Since a number of folks asked in person as well as online, here’s a bonus interview with Bryon Powell after his finish at the 2018 Hardrock 100. In the following interview, Bryon talks about how he fits in training around an occasionally hectic lifestyle, why he doesn’t worry at the start of a 100 miler, why he’s comfortable with being a wuss, and why his feet hurt.
For more on how the race played out and for links to other interviews, check out our 2018 Hardrock 100 results article.
Bryon Powell Post-2018 Hardrock 100 Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar, and I’m with Bryon Powell of iRunFar. He’s one of the finishers of the 2018 Hardrock 100. This is your third finish and my first time interviewing you.
Bryon Powell: Hello, Meghan.
iRunFar: Hey, Bryon. How’s it going?
Powell: It’s alright today. I got a little sleep and a little food.
iRunFar: You ran Hardrock.
Powell: Yeah, I did. It was awesome. It was Hardrock.
iRunFar: This was your third run at Hardrock. I would say you’re considerably lucky when it comes to getting through that whole lottery process.
Powell: I suppose so, yeah. I do what I can. Last year I did trail work and got an extra ticket for that. Now I’m trail boss trained and led a small crew at this year’s trail work weekend. I love this race, and I do what I can to come back.
iRunFar: On that lucky day last December when your name was drawn for the third time and you began shaping your 2018 toward Hardrock, the journey began.
Powell: It did, but fortunately… Hardrock is a race you could probably do too much too soon, Fortunately, I didn’t. I just trained on the roads around home in Moab[, Utah] in the winter and built up a bit of a base which kind of went away during a lull in the spring, but yeah, if I got into Hardrock, my year turns into, What am I doing for Hardrock? My year is shaped around that.
iRunFar: You have sort of an interesting life set-up in that your life requires a fair amount of work and travel. You’ve been covering some big races around the world in the months preceding Hardrock and the months you’re supposed to be training big, but in fairness a lot of other people have a lot of things going on in their lives. What have you learned in your build-ups to these big races how to budget time or not?
Powell: I wrote a little bit about this a couple months ago, but I have a very episodic life in terms of huge work loads, so I budget time when I can’t train. I can get out every day and do a shake out and stay sane but not training per se. Then when I do have times to train more before a big race, I do. It might be more mileage or time training in a given week then I would want to do if I was training more consistently, but since I can’t, I do more. Then, Oh, I’m just going to do a 30-mile week with flat running around Squaw Valley[, California] before Western States, to go with the flow. Unfortunately I had a picture of a pulse in the beginning and middle of June, and one of the weeks was kind of lost to the smoke from the wildfires here. I wasn’t going to do big training runs. It was doing three miles in town to not destroy my lungs. A week was lost to work that expanded further back from Western States than had been planned. It was a challenge, and it can be frustrating at times, but you also need to remember that for a 100, if you’ve been running ultras for any length of time and if you’ve been running for some years, you can fall back on some of that fitness as long as for Hardrock you get some vert training up and down. You can give away some of that volume because you have that base of years and you can rely on the it more. If I had life come up and I had to do Hardrock on 30 miles per week, I could do it. It might not be as quick, but I know I could prepare by getting those couple key workouts in.
iRunFar: Getting around the loop not necessarily in a fast time but getting around the loop.
iRunFar: I feel like you are better known in this community as an ultrarunning journalist and a community leader rather than being known for your running. But you have run a ton of 100 milers.
Powell: I don’t know if I have a count, but somewhere around 10 finishes and a couple DNFs.
iRunFar: A couple misfires?
Powell: A couple of those were lack of investment and just jumping in something, but a couple fails as well.
iRunFar: There are feelings that being on the starting line of a 100 miler in particular that are evoked at the starting line of the race. What was going on in your mind on Friday morning?
