Dakota Jones keeps it funny, and real. In this interview, Dakota reflects on the month he’s been living on the island of La Palma in the Canary Islands ahead of the 2015 Transvulcania Ultramarathon, his challenging experience with the race last year, and how he’s mentally approaching this year’s race.
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Dakota Jones Pre-2015 Transvulcania Ultramarathon Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar, and I’m here on the island of La Palma in the little village of Los Sauces…
Dakota Jones: Los Sauces.
iRunFar: Los Sauces?
Jones: Los Sauces.
iRunFar: I’m in the village of the sauces…
Jones: That’s how it’s spelled.
iRunFar: With Dakota Jones before the 2015 Transvulcania Ultramarathon. Hi.
Jones: Hi, Meghan. Good to see you. I’m glad to be on camera again. It’s been awhile.
iRunFar: Well, are you actually glad to be on camera?
Jones: Yeah, I LOVE being on camera. When was the last time I saw you on camera, Meghan?
iRunFar: We saw each other before The North Face.
Jones: Yeah, that was before I ran The North Face Endurance Challenge.
iRunFar: We’ve crossed a continent and an ocean to meet again here in La Palma.
Jones: Yes, and if you see this beautiful view behind us, this is my patio.
iRunFar: Yeah, we’re sitting here on top of your apartment right now. You rented this patio for the last month in La Palma.
Jones: Yeah, I’ve been here for a whole month.
iRunFar: How does that make you feel?
Jones: It’s been cool actually. I’ve been here a month totally by myself pretty much. I know some of the guys and the Transvulcania people were really good to me and helped me out a lot, but yeah, I’ve been kind of doing my own thing here and it’s been really nice. I lucked out and found this apartment with a rooftop patio and, I don’t know, I ran a lot and drove around a lot and checked out a lot of the island.
iRunFar: Taught yourself some guitar?
Jones: Yeah, I got a little bit of guitar but not that much. I got a little bit more Spanish; that was pretty fun.
iRunFar: So you’ve learned how to buy stuff at the supermarket and get gas for your car?
Jones: Yeah, I’ve learned how to do all that stuff. I haven’t learned how to get a haircut which is why the sides of my hair is kind of short. I was like, “I just want it more short, más corto.” He was like, “Uhhh, what?” I don’t think he understood. He said something about chicos. Yeah, that’s a boy, and I’m a boy, so that will work. And this is what he did. So now my hair’s a lot shorter, but I don’t know. It’s all part of traveling.
iRunFar: Well, we’re here sort of on the far end of La Palma island. You’re in a little village here, but you’re kind of separated from most of the developed area of the island. What’s it’s been like being here kind of having this really close encounter with an isolated island out in the middle of the ocean?
Jones: It’s pretty cool. It doesn’t feel that isolated. You are technically on this island out in the middle of the ocean, but it’s very… it’s not a third-world country. It’s very much Spain. You can go to the grocery store. You can go down to shops and touristy things. It’s very much like any other place in Europe except that the geography is pretty striking. It’s this huge volcano in the middle of the ocean which is really cool. So it hasn’t really felt that remote. I come home and I can get on the internet and call my mom. But then I go out and I can drive 30 minutes from here and I’m on this part on the north end of the island that nobody goes to that has this ancient forest that comes down from the peak all the way down to the coast. It’s this really rocky coastline and pretty much these wild canyons. It’s a crazy place. Up here you see the wind and we’re wearing jackets and it’s kind of raining and cloudy up here, but then probably right now on the other side of the island which as the crow flies is 30 or 40 miles away or less than that, it’s probably sunny and the sun is setting over a calm ocean. There are all these little microclimates all over the island. It’s really neat to see that.
iRunFar: You’ve done Transvulcania twice before. Now you’ve come and you’ve kind of had this extended encounter with the race. This is a race that travels across much of the island and you see all the different ecosystems. You travel from sea level up to its highest point and then back to sea level again. You get into the exposed volcanic features and then back into the tropical forests again. Is this race going to take on any different meaning to you now that you’ve learned so much more about the island and spent more time here?
Jones: I don’t think so, no.
iRunFar: No? It is what it is?
Jones: To be honest, the race is a totally different experience than anything I’ve done here. I go out there and there’s so many people out there stoked for the race, supporting the race, cheering for the racers. There are over 1,000 racers, I think, in the race itself. It’s a totally different experience. I don’t take in a lot of what’s around me. I can look around and see where I’m at and I don’t get lost, but it’s not like I’m up there pointing out landmarks to people. I’m focusing on my nutrition.
iRunFar: “Why don’t you stop and look at this viewpoint!?”
