Alex Varner returns to The North Face Endurance Challenge 50-Mile Championships after taking third at the race last year. Just last weekend, he broke Dave Mackey’s course record at the nearby 28-mile Quad Dipsea race. In the following interview, Alex talks about his season, how he’s worked back from some rough running, and how he’ll approach this weekend’s race so soon after his run at Quad Dipsea.
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Alex Varner Pre-2015 The North Face EC 50-Mile Championships Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Alex Varner before the 2015 The North Face Championships. How are you doing, Alex?
Alex Varner: Good, thanks, Bryon. How are you?
iRunFar: Alright. You’ve had some really good runs this year. You had Lake Sonoma last spring. Then you had not as good of runs. You had an okay run at IAU World Champs and then a not so good run at Western States.
Varner: Yeah, just kind of wasn’t clicking at that point. I went into IAU really optimistic and just didn’t have the race I wanted to. I’d like to say part of that was due to the course and being physically unable to train for that here, but I got out of it mentally. I remember seeing you at half way, and it kind of turned into a training run. I was having a little bit of a pity party. That lasted a couple months longer than I hoped, I think.
iRunFar: Obviously you didn’t make it through Western States. What were you up to for a couple months after that?
Varner: Not a lot. I had this kind of outside shin soft-tissue niggling thing that was almost harder to deal with than something acute like a stress fracture or a strain because it would feel better after three or four days, and then I would run a day or two and it would regress. Finally, it took me four or five weeks to figure that out being an idiot about it. Finally, I had to just take two straight weeks off. That brought me basically to close to the end of August. Spectating Headlands 50k was my first solid runs. From there, I’ve been healthy and running well. I started up doing workouts again around then. I had a couple months of workouts under my belt. Things were clicking—nothing too big to deal with injury-wise, health-wise. Yeah, I was able to rattle off a pretty good training block in the fall.
iRunFar: Then last weekend happened. You ran Quad Dipsea and crushed [Dave] Mackey’s course record. Did that restore some of your confidence?
Varner: Yeah, that was nice. I knew I had it in me. It was just a matter of executing. A lot of times… I kind of saw this with Dylan [Bowman] heading into Western States. You kind of put all your eggs in one basket. While that’s both terrifying and almost… well, it’s more terrifying than anything, I think, because you do all this training for that one race, and you have that one day to execute, and if something goes wrong, you kind of feel as though you’ve blown that whole months of training. So to have it work out as well as it did, it’s not something I’m taking for granted. It was awesome. It went probably better than I could have hoped.
iRunFar: You have a big race a week after. One can say, “Okay, that’s silly. You have to choose one race or the other.” But there are plenty of people in ultrarunning or on the track who can nail two runs back to back.
Varner: Yeah, I kind of tried something similar at Lake Sonoma and Boston this year, and it’s kind of going the other way distance-wise, but the week between was just making sure I didn’t do anything to set my recovery back. I’m going to try to go hobble around on the bike path after this. We’ll see how it feels. I might not run more than 20 to 30 minutes any given day this week if that’s what my body wants. That being said, if I still feel bad or sore or tired within the first 10 or 15 miles of The North Face, I won’t hesitate to drop. I’ve learned I have to listen to my body. Pushing through 30 or 45 extra miles in a race of that quality and that terrain is not smart and not healthy. I’ve got a club national cross-country race in two weeks, so there’s that.
iRunFar: Through my own personal experience at least, I’ve found it really great to run a shorter race right before a longer race because you’re kind of more used to that intensity—that intensity feels more comfortable. You might bring some of that to the race that you might not have been willing to going the other way around or if it was a stand-alone race.
Varner: Yeah, I think the lucky thing with the Quad being before The North Face is last year The North Face was my goal race in the fall. I nailed it pretty well. This year, Quad was… I didn’t pull any punches in saying that was the race I wanted. As a result, The North Face will be… I’m going to listen to my body and see what happens. If I feel good, I’m going to go out there and push. If I don’t, I’m not going to stress about it. Saturday was kind of the big one. Yeah, you’re right, I don’t have to hold any punches back if I’m feeling good. I can just go for it and not really worry about anything. It’s almost kind of having a built-in excuse. At the same time, it’s nice to just kind of have that Dipsea monkey off my back and just go out and see what happens.
iRunFar: I think that’s the first use ever of the phrase “Dipsea monkey,” but I like it. Do you feel like you almost took some pressure off yourself for this coming weekend?
Varner: Yeah, absolutely. If I’d gone out and crapped the bed at Quad Dipsea, even if I’d finished, I’d be “Okay, great. I have tired legs, and I didn’t run a good race, and I’m angry. If North Face goes bad, I’m going to feel even worse.” Yeah, it would kind of feel like I’d have to try for redemption the week after, and I don’t feel any need of that sort headed into this weekend.
iRunFar: Well, let’s both go head out for a run for a couple minutes a day.
Varner: Yeah, before we both start tripping on the path.
iRunFar: Alright, thank you.
Varner: Thank you.