Powell: Just hanging out with my friends. It’s funny because I don’t have those. Before a 100 miler, I’m totally calm. If you line me up for a five-mile fell race or something short, I’m going to be quaking in my boots. I’m scared. If there’s a Thanksgiving 5k, oh my, I’m nervous. But with 100 miles? What are you going to do? I might be worried I’m going to screw it up and go out too hard or something like that, but I’m not… you could not quite hit for 17 hours at Hardrock, and if things are good for the last 13 or 14 hours, that would be a really good day for me, so… I’m just hanging out.
iRunFar: The iRunFar team, there were 20 of us stationed around the course, and a few of the updates about you were made public on the internet but most of them were privately sent to me. I feel like 99.1% of them-ish were about…
Powell: Hold on, I want to hear this because I have no idea what…
iRunFar: …the unique things you were eating and drinking. You had a buffet around the San Juans?
Powell: Oh, yeah! I had a non-typical buffet.
iRunFar: That’s the thing. It was always about the unusual things you were eating and drinking… unusual in the ultrarunning sense.
Powell: I don’t know about that. What would be unusual?
iRunFar: I heard you guzzled maple syrup out of a large maple syrup jug. Ultrarunning, we’re a bunch of quirky people, but that’s an unusual sight.
Powell: I do take maple syrup gels. I have a mix of traditional Gu energy gels and chews of various sorts, as well as Untapped which is a maple syrup packets that are 100 calories just like a gel. I like those during races, but just a way to get a couple 100 calories in in one shot, I take a big swig out of a pint of New England maple syrup. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. At that aid station I also had fries, and somehow I think my nieces put a couple chicken nuggets in my fries. I carried this little paper bin of french fries and chicken nuggets out of the aid station. I knew my stomach went coming out of Ouray two years ago, so I wanted to go easy, and I did. I was around the same scale of time coming through. It’s the time of day where it’s late afternoon and it’s heated up, and the way the box canyon works is it thermally radiates and we’re along the western side of that canyon. It gets warm. I knew I wanted to intentionally go easier out of that so I could take in a lot of calories and then spend a half hour moving but moving more relaxed and taking my time to get out of the canyon, and I did. Oh, and this isn’t really necessarily with food, but I thought of it after the fact from two years ago was going in the Uncompaghre. Like at Western States if it’s a hot year…
iRunFar: Did you end up getting in the river?
Powell: Oh, yeah, for 60 or 90 seconds. It’s cold, so you don’t need to go in too long, but I went into the river and laid down and got all my clothes wet and cooled my body off. I was wet until we were at higher elevation and it was cooler.
iRunFar: Were you able to keep your stomach through the whole race? Were you able to eat until the end?
iRunFar: Oh, what happened?
Powell: I don’t know when my stomach started going, but I had what I hope was going to be a reset right around Cataract Lake—a double session. It was kind of like stop, kneel down, puke, stand up, go a little further, puke again. It was kind of fun—matter of fact puke and go. It was 5 or 5:30 in the morning. I really have a problem in this race of feeling overly sleepy, but it’s still there a little bit, and it kind of woke me up, and. I kept going.
iRunFar: Was it a legit puke-and-rally session? Were you able to reset?
Powell: Yeah, I didn’t eat a ton after that, but in terms of feeling good… it started because I tried to do some running because there are a bunch of flatter sections, so I tried some jogging. That turned really quick. One of my goals for this year was, I had a death march through that Pole Creek stretch two year ago, and this year I wanted to run some of it, and I did. I still would love to nail that section some year, but yeah, it was better and was nice.
iRunFar: A place you have in the past and this year liked to go train is in Cunningham gulch which this year represents the ending of the race. The climb up Little Giant is the final climb of Hardrock. You did it a couple days before the race. You’ve done it a few teams before. What’s it like to make it most of the way around the loop and to come up such a familiar place but such a familiarly awful and hard place?
