After a great 2018, Dylan Bowman kicks off his 2019 season this weekend at the Vibram Hong Kong 100k. In the following interview, Dylan talks about how he things his 2018 season went, how he transitioned after the cancellation of the TNF 50, and how just one slog of a long run can help us completely turn the corner with our perceived fitness.
Dylan Bowman Pre-2019 Vibram Hong Kong 100 Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Dylan Bowman before the 2019 Vibram Hong Kong 100k. How are you, Dylan?
Dylan Bowman: I’m great, Bryon. Good to see you again.
iRunFar: It’s your first time here in Hong Kong?
Bowman: It is. It’s my first time.
iRunFar: You’ve had a couple of days here. What’s it like?
Bowman: Well, I’ve been in bed for the first couple of days, unfortunately. I saw the last 21k of the course on Sunday. Then, unfortunately, I fell ill on Sunday night. So I’ve basically been nursing myself back to health for the last day-and-a-half or two days. Luckily, I’m through the worst of it and I’m feeling moderately better. I’ll go on a run after this and see how I feel.
iRunFar: You’ve still got a couple days to rest. How was the last 21k of the course?
Bowman: It’s really interesting. It’s unique – there are a lot of steep ups and downs. There’s a lot of stairs, as everybody hears about this course. I went over the top of Tai Mo Shan, the high point of the race which comes right at the very end. It was good to see it. I think it was very useful and helpful for me to see that prior to the race. Yeah, we’ll see. It’s a unique and interesting course and I’m excited to see the whole thing.
iRunFar: How has your training gone this winter? For many past winters, you’ve been in the [San Francisco] Bay area with full access to trails all winter long. Now you’re up high in Colorado.
Bowman: Yeah, it’s quite different, but I think I did pretty well with my preparation. I actually went to the West Coast and did a three-week focused training block, I guess you could call it, in San Francisco and Portland. I did a couple runs in Mill Valley on the Dipsea steps, my old training grounds there. It really helped to sort of launch me back into running fitness. It’s been very cold and snowy in Colorado to start the winter, so I’ve just basically been doing the best that I can there: doing a lot of skinning and skiing as well, which has really helped fitness-wise, maybe not running specificity-wise. I mean, overall I felt really good before I left for my trip. You know, with the illness, we’ll see how that impacts my overall fitness and energy, but I think I might be ready for a good one.
iRunFar: Nice! Well, you certainly had a great 2018: running great at Tarawera, Ultra-Trail Mount Fuji, taking second at TDS [the 101k event in the UTMB races]. How did your season feel in retrospect?
Bowman: It felt really good. I mean, I think I did a really good job last year of picking the right races at the right times, and then training really specifically for those races. Then, of course, The North Face Endurance Championships got cancelled at the end of the year. I really wish I could’ve gotten one more race in last year, but because that was cancelled, it gave me an opportunity to shift the emphasis and re-focus on this race, which is one I’ve wanted to do for a long time. So, it’s been five months since I raced at TDS. For me, that’s kind of a while. I might be a little rusty. Usually I like to race a little bit more frequently than that. But who knows? I feel fresh, I’m definitely motivated to race again. We’ll see how it goes.
iRunFar: Even with The North Face 50-Mile last year, if it had happened, it seems to me that would have been a really light year of racing for you. You’re normally fairly careful about what you pick, you’re not like an “every weekend” kind of racer. Was it a planned light year, or focused year, or however you want to say it?
Bowman: I think at this point in my career, I’m very intentional about what I want to do and when I’m going to do things like that. I found that, for me, I’m always at my best when I’m super-motivated and fresh and energetic. When I race too much, it really compromises my enjoyment for my training. When I’m not really enjoying my training, then I’m not motivated to race. I found that, for me, I’m just better when I train and race a little bit less.
The other thing was that I was doing longer races last year. I did Tarawera early, then I did that personal project on the Lost Coast, which is another eleven-hour day. I did Mount Fuji, which was a 19-hour day. I did TDS, which was a 13.5-hour day. Those are a lot of long days. All in all, I definitely felt like I pushed myself last year, even if I only competed three times. I only had four races on the schedule and all of them were very focused events for me. I think that’s how I perform my best.
iRunFar: Nice. So, how exactly did you work that? It happens in our lives that a race will be cancelled or life will get in the way of going to a race. How did you transition from being, “I’m at my peak fitness and I’m ready to race” to finding out there’s no race in November? [The North Face Endurance Championships was cancelled due to forest fires and air quality issues] How do you then work back to training?
Bowman: To be honest, it really wasn’t that difficult for me. After TDS, I had kind of a rough fall. I had a lot of travel immediately after the race, and, of course, we had just moved back to Colorado. We were trying to get back into a groove there. Having been on the road for the last five or six weeks, and on three different continents, it took a lot of time to get my energy back.
I really wasn’t feeling that great going into The North Face 50, even though I was excited for the race. Physically, I wasn’t 100%. I wasn’t expecting a great result, to be honest. So it wasn’t difficult for me to accept the reality… We drove out there all the way from Colorado. The smoke they had in Northern California was unlike anything I had ever seen. When I lived there, there were a few wildfires and this was way, way worse. It was easy to realize and to recognize that was the best decision to make. For me, it was fortuitous. I’ve wanted to come to this race for a long time, so I said, “Okay, I’ll just shift focus to Hong Kong.”
iRunFar: In some ways it’s a relatively short period to go from one focus race to another for you. Did you get a good training block in between your planned race in November and this race?
Bowman: Yeah… I guess after The North Face 50, there was a couple of weeks where I didn’t do that much. Then, when I got back into training, which was basically right when I went out to the West Coast right around the holidays, that’s when I got back into the real training – doing workouts again and proper long runs. The fitness came back really, really quick. It was interesting. I went out for a four-hour run in Mill Valley where I used to live. Double Tam summit like I used to do, and I remember it was so tough, I felt so unfit.
Then, I did a time trial on Wednesday on Mount Tamalpais and I wound up running within a minute of my fastest ever. The fitness comes back so quickly for me because I’ve been doing it for so long. Once I sort of got back into a groove, I started feeling really good again. Because I haven’t raced in a long time, I feel fresh. So, yeah, it really wasn’t that difficult.
iRunFar: This raises an interesting question: How much of that first run is mental, and confidence, and all of that, as opposed to not actually having fitness?
Bowman: I’m sure that has more to do with it.
iRunFar: And I don’t mean just for you, just an observation generally.
Bowman: Yeah, knocking the rust off a little bit, just muscling through one sort of tough long run and then you’re back to within five or ten per cent of your maximum. I think that’s a really important thing for people to learn in this sport. This is my tenth year of racing ultramarathons. I think I’ve done a pretty good job of maintaining my health, my enthusiasm, and my love for the sport. I think a lot of that has to do with me learning that, you know, it doesn’t take ten weeks to get back into race shape, oftentimes.
iRunFar: Well, thank you very much, Dylan. Best of luck this weekend.
Bowman: Thanks, Bryon.