at all, I’d be psyched if I could still compete at 45. I’d be super psyched. But I think if that’s all I had going for me, I’d be a little disappointed in myself. I think that’s a big driver behind the way I’m trying to do different things right now. I’m proud of what I’ve done, and I like it, and I don’t want to stop, but I don’t think it’s enough. I think that I’m capable of doing more than I’ve done at this point and I want to see what I can do, I guess.

That might by nature just mean that I’m not as passionate about running or competing or training or being the best athlete I can be, as some other guys might be. That might end up meaning I’m pushed out of the sport because I’m not as passionate as some of the guys I’m competing with. But if that’s true, I think that’s going to be okay with me because I don’t mountain run just to win. I really like winning, and I want to keep winning, and I like competing and training and it’s really exciting for me.

You could take away winning from me, and it would be okay, but if you took running away from me that would be heartbreaking. But that’s just one side of it. I say that to illustrate that I like the activity of the sport itself and when I get into all this talk about authenticity, I think it’s really about me trying to live true to that. I don’t want to get too caught up in winning or in gear or in all the other little fads that can come and go, you know? I want to be true to the experience itself without being too much of a douchebag about that… if you know what I mean [laughs].

Dakota Jones 13

That Dakota Jones. Photo: Rickey Gates

There are 21 comments

  1. Kaci

    Great interview and getting to know who ‘thatdakotajones’ is more! Dakota, I wish you the best in going back to school and earning your degree. It will be something you’ll be proud of accomplishing. And always remember to keep embracing the sport like you do…you are inspiring!

  2. Mike Miller

    I’d love to hear Dakota talk about doping in sport and why he thinks it’s OK to write a check to Chris Carmichael every month. He has lots to say about everything.
    Except that. Of course I wouldn’t expect the editors of irunfar to ever ask such questions…..

    1. Eric Senseman

      Hi Mike, thanks for your thoughts. That topic wouldn’t seem to shed much light on who Dakota is as a person. My goal was to explore Dakota’s personality and so the topic of doping didn’t seem pertinent. Perhaps Dakota will take up your topic in one of his future columns though.

      1. Mike Miller

        I’ll believe that when I see it. Dakota has had the opportunity to discuss thus in column after column for 3 or 4 years since he broke the news to the world that he was working with Carmichael Training Systems and several people called him out on it. Thus far he has refused to address it.

        In the mean time he appears to expect the rest of us to buy into the idea that he struggles with the moral angst of the hypocrisy of his career as a professional runne. He wrote that it’s “impossible to buy an increase in your VO2 max” as he was writing checks to a guy who made his career selling increases in VO2 max by nefarious means and promoting his company.

        There’s some hypocrisy for you. I’d like to hear his explanation for that. Please Dakota, enlighten us all.

    2. SageCanaday

      Hey Mike, I see where you’re coming from…. (and you know how I feel about Chris Carmichael…and Lance A….and dopers etc.). I think it’s good to ask questions and I wish there was more transparency overall in this sport (and on this issue).

      However, do we even know Dakota pays Carmichael? Maybe runners like him and Kaci get “coached” by Koop for free? (granted they do promote them online). In any case personally I would want to distance myself as far as possible from CTS (or any coach even remotely associated with systematic doping/cover ups), but that’s just me.

      Dakota’s a good kid though…seems to run for the right reasons. Brilliant writer and very high IQ. He hasn’t done anything in running that people might deem “suspicious” and his long history in the sport is actually relatively consistent. (or at least as consistent as this sport gets usually with injury/overtraining/overracing/slight improvements here and there). I’ve raced dopers before. They run like they have rockets on their feet!

      1. Michael Miller

        Sage, I always appreciate your willingness to speak out on this issue. Hopefully other elites will start to understand that associating with people like Carmichael is a check against them in many people’s book.

        I lived in Durango for 15 years. I’ve met Dakota few times, even volunteered for the first Telluride Mountain Run. Always seemed like a good kid to me and I enjoyed watching the local boy make good. I certainly have no knowledge that would suggest anyone in this sport is doping.

        But I also was involved in cycling for many years when Dakota was still in diapers. I’ve heard the stories first-hand from one of several talented junior riders who are currently suing the USADA because they were doped without their knowledge or consent when they were part of the US Junior national cycling team (coached by Carmichael) and suffered major health consequences. I know exactly who Carmichael is and his methods of attracting young talented athletes. I don’t want him involved in ultra-running or any other sport. I know exactly what his involvement means. I knew FLoyd Landis too. I grew up in the same county in PA and the same Amish-Mennonite culture. Floyd was a great guy. I met Tyler Hamilton and Tom Danielson (another Durango local) a few times too. They seemed like great guys. But they were also dopers, so I’m not as naive as many people in ultra-running seem to be.

        Dakota is certainly paying Chris Carmichael whether he writes him a check or gives him free publicity. He was the first elite to sign up and i’m sure that his early results encouraged many other people, both elites and non-elites to contribute to Chris Carmichael ill-begotten wealth. Koop’s fees START at almost 7,000 per year so I think its safe to assume that both he and Carmichael have benefited greatly from ultra-running and that, in my humble opinion, is just wrong.

        You are correct. Dakota writes well. He seems to be willing to tell everyone what a hypocrite he feels like at every opportunity. I’d love to hear him tell us all how he justifies contributing to the financial success of Chris Carmichael. Does he believe Carmichael is innocent? Does he not care?

        I’m waiting, but not holding my breath.

