After a bit of a tough 2014 racing-wise, but a solid three months of training ahead of this weekend, Dakota Jones is feeling confident for Saturday’s The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championships. In this interview, Dakota talks about his previous experiences with this race, why he keeps coming back to it, and how he think this year could be different from the others.
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Dakota Jones Pre-2014 TNF EC 50 Mile Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar, and I’m here with Dakota Jones at The North Face store in Union Square in San Francisco about a day-and-a-half before the 2014 The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championships.
Dakota Jones: That’s right, but more importantly, it’s a half day before my birthday. So let’s focus on that.
iRunFar: Let’s focus on your birthday.
Jones: That’s right.
iRunFar: Happy birthday.
iRunFar: Are you going to be 21?
Jones: I’m going to be 20 years old.
Jones: That’s right. I’m going backwards. It’s pretty good.
iRunFar: Well, that’s unfortunate for the after party on Saturday night.
Jones: Yeah, that’s true. I’m going to be 24 actually.
iRunFar: Happy birthday.
Jones: Thanks a lot.
iRunFar: Do you feel a little old? This is your third time racing this race.
Jones: Not really. Fifth time—I’ve been here five times.
iRunFar: Five times?
Jones: This race has spanned my career as an ultrarunner. I ran here first in 2009 when I was 18. Then the next year in 2010 I ran with Geoff Roes and got spanked at the end by Geoff and [Dave] Mackey and the Spanish guy, Miguel Heras. Then I came back in 2011 and got my butt kicked again by Mike Wolfe, but I kept getting a little bit better. Then I took a year off. Then I came here and got the flu last year, so I kind of set the trend back. I think I was set up to win last year but then I got the flu, so I got like 600th place. So let’s hope this year that doesn’t happen.
iRunFar: Dude, you have a long history with this race. It’s crazy that you keep coming back. Why?
Jones: It’s competitive.
iRunFar: You come back for the competition.
Jones: Sure. The money is pretty sweet, but that’s why it’s competitive. I’d do this race whether or not there’s money because there’s competition. That’s what you want in a race.
iRunFar: So your highest place here is second in 2011 behind Mr. Wolfe who ran away with things in the latter part of the race?
Jones: Yeah, the last six miles.
iRunFar: So, last year significantly further in front of you during this race, Rob Krar ran with the same style—ran away with things in the last ten miles.
Jones: Oh, man. That guy has got some speed.
iRunFar: Yeah, there are a lot of guys who have some speed. What and how is your approach to a race that is as stacked with competition as this one?
Jones: I run my own race. I’ve tried to do all kinds of strategies. I’ve tried to stay in the back and wait until late in the race to pull ahead. I’ve tried to go off the front. I’ve tried to stay with the front guys and then pull ahead at the end. I think I’ve done all those things, but none of them were on purpose. It was just a matter of me running my own race. I think that whether or not I want to pull some strategy, I always end up just running my own race. I’ve been in races where I’m like, I want to stay with the front guys even if that’s slower than I could possibly be running because that will save energy and I’ll still be up front, but I just can’t do that. Whether to my detriment or to my advantage, I just can’t do that. I’m running my own pace and my own race. Sometimes I’ve been off the front. I don’t like running off the front because I like to run a more modest race and not run off the front and challenge everybody and seem all tough, but if that’s what happens, that’s what happens. Or if I’m in 25th place halfway through, if I’m running my own race and I’m running smart and I feel like that’s what I can do, then there we go. I think Saturday I can run with the front guys. Who knows how long? That’s what it comes down to. I don’t know what those guys can do. I don’t know what they will do. I’m not really concerned about it until we’re in the race. I’m just going to go out and try to keep it together for the first 20-25 miles and then try to stay up with whoever is up front and hopefully by 40 or 45 I can pull ahead. If I can’t, well that’s just not going to happen; I’m going to be able to. That’s the goal. That’s the best way to think about it.
iRunFar: Is that confidence that I hear there?
Jones: Yeah, sure. I feel fit. I feel like I’m confident. I feel like I’ve had three solid months of really healthy training, and I’m really strong. I’m just ready to go.
iRunFar: We saw you a month ago, maybe a little more than a month ago, and you sort of ripped apart the Moab Trail Marathon. Were you feeling fit then? What was going on with your training at that time?
Jones: Yeah, I was in the middle of the big week, so I wasn’t at peak fitness. But that was actually kind of sweet because I wasn’t in peak fitness but I was still able to run pretty fast. I did pretty well there. Hopefully now that I’ve had another month of training plus a pretty solid taper, I’ll be able to run even harder.
iRunFar: So let’s face it—your year has been a little bit of a tough one.
iRunFar: How do you get around the mental aspect of that? You know you’re fit. You’ve had some really good training. The numbers stand behind that. How do you get past a series of races that can’t be mental confidence boosters?