Powell: It’s interesting because I’m not intimidated by it which is nice. It’s a 2,600 foot climb in two miles up to a hair under 13,000 feet, so it’s a legit climb. I know it’s one I’m going to have to take pauses on, but you just make progress. I did a little bit better. I think I was slower this time than two years ago, but I was better at making continual progress. I sat down on plenty of rocks. It was funny because I was two-thirds of the way up the climb, and Darla Askew and her pacer Sean Meissner, a good friend of mine, came up behind me, and I kept walking and I was walking quicker than them, and then I would sit on a rock. Meissner is a good friend who loves to give me crap and would do so. I just did what I had to do and got up the climb. As we were… there’s a bench maybe 600 feet below the pass we go over. When we were below that, we started hearing thunder and seeing lightning and it rained. We sort of got motivated. Every time Sean would see me he’d say, “Don’t sit. We’ve got to get over this pass before the storm hits.” It never hit too bad.
iRunFar: So, in terms of crew and pacers, this year you chose to go pacerless, but you had a four-person crew represented by your sister and her family. Interesting people situation.
Powell: It was awesome. I’ve run Hardrock three times, and the first time my sister crewed me, then my sister and brother-in-law, and this time Maya and Norah, my two nieces who are seven and nine. It was awesome.
iRunFar: They crewed you at every location until midnight, and then they were with you in the morning. They were troopers. There was a little campsite set up for them that your family set up to wait for you at Grouse Gulch.
Powell: Yeah, it was awesome. Maya, the older of the two, went and woke up Norah, the younger of the two when I came into Grouse. It was just so cool to see them. It’s been really fun to hear reports of how excited they were to set up the aid stations. To run in with them was just awesome.
iRunFar: But you kind of dropped them.
Powell: I was trying to get them to roll.
iRunFar: They’re sea-level kids at 9,000 feet.
Powell: They’re working on it. They had a good Hardblock [kids’ race]. I look forward to having them in another Hardblock one of these days.
iRunFar: Let’s face it. The opportunities you have in trail and ultrarunning are pretty robust. You could race so many races around the world. People would love to have Bryon Powell of iRunFar there, but you have chosen to run Hardrock as one of your favorites. Can you articulate why?
Powell: Not without being trite—it’s the beauty, the community, the family. It’s the challenge. It’s joyous and humbling beyond belief. It’s the mountains and the wild flowers. It’s the sky. The moon and Venus were in conjunction, and I’ve never seen Mars so red as it was all night long. Just the setting and the people and the family, the people I’m out on the course with, everyone is rooting for the other person. I was hoping Darla would fly by me on the final descent because I was with her up there. You want everybody to have their best day. It’s such a special feeling. There are few things more meaningful to me than being at and running Hardrock. And the challenge—it breaks you down in a…
iRunFar: Why do you like that?
Powell: I don’t know. I’ve interviewed so many people, and there are people who genuinely love being in the dark space. I’ve talked to people like Timothy Olson who would say that, and I remember talking to a couple other people like that this year about that. Not me—I don’t like to suffer. It’s a great way to stay humble and to find your limitations. Yesterday, I found out I’m a wuss and that I’m okay with that. There was really no inkling of wanting to stop, but I was fine going through the journey and doing it at what might not be maximal effort. I’m tired and in pain, and I’m going to keep moving forward and going forward but there’s nothing wrong with taking that extra sit on a rock for 10 seconds. There might be other days where that motivation is different, but it was kind of fun to realize that and be okay.
iRunFar: Three finishes and three starts—there’s going to be another lottery in another half of a year or so.
Powell: There will be Bryon Powell’s name in it.
iRunFar: It’s not even a question?
Powell: Well, it’s 23 hours after I finished—23:02…
iRunFar: Not that you’re counting.
Powell: There were times during the race where, late in the race, where I was like, Maybe I’ll take a couple years off because it is so hard.
iRunFar: The demanding aspect of it.
Powell: Partially the training commitment—I could do less, but I wouldn’t want to necessarily unless I’ve already committed to it, but just the hours of difficulty. My feet really hurt for a really long time. People see me and I’m in these little ballet slippers—New Balance 1400s—but I talked to somebody else behind me at the awards ceremony and he was wearing maximal shoes and he had the same, the balls of his feet were just beat up.
iRunFar: Same issue different shoes?
