An In-Depth Interview With ‘That’ Dakota Jones

An in-depth interview with Dakota Jones.

By on November 28, 2016 | Comments

In my three years of interviewing runners, I’ve never interviewed anyone quite like Dakota Jones. It’s difficult to succinctly explain why exactly he stands out but my statement is meant as a compliment. In part because of his standout performances at a young age, Dakota is something like a celebrity within the U.S. and international ultrarunning scenes. At just 21 years old, he finished second at both the prestigious The North Face Endurance Challenge 50-Mile Championships and the iconic Hardrock 100, and won the perennially competitive Transvulcania Ultramarathon. But it’s his deeply philosophical mind and fervent desire to live authentically for which he should be respected. While Dakota has used his iRunFar column, which dates to 2011(!), to explore intellectual landscapes, and while semblances of his personality have surfaced during pre- and post-race interviews published on iRunFar, some aspects of his truest self are yet to publicly emerge on this website or elsewhere.

In the following interview, Dakota’s personality comes to life as he opens up on a range of topics. He offers perceptive analysis on subjects like running, social media, travel, writing, and the environment, and gives us a window into his life and worldview. Crack open a beverage, listen to this audio preview, and then read on to learn what’s on Dakota’s mind.

iRunFar: That Dakota Jones. All of your social media handles use ‘@thatdakotajones’ and your website uses the name as well. What’s the story there?

Dakota Jones: That’s not a super-good story. Basically I needed to get an email one time, and ‘dakotajones’ was taken. So I tried ‘thedakotajones’ and that was taken too. Then I landed on ‘that’ and it stuck. For the sake of consistency I just made everything that. I’m surprised I don’t get more weird emails from people who figure it out by looking and seeing that every social-media platform is ‘@thatdakotajones.’

iRunFar: I think there are a lot of stories that could come out of this interview. Where should we start?

Jones: No, my life isn’t super complicated [laughs]. I kind of like it that way. I complicate simple things enough on my own, so I don’t need to have a bunch of things going on [laughs]. So I quit school five years ago now and do the whole pro-running thing. I always feel like a bit of a douche telling people that, I hate telling people I just meet what I do for a living—I feel like, “Yeah I’m a pro runner, I don’t have a normal job, I get to climb peaks and run,” which is sweet, and is actually true, but I don’t want to rub it in or something. And sometimes I wonder if that’s the most worthwhile thing that I could be doing with my time. I feel like I’m kind of embarrassed about it because I haven’t quite figured it out for myself, I guess.

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Dakota Jones. Photo: Rickey Gates

iRunFar: You seem like…

Jones: …Like I overthink things? Yeah, I overthink the shit out of things. I think that’s why I’m never going to be Kilian Jornet—because I overthink things. Well it’s actually because I’m not as good of an athlete as him [laughs], but it’s 1% because I overthink things, and 99% because I’m not as good of an athlete [laughs]. I don’t even follow Kilian on social media because I’m so insecure about him being better than me at everything he does. I’m kind of embarrassed about it but it’s true. When I follow Kilian on social media I’m constantly feeling like I’m not good enough. So I just don’t [laughs]. I don’t follow many people on social media for that same reason. It stresses me out—everyone is out getting better than me. It’s a flaw in my character. It’s not their fault; they’re out there doing the same thing I do. I’m just insecure that way [laughs].

iRunFar: I was going to say that you seem to have lots of interests aside from running.

Jones: Yeah, I mean it’s super sweet to win races but it doesn’t feel like I’m making the biggest contribution that I could all the time. I love running and I’ll do it as long as I can, but there’s definitely other things I’d like to do.

I’m actually going back to school this spring at Fort Lewis. I’m really into environmental issues and problems and fixing that. I figure if I can just go get a chemistry degree in three years, that’ll clean up the environment and fix the problems. You’re welcome [very archly, laughs]. But in seriousness, yeah, I plan to study chemistry and geology and it might take me down a different path but I think it’ll be a cool start. It’s something. I took those classes in high school but I didn’t really give a shit. Now I can brush up on it, and I’m totally into it, and as long as I apply myself, I can do it. It’ll be a bit of a lifestyle shift but the semester is over at the end of April and it’s a four-month summer. I’ll keep doing the running and everything and go to school too and see where that leads.

iRunFar: What has you so motivated to go back and pursue environmental issues?

