Celebrating a Decade of AJW’s Taproom

AJW's TaproomOn October 14, 2011, I published the first article in AJW’s Taproom. It is hard to believe that today marks the 10-year anniversary of that day. It has been one of the great honors of my life to write for iRunFar and I owe Bryon and Meghan a huge debt of gratitude for giving me the space to share my voice with the trail running and ultrarunning world for all these years. As I look back over the last 10 years of articles, 491 of them to be exact, I am flooded with emotion as I had no idea at the time that an idea hatched in a Virginia brewpub in September of 2011 would result in a collection of writings that has served to define a large part of my life.

Perhaps the most thoughtful articles I have written have been the reflective pieces, which have been inspired by my life as a runner. Flow: The Path to Optimal Experience is my first piece on how running can transport me to another place, a place of ease and comfort. In a similar vein, One of Those Runs explores those fleeting occasions when you find yourself enjoying a run so much that you hope it never ends. Transcendence takes that phenomenon a step further in suggesting the ways running allows us to move beyond our day-to-day, mundane reality and toward something greater and larger than ourselves.

Andy Jones-Wlkins and Bryon Powell - Cunningham Gulch

AJW and Bryon running in Silverton, Colorado in the winter. Photo: iRunFar/Bryon Powell

Several times over the years, I have ruminated on the ways in which running can impact our emotions and psychology. Grit: Have You Got It? describes my experience participating in Angela Duckworth’s landmark Grit Study and what I learned from it. In Unitasking, I bristle at the notion of multitasking and comment on how running, particularly a long solo run, helps me to stay focused on what really matters. Mental health has long been an issue that has touched all of our lives as runners and in Running and Our Mental Health I discuss the ways in which I’ve handled this challenge over the years.

Like many of the long-distance runners I have met, I suffer from the occasional bout of melancholy. For example, in Running From Despair, I commented on the distinct struggle of justifying a happy running life with an otherwise less-than-satisfactory other life. Then, more recently, in Running Through Grief, I ruminate on how running has helped me grapple with the death of my father. Along the way, I have also garnered inspiration from other runners, some famous, like Steve Prefontaine in Blowing Out the Carbon, and others less famous but equally influential, like Brad Mitchell in Lunch-Pail Days.

AJW Lunch Pail Days 1

From left to right are Brad Mitchell, AJW, and Hank Dart training in Idaho. Photo courtesy of AJW.

From time to time in AJW’s Taproom, I have drifted into a more analytical space, like the time years ago I compared Tim Twietmeyer and Kyle Skaggs in Constellations and Supernovas. I have looked through an analytical lens at such issues as vulnerability in Becoming Vulnerable; purpose and discipline in Discipline, Purpose, and the Capacity to Dream; and the rhythm of life in Finding All-Day Pace for Life. Most recently, I took on the somewhat controversial topic of why American men struggle so much at UTMB in The Mystery of American Men at UTMB. That last one garnered more than a few comments!

Since AJW’s Taproom was born out of a blog that I maintained from 2007 to 2011, one of the deals I made with Bryon when I agreed to write AJW’s Taproom was that I could include as part of the column an occasional race report. And, while my performances on the trail over the past decade have certainly been less than noteworthy, I have, nonetheless, enjoyed documenting them here. In 2012, after an extended layoff due to a knee injury, I wrote My Return to Racing about my 2012 run at the Mountain Masochist 50 Mile. In what was, and still is, perhaps my most triumphant personal accomplishment, I wrote in painstaking detail about my 10th and final finish at the Western States 100 in AJW’s 2014 Western States Report. (If you have a few hours free and you want to see some first-hand banter from that year, check out these two interviews Bryon did with me before and after the race.) In 2016, after seven years away, I ran the Hardrock 100 for the second time and had a really rough day. I wrote about it in Down to the Very Marrow. In 2017, to commemorate my 50th birthday, I thought it would be fun to do a do-it-yourself 100 miler. I charted a course through Shenandoah National Park, talked Bryon into coming out to pace me, and the event was launched. I wrote about it in A Do-It-Yourself 100-Mile Run. And then, more recently, I had the opportunity to participate in Three Days of Syllamo, a three-day stage race in the Arkansas mountains which I documented in A Wonderful Weekend in the Ozarks.

2021 Three Days of Syllamo 3

AJW running his first Three Days of Syllamo stage race. Photo: Amanda Harvey

As an active reader both professionally and personally, I have, over the years, shared some thoughts on a variety of books here in AJW’s Taproom. Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers compelled me to write Running and the 10,000 Hour Rule and Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind inspired Purpose and Motivation. Chip and Dan Heath’s book The Power of Moments reminded me of how impactful it was for me to witness Gunhild Swanson’s 2015 Western States 100 finish which I described in The Power of Moments while Frank Portnoy’s Wait, the Art and Science of Delay served as an excellent reminder for me about the importance of patience which I explored in Running and Waiting. Long-distance running has, for decades, exposed for many of us how vulnerable we all can be and Brene Brown’s remarkable book Daring Greatly provided an excellent jumping-off point for me on this topic in Vulnerability: Strength or Weakness.

Writing AJW’s Taproom for the last 10 years has given me the opportunity to interview some of the most interesting and influential characters in the sport. Among them are Ann Trason with whom I had the pleasure to discuss her incredible run at the 1995 Western States 100, Geoff Roes who I tracked down to learn more about his extraordinary 2010 Ultrarunner of the Year season, and Kyle Skaggs who took time out of his current life to relive his run at the 2008 Hardock 100. Krissy Moehl recounted her remarkable race at UTMB with me in Krissy Moehl and the 2009 UTMB while Anton Krupicka regaled us with the tale of his paradigm-shifting run at Leadville 100 Mile in Anton Krupicka and the 2006 Leadville 100.

