A Long Night With Bryon Powell

Dakota Jones’s insight into iRunFar after a long night with Bryon Powell.

By on September 18, 2013 | Comments

If I were to make an effort to provide live updates for ultramarathons, a few tactics would come to mind. I would primarily use social media to provide information as runners pass through checkpoints. And I would probably try to get a forum or blog of some kind for people to talk about the race as it is happening. To do this, I would likely use my phone and a computer when I had the chance. Perhaps other people could work with me and we could combine forces to get more updates out from more places. I don’t know what else a person could do.

But Bryon Powell knows. You’d think I would have learned something, since I witnessed him do all of the above and much more last Friday night at the Run Rabbit Run 100 in Steamboat Springs, CO. From mid-afternoon that day until late in the night, I tagged along in his car and saw firsthand his methods for keeping the Internet up-to-date with information about what was happening in the race in real time. However, despite my best efforts, I understood very little of what he did.

Bryon Powell, as you well know, is the Founder and Editor of iRunFar. (Although “Editor” might be a bit of a stretch, since it implies that he “edits” my work which, as you can probably tell, he rarely does. Balls!) He started the site in like 2006 or something (I’m not a journalist, alright? I’m not going to do research.) and has since, with the help of Senior Editor Meghan Hicks, grown it into the best ultrarunning site in the world. Whether it’s for race updates, gear reviews, or shockingly accurate opinions from handsome young runners, iRunFar is where people go to keep up with all that is new and exciting in the world of ultramarathoning. And it’s all because of B-Pow and Meghan.

That’s why you’re reading this right now. Because you like to keep up with all that is new and exciting in the world of ultramarathoning. But what you may not realize is how much effort goes into the behind-the-scenes work at iRunFar. For one thing, B-Pow has to continually maintain a website, which is something I don’t understand personally but from movies I know that it involves a lot of leaning way back in leather chairs and looking up at three massive screens arranged on the ceiling and doing a lot of typing on ergonomic keyboards. For another, he has to read through countless submissions and decide what gets published and when. Beyond that, he has to organize trips to such far-off places as UTMB or Steamboat Springs and maintain on top of it all a steady stream of updates to keep people involved in the website. Oh, and he also runs a dubious porn site. And all of that is probably not even half of what he does, but at the end of the day all of this work creates a stimulating and informative location for people to learn about long-distance running.

One of the things that iRunFar does best, as you know because, don’t lie, you’re a nerd about this stuff just like me, is live updates while races are in progress. But though we all enjoy the fruits of this effort, we rarely think about how his fantastic race coverage is made possible. His methods have remained a secret for years, but now–finally!–the truth comes out. I witnessed firsthand much of the coverage for Run Rabbit Run, and I’m willing to tell my story.

Here goes nothing. Are you ready?

The idea is simple, in theory. Make a list of the relative positions of the runners as well as the occasional anecdote, then put that information on the Internet. The primary component of race coverage is mobility. Bryon Powell needs to be lots of places quickly, so he uses the “iRunCar” to get around. It’s a Prius. Once at an aid station, he sets up shop with a fold-able table (iRunBar?) and takes notes of everyone who passes through the aid station with a quick scribble. With these notes he then updates the website and Twitter.

It seems simple, but many obstacles get in the way. The primary difficulty, given the mountain terrain of most major ultras, is cell-phone service. When an aid station has no service, B-Pow gets creative. He owns a massive array of electronics with more options and capabilities than the space shuttle, which he distributes to volunteers or staff members (i.e. Meghan Hicks) to update from more aid stations or points on the course than could be reached by one person alone. In the back of his car, he keeps a team of electrical engineers, satellite technicians, communications interns, two barbers, and a bartender to do everything required to maintain a connection to the Internet in even the toughest conditions. Nothing can stop the train when it’s rolling.

That’s not everything. The fact is, I don’t understand everything that went into his race coverage. Beyond all that I just described, B-Pow was also: sifting through file folders, loading and updating mysterious spreadsheets, reading (and likely policing) your comments, doing math on the splits and exclaiming in surprise at every new development, drinking beer, building charts and graphs, taking photos with adoring fans (hiRunFar!), advising me on federal tax codes, and, most impressive of all (I thought), not appearing to be tired. I couldn’t stay awake past 11:00 p.m. B-Pow charged all night long and the whole following day with only a few hours’ sleep in the early morning. His skill set so far exceeded my comprehension that I don’t even want to ask questions now. I’d rather just imagine all the magical ways he updates the Internet and idolize him for that.

I wasn’t racing at Steamboat (whyRunFar?), which gave me the unique opportunity to see what goes on behind the scenes with the trendy engine of ultramarathon stardom. The takeaway? B-Pow spends lots of time looking at screens, lots of time driving, and has little time for anything else. We should be grateful that Bryon and Meghan maintain iRunFar because without them, one of us might have to do it and no thank you. They make the sacrifice of their own fitness and goals in order to document the progress of our fitness and goals. And they do a damn good job. So, on behalf of the ultrarunning community, here’s a big thanks to them for giving us something as special as iRunFar. Keep up the good work guys!

Dakota Jones
Dakota Jones explores the wild places of the world on foot and tells us about it every few weeks. He runs for Salomon and Clif Bar.