Jason Schlarb undoubtedly had the best performance of his ultrarunning career in winning the 2013 Run Rabbit Run 100 by more than an hour. In the following interview, Jason talks about how maintaining a positive attitude paid off, what changes he’s made to find more racing success in 2013, and why he carries an American flag with him every race.
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Jason Schlarb, 2013 Run Rabbit Run 100 Champion, Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Jason Schlarb after his win at the 2013 Run Rabbit Run 100. Nice running out there, Jason.
Jason Schlarb: Thank you, Bryon.
iRF: You had a day where nothing went wrong. How did that feel?
Schlarb: Pretty much. It feels good. It feels good. I’ve had the premise that running 100 miles you have to go basically to hell and back to finish and do well. Today, I kept a positive attitude, felt good, and stayed comfortable for about 90% of the race.
iRF: So it wasn’t about just lucking out and having that perfect day. It was about staying within yourself and keeping your mind in the right place?
Schlarb: Yeah, yeah. I’ve been really playing with the idea of smiling and laughing during running, especially on longer races. It worked out. It really keeps your mind off negative things creeping in—doubt, fear of other people passing me. I just relaxed, stay happy, calm, cool, and the body feels good, and the results follow along.
iRF: What brought about your shift towards that approach? Did someone inspire you? How did you come across that?
Schlarb: After last year, my only other 100, I didn’t practice that. It was just a miserable time. Joe Uhan wrote that article on iRunFar and he mentioned and talked about that psychology and some of the chemistry of even just smiling and laughing and staying in a positive attitude. It’s the things that people kind of know in general, but when you specifically apply it and make sure that you do it, it worked. I had a lot of self-talk. I sounded like kind of a nut, but as is most of the case in 100 miles, I was by myself, so who cares.
iRF: So you’re literally having a chat with Jason Schlarb.
Schlarb: Oh yeah, I had self-talk. I think 100 miles especially is kind of almost a religious event for me. I go to a really special place inside my brain and soul and being and just… it’s weird, it’s crazy. That’s part of the reason why I like it.
iRF: Could you see some of like Timothy Olson, Rory Bosio, and folks like that finding their success from that really outward approach to that happiness.
Schlarb: Yeah, from being an animal like Tim in the last third of the race and just going to somewhere unusually funky and special to get through a race. It works. It kind of gets you away from yourself and puts you into an alter ego and enables a good performance.
iRF: So you took the lead a little after 40 miles, but it was close until mile 70—you still were within, at the bottom of that little descent at Fish Creek, not Fish Creek, but at Spring Creek…
Schlarb: Spring Creek where Nick Clark had a Speckled Hen beer aid station, which was ridiculously tempting, but Karl [Meltzer] was six to seven minutes back and 15 or 20 minutes back was Dave Mackey who was still in the race at that point. [Jeff] Browning and Josh Arthur was a steam-rolling train ready to destroy me if I faltered.
iRF: They actually closed in a little bit on you on that descent, and did you switch mental modes? Did you switch your game or what happened there? With somebody like Timmy or Nikki Kimball there’s a flicking of the switch and it’s “beast mode.” It’s “attack.”
Schlarb: Yeah, my rule for the race before I even got there was “no racing until mile 70.” And it just so happened I got a nice slap in the face about 70 to 72 with all these guys right behind me that it was time to get outside of the comfort a little bit and push and make it hurt. At that point, that was kind of the beginning of the final climb. Then you kind of go flat and then the descent—who cares—just trash the body and finish. That was really where the work came in, and it worked out. Unfortunately, I didn’t know but before the final descent I had almost an hour on Karl, but I was in absolute paranoid mode looking back the last three or four miles making sure he wasn’t there.
iRF: You don’t want Karl behind you with any distance left.
Schlarb: No, no, he’s going to be ready to scoop up anybody’s carnage. There was even the thought, I didn’t know where Tim Olson was, I know that he can do miraculous running in the last 10 miles.
iRF: You had some solid ultra races over the last couple of years, but it seems like you made a really big step up this year. Dakota [Jones] edged you out there at San Juan Solstice 50, but you improved over your great performance last year.