Jones: I feel like a huge hypocrite. My whole career as an athlete is about flying and driving around the world in these fossil-fuel modes of transportation so that I can go appreciate nature [laughs]. I fly to go up glaciers and pursue sunsets on islands—those are opportunities I’m super, super lucky to have, but at the same time it’s pretty hypocritical of me to say I love nature and want to experience nature and I’m actually living in a way that’s deleterious to it.

I’d like to make all that more apparent in my writing. The problem with writing all that stuff is that you come across as a bit preachy and telling people they’re living their lives wrong and calling good people, bad people. People get pissed about that and for good reason! “You’re telling me my lifestyle is wrong [laughs]?” That sucks, people don’t like to hear that. Anyway, I guess my point is that I want to actually understand these issues because I don’t really get it. I mean, climate change, greenhouse gases, if you take it too far, it’s bad, but what does all that really mean? I want to understand it better and then maybe I can write about it in ways that don’t piss people off so much.

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Ascending stairs in Wales. Photo: Rickey Gates

iRunFar: What’s the job you’d most like to get with a degree?

Jones: That’s the problem I’ve been struggling with. I don’t know that. I think that that’s something I need to figure out before I really apply myself to this because I think that one of my flaws is that I’ll decide on something, and think that it’s cool, and think about it for a long time, and make a good decision to do it, but I don’t think about it all the way.

I’ll be like, “Okay, I’m going to Europe for three months! And I’m going to race! And stay there! And it’s going to be great! I’m going to have an experience I can remember!” Then I go there and I sort of end up hanging out in my apartment a lot because I didn’t plan ahead [laughs], and I think about how I should have taken a class to learn French because I can’t communicate, and then I’m like, “What am I going to do now?” And then I’ll hang out with a few people once and then I come home and then I’m glad to be back home in Colorado with friends. That’s something I need to work out, planning all the way through. At the same time, I’ve had some incredible opportunities to do amazing things. I don’t want to be ungrateful, but the best way to be grateful is to make the most of an opportunity and one of the things that stresses me out is trying to do that. “Am I making the most out of my time right now? I don’t know, could I be having more fun? Could I be having a more fulfilling experience right now? I don’t know. What should I be doing?”

iRunFar: I think they call that FOMO.

Jones: Yeah, totally! And it’s a huge problem in the social-media culture too. I’m like, “OMG Kilian is having an awesome time right now in the mountains and I’m watching football. Fuck!” When you see me on social media in Europe I’m always posting pictures. That’s what you do. Try posting a photo of a football game—which I did once, and it got 10 ‘likes’—people don’t like that stuff.

iRunFar: It’s almost like a good Instagram photo determines what we decide to do.

Jones: Maybe that’s a great way to get people outdoors though. Hell, if it gets people outside… but I think it also drives us, or gives us the tendency to overtrain in ultrarunning. “The only way to live a full life is to constantly be running in the mountains.” But that’s not true. I think a lot of people understand that but I also think a lot of people overtrain and I certainly have in the past.

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“I dress nice.” -Dakota Jones. All photos courtesy of Dakota Jones unless otherwise noted.

iRunFar: Do you think it cheapens an experience when you share remote landscapes on social media that you’ve worked hard to get to?

Jones: Yeah, I don’t have the answer to that. I don’t know if this is related in any way, but I’ll say it.

In 2013 I went climbing in Alaska. I spent three weeks in the Alaska Range climbing the Ruth Gorge, which is right below Denali, it’s one glacier over—all rock and snow and ice; it’s awesome. We spent a bunch of time climbing peaks around there. I really wanted to climb Mount Huntington. That’s one of the most beautiful mountains in the world. It’s only 12,000 feet, it’s pretty small in the Alaska Range, but it’s one of the most perfect peaks to look at and it’s super difficult to climb and just a really classic mountain.

