[Editor’s Note: Durango, Colorado’s Paul Hamilton just finished second at the Red Hot Moab 55k last weekend, an early-season proving ground with a stacked field. We thought you might like to learn a little more about this young, up-and-coming ultrarunner.]
Paul Hamilton and I are in the midst of making our second batch of ice cream when he looks over and sees my dairy choice. “You got low-fat milk? Oh man. We’ve gotta’ talk,” he says with a wry smile on his face. Paul doesn’t like to skimp when it comes to food. He puts butter ON his cookies. I’ve seen it happen with my own eyes. The guy can eat and standing in at 6’5”, that’s not surprising.
Paul doesn’t skimp on anything else in his life, for that matter. As he sits on the couch eating what I’ll estimate to be about two pints of ice cream, I realize that the phrase ‘go big or go home’ pretty much sums Paul up. Well. Mostly. Paul, like any good ice cream, has many layers, textures, and even surprises.
You don’t get into ultras without having run something, anything, beforehand. And so it goes with Paul. A Colorado Springs native, Paul had some minor successes in high school cross country and track. The cross-country team he was a part of even won the state title his junior and senior year, though Paul still says he “had no standout achievements” in high school. He simply just loved being “part of a team and feeling a deep camaraderie” with those he trained.
Enjoying his time on these teams, he continued to pursue running in college, walking onto the Colorado State University running teams. However, he quickly realized the intensity of the training combined with a difficult academic workload was far too much to handle. More than that, running in college wasn’t exactly what he expected. He, like many ultrarunners, found that it wasn’t the running so much that he was after, but rather the experience. He wanted to be in the mountains with people who wanted to be there, too. Realizing that he and collegiate running mixed as well as seafood in a gelato, Paul moved on in search of a better fit.
As with most twentysomethings, Paul’s ‘figuring it out’ stage (read: move, settle, repeat) went on for a few years. He says, “My mid-20s were all about flying by the seat of my pants.” Trying, failing, and succeeding in this stage of life is at best a tedious process, but it is essential. How else are we to really learn what we like? I mean, sure, Nutella swirled in ice cream sounds like it might work, but heck, I’m not going to take your word for it. I’m going to try for myself! These are the years of trial and error are where you discover and cultivate your passions.
Paul, unafraid to travel around Colorado in hopes of figuring it out, gave his best effort into each new endeavor. After staying in Fort Collins for a year, Paul moved to Gunnison, Colorado where he had friends. But, again, something just wasn’t right. From there, he bounced back to Colorado Springs and, in 2007, he landed in Fort Collins again where he found himself taking a five-week forestry course at Colorado State’s Pingree Park Campus.
At the time, it didn’t seem like a pivotal move, but upon reflection, the course helped Paul to “cultivate self reliance in the outdoors.” Soon Paul found himself taking solo backpacking trips in the Rockies which allowed him to reconnect with nature just by moving across beautiful landscapes. Paul says that, “being in nature and moving through it made me feel like I was a participant in it, not just a casual observer.” In a sense, he was cookie dough being folded into rich surroundings. Before he realized it, he was engulfed and being among the mountains was second nature. Finally things were melding together; things were being figured out.
Despite having never heard of ultrarunning, Paul had all the makings of an ultrarunner: a running background, an enjoy-er of mountains, and experience as a backpacker. But only being a lover of mountains does not an ultrarunner make. Paul, like many of us, found this out the hard way on that first big adventure. You know the one, the one right after you think, I can hike a long ways. I can run a long ways. What if, instead of hiking this trail/loop/death climb, I run it? I’ll bring less stuff, but I’ll move faster.
And then you do it, but something inevitably goes wrong. For Paul, it was his lack of food. He attempted the Maroon Bells Four Pass Loop, a vicious, 26-mile loop in Aspen, Colorado. When asked about the ‘run,’ Paul rolls his eyes as if to say, “Don’t make me talk about that.” Oh, but you must. “Well,” clearing his throat, “I had backpacked it before, so I knew the route, but it was my first time experimenting with nutrition. I was clueless and suffered the most debilitating bonk of my life.” Carrying only one water bottle and three gels, he was doomed from the start. It takes a lot more than 300 calories to fuel anyone for a marathon in the mountains, let alone a 6’5” male.
So as to spare Paul from rehashing the experience, I’ll just say that I heard from a reliable source that it took three hours to finish the last six miles. But he made it those last six miles back to the car. It is at that point in the parking lot or on the drive home after a humbling experience in nature that you become an ultrarunner or you don’t. Paul, like the rest of us, had the choice to learn from the experience and decide to give it a go again, but to prepare better. Or say screw that shit, it’s not for me. And if you’re reading this on iRunFar, you, like Paul, chose the former.
From that experience on, Paul has been going about his running in much the same way he goes about most fantastic adventures. Trial and error. Live and learn. In 2012, he ran Bear Chase 50k with his brother, Joel Hamilton. Taking second to his brother, Paul used the run as a learning experience, noticing “vertical is key.” Honing in on his skills he began to focus on mountain running, living and training in the foothills of Fort Collins and the surrounding ranges. Paul fondly recounts this period in his life, saying, “I moved to a studio in Fort Collins, situated right next to Lory State Park. That was no mistake. Running was becoming my priority.”
In 2013, Paul put his legs and running experience to the test by signing up for some stout mountain ultras. He must have figured something out because he placed second at Quad Rock 50 Mile, second at Golden Gate Dirty Thirty, first at Telluride Mountain Run (which, is probably the coolest race out there…), and finished his season with another first at The Rut 50k. Last fall, Paul uprooted his home once again, this time to Durango.