Darren Thomas surprised everyone, including himself, in taking second at the 2019 The North Face 50 Mile Championships. In our first interview with Darren, he talks about his background with running, how the race played out from his perspective, and what he learned about himself and his racing ability through taking second on this course and in this field of men.
Read our results article to find out what else happened at the front of the race.
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Darren Thomas after a second-place finish at the 2019 TNF 50. Congratulations, Darren.
Darren Thomas: Thank you. It was a great race.
iRunFar: Were you thinking this was possible when you stepped on that line this morning?
Thomas: Yeah, I thought it was possible, and then we started out so fast and I just decided to go for it and see what happened. And luckily, I had a couple little cramps in the second half. It was threatening to just blow up.
Thomas: But it ended up being fine, so.
iRunFar: So the early miles. There are some guys that just take it out.
iRunFar: Did you feel yourself pulled along with them or do you sort of hold back a little bit.
Thomas: I was pulled along by them.
Thomas: It was like, Dylan Bowman, Matt Daniels, the guy who won.
iRunFar: Seb Spehler, yeah.
Thomas: Yeah. So we were just running really fast and it felt kind of comfortable, mostly just because it was dark and I couldn’t see how fast we were going.
iRunFar: [laugh] You were going damn fast.
iRunFar: Now, I mean you’ve run some ultras before but you’ve also run Pikes Peak. And you’ve run really well there, like that speed. Do you feel comfortable going that pace or?
Thomas: Yeah. I’m comfortable going that pace, but the last few years I’ve been going a lot shorter races.
Thomas: Shorter mountain races, which is just what I’m better at. So.
iRunFar: Or had been better at.
Thomas: Yeah, had been better at. And so this is just kind of a test to see if I could keep it up for that long.
iRunFar: And you learned the answer is yes.
Thomas: Yeah. Yeah.
iRunFar: Was that surprising? Did it change your training at all or?
Thomas: Well, my training was a little rough, because I had a really short training block. So in the Spring I ruptured my appendix and then I just started training a ton trying to get ready for Pikes Peak this year. And, then, I got my hip all messed up for two months. So I just started training for this in probably September.
Thomas: But I put together a couple good months.
iRunFar: You must have. Did you do any races in preparation for this? Like any tune-ups or?
Thomas: Yeah, I did a couple 50ks. I did Stump Jump.
iRunFar: Oh, nice.
Thomas: In Chattanooga. That was fun.
iRunFar: A classic.
Thomas: Yeah, yeah. I think it’s like the 20th year or something. And then I did, two weeks ago I did a 50k down in San Diego. It was super flat, but I think that was good for this.
iRunFar: It’s nice to have that runnable.
iRunFar: And also the confidence that you can run that hard for that long. Do you, so how did you bounce back from your injuries? Those are two things that would take people out.
Thomas: Yeah. I decided to be a little more patient and actually not just jump into it like an idiot, which is what I’ve done before.
iRunFar: How many times did you have to learn that lesson?
Thomas: Two or three. So then I just put together four consistent weeks. Nothing crazy. And then pushed it for about a month before this.
iRunFar: It’s probably nice because you can make that little pulse of training where if you get a really long training block you might burn yourself out a little bit.
Thomas: And I was fresh. I could bike a ton while I was injured, so that helped with fitness.
iRunFar: So you’re out there on the course and you’re running with these really fast guys. Is it a race of attrition out there or are you trying to make moves while you’re up in that lead pack?
Thomas: Yeah, so I was up the front group until Tennessee Valley, 13.
Thomas: And then they all left me, basically. And then I had a really good set with the guy that got third. He’s from France.
iRunFar: Thibaut [Garrivier].
Thomas: Yeah. We were going back and forth and kind of pushing each other.
Thomas: And then the climb out of Stinson Beach went really well. I caught three people on there.
iRunFar: Did that boost your confidence?
Thomas: Yeah, yeah. I’m really good at climbing. That’s what I like to do. So that helped. And I was able to not slow down as much as other people I think.
iRunFar: Now is it nice to have that, you hit Stinson Beach, you’re at the furthest part of the course, you’re starting to come back. Was it nice to have the timing of this surge in passing people right there?