You fly in and out of Ruth Gorge and land on the glacier. Mount Huntington was right near where we were taking off so I asked the pilot to fly around it so I could look at it, which was awesome. He did and it was amazing: we flew up the valley and crested this ridge, 300 feet above it, and looped three quarters of the mountain within a mile or less of the peak. We were really close and taking photos and got a great look at it. I thought that was awesome but at the same time I was kind of sad that we could do that, you know? I was like, “I shouldn’t be able to do this; I should only be able to get these views of the peak by being on it. If I want to see this, I should be on the peak.” I think that cheapened, or lowered, Huntington, and I felt guilty about doing that. I probably should go back and try to climb it just because I want to give it that power back over me.

iRunFar: I guess that’s some of what draws you to the sport—you want to earn what you see?

Jones: It is nice to feel like I’ve earned these things. And what I mean by ‘these things’ are the runs and the races that I do. I don’t necessarily feel like I earned the right to be on the island of La Palma because I flew there, which might be a little cynical. But besides that, when I get there, and I run the race, or climb the mountain—whatever it is—and you feel that distance, that vertical, and the experience of being in that place, all under your own power, that makes you proud. It’s pretty cool. It just makes you feel good, you know? I think that’s one of the things I like about running is that you can look back over a big valley or big mountain and say, “Yeah, I did that whole thing, on foot.” It makes you proud of yourself.

It’s really quantitative that way. You can’t be like, “I’m the best writer.” You might be a good writer but there are lots of good writers, you know, there’s no way to quantify who’s best. But you can say, “I ran the Grand Canyon in five hours and 55 minutes. I now have the record. And my name is Jim Walmsley [laughs].” It’s easy to quantify even if you aren’t setting a record. You can do it and say, “Damn, I did it in 10 hours, sweet!”

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A young Dakota Jones.

iRunFar: You have a big influence within the sport of ultrarunning—you have a lot of followers and people seem to gravitate toward you. Do you recognize that?

Jones: I don’t think I think of it quite that way, but that is really nice, that’s cool. If that’s true, that’s awesome, that’s great [laughs]. I mean, yeah, I’ll meet someone at a race and they’ll want to take my photo, which is kind of funny because I’m just a normal guy. Everybody is, you know?

One of the things people say about my writing that really makes me feel good is that people like that I’m honest. So I’d like to think that if I am as honest and open as I can be—I think a lot of the time that manifests in me cutting myself down. “I’m hypocritical, I’m traveling around the world.” I think people appreciate that kind of honesty. I’m proud to provide them with that service. I just try to be as real and honest as possible, and I try to have a good time. I think people appreciate it when you can make them laugh and have fun.

I used to have a weird relationship with social media because sponsors are really into social media and they want you to post all the time. I was like, “Guys, I don’t know, social media sucks.” But I’m into it lately because it’s a little opportunity for me everyday to be creative. Post a photo, have some little funny or sarcastic comment that makes me smile, and that I hope makes other people smile. I’d like to think that with this kind of attitude, if I can take that in a broader sense—to my writing or the way that I run—I can set an example of thinking hard about the things you do, and trying to do them well.

A big part of doing them well is making sure you have fun doing them. Alex Lowe, who’s a famous climber from 30, 40 years ago, he died in 1999, but his story is cool because he was one of the most prolific climbers of the day and people called him the greatest mountaineer alive. And he said, “The greatest mountaineer is the one that’s having the most fun [laughs].” That’s a great way to approach it because I’d like to think I’m a little bit like Alex in the fact that I’m really into what I do, and I try my best to be my best at it. But if I’m winning every race I do and not having fun doing it, then it’s not worth it for me, you know?

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Dakota takes in the landscape during a Salomon team summit. Photo: Rickey Gates

iRunFar: If there’s a single goal in your writing, do you think that goal is to articulate what you just described?

Jones: [pause] Maybe. It’d be hard to say that, for sure, without thinking about it for a while [laughs]. But yeah, when it comes down to the writing I’ve done that I’m most proud of, it’s usually a story. It’s not an essay about how the world should be, you know, but a story about something that happened. It involves people and relationships and the value of those things.