Schlarb: “Edged” by 20 or 30 minutes, but he had an “unbelievable category” run, and I ran almost eight minutes faster than I did the year before and won which was the second fastest of all time. But that was a little big overshadowed by an awesome performance by Dakota.
iRF: You had a good run there, a good run at Speedgoat 50k, a great run here—what have you changed with your training or your approach to the schedule? What have you mixed up this year?
Schlarb: It’s two or three things. First one is not racing in August and taking another race out early in the summer to make sure I’m fresh and feeling good. Another one is a grain-free diet and making the body a fat-burning system. I think I had 1,500 calories for 17 hours.
iRF: The entire race.
Schlarb: The entire race. I didn’t bonk at all. The first hour and 25 minutes I didn’t take anything. Then after that it was about 100 calories every 40 or 45 minutes. The last 10 to 15 miles there were a couple times I hit it at 35 minutes. That made me efficient and with a 100 being so aerobic, it was just perfect. I had no salt, no salt caplets. It was nothing but the basics of running on fats and hitting the carbs just every once in awhile. That just worked out perfectly. That’s the result of going grain-free/Paleo. That really worked out well. Training has really come together and figuring out what works for me—doing that and having fun.
iRF: So those are sort of pre-competition changes you’ve made—changing your schedule, changing your overall diet, changing how you train a little bit. On race day, have you learned anything that’s helped you experientially over the last couple of years with the attitude or anything else?
Schlarb: I would say… my very first race in 2010 was The North Face 50. The first half of the race I was in 20th-30th place and I got to fifth. I think from the get-go, I’ve always had the experience of running in college and road running semi-professionally running for the Air Force that I had a really good sense of race strategy. That’s always been a strong suit for me. But getting familiar with the competition and getting familiar with the different races (50k, 50 mile, 100 mile), I’ve been able to bring everything together with my diet, training, the right amount of races per year—not being stupid and doing a race every single month during the summer. Being a full-time athlete now, things have finally come together. It’s nice to have these last three races be more successful and, subsequently, I hope to be more successful.
iRF: On a training front, you’ve both moved to Missoula[, Montana]. It wasn’t quite training in New Zealand, but you had a long road trip in New Zealand with your wife and your sun, you went to Patagonia…
Schlarb: The Dolomites.
iRF: Patagonia—you’d like to.
iRF: Do you seek out fun or do you sort of use that as motivation? How do you mix in this adventure?
Schlarb: That’s my ultimate goal. I went from a full time doing well in the military, quitting that to chase a dream a bit. Luckily the sponsorships came in and made the lifestyle a reality. To go out and run adventure runs with my team, trips to Dolomites, trips to Patagonia, racing the best races in North America and the world has become a reality. It’s just been a dream that’s kind of worked out.
iRF: Prior to you getting into ultrarunning thing, you were in the military and you were deployed in Iraq. I didn’t know this until you crossed the line this morning, but you carry a small American flag at every race. Tell me a little bit about that.
Schlarb: Yes, I got deployed to Iraq shortly after I got into the ultrarunning scene. It was a profound event. It’s something that’s pretty crazy. The sacrifices that a lot of these guys and gals make in a deployed environment and serving our country—it’s one thing to know it and read about it and understand it, but it’s another thing to go there and see these guys.
I took a flag from a helicopter pad from a place I was flying out of Iraq from and I took that and put it in my pocket and brought it home. Ever since then I’ve always carried it in every single race. I’m going to win a race and finish across the line in first place, I pull it out. Unfortunately, it doesn’t happen too terribly often.
iRF: But you always have it with you?
Schlarb: I always have it with me every single race. It was nice to pull it out today.
iRF: Congratulations on pulling it out and pulling out a fantastic run these past two days.
Schlarb: Thanks. Thanks very much.
iRF: This is an obvious bonus question for you. What inspired the mullet?
Schlarb: Like we discussed, I was in the military and I did ROTC in college. So, let’s see, that’s about 13, 14 years of being told what you have to do with your hair. Long hair is really too high maintenance, so I was like, You know what? Nobody has a mullet. This is pretty cool. I can kind of have that euro-soccer look. I don’t have to have it all in my face and blowing in the wind when I’m driving my car. So the mullet is kind of my thing.
iRF: It’s your expression of freedom?