Thomas: For sure. And it was gorgeous over there. That’s the best part I think.
iRunFar: Did you actually get some views? Because it was socked in at most of the aid stations.
Thomas: Yeah, yeah. Up above that aid station at Cardiac, it was bright sun and you could see all around, like above the inversion.
iRunFar: Did it get hot at all for you up there? Some people were talking about heat on those ridges.
Thomas: Not really, no.
iRunFar: You were done soon enough.
iRunFar: So you’re running in the last like 10 or 15 miles. Are you worried more about the guy behind you or are you catching wind that maybe Seb could be?
Thomas: Thibaut was right behind me, and he caught up to me, then dropped back, then caught up to me, and then dropped back. And I know there’s a bunch of really strong guys right behind us, but people kept telling me I was gaining on the next person, so that helped. I was just hoping, I was slowing down but I was hoping that other people were slowing down faster than I was.
iRunFar: They were. And how did it feel coming across that line in second?
Thomas: So great. It was probably the best race I’ve ever ran maybe.
iRunFar: That’s awesome.
Thomas: Pikes Peak is up there, but in terms of passing people in the second half, I usually start really fast and kind of fade.
iRunFar: Now, do you think that will make you consider in the future maybe going out more conservative in the future so you can maybe have that mental boost?
Thomas: Yeah. But at the same time I don’t know if I would be far enough up to catch those guys.
iRunFar: Fair enough. This is our first time interviewing you, so I’d love to know a little bit more of your history with running. Like when did you start and what’s your path through it?
Thomas: Yeah, so I grew up in Colorado Springs and started running cross country in like elementary school.
iRunFar: Oh, wow. Early.
Thomas: Yeah. We have a park right by my parent’s house, Ute Valley Park, and it’s, I just ran in there every day. It was awesome. And then I did the Pikes Peak Ascent when I was in high school. That’s kind of when I got into more mountain racing. And then I went to Virginia Tech for college and there’s a club there, trail and ultrarunning club.
iRunFar: That’s been around for a while. Now there’s a couple more schools that have ultrarunning clubs, but Virginia Tech has been around since I started ultrarunning.
Thomas: One of the first ones, yeah. And I made some really good friends there. Just started running a bunch, loving it. I was kind of burned out from cross country and track.
iRunFar: Yeah. So you didn’t do that collegiately.
Thomas: I didn’t do that collegiately.
iRunFar: But you were still running with a group and sticking with it.
Thomas: Yeah, it was great. There was 30 people to run with all the time. It was awesome.
iRunFar: That’s awesome. And then post-collegiately?
Thomas: And then I moved to Steamboat Springs. I was there for three years and working and running a lot. Avery Collins lived there. Devon Olson. Some really good people to run with.
iRunFar: So you had a good crew up there.
Thomas: Yeah. But I just moved actually to San Diego this October, like a month ago.
iRunFar: You were done with winter maybe?
Thomas: I was done with winter, yeah.
iRunFar: You made a good change for that.
Thomas: Yeah. And just a new change. Bigger place, more stuff to do.
iRunFar: Now how, obviously there are mountains, there’s San Diego 100. Obviously there’s mountains there. But what is it like moving from sort of the high mountains down to San Diego?
Thomas: Yeah, well it’s really great for races like this.
Thomas: Races in California in general. They have some good, like Palomar Mountain’s a 5,000-foot climb. And you can drive to the San Gabriels, big mountains. It’s not as, I liked being, running into the wilderness from my house.
iRunFar: That is a luxury.
Thomas: Now I have to bike to run or drive. It’s great though.
iRunFar: So you mentioned you, over the last couple of years you focused a little bit more on shorter mountain races.
iRunFar: Does this tempt you to maybe change your focus a little bit for next year?
Thomas: Uh, kind of. I think I’m going to go do Lake Sonoma, and then I want to do the Golden Trail Series in the summer.
iRunFar: Got you.
Thomas: I want to go run Zegama and Pikes Peak again. And then maybe in the fall do something longer.
iRunFar: Nice. Kind of mix it up.
Thomas: Yeah. Mix it up.
iRunFar: Well I’m excited to see what you do next season, Darren. Congratulations.
Thomas: Thank you.
iRunFar: Thank you.
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