In my writing I try to be super honest about people and about the way that I see things, but also about the fact that the way I see things is just my opinion and no matter how objective I try to be, my eyes are biased. I try to recognize that but in my writing I try to tell good stories that mean something to people; I try to strike a chord.

In one of David Foster Wallaces essays, he talks about his buddies in grad school, and they go to see a David Lynch movie in theater and as they watch it they get this feeling like, “Yes! This is what I’ve been feeling!” The movie articulated perfectly something they’ve been feeling but unable to make into a coherent sentence in a way that David Lynch did for them. For me, David Foster Wallace’s writing does that all the time. I read his shit and I’m like, “Yeah! That’s right! I know exactly what he’s talking about and I can never say it like that!” I think I would aspire to do that someday, but I’ve never done that [laughs]. I think that’s beyond me now but I think it’s something I’d like to work toward.

iRunFar: Do you worry about what people think of you? Some of your sarcastic remarks might rub people the wrong way.

Jones: I know what you mean. When I first started writing for iRunFar, it really stressed me out. I’d have to wait two or three days after the article came out and then I’d go steal myself away and read the comments. Most of them—95% of the comments on my articles—are nice things; people say the most wonderful things. But sometimes people don’t say nice things. That’s just the way it is.

iRunFar is where I publish the most and I want to give the readers credit: they are really thoughtful. Sometimes people disagree with me and I’ve really actually come to appreciate those comments. As long as I feel like I’ve written what I really believe, and I feel like I’ve done that correctly, then if people disagree—and a lot of the time on iRunFar when people disagree, they explain it—I can read that comment and say, “Yeah, I get it.” That doesn’t make me change my views and I wouldn’t go back and change the article if I could. What really upsets me is when people say something about the article and I’m like, “Fuck, they’re right! I blew it. I was totally wrong [laughs].” That’s a bummer. But most of the time people explain their disagreement and that’s really cool. Most of my articles are just opinion articles and stories and reflective pieces and there isn’t a right or wrong answer. As long as I stand by what I wrote, and I believe in it, I have no problem when people disagree with me.

As far as other stuff, I feel like I’m not very controversial [laughs]. I don’t really want to be controversial. I mean, I’m a white guy with short hair, you know? I dress nice [laughs]. I don’t really run shirtless. I’m not a sex figure like Tony [Krupicka]. I’m just a dude who runs, okay [laughs]? My opinions I mostly keep to myself, I think. I don’t want to cause problems. I like to write and get people thinking and cause a discussion, but I don’t want to get people all pissed off. I don’t want to break things down. I don’t like upsetting people [laughs]. As long as I believe in what I’m doing, you know, I don’t need everyone to like me [laughs]. I just want to stand by what I do and do it for the reasons that are for me. If people dislike that, I’d appreciate it if they tell me in a nice way. Like, “Hey man, I disagree with that because of these reasons.” I would take time and think about that. But if someone is like, “You’re wrong because you’re a douche and you’re ugly and have blue eyes [laughs].” I mean, I’m not even going to listen to that. If you disagree with me professionally and kindly, perfect, I’ll talk to you and consider your views.

iRunFar: Let’s step back. You grew up in Moab, Utah. What was that like?

Jones: My dad and I would go hiking in the La Sals and the canyons all the time, like every weekend. I mean, I was a kid and would always dread it but then liked it once we did it [laughs]. As I grew up I came to really like it. My thing as a kid was BMX biking. I was way into that. I don’t want to brag too much here but I’m still pretty good at it, Eric, okay [very archly, laughs]?

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Dakota, his bike, and his sister.

iRunFar: [laughs] I’m going to let you keep going about that.

Jones: Well, I was just super into BMX biking. It was super fun. I was so excited about it—now that I think about it, all my friends did it. Not all of them but I think a lot of them did it because I was so psyched. They built a skate park in Moab when I was in fourth grade and they had a BMX track. Everybody in Moab seems to be into road biking or mountain biking—mainly mountain biking. It wasn’t a huge scene but it was still super fun. I read all the magazines and got all the catalogues. I know all the names. It’s funny, I can go online and still know half the names.

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In a younger life, Dakota was a serious BMX rider.

iRunFar: You grew up near some incredible national parks. Did you gain an appreciation for them?