Jones: Exactly. “I’ll be up ahead.” Yeah, I don’t think it’s much… that’s sort of the nature of racing. A race is a race. What’s cool about mountain racing is that races are different all over the world. For a race like this, around 45 or 50 miles and seven-ish hours, it’s a hard, fast race. You get kind of the same attitude to then wherever you’re at.
iRunFar: What you’re saying is that argument that, “Oh, when you’re in the mountains and you’re trail racing and you’re running through this beautiful area, you’re probably seeing about 1% of it while you’re actually racing?
Jones: Yeah, totally. I think so. Probably. I try to take in as much as I can, but I probably take in about as much as I need to to make sure I don’t get lost. That’s kind of it.
iRunFar: Let’s back up a little bit. The last time we saw you was after you finished second at The North Face 50 back in December. Talk about what’s been going on with your running and with your training. You had a really good day out there.
Jones: Yeah, I took two months pretty easy. I didn’t stop running, but I didn’t have any specific training. I just ran through the winter. I took up Nordic skiing a little bit.
iRunFar: How did that go?
Jones: It’s pretty cool.
iRunFar: Dakota Jones in tights?
Jones: Yeah, it’s not easy. It’s a lot of technique. I’ve got the engine, but I just don’t have the technique. I took some solid spills. I snapped a pole. The last day I was out there I snapped a carbon pole.
iRunFar: They’re kind of expensive.
Jones: For other people. Anyway, so I took it pretty easy. I was just in Durango. I had a pretty good time. I didn’t do much of anything of note really. It was kind of nice to have some downtime and to just be at home for a long time.
iRunFar: You picked back up with your running?
Jones: Yeah, at the end of January I started training again specifically with this race in mind because that’s what I want to do—race a little less and focus on races. I think in the past I kind of had periodized training where I’d train for a month or so and then have a rest week and then race and then do that again. I think now I’d like to have periodized training where I’d have a few solid blocks of training leading up to a race so that I can feel really focused and prepared to race. The racing is a different… it takes a lot of mental energy that you don’t get in training which is why it’s something you do enough to get used to it and to be able to deal with it, but it also can be kind of exhausting if you do it too much… at least for me. Max King can race every weekend. I just can’t handle that.
iRunFar: Michael Wardian, Max King, Christophe Le Saux.
Jones: Yeah, I mean, I admire that, but I can’t do it.
iRunFar: That’s not you. You’ve been here for a month. You probably had some pretty focused training while you were here. Talk about a little of what you did for your training here.
Jones: I think my training has gone more consistently better than ever before just because I’m out here alone. I don’t really have anything else going on. I’d better be good in training.
iRunFar: Nothing like being honest.
Jones: Yeah, the training here is great because a lot of the intervals I do for training, I just need long stretches of uphill. On La Palma, you get stretches of uphill that are 20k long and 25% up to the peak. It’s ridiculous. So you can just go forever.
iRunFar: You have a 90-minute interval.
Jones: Yeah, you can do four of those and not even reach the summit. It’s ridiculous. I don’t do that. Don’t think… I’m not that strong. That would be absurd. Yeah, so I just do a lot of intervals and I do some long runs. I just tried to hit as many other trails as I could. I just explored different parts of the island and got on the course a little bit.
iRunFar: This is a pretty incredible island. It’s spider-webbed with trails. Have you found a special spot or something that you really liked?
Jones: It’s really well-developed with trails. Yeah, I think if I were to come back here I might post up near the town of El Paso which is above Los Llanos which is where the finish of the Transvulcania is. Then there’s kind of this cirque and you can access a lot of different parts of the trail system there. The weather is a little better. It’s small enough that you can access pretty much anything from anywhere. It’s great.
iRunFar: Let’s talk about the race itself. You have two experiences here. One really, really good one where you won the race and a 10th place last year. So you’re coming into this race with really two different kinds of experiences. Where does that put you mentally?