        1. SageCanaday

          Hey Mike, those are all really good points. I really appreciate you sharing your background and experience in this matter. You are right, I think we’re all going to have to fight really hard to keep our sport from becoming more like cycling…and any sort of association with systematic doping in endurance sport should for sure be questioned.

          (I also know of Tommy D from Strava ride segments here in Boulder…I know he got busted at least twice…I just read Tyler’s book also)…and you’re right “being a great guy” has nothing to do with it. I ran against guys on the roads who were later busted for EPO. It’s never a surprise in hindsight.

          It would be interesting to hear the ultra runner athlete’s thoughts on the whole Carmichael history.

          We know top level MUT Running simply isn’t clean anymore. It’s probably the easiest sport to recklessly dope in and it provides huge advantages (superhuman recovery from hard training, quads of steel for the downhills, and a boost in aerobic threshold for the uphills….not to mention the leg strength gains to run long distances).

          1. Emerson Thoreau

            I hate to ask the obvious question, so I will: given the lack of funds in the ultra game, and in view of the ease in which runners can obtain PEDS, what is the answer to the (I think) significant doping problem in ultrarunning? Thank you in advance.

            1. Meghan Hicks

              Hey all,

              This is, overall, a great and constructive conversation. Thank you so much for that.

              Can I politely request that we move it to the comments section of our ‘Performance Enhancing Drugs in Ultramarathons’ article, http://www.irunfar.com/2015/07/performance-enhancing-drugs-in-ultramarathons.html. There are some similar thoughts that have already been expressed there by other readers, and it would be a more appropriate jumping-off point for continuing the conversation.

              Thanks!

          1. Emerson Thoreau

            Koop states on CTS’ website that “I joined Carmichael Training Systems in 2001 to work with the best coaches in the industry.” 2001 was in the thick of Lance Armstrong’s dope-filled 7 year Tour de France winning run. CTS’ owner, Chris Carmichael, has been heavily implicated in doping and was Armstrong’s “coach.” It would be interesting to hear what Carmichael is saying about his doping involvement. I am sure less is more from his perspective. It still appears that way for many…

          2. Michael Miller

            I’ve never met Koop. I know many people that do know him and they all say he’s a great guy. I have no reason to doubt that.

            Koop is mentioned because he has worked for Chris Carmichael for 16 years and is now Director of Coaching for CTS which pretty much makes him Carmichael’s right hand man. He has never addressed that association other than to say “People will say what they will”. He stood by like a loyal general as more and more information came out linking his boss to doping over three decades and has not said a word about it. He continues to generate a lot of money for Chris Carmichael and is responsible for bringing someone with unquestionable ties to doping over three decades into the sport of ultra-running.

            That doesn’t mean he is involved in doping. No evidence of that, although lack of evidence in a sport with almost no testing means little. What it does mean to me is that he is far more concerned with his career and financial well-being than about clean sport. He has no credibility in the effort to keep doping out of ultra-running because he is the link between the sport and one of the worst doping frauds in American history.

            Fortunately, with only a few exceptions, his runners seem to be continually injured and unable to finish a 100 miler anymore so I’m not sure why any one would want to hire him for coaching advice at this point, certainly not for 7-15k per year…..

  3. Doug K

    thank you, a good interview. I always enjoy hearing from Dakota, interesting, honest and thoughtful. Best of luck to him with the studies..

    I did a fair bit of armed hiking with my son.. see link from my name..

  4. AJW

    Thanks for the in depth interview. Dakota has always been one of the most refreshing voices in our sport. What a great guy!

    And, perhaps he’ll cross paths with my oldest son Carson next year who will be starting at Fort Lewis in the Fall. Small world.

  5. Camas

    I met Dakota several years back in the Needles district of the Canyonlands. I was a student at CSU and so was he, so we had that in common. He was running and I asked, “how far today?” and he non-chalantly says “about 26”. I’m like “are you training for Hardrock or something”.

    “yeah”.

    “ok, well, good luck!”

    That was the year he got second.

    Who knew?

  6. Paul F.

    Really great interview. Dakota, I’ve enjoyed reading your essays on iRF–you clearly have a talent for writing. There is a definite need for those with a technical knowledge of the environment who can then tell good stories that reach a broad audience. The Castle Valley writer Terry Tempest Williams speaks about stories going through the back door to pierce people’s hearts. Stories can do a lot to bring change as they encourage us to reflect on our connections to place without the in-your-face sermons that all too often characterize environmental lit. You might check out Craig Childs’s work–he’s living over in Norwood and spins a great yarn.

    Good luck with your future goals!

    1. Jared Scray

      Great article Eric/Dakota. I must say I’m jealous of the life he leads. I haven’t always agreed with Dakota’s thoughts on life, certain thoughts he’s had on his experiences and races, etc. That said we are all growing and learning each day. I do agree though with Sage and Mike….CTS…hhhmmm, koop and the crew I believe in but they need to just go out on their own and leave the Carmichael/Lance dance behind.

      The only thing that I notice consistently in Dakota’s writing is a disconnect from the “regular guy” who does actually work a 9-5, raises a family, etc. I’m often left wondering what would happen if someone(anyone) in Dakota’s spot were to switch places with a “regular guy”.

  7. Shane D.

    Good read. I always enjoy reading Dakota’s work. I write a little myself & like the style with which he uses.

    It’s also a little ironic that he talks about struggling with making decisions, closing one door to open another. I am faced with the same problem, so I’m glad to see I’m not alone in this. But I guess that life, we all have to pull on our big boy boots & get on with it.

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