Jones: I think it’s hard to gain an appreciation for something you’re that close to as a kid. I liked it. Some kids want the big city. I thought it was cool where we lived and I loved going camping and stuff. But it’s not like I know Canyonlands like the back of my hand. Even now, now that I’m way into this stuff, I still don’t know canyon country that well, which is weird because I grew up in Moab. But considering all the great outdoor possibilities in Moab, I probably didn’t make as much use of them as I could have as a kid, but at the same time I was probably way more outdoors-oriented and active than a lot of kids get to be. The more I’ve traveled, the more I’ve appreciated where I’m from.

iRunFar: I feel like I have to ask you specifically about running. How did you get started?

Jones: I played every sport as a kid, as boys will. Then one time we were in football in eighth grade—I was like 80 pounds and sucked; I was pretty worthless—we got in trouble as a team. They made us run like five miles up a hill and back. I crushed everybody. I was like, “Wow, I’m way better at this! That was awesome!” The next year I decided to run cross country when I was in high school.

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Dakota during his football days.

iRunFar: Did you find that you were good amongst actual runners and not football players?

Jones: [laughs] Moab wasn’t a huge school. There wasn’t a lot of competition necessarily. But I was really into the running thing and in middle school I’d run three or five miles. When I finally joined the cross-country team, it was the first time I really trained. What was really great about the cross-country team was the team. I loved being on the team. I was mediocre at first but then when we got to the first meet—I thought I was going to be middle of the pack at best, as far as the team goes—but I was actually second finisher for the team, which was really cool for me at the time. But then I moved to Durango, Colorado for my sophomore year of high school, and I was not as good and I was sort of the back half of varsity until my senior year.

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Dakota on the track in high school.

iRunFar: But you were one of the top guys by your senior year?

Jones: Yeah but that’s because I started trying—I mean, I always liked it, I was trying hard, and I did do training in the off season. I did these half marathons, road halves—I was really inspired by the long-distance stuff. I was really psyched on that. Thirteen miles felt so far. And it was fun. Before I moved to Durango, the summer before, I did a little bit of triathlon. I was trying that kind of stuff.

Once I volunteered at Hardrock when I was 17, right before my senior year, that’s when I was super-fucking psyched on running. I did a bunch of mountain running. I think that coincided with me hitting puberty and growing up [laughs]. So a combination of getting bigger and training a ton, I came into my senior year of cross country and I went from being the fourth guy on the team to the second. That was exciting to me.

iRunFar: Was the attraction to road half marathons just about the distance?

Jones: Yeah, in my mind—even now, I don’t see that much of a difference between trail and road running. You’re all doing the same thing, it’s just where you choose to do it. I’m a trail runner and a mountain runner but I run on roads all the time from my house to the trails or sometimes it’s just fun to run fast. Lots of road runners run trails—you know, it’s all just running. Especially when I was 14 and didn’t read magazines, it was all just running. I was just psyched on the distance and seeing if I could run 13 miles.

iRunFar: But your first experience at Hardrock, when you volunteered, was inspiring?

Jones: Yeah, Hardrock was huge for me. I was really into climbing. I liked rock climbing and wanted to be an alpinist. When I volunteered at Hardrock, it was a way to get that adventure without having to spend thousands of dollars on gear, and figure out how to use the gear, and find partners and spend more dollars to get to the mountains. I lived in Durango at that point and had the mountains and so I just went for it. I had some pretty mega-epics that summer, got lost a few times, ran out of food. You know, the classic stuff when you’re just getting into it. But I was super into it. Hardrock was super inspiring.

iRunFar: And in a way that’s led to where you are now.

Jones: I’m sure I would have gotten into this stuff otherwise. I’m the same person, just maybe formed by a little different experience. It just would have taken me longer. The fact that my family happened to move to Durango when I was 15 was fortunate in the sense that I was exposed to these things way earlier so that I could be ‘that guy,’ instead of doing whatever the fuck else I could have been doing [laughs], instead of coming to the sport at 23 or 25. You know, I’m young but I’m not ‘the kid’ anymore. People remember me as the young guy because that’s what I was and what I’ve always been. It’s funny how these perceptions can shift and change. I never wanted to be ‘the kid’ in the sport or the youngest. I didn’t want the award for being the youngest. I want the award for being the best. But when you’re a kid, you can’t really be that—unless you’re Kilian [laughs]. It takes a long time to build up strength and ability.

iRunFar: You mentioned moving to Durango your sophomore year. What was up with that?