In addition to some of the great people of the sport, I have also written often about some of the best and most iconic places in the sport. One of the great races in the eastern half of the United States is the Highland Sky 40 Mile in West Virginia which I profiled in Classic U.S. Ultras: Highland Sky 40 Mile.  And, out west, the equally classic Waldo 100k was profiled in Classic U.S. Ultras: Waldo 100k. Anybody who has been a regular reader of AJW’s Taproom over the years knows about my unabashed love affair with my favorite race, the Western States 100. My favorite portion of the Western States Trail was the subject of Trail Love Letter: The Western States Trail from Last Chance to Michigan Bluff.

The Western States 100 has been the subject of over 50 of my columns over the past decade and these are my five favorite articles:

  1. An Obsessive’s Description of the Western States Course
  2. One Last Love Letter to Western States
  3. Lessons Learned After a Decade at Western States
  4. A Weekend at Western States
  5. Homecoming Weekend

Finally, perhaps the most fun I have had in writing AJW’s Taproom over the past 10 years has been with writing my annual April Fools’ Day columns. Some are better than others and a few have actually been believed! As a firm believer in the old adage that life is too short to be taken too seriously, these April 1 columns remind me of this each time I read them. First, there was the time the Western States 100 announced a few dramatic changes such as a 24-hour cutoff and reversing the direction of the race in Western States Announces Changes. Then, there was the year that the Barkley Marathons announced that the race had been purchased by Jamil Coury and Gary Robbins as reported in Barkley Changes Ownership. Over the years, UTMB has been no stranger to controversy but perhaps their most controversial policy change was when they announced their Cash-for-Points Program. The Hardrock 100 joined the fun when they became the Tough Mudder World Championships, and just this past April, the Western States 100 announced that the Western States 100 would Become the Western States 200.

2015 Jarmans Invitational Marathon 5

AJW accessorizes his 1,000-mile Western States 100 buckle with a lavender jumpsuit at the Jarmans Invitational Marathon. Photo: Jarmans Invitational Marathon

These last 10 years of writing for iRunFar have been some of the most fulfilling of my life. And, while I know there are no sure things in life, I hope to continue writing here in AJW’s Taproom most Fridays for the foreseeable future. For all of you out there who have been my loyal readers, thank you. In this day and age of podcasts and YouTube, it warms my heart to know that there is still a place for the written word.

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beers of the Decade

For all 491 editions of AJW’s Taproom, I have concluded with a beer review. For this anniversary column, I have culled all of those reviews of all of those beers and tabulated the top-five beers of AJW’s Taproom. Here they are, with their original reviews, in reverse order:

5. This week’s Beer of the Week comes from Moonraker Brewing Company in Auburn, California. Known for their incredible variety of IPAs, Moonraker also makes an outstanding sour beer that was recently released and which I was lucky enough to get my hands on. Wave Theory is a Leipzig Gose-style sour ale that is strong in alcohol and deeply rich in flavor. One of the lightest sours I have ever tasted, Wave Theory is a fantastic beer even for those who don’t quite have the palate for sours. If you’re gonna’ be in the area for the Western States 100, be sure to get some.

4. This week’s Beer of the Week comes from The Answer Brewpub in Richmond, Virginia. Known for their tremendous variety of creatively conceived beers, one of their finest selections is Larceny, their classic single-hopped American IPA. Balanced and fruity, Larceny is a nice IPA to have on its own or with spicy food. Give this one a try if you are ever in this booming beer town.

3. This week’s Beer of the Week comes from the Maine Beer Company in Freeport, Maine. I had been trying to get my hands on a bottle of Lunch IPA for a while and finally, earlier this week, on the same day as the Bell’s Hopslam release, my local watering hole had Lunch on tap. Needless to say, it did not disappoint. A creamy IPA with a nice, flowery finish, Lunch is an excellently balanced IPA in the Heady Topper tradition. Touted by the brewery as an “East Coast take on a West Coast IPA,” it is a great blend of east and west. In fact, it made me think that New England, perhaps, may be perfecting its own IPA variety along the lines of the Lunch.

2. This week’s Beer of the Week comes from Lawson’s Finest Liquids in Warren, Vermont. Last weekend, in fact, I had the chance to travel to New England’s Beer Capital and was able to get my hands on Lawson’s Sip of Sunshine IPA. Dubbed a “tropical vacation in a glass,” I could not believe the balance and complexity of this great beer. Talk about a revelatory paradox!

1. This week’s Beer of the Week comes from The Alchemist Brewery in Waterbury, Vermont. The Alchemist is a small, 15-barrel brewery devoted solely producing and distributing a single beer, Heady Topper. Heady Topper is a delicious Double IPA that tips the scales at 8% ABV and is loaded with plenty of hops. Yet, it has a creamy mouth feel and smooth finish that is truly remarkable in a DIPA of any size.

Call for Comments

It’s time to celebrate! Happy Anniversary, AJW’s Taproom and thank you so much to Andy Jones-Wilkins for his 10 years of dedication to Friday fun, inspiration, and banter. Use the comments section to celebrate AJW and to share some of your favorite articles in AJW’s Taproom!

iRunFar Team - Western States

AJW, Bryon, and Meghan at the Western States 100. Photo: John Mackey