Brett Rivers is a longstanding force in the Bay Area trail running scene, and he proved this weekend to be a force in the global trail running scene as well with his ninth-place finish at the 2014 Western States 100. In this interview, Brett talks about how it feels to have a breakout race amongst a field like this one, how he thought his race played out, what it’s like to train daily with a big group of fast guys in the Mill Valley area, and what shoes he raced in.
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Brett Rivers Post-2014 Western States 100 Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here after his ninth-place finish at the 2014 Western States 100. Brett, you got top 10 at Western States.
Brett Rivers: Career achievement, definitely. Years ago I never thought that would be a reality, but I owe a lot to my family and to my wife and especially the crew at San Francisco Running Company and then all the guys I get to train up with. That’s the biggest difference. I’ve restructured my training and am learning from guys like Matt Laye, Jorge Maravilla, Alex Varner, Dylan Bowman truly on a daily basis.
iRunFar: That’s awesome. It’s funny because a lot of people maybe five years ago could have dreamed to be top 10 at Western States and the dream has gone away because the competition got so much deeper. You’ve been around this sport for awhile, and it’s amazing that as you’ve gone on that idea has crept into your head. If I’m correct, that’s something you’ve focused on in the last year.
Rivers: Yeah, quality over quantity. Recent parent—we have a 10-month-old child. I really had to buckle down on making the most of my time. I think that helped with training, too, and doing that quality stuff. Doing more speedwork. Carrying over the endurance stuff. Track day and those tempo runs every week. That really helped.
iRunFar: Have you had to cut back your overall volume to accommodate the increase in intensity?
Rivers: Some. I’d still love to get more running in, but that’s not always possible. I’ve got to make sure my wife gets her own miles in. But we work around it, and I do a good amount of BOB training with some good vert pushing Tamzen in the stroller. I think that that is still some fun stuff to do.
iRunFar: Obviously you enjoy being in the mountains and you enjoy trail running and ultrarunning…
Rivers: Love it.
iRunFar: Do you enjoy the speedwork or is it a means to an end?
Rivers: It’s a different kind of suffering and a different kind of enjoyment. I feel great after them. The cool down back to my house, I feel really good. I dread the run down to the track, but, yeah.
iRunFar: You get a couple intervals in and you’re good?
Rivers: Yeah, it wakes the body up. It wakes the mind up.
iRunFar: Nice. Going back to yesterday’s race, you went out conservatively. I mean, you weren’t a half hour back at mile 20, but you were off the lead group. I saw you at Robinson Flat, mile 30, and you were in 17th place.
iRunFar: Were you thinking it was still possible?
Rivers: Somewhat. I knew I was keeping it… I was just conserving energy early on really until Foresthill, even getting through the canyons just focusing on conserving. I knew that naturally having done enough of these, you know people are going to blow up and people are going to drop. Whether I ended up 12th or 9th, that stuff is just kind of how the rest of the field does to a certain extent for where I’m at in running. But I knew that I could go sub-17; that was a goal. To do 16:20, that was a grand slam for me yesterday.
iRunFar: You get through Foresthill, mile 62, and you’re going into Cal Street—at least when I saw you at the river, there were five guys on either side of 10th place, really close. When you hit the river, were you thinking you were fighting for M10 or were you still just trying to run the best race you can?
Rivers: At that point, definitely both, the combo. You definitely start thinking more about that placing. When you get in that spot, that’s the stuff I kind of live for in a way. That’s what ultra racing is about. I passed [David] Laney I think between Cal 2 and Cal 3 and that put me into 10th. When I got on the far side of the river, they told me I was in 9th, so I think [Michael] Aish might have been sitting…
iRunFar: He was in a cot.
Rivers: …at one of the aid stations. So that made me a little more comfortable but not feeling like I could even give up a minute, so I still ran hard.
iRunFar: Was there some point in the final miles that you’re like, I’m safe. I can enjoy it?
Rivers: At Robie Point they told me Jesse [Haynes] was 15 or 20 minutes back, and so the last mile, but all that meant for me was that I could then carry my daughter across the finish line which meant a lot to me without worrying about having to race on the track. I didn’t want to have to do that.
iRunFar: It’s happened before.