Jones: My dad was sick of his job in Moab. He was a chemical engineer and worked at this natural-gas processing plant south of town. It was purchased by several companies over the years and the last one was a Canadian company that really sucked. He hated it. He was offered a job at a company in Durango and he took it. We moved here when I was 15. My dad actually moved here a year before I did. We stayed in Moab for one year while my sister graduated from high school. After my sister graduated—she’s three years older than me—we moved here to Durango, when I was 15, my sophomore year.

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Dakota and his sister.

iRunFar: Your parents are still in Durango?

Jones: My mom is still here but my dad passed away in 2013. He had Non-Hogkin’s lymphoma and tried for a transplant and it didn’t work. My parents actually lived in Denver, Colorado for a year while they were doing that in 2011 and 2012.

iRunFar: I’m really sorry to hear that. I imagine that was impactful.

Jones: It’s okay. It happens to people. I mean, you know, I think it was nice because it took a long time—I mean it sucks because he had to suffer—so I could say goodbye. I feel pretty at peace with it, or as much as I could be. I was glad that I was 22—at that point, I wasn’t relying on him, you know? He wasn’t paying my bills. I was my own person at that point. It was cool because I got to have my dad raise me, right. Then he died when I was an adult. I guess that is fortunate. It would have been nice to share it a little longer but that’s just life, I guess.

I got to spend a lot of time with him. I would always go hunting with my dad—he was way into hunting. He never killed anything but we’d go hiking around. He called us ‘armed hikers’ because we’d always just suck [laughs].

iRunFar: Is there a way you want people to remember Dakota Jones? If you’re gone tomorrow, do you think you’ve left the legacy that you would have wanted to?

Jones: I think so. Everybody wants to live a full life and make the most of themselves. If I were to get hit by a car tomorrow and die—obviously I wouldn’t have much time to think about it if that happened—I’d be bummed about that because there’re a lot of things I’d still like to do. But even when I’m 80 years old, there will still be things that I want to do. You don’t get to choose. I think you live your life the best you can. That’s kind of a cliché, isn’t it? That’s embarrassing [laughs].

I’m definitely proud of the things that I’ve done. I can easily get down on myself, and I often do, about missed opportunities or things I should have done instead of things that I did. But overall I’ve been super lucky to do the things that I’ve done and I’ve done my best to make the most of them with the knowledge that I had. I hope so. But there’re still a lot of things I want to do. If I get hit by a car tomorrow, I wouldn’t go back to school, right? That would take away an opportunity to expand who I am over the next few years. I’d like to be able to say that forever, you know? If I’m going to die tomorrow, it’s going to cut off these potential branches I could go down and expand who I am and what I’ve done. It’s exciting to think of the future that way. But at the same time I might get hit by a car tomorrow [laughs] and if that were the case, well… well shit [laughs]. I guess I’d feel bad for my friends and family.

iRunFar: You can never do it all and every decision eliminates other possibilities.

Jones: What I just said came from what you’re saying. It is super scary to choose anything, you know? It’s super limiting. If you decide on one thing then, by definition, you’re not doing anything else. Within limits, right? You can do different things at a time. But if I choose to go to school this spring, that means I’m not going to bike tour across Africa or swim the English Channel—all those things that I totally have on my mind [laughs]. Not really. But, yeah—so it’s hard to do that. I think I get pretty paralyzed by indecision sometimes.

