Alex Varner will represent the U.S.A. at the 2015 IAU Trail World Championships. In this interview, Alex talks about life and running since winning the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile, how he specifically trained for this course, and how he might manage the speed at which Euros will start the race.
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Alex Varner Pre-2015 IAU Trail World Championships Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Alex Varner before the 2015 IAU Trail World Championships. That’s a mouthful. How are you?
Alex Varner: Good. How are you?
iRunFar: I’m alright.
Varner: Funny seeing you here.
iRunFar: Yeah, last time I saw you, you had just won Lake Sonoma 50.
iRunFar: Actually, you’d had a couple beers after Lake Sonoma.
iRunFar: What have you been up to since then?
Varner: Training, yeah, that’s pretty much it. I ran Boston. I forgot that. Yeah, I ran Boston. That was fun. It was kind of a good back-to-back weekends.
iRunFar: Just a week later?
Varner: Yes, and then…
iRunFar: How did that go?
Varner: It went well. I ran 2:28 or something like that—much better than I did last year with the same double. Then most recently I raced Bay to Breakers with a centipede as part of my San Francisco club team (West Valley). We had 13 of us tied together running through San Francisco.
iRunFar: Sounds like a good time.
Varner: It was a lot of fun. It’s always a good time.
iRunFar: Outside of that, how has your training been going?
Varner: It’s good. It’s good. I had a little setback about two weeks ago. I came down with something. I think my body overheated for lack of a better term and Friday night came around at the end of the week and I went to bed at 8:30 p.m. and didn’t wake up until 3:30 p.m. the next day. Then I was up for five or six hours. My girlfriend and I had been planning on going for a hike, and then I proposed. I texted her, “You should come back home, I’m alive.” I’d been planning this. Of course, the day I’d been planning this, I get sick. So I was awake for about six hours. I proposed, had dinner, and then went back to bed at 10:00 p.m. and slept until nine the next morning and woke up sweating four times, and that morning everything was good to go.
iRunFar: It wasn’t some sort of allergic reaction to the commitment?
Varner: [laughs] Not that I’m aware of. Convenient, but no.
iRunFar: You had a full training block in there. Anything tuned toward this race?
Varner: Yes, I did a trail on Mount Tamalpais called the Widowmaker which officially goes from Topher Gaylord’s driveway (front door) to the top of Tam and it’s like 2,000 feet of vert in maybe a mile-and-a-half or two miles. So it’s pretty steep, it’s rocky, and it’s technical. I got on that a couple of times but not as much as I would have liked to because of that weekend of sickness, but I saw it. That was probably as close as I got to really specifically training for this. I did some intervals with a little bit more vert than normal but nothing huge.
iRunFar: So you have a little beta on this course specifically that it’s straight up and straight down and not just vert—it’s not TNF 50 course vert.
Varner: Yes, yes, tech… no, no, it’s ‘that’ vert. Yeah, there was a little bit of that, and I’m ready to be powerhiking quite a bit.
iRunFar: How do you mix that up with Western States right around the corner?
Varner: We’ll see. It will be a test to see how I can recover from Western from this. If I’m not fully then I’m okay with that.
iRunFar: So this is more of a focus?
Varner: Yeah, when I got on the team, I was like, “Well, it’s the world championships.” I know it’s a little bit lower profile than, say, if you were on the track and field world championships, but it still is a chance to run for the U.S. and it was really hard to pass up. I had a great race at Western last year, and if it so happens that that’s my best run at Western, then so be it. I’m happy with that. Yeah, we’ll see what happens.
iRunFar: And there’s kind of an interesting component to this. Unlike any other race you’ve done in trail-ultrarunning, there’s a team component. So you can consider yourself for a podium or something, but there’s also a chance for a team medal.
Varner: I think it’s kind of fun having that—Tim [Tollefson], David [Laney], and I’m not sure about Yassine [Diboun] and Alex [Nichols], you know, guys who have raced in team environments before, whether it be high school or college or something—there’s something added to it when you’re out there competing for your country. It doesn’t have to be your country. It’s a little bit different than being on the Nike team with David and Tim—“Oh, cool. We share a sponsor.” But you’re like, “We’re representing USA and we have a lot of friends at home rooting for us, so we want to do…”
iRunFar: Even running for West Valley at a cross country race, you’d be like…
Varner: Exactly. “Let’s go out and do it for…” Even if I’m having a bad race, I’m still going to fight through it to finish and do my best to try and help my team.
iRunFar: Does it change how you might approach the race?
Varner: No. I’ve talked with Jason Koop a little bit yesterday. We might have to push the pace a little bit more than I’m comfortable with in the beginning just to get in position to be where I want to be. DBo [Dylan Bowman] was warning me that these guys, the Euros, have no reservations about going out hard and dropping out. That’s how he put it. He said, “Be aware of that, but try to avoid getting caught up in that as much as you can.”
iRunFar: It’s definitely a more common practice here, not just here, people do it in the States. There are definitely folks who tend to do that a little bit more than others.
Varner: You know, hopefully it won’t happen to me.
iRunFar: Again, for goal setting, do you set the bar up here? Are you in it to win, specifically to win, and if not…?
Varner: Yes, I think any guy on our team has a shot at it.
iRunFar: Do they have to do it recklessly?
Varner: No, that would be reckless. I think you don’t get to the start line… you don’t ever win a race without thinking you have a shot at it. I think any one of us, if you ask them the same thing, they might kind of toe the gravel a little bit and look down, but deep down they’re thinking, There’s a shot I could win this, and that’s good. You want that. I don’t want to be lining up next to these guys if they’re like, Ah forget it, we’ll do our best and see what happens. No, I want the guys who are going to go after it tooth and nail.
iRunFar: This is your first experience on this steep of a course in true ultra distance. How do you think your experience with Dipsea is going to help? It’s kind of a crazy race.
Varner: Yes, [laughs] it will be interesting. If nothing else, hopefully I won’t have to pass as many people as at Dipsea. It will… I think just having that experience, even though the distance and terrain are so different, just being ready for some antics to go down—who knows when and where, but kind of knowing that something might happen and being able to adapt and fight through that is valuable in any situation.
iRunFar: What motivates you most for this weekend?
Varner: Just a new opportunity, new experience… I’m fit… we’ll see. I’ll just go out and try to do my best.
iRunFar: Best of luck out there, Alex. Have fun.
Varner: Thanks. Will do.