Rivers: It has.
iRunFar: For 9th position it might not be such a… but still…
Rivers: But still, yeah.
iRunFar: Obviously you have a lot of great training partners now, not only in the Bay Area, but Mill Valley has turned into a really hotspot for ultrarunning. A bunch of the guys in the top 10 and top 20 were there. Aside from the training and learning from them and working tougher, what kind of mental boost does that and owning the San Francisco Running Company give you?
Rivers: I get to live the sport to a certain extent and that’s a dream come true. The store and the community aspect which we’re building around the store, which is really important to us, are really supportive and really encouraging. It’s an extension of the sport and what we all love here as well. So that fires you up. It kind of naturally does. I was definitely out there on the course and I hit some—I never had a low, low out there yesterday, but you get some tired moments—I was thinking, Man, friends are watching right now and they’re cheering from afar, so keep it up.
iRunFar: You’ve built a lot of that over the last couple of years. You’re a great guy and you’ve had a lot of friends in this community for a long time, but starting the store you took a huge leap. You were working at a Zinga and you had a corporate job, as it were.
Rivers: Comfortable paycheck.
iRunFar: It was. I can commiserate. There’s got to be excitement and fear taking that leap. You seemed to hit a grand slam yesterday. You’ve kind of done the same thing with San Francisco Running Company.
Rivers: Yeah, we’re still growing, but it was honestly… seeing what you did leaving legal and going to really pursue your passion, that was a big inspiration for me and other friends that have done that leap as well. The biggest thing was just walking out of that corporate job for the last time. But the community aspect and the event aspect of the store is what’s really important to us. Ultimately, any running store can sell the same stuff, but it’s the community around it that supports that and that’s what we’re really passionate about.
iRunFar: The community is exciting and you’re among friends all the time, but you’re also a small-business owner and a father of a 10 month old. Do you ever wish sometimes that you were just back in a more regular corporate job?
Rivers: There’s the comfortable aspect that comes with that, but my last year-and-a-half in tech I was just really frustrated and really eager to do something else and pursue my passion. I encourage you to pursue your passion and have an idea behind it. Feel free to reach out to me, and I’m happy to offer any advice I can whatsoever. No, aside from a steady paycheck, there’s no time where I wish anything else.
iRunFar: You should savor this moment for quite awhile. Is there going to be a celebration at the store?
Rivers: Oh, I will. I will. Probably a few of us are going to meet up in Mill Valley. Mill Valley had three in the top 10. Bay area had four in the top 10.
iRunFar: You, Varner, Bowman.
Rivers: Yeah, and I think we had something like five in the top 20. Something like that. I don’t know exactly. Gary Gellin and Jorge Maravilla not too far back either. Yeah…
iRunFar: Do you have anything else on the calendar for this year race-wise?
Rivers: Mount Tam Hill Climb—3.3 miles up with 2,400 feet—the climb we do every Wednesday with the buddies, with the bros. Then I’ll do some more full marathon training for the Philly Marathon in the fall. I’ll be back in your hometown.
iRunFar: Awesome. Well, congratulations on the great run yesterday and enjoy.
Rivers: Thanks, buddy. I appreciate it. Thanks to you and Meghan [Hicks] and the whole crew at iRunFar for being out there.
iRunFar: It’s our pleasure.
iRunFar: A bonus question just popped in my head. You own a running store. What shoes did you race in yesterday?
Rivers: I raced in a pair of Hoka One One Clifton Trails which is a prototype right now. I was fortunately blessed with sample size, size-nine feet, so I’ve been doing some wear-testing for them. The Clifton road shoe is a 7.6-ounce max cushion Hoka that is set to come out in July. This one, they put a little bit of trail tread underneath and I’m wear-testing it and it’s incredible. I think the thing is 7.9 ounces and it made a difference on all those downhills. I would just cruise downhill next to and passing guys in minimally cushioned shoes. All I was doing that whole time was running easily downhill conserving energy. The shoe choice really made a difference.
iRunFar: You’ve got me psyched. I got a pair of road Cliftons in the car, but I’ve got to try the trails.
Rivers: Yeah, the Clifton is a cool shoe.