Powell: It’s because we’re both middle-aged men.
iRunFar: Are you a middle-aged man?
Powell: I am officially. We just have shorter calves and Achilles and lower-leg complexes, so when we’re climbing we are up on our toes. Nikki Kimball, who is a PT, was going up toward Grant-Swamp Pass with me, and we were having a train and a great time and she was walking behind me and she said, “Do you have short Achilles?” I said, “Yeah.”
iRunFar: Because of the way you were hiking up hill?
Powell: Yeah, I was up on my toes. There are times when I try to drop down, and it’s not painful to do so, but it’s not at this point in my life what’s natural. So I’m up on my feet for 20-some hours of the race, and it’s just painful.
iRunFar: Final question—you’ve finished Hardrock; you have had a couple days off work. Yeah, you’re going to have to return to work…
Powell: I already have.
iRunFar: …and process these interviews and communicate back out there to the world again, but somewhere in there there probably has to be some sort of an award—something you’re going to treat yourself with for this.
iRunFar: Really? You haven’t thought of anything?
Powell: I forget the term for that, but yeah, it’s not how I really motivate myself.
iRunFar: Not even an intangible type of reward?
Powell: That was the reward—the journey was the reward both two and during. I had my day-and-a-half off. Just the joy of getting to do Hardrock, that is it. I have the harder part of my double coming up. I have the Outdoor Retailer coming up. People who follow iRunFar semi-annual updates on shoes and gear and things. Well, that starts tomorrow morning. I’m going to skip the first day of the show and show up tomorrow night and start on Tuesday morning, but rushing from appointment to appointment around the Denver Convention Center will be a challenge. On the flip side of that, there will be some reward. I think on Wednesday night I may go to a Rockies game with friends maybe. There may be a beer or two consumed there but not too many. Denver is a great beer city, so I will probably walk to The Great Divide and have a Yeti one of these days. Then, I ran track and cross country in college outside of Philly. A lot of my friends were… it was a really tight team and we’re still in touch with today. They all still live on the East Coast, and they every year have a summer reunion. We go to one city and go to some baseball games and go for some runs and having a beer or two. This spring I got an email from one of the teammates saying, “I know you don’t live anywhere near Denver. You live in Moab. But we are gathering in Denver this year and here’s the week.”
iRunFar: You’re like, “Actually…”
Powell: “I will actually be in Denver for the retailer show.” This little reunion starts Thursday evening, and Outdoor Retailer ends Thursday morning. So, I’m staying in Denver and hanging out with the old goats.
iRunFar: Are you going to be running with them? Everybody still runs?
Powell: Yes, I think everyone who is showing up still runs. It was a team that fostered… it was a good competitive team, but from the fastest to the slowest, you just worked and committed yourself, and it didn’t matter… we had the first sub-4:00 D3 miler on the team, and we had team captains running 17:45 for the 5k on the team which for a guy in college wasn’t the fastest, but if you were a leader, you are a leader. It kind of instilled that in me. Be committed, give your all, be part of the effort—that’s awesome.
iRunFar: That kind of translates to ultrarunning…
Powell: Just a little bit.
iRunFar: And your job with iRunFar… and a lot of your personality.
iRunFar; On that note, congratulations on your third Hardrock finish—32:40. Best of luck in next year’s lottery.
Powell: You, too.
iRunFar: I know. Lottery gods, are you listening? Is it going to be my turn yet again?
Powell: Yes, Meghan. I just have to add, thank you, and thanks Bill Dooper for everything.
iRunFar: Thanks, Bill Dooper. This weekend was …
Powell: It was a tribute, a memorial.
iRunFar: It was a grand celebration of Bill.
Powell: In a lot of ways.
iRunFar: Bill was definitely here… well, he was here, but he was also not here.
Powell: It was conspicuous, his absence.
iRunFar: His physical presence wasn’t here, but his spiritual presence was for sure.
Powell: He was well remembered.
iRunFar: You probably saw him out on the course a bunch.