Dakota Jones didn’t have the result he wanted earlier in the summer at Hardrock… nor did he have the result he wanted the last time he attempted The North Face Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc. In the following interview, Dakota talks about what went wrong in UTMB ’11 and Hardrock ’14, why he’s aiming to enjoy UTMB this year, what adventures he’s been on while in France the past few weeks, and how pushing his boundaries with mountaineering and climbing benefit his running.
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Dakota Jones Pre-2014 TNF UTMB Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Dakota Jones before the 2014 The North Face Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc.
Dakota Jones: Hi Bryon.
iRunFar: Welcome back, Dakota.
Jones: Thanks, it’s good to be here. I like Chamonix, and it’s a beautiful day.
iRunFar: That’s a great combination.
Jones: Yeah, exactly. We haven’t had weather… ahem… I think the weather has been pretty bad here most of the summer, so it’s nice to see a good, nice day.
iRunFar: It was pretty crappy here two days ago.
Jones: Yeah, exactly. But it seems to be holding up pretty well for the races that are going on right now.
iRunFar: Yeah, it’s a nice day to be out on the CCC course or still finishing up the TDS. You’re here to run UTMB. You have been out here before.
Jones: Yes, I’ve been out here several times before. I’ve tried once three years ago and I dropped out about half way in. I’m determined to not let that happen again.
iRunFar: What went wrong in that race?
Jones: It was more of a mental thing. I really shouldn’t have dropped. It was basically that I’d run Hardrock earlier that year, and it totally destroyed me mentally and physically. It was like a traumatic experience because I had no idea what I was getting into, and it blew my mind. But I had a free trip to France after that and I was like, Well, I can’t not do that. So I came out here and I got to that same point in UTMB where I was at in Hardrock where I was just hating everything, and I decided, I can’t go through this again. So I dropped. It’s too bad that I did that because that’s not the kind of spirit I want to invoke with my running. So, maybe I just had to have that experience. Maybe that’s just an excuse. The point is, I’m not going to do that again this year. I tried running Hardrock this year again and dropped out because of a bum ankle, but it’s actually healed up really, really well. So I feel great. I have a little brace for it that Scott Jurek gave me which has been awesome. I’m feeling good.
iRunFar: Unlike last time where you suffered through Hardrock and had those traumatic memories. You were, I’m sure, unhappy having to drop because of your sprained ankle, but you weren’t… it wasn’t a second half where you were just hating life.
Jones: I had an actual excuse at Hardrock. It was actually really, really disappointing to drop at Hardrock because I put a lot into that and then you drop which just sucks. I figured UTMB was the right distance from Hardrock and I could probably salvage all the work that I put into Hardrock and put it towards another race.
iRunFar: It wasn’t on your schedule. You were not planning to do the double.
Jones: No. Right. I was not planning to do that again. I learned my lesson on that one. Yeah, when I realized my ankle was going to heal up okay in time after Hardrock for this race and I could get in, I just decided to do it.
iRunFar: So I’m guessing it’s more than just wanting to salvage fitness. What brings you here to UTMB?
Jones: This race—it’s also wanting to salvage my race from three years ago. Dropping out sucks. It makes me feel like… I just want to finish what I start whether I win or not. That’s what I always try to do. I haven’t done a great job of it all the time. At the very least, I want to come back and finish it. Honestly, my confidence at 100-mile races is super low. I don’t really feel like I’m good at this. I’ve done it three times and barely survived every one of them. My last one, I put everything into and it was a total failure.
iRunFar: Which one was that?
Jones: Hardrock. So I just want to finish. Honestly, I want to enjoy it. It sounds like such a sandbagger sort of thing to say, “I’m just here to have fun and enjoy it,” because yeah, if I have a good day, I want to win the darn race. But, realistically, I don’t really know if that’s going to happen. My real goal is just to enjoy it and run around the mountains. This is an incredible place. To get to run here for that long supported is a pretty unique opportunity, so I want to take advantage of it and enjoy it.
iRunFar: You get to do it with some pretty cool people.
Jones: Exactly. Whether or not I’m running with all the guys up front or with the equally cool people in the back, or maybe I can keep up with some of the women, or whatever it takes. There are cool people everywhere. It would be fun to share it with those people.
iRunFar: You’ve had some fun so far here in France. Tell us a little bit about what you’ve been up to.