But that’s the worst. When you’re so worried about what to do, about choosing the right thing, choosing the perfect thing. You’re like, “What’s exactly right?” For me—I have an incredible opportunity. I don’t have to have a job, like a normal job, I can just go on adventures and run and stuff. So I’m like, “I need to make the most of this. What am I going to do? How can I possibly make the most of this?” Then I get all tied up in knots because it’s like, “What the fuck! [laughs]” There’re so many cool things to do! “What am I going to do?” Then I get so tied up in a knot that I don’t do anything. And that’s just the worst, right? I’m so nervous about doing the wrong thing that I don’t do anything and that’s the worst thing, not doing anything. So I’m trying to learn to see the future as potential avenues of opportunity and to just try ‘em, right? Do the best with the knowledge I have in hand.

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Catching air in the 1990s.

iRunFar: Right. You have to look at opportunities as potential doors to open and not as doors you’re closing.

Jones: Yeah, which is really hard to see because it’s a lot easier to see the doors you close instead of the ones that might open up further down the line. What’s on the other side of the door that you haven’t even opened? It’s easy to make yourself go crazy thinking like this. But I’d rather make myself go crazy thinking like this than to not have this introspective part of me considering things in this way.

iRunFar: Do you have any big plans for the future?

Jones: No, I can’t think that far ahead [laughs]. I’ve been working on trying to plan just to the end of 2017, which is actually huge for me. I usually can’t even plan a month in advance. I hate to close doors. But I realize that if I don’t start planning ahead better, then that’s really closing doors because I’m at a point where I can’t just wing stuff anymore. I’ve spent a lot of years training and I feel like the only way to really make use of that training is to plan in advance.

So I’m going to go to school. And then I really want to do some big European races because that’s where the competition is. One of the big things I do is mountain running and that, to me—if I want to race the best competition I have to do some of the European races. So I’m going to. That’s the plan. I’m going to go over there at the end of April and do some races. I’m pretty keen on shorter races, like the marathon and shorter. I definitely want to do more ultra stuff—I really like ultras and I’m going to keep doing them. But I think after running the Kendall Mountain Run this year, I didn’t realize how exciting—well I have raced stuff like that but it was super fun and I didn’t think I could be good at it until I did that race. And then I did well at Kendall, which admittedly wasn’t the most competitive race but still I was like, “Hey man, this is fun! I want to do more races like that!”

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Exploring the Welsh countryside at dusk. Photo: Rickey Gates

iRunFar: If you’re within two minutes of Joe Gray’s time there, which you were, it doesn’t matter how competitive it was, that’s solid.

Jones: Yeah it was a fun time, so I’m going to do the Zegama Marathon next year, I think, and maybe the Mount Blanc Marathon, too. That’s the plan. I might run Pikes Peak Marathon too. I’m thinking about doing that.

iRunFar: Last question. If you’re still able to compete at 45 years old, do you still want to be doing that?

Jones: I think I’ll always be running around the mountains—as along as I can. It’s hard to say how I’ll feel in 20 years. I don’t think I would be disappointed—no, not at all, I’d be psyched if I could still compete at 45. I’d be super psyched. But I think if that’s all I had going for me, I’d be a little disappointed in myself. I think that’s a big driver behind the way I’m trying to do different things right now. I’m proud of what I’ve done, and I like it, and I don’t want to stop, but I don’t think it’s enough. I think that I’m capable of doing more than I’ve done at this point and I want to see what I can do, I guess.

That might by nature just mean that I’m not as passionate about running or competing or training or being the best athlete I can be, as some other guys might be. That might end up meaning I’m pushed out of the sport because I’m not as passionate as some of the guys I’m competing with. But if that’s true, I think that’s going to be okay with me because I don’t mountain run just to win. I really like winning, and I want to keep winning, and I like competing and training and it’s really exciting for me.

You could take away winning from me, and it would be okay, but if you took running away from me that would be heartbreaking. But that’s just one side of it. I say that to illustrate that I like the activity of the sport itself and when I get into all this talk about authenticity, I think it’s really about me trying to live true to that. I don’t want to get too caught up in winning or in gear or in all the other little fads that can come and go, you know? I want to be true to the experience itself without being too much of a douchebag about that… if you know what I mean [laughs].

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That Dakota Jones. Photo: Rickey Gates

Eric Senseman
Eric Senseman runs far to explore what’s possible and in pursuit of the good life. It will likely keep him running forever. Find out more about him at Good Sense Running.