Jones: I don’t know. It’s hard to say. I don’t know how much my racing experience here would really affect my plan except for the fact that having raced it before, I kind of know where to go. Other than that, I don’t know, having raced a tenth place last year, I’m not going to be thinking about that when I’m racing that year. I just go out and race hard from the start basically. I’m just going to be going for it. If I can race as well as I did three years ago, that would be awesome. If not, well that’s racing. I’m trying to deal with the pressure… I put so much pressure on myself… that’s one of the drawbacks of not racing as much—the races that you do have more pressure. It’s all self-imposed. I really want to do well, but I want to just feel strong and have a good race. I think I’m prepared for it. It will be exciting to go out there and see what happens. There are a lot of really strong guys here this year, and I don’t know how I stack up against them, but that’s kind of what the point of racing is.
iRunFar: I meet a lot of different racers and a lot of different mental approaches to racing. You’re one of the people that I know who puts the most mental pressure on themselves. A lot of people feel external pressure coming from media, coming from sponsors, coming from other people who are racing, but you put a lot of pressure on yourself. Where does that come from?
Jones: I’ve had a lot of time to think about that this month. I think it’s because I don’t have a job.
iRunFar: Somebody want to hire this guy?
Jones: I’ve got to get a part-time job or something. It’s sweet that I can travel like this, and I live pretty frugally I guess. I don’t need a whole lot, but I think because I don’t have anything else going on, “Darn, I’d better do well at this race or else, what the heck am I doing?” Maybe that’s not it. I don’t think I’m alone in aspiring to do well. I think everybody puts a lot of pressure on themselves. I was talking with Anna [Frost] and she was telling me to get a sports psychologist to talk to about it. She said she’s done that and it’s a great idea to just learn how to deal with pressures like that. You feel like in other sports, other people deal with pressure. I feel like that’s a huge part of competing at a high level is dealing with the pressure, not just competing and training and preparing and racing, but like really learning how to handle the expectations. I think a lot of those are internal. I don’t think I’m alone in putting so much pressure on myself. Maybe I’m just more transparent about it.
iRunFar: Maybe you’re just more transparent about it… more honest. So you kind of skipped answering my question before. You had a really good day three years ago where stars aligned and fireworks came in the air, roses were passed around. Then you had last year where you kind of grinded it out. You still finished inside the top-10, but it was a grind basically. Does it give you, knowing that kind of worst-case scenario is grinding to inside the top 10, does it give you any peace or give you any solace that it can’t be that bad?
Jones: Yeah, at the end of the day, I remember last year when I realized I wasn’t going to be able to race hard and I just kind of dialed it back a notch, it’s a great race. That’s what it comes down to. The reason I’m here is that it’s a really cool event. I could be doing a lot of different races and I choose to be here because even if I don’t see a whole lot of what I’m going through, I do see some of it. I do get to run over this peak and experience the atmosphere of the race and the culture and the people and everything. That’s my favorite part either way. I trust that I can grind out a pretty good finish nonetheless. I don’t know. I don’t want to put too much pressure on position really. I just want to race as hard as I can.
iRunFar: And see what happens?
Jones: Yeah. I want the other guys to do really well, too, because that’s what will make me better, too. That’s what’s really fun about it.
iRunFar: My last question is about the other guys. There are all types of different running styles coming into this race. There’s the “fast off the start and try to hold it” style. There’s the conservative “hang behind the leaders and wait for blow-ups and fireworks” style. Whose style do you most align with? Do you see yourself spending a little time with people? [bells ringing loudly close by] That’s awesome.
Jones: Nine o’clock. I don’t want to run off the front a lot. I think three years ago I kind of did, but that’s not intentional. It’s just like, I really try and run my own race. I don’t want to run off the front a lot, but if I’m feeling great and I feel like I can maintain it, I will. That’s not going to happen here, I can assure you of that… at least not at the start. These guys are super strong, and a lot of them go out hard. Usually in a race like this, it’s just a matter of keeping up and trying to maintain a smart pace without letting them get too far ahead early on. Ideally I’ll be with the lead guys and know who they are and try to stay with them. There are always a bunch of dark horses that I’ve never heard of or seen that could totally win the whole race. Maybe they go off hard and win the thing; that could happen. But I feel it’s pretty reasonable to expect that the guys I know who have done well here before, I could stay as close to them as I can for as long as possible and if I can pull ahead, all the better.
iRunFar: All the better.
Jones: All the better.
iRunFar: Okay, well best of luck to you out there. Thank you for sharing your rooftop getaway.
Jones: Thanks a lot. Yep, my patio.
iRunFar: Dakota Jones patio.
Jones: Yeah, I can’t think of a better one.
iRunFar: Thanks, Dakota and good luck.