Jones: Yeah, I got here about two weeks ago. Five or six days after I got here I went with Kilian Jornet and Mike Foote and Greg Vollet and François D’Haene and we ran up Mont Blanc from Les Houches which is a 12,500-foot climb. It’s a pretty amazing climb. Yeah, you start in the Chamonix Valley and go all the way up in a single climb to the summit of Mont Blanc. That was crazy. It took us eight or nine hours.
Jones: Yeah, roundtrip.
iRunFar: Any technical equipment or just running shoes? Or did you take axes?
Jones: No, I think François brought an axe, a piolet, but I don’t think anybody used it. We had really good conditions. There’s so much weather here, there’s a lot of snow up high. It’s not icy conditions up high like it usually is in late August. Yeah, once we got up onto the glacier, we just put on our rain pants and our jackets and gloves and we just ran up it. With all the snow you get really good footing and it’s not that slippery. It was great.
iRunFar: Then you did more of a climby climb?
Jones: Yeah, the next day, Kilian took me up this peak called Chardonnay which was ridiculous. I had no idea what I was getting into. He was just like, “Yeah, it’s really cool. You’ll like it.” The next morning we’re like packing up and he started handing me crampons and an ice axe, and I was like, “Oh, oh gosh.” If Kilian is handing me this, this is full on. So I just went with it. We went up. It was just one of these peaks here that is just ridiculous that you can see from town.
iRunFar: Like big, jagged?
Jones: Out of control. Big, jagged, snowy, impossibly high up. Yeah, we got up there and I was like, Holy crap, we’re doing this. But it was actually pretty sweet. A lot of those peaks that just seem impossible from a distance, you get up there and you can see a route through it. I’ve done enough climbing; I know how it works. You get up there and there’s a route and you kind of piece your way through all the different features. Then we get up on this ridge and that was awesome. It was this really incredible, long ridge that was really not that long, but…
iRunFar: Seb Montaz is probably hiding up there taking pictures.
Jones: Exactly. That sort of thing—the kind of thing he videos. It was crazy because it’s so sharp on the ridge that there’s literally… it’s like fangs of rock sticking up out of the snow. So it’s kind of a cross between rock climbing and walking along these little paths of snow that are this wide and there’s 4,000 feet on either side, and you’re like, Oh, gosh.
iRunFar: Kilian is sprinting and doing cartwheels.
Jones: Kilian was super comfortable on it, of course. I was okay. I made it through. There was one section where we had to descend off the ridge and go under this bulge of rock and it was on just snow and I didn’t have any rock to hang onto. It was, Really? I’m nervous. But, I don’t know, we did it.
iRunFar: Did you push your limits a little bit?
Jones: Yeah, that’s exactly it. I pushed my limits. I didn’t feel like I was pushing my limits to an unreasonable degree.
iRunFar: It wasn’t unsafe, but it was hard mentally probably more than physically.
Jones: Exactly. Much more than physically, it was hard mentally.
iRunFar: Do you think that taking on those challenges in other worlds, be it climbing or what not, helps your running when you get to a point of…?
Jones: Yeah, absolutely. Just knowing you can do things that you didn’t think were possible is kind of a trip. It’s true. You get to these places where you’re really uncertain and you don’t really trust yourself and you wouldn’t necessarily make this move if you didn’t have to. Like when you’re 80 miles into a race and you want to drop, you wouldn’t necessarily continue if there wasn’t a race going on and you felt the obligation to continue. Then you do it and you’re like, You know what? I can do this. This is really cool. So a whole lot of those experiences can definitely give you the mindset that when you start feeling really bad it’s really not the end of the world.
iRunFar: I hope you find some of those this weekend and work through them. Solve those problems.
Jones: Me, too. Thanks a lot, Bryon. It will be fun to see you out there.
iRunFar: Thanks, Dakota.
iRunFar: Bonus question. You’re sort of a self-teaching student at this point. How’s your French coming?
Jones: Oh, man. I was psyched actually. I just hitchhiked into town with this guy who picked me up and he spoke only French to me. It was awesome. We had a conversation. It was embarrassing and bad on my part, but we were able to convey information back and forth in French. That was awesome. I was psyched on that. But my French is really, really bad. It’s really hard to learn French. I’m really trying. At least I’ll be here for two months. That helps a lot, I think, just being around it.
iRunFar: Keep working on it. Bonne chance.
Jones: Yeah, you, too. How’s your French?
iRunFar: It’s horrible. Spanish is better than my French.
Jones: Did you translate all those articles?
iRunFar: Heck no.
Jones: That wasn’t you? Was it Mauri?
iRunFar: Mauri Pagliacci! Gracias Amigo!