Catching Up With Alex Varner

Catching up with trail runner, dad, and investment researcher Alex Varner.

By on August 31, 2020 | Comments

The stock market’s roaring, and Alex Varner is my go-to runner for advice. Varner’s a partner and Director of Research for Main Management, and he insists that they beat the market. “Dollar-cost averaging, and don’t try to time the bottom or the top,” he hits on two key pieces of advice. I pretend I understand and Google it later. Dollar-cost averaging times your investment over a period instead of all at once to reduce risk. It does however forego greater returns in an increasing market.

I bought United Airlines several months back and it’s done well, but Varner’s riding a higher wave on Tesla. That’s an over-simplification of what he does though. “It’s hard to pick single stocks. You’ve got to pick the right sector, and the right stock in that sector,” Varner explained, as a reason to work with a firm like his. “Our core philosophy is to help the investor keep more.” Varner rattles off a string of different financial products that the firm manages, and touts the firm’s combined years of experience. I lament some personal misses, ones that got away, and a decade-long lack of a 401k match. Varner reassures me on all counts. On the 401k, he says, “it’s not the worst thing,” and on those too-early sells, “you can’t think about what’s left on the table, you’ve got to find the other view of it. There will always be something to beat yourself up over.” These are a few simple words of wisdom, and it’s so true in and out of the stock market.

Alex Varner running the 2019 New York City Marathon. Photo: Jody Bailey

I don’t want to challenge Varner in his financial world, and not on the trails or track either. He hasn’t raced as much in recent years, but is still fit and calls out a speedy recent two-mile time trial. “10:00,” I suggest questioningly, and Varner eagerly answers, “9:31.” I gasp at the pace, but I shouldn’t have. He ran at NCAA Division I Davidson College, has a 2:21 marathon best, and won the 2015 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile. Varner’s in a contract year as a Nike Trail sponsored runner and he’s got the fitness to keep it going, but he has stepped back from those peak ultrarunning years though.

“Work, life, child, juggling being a parent. I’m not comfortable [right now] making a commitment [to training], it’s just time away from your partner, your family.” He has held up a personal tradition with the Dispea Race though, dating back to 2003. “I’ve won it nine times, six in a row from 2009 to 2014,” Varner cheers. Rickey Gates and Gus Gibbs interrupted the streak in 2015 and 2016, but Varner came back with wins in 2017, 2018, and 2019, noting that the “win” is the race’s fastest time but not the first to finish in the age- and gender-graded format. I press him to explain his niche success, and he answers. “I have the course figured out, I live about a quarter mile from the start [in the San Francisco Bay Area of California], and I don’t mind passing people. That’s a disincentive to a lot of people. The trail’s narrow when you’re by yourself, let alone in a race.” He sounds cutthroat at Dipsea, and that’s contrary to my impression otherwise.

At the 2019 Dipsea Race finish. All photos courtesy of Alex Varner unless otherwise noted.

Varner’s daughter’s now three years old. He studied French as an undergraduate, his wife speaks French, and his daughter’s best friend is French. She goes to a Brazilian preschool though where they speak Portuguese. Either way, her language learning is covered. She’s been abroad too, memorably coming down with hand, foot, and mouth disease on the over-Atlantic-Ocean flight to the 2018 Mont-Blanc Marathon. Fortunately Varner and his wife were spared from the condition. I personally know how lucky they are.

With wife Rachelle and daughter Ava after the 2018 Mont-Blanc Marathon.

Diversification is a key principle in the financial market, and Varner’s chasing that same balance in his personal life. “It’s hard. I over-prioritized running for a long time, and my family really, really helped with that process. When you’re a sponsored athlete, you’ve got a singular focus and I’m diversifying away from that. When you can’t run at a high level, you’re in trouble when that one thing’s taken away,” he shared. He’s still got an incredibly great running portfolio though, anchored around two workouts and a long run each week, and has impressively pushed 85 to 90 miles per week for some 10 to 12 consecutive weeks.

And then as we’re wrapping up, Varner lets slips his other vice. “I probably spend 30 minutes every night looking at Craigslist and eBay,” he confided. The man likes cars, and I push for specifics. He drives a BMW and is always on the lookout for bucket-list cars that are too expensive new, but might happen at a new-to-him level if stars cross. “The Mercedes E63 AMG Wagon, it’s probably the most virtuous station wagon, 500-plus horsepower and all-wheel drive,” Varner’s voice drips with excitement at his wish.

Like he said earlier, he really doesn’t mind passing, and that diversification theme works in the market, life, and in his garage too.

Call for Comments

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Ava loves to run also.

Justin Mock

Justin Mock is the This Week In Running columnist for iRunFar. He’s been writing about running for 10 years. Based in Europe, Justin has run as fast as 2:29 for a road marathon and finished as high as fourth in the Pikes Peak Marathon.