Jones: It’s pretty hard. I think I have a generally optimistic outlook and it’s sort of been beaten down this year against my will. That’s just what happens. Through a series of planning and mistakes and even some that I could have avoided—I could have planned better for races through Transvulcania and Hardrock—but then other mistakes I couldn’t really avoid like when I twisted my ankle really bad at Hardrock. Between all that, I just haven’t had super solid results this year and it’s been pretty tough confidence-wise to come to terms with that, but that’s okay with me. I think I have enough strength… I think I’ve done well enough in the past… whether or not I’ve done well in the past I know I can run well. That’s how I’ve always approached it. That’s why I could do well when I first started racing was I just showed up and tried to run my own race. That’s what I’ll try to do on Saturday.
iRunFar: You have said that you sort of live in a little bit of a bubble when it comes to training. You train by yourself. You don’t look at what other people are doing on Strava…
Jones: Yeah, because that stuff just psyches me out.
iRunFar: Does it psych you out?
Jones: Yeah, totally. If I see what Anton [Krupicka] or Sage [Canaday] or Rob Krar or Kilian [Jornet] are doing, I just get psyched out. I’m not doing the right stuff; I’m not doing enough stuff; I’m doing too much; I’m eating the wrong way. Whatever. If I get caught up in that, I just start trying to do what everybody else is doing. When I do what everyone else is doing I fall apart because I try to do it all. I guess I just have to trust in myself to be smart, to run the right amount, and I trust in my coach, Jason Koop, to give me the right training. That’s the biggest thing. I would be way more psyched out if I didn’t have a coach. I trust Jason entirely to give me the right training. That’s been borne out by the good races I’ve had, and that’s been borne out by all the training I’ve had. I’ve gotten points where I feel really good one day and I run really well, and the next day I can’t do anything. But I go out and I have a big workout and I have to do it and I get out there and half way through I start to feel really good and I run really strong. Then maybe the next day I’m pretty psyched and I want to go run hard but it’s an easy day and so I don’t. I go out and I can hardly move. It seems to me that Jason can often tell what I need better than I can.
iRunFar: That’s why you have a coach.
Jones: Exactly. That’s why I have a coach. I trust him entirely. I think he’s given me a really great set of training for the last few months, and I trust him.
iRunFar: You are notorious with your commitment to train. I’ve basically seen you send parties home because it’s bedtime because you have to get up in the morning. You look closely at your food and your recovery.
Jones: Try to.
iRunFar: This is your last race in the 2014 season. What are you looking forward to doing when this race is over?
Jones: Relaxing. We’re going to party on Saturday night, that’s for sure, whether or not the race goes well. We need to celebrate or forget things. We’re going to party. That will be fun. It will be nice to take some time off after this race. It’s been a long season. I’ve been training since late January. I’m just kind of beat down mentally. It will be nice to get through this one and then be able to take a month or so off of specific training. I’ll still run a lot, ski, and be active, but the mental requirements of training are pretty taxing. It’s something that you’ve got to take time off from.
iRunFar: Yeah. Good luck to you this weekend, and we’ll see you out there.
Jones: Thanks. Looking forward to it.
iRunFar: Bonus question for you. Bonus question. What are you reading right now?
Jones: I’m reading Cormac McCarthy’s The Crossing. I got way into Cormac McCarthy. I’ve always sort of been into him, but I got way into him recently. I read The Road, and then I read All the Pretty Horses, and now The Crossing, and then I have The Cities of the Plain. That’s the Border Trilogy—All the Pretty Horses, The Crossing, and The Cities of the Plain. It’s crazy. It’s intense. It’s amazing. I don’t know how to describe it. The way he writes is just so simple and he tells about these insane things in the simplest terms which makes it even more powerful because it’s all… it’s not built up. There’s no sensationalism. It’s like, “This is what happened, and it’s crazy.”
iRunFar: Are you going to be thinking about any McCarthy this weekend?
Jones: I kind of hope not. I’d like to have an optimistic attitude. He’s pretty dark.
iRunFar: Yeah, but ultras take you to dark places sometimes whether you want to be there or not.
Jones: Yeah, Rob Krar goes to dark places. I don’t know if that’s why I run ultras.
iRunFar: We’ll leave that in the books then.
Jones: Yeah, exactly.
iRunFar: Thanks, Dakota.
Jones: Thanks, Meghan.