It’s been eight years since Dakota Jones last toed the line at the Hardrock 100. In the following interview, Dakota shares what he’s been up to in recent years, how his running has gone lately, and how he wants to improve the world.
To see who else is racing, read our in-depth 2022 Hardrock 100 preview.
Dakota Jones Pre-2022 Hardrock 100 Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar, here with Dakota Jones before the 2022 Hardrock 100. How are you, Dakota?
Dakota Jones: I’m doing really well, Bryon, thanks.
iRunFar: You’ve been up here in Silverton for a while now?
Jones: Yes. I got here on June first. And it’s been amazing. I’m loving it here.
iRunFar: Yeah? Pretty nice time training?
Jones: Yeah, yeah, it’s been really good. I mean bad ecological reasons, you know there was no snow but it actually was super convenient for training so I showed up on June 1 and you can run up into the high alpine and there was like, I mean all the trails were open, so my training has been really good for that. You know, like this is the fourth start of Hardrock for me. And every time I’ve done it, I’ve basically spent the summer up here. And so the last time was a long, like eight years ago. So, it’s been really fun to spend the whole, I guess month and a half now, up here. To be back home.
iRunFar: I mean it’s strange, I was looking back, and you’ve run, you’ve started Hardrock three times and your last finish was a decade ago. Like, it’s hard to imagine.
Jones: Yeah, no dude, it’s crazy.
iRunFar: I’ve got a bunch of questions kind of related to that. First is, what have you been up to in life of late?
Jones: Yeah, everybody’s going through a lot of changes lately.
Jones: Global pandemic and everything. But even before that, I started kind of changing things up a little bit because in 2019 I decided to go to engineering school. And I moved to Bozeman, Montana, for that. And so I was kind of stepping a little bit back from training and racing for that. And then there was a pandemic on for like two years. So I’ve still been like training and staying fit but also focusing a lot on other things in addition to engineering school. I’ve also started this running camp, which is like this climate change education and action camp that we do here in Colorado. We did our first one last year and our second one is coming up right after Hardrock.
Jones: Yeah, it’s been really great. It’s been fun to do some different things. It’s been, I’m really busy now and it’s like bumming me out. I don’t want to be super busy but I totally am. But I get to do good things and I’m grateful for that.
iRunFar: And you’re still rolling along with the engineering school?
Jones: Yep. Yep, I’m hanging in there.
iRunFar: How much longer?
Jones: I think I’ve got about three semesters. Because of the running camp that I do, it’s now a nonprofit and so that’s like taken on, become a lot more work. And been really interesting and exciting but it’s like I’ve had to take fewer classes in school. In order to stay sane, I’m trying to spread it out a little more.
iRunFar: You’re being reasonable. At least a little bit.
Jones: A little bit. I am about to run 100 miles in San Juan.
iRunFar: I retract my statement, yeah, yeah. I mean you’ve been coming here, to Hardrock, for a long time. Why is Hardrock still special to you?
Jones: Yeah, I mean for me Hardrock is where it started. I’m from Durango, just an hour south of here, and I volunteered at Hardrock when I was 17. That’s where I was introduced to the sport, and it’s like, ever since then, Hardrock has kind of represented a lot of like the style of how I want to be a runner. It’s about, sort of about competition but that’s really secondary to the experience you have in the mountains and the challenge. And also, the relationships you build by really struggling and pushing yourself in this amazing place with other people. And that’s also really inspired me so, I’ve realized recently, I’ve literally been at every Hardrock since 2008. The only time I wasn’t here was in 2020 when they didn’t have an event. Yeah.
iRunFar: That’s a lot of Hardrocks.
Jones: Yeah. And it’s fun, I’ll keep coming back. I was here when I was 17, I ran it first when I was 20. I’m 31 now and I hope that I’m volunteering or racing when I’m 51 or 61, you know?
iRunFar: Hearing your connections and experiences here reminds me of, it’s part of it being so small and sort of spread out. I feel there’s intimate moments, whether it’s with another runner or at an aid station. You really connect, person to person.
iRunFar: A couple of times each race.
Jones: Yeah, I mean that’s the nature of our sport in general, is that you are really pushing yourself in these often wild places. There are so many more variables than just competition. So you end up really connecting with people who you share these challenging experiences with. And Hardrock, probably more so than most events that I know, because these mountains are bigger and wilder and higher and the race is harder than many others. And also I think Hardrock really works hard to develop this family atmosphere. Keep it small and keep it personable. That really comes through when you race it.
iRunFar: Yeah. There is, however, racing. You wouldn’t be up here training hard June 1. But your season seems to have started well, you ran and won Canyons by UTMB 50k, and you had a strong run at the Zegama Marathon, I would say.
Jones: Yeah, I mean everybody’s like, “You got 11th at Zegama,” and everybody’s like, “Great job, Dakota.” And I’m like, yeah, I did a good job, I mean it’s 11th. It’s okay. I was happy with it, for myself, after a whole semester of working hard at school and running Footprints.
iRunFar: Especially if you’re aiming toward Hardrock for your season, it’s a short, fast race.
Jones: Yeah, you know it’s been kind of a tough winter and spring for me, just like personally, trying to figure out how, I don’t know, just personal life stuff. I was having probably some mental health stuff and having trouble sleeping. But being able to be back in the community really helps me, you know Zegama is really fun. If you know this race, it’s total chaos. I also hadn’t run that race in a decade and the last time I ran it, it was raining and snowing, and this time it was beautiful. So anyway, it’s been really fun to be racing again.
Jones: And to be feeling like I’m fit.
iRunFar: And you do feel like you’re … You’re pretty strong?
Jones: Yes. I think if I’m able to recover from the training I did, for Hardrock, I think I’ll be more prepared than ever. I’m feeling pretty tired still and I have a week or so to go. So, I think I’ll be okay.
iRunFar: And you’ve been in the 25 hours range.
Jones: Yeah, totally.
iRunFar: Think you can run a little faster than you have in the past? With experience and fitness?
Jones: Yeah, I think I’m capable of it. It’s like, I don’t know, I feel like I’m such a sandbagger sometimes because I don’t have the confidence to be like, “I’m going to go hard.” And I do want to do well but I honestly think that the way that I will do well is by trying to let go of the competition. Because for one thing, Kilian [Jornet] and François [D’Haene] are here.
Jones: The rest of us are racing for third, we all know that. And so then, if I can realistically let them go then I might not blow myself up in the first half of the race. And if I think that I’m able to run a consistent race, and I’m able to be rested and prepared for this, I think I’m capable of under 24. But I think that’s really ambitious and I don’t want to think about that until 70 miles or something, right?
iRunFar: Yeah, but you have to put yourself in that position and it’s not by running faster earlier. It’s by running your own race.
Jones: Yeah, exactly, I just want to be able to feel like I ran a consistent race. And that doesn’t necessarily mean a consistent pace because sometimes you are walking super slow, sometimes you’re running downhill fast. But for me, it’s like consistent energy-wise, and the intensity, yeah.
iRunFar: Consistent intensity.
Jones: The one, literally the one 100 mile I ever did that I actually felt like I did well was IMTUF in Idaho, in 2020. That was like, I very intentionally went out super conservatively and tried to just run very consistently all day. And I did and I got second and Jason Schlarb smoked me by an hour but he’s really, really good and that’s fine. And I had a good time. That’s what I want to do here. I want to enjoy it, I love these mountains. I want to, I don’t want to drive myself into the ground by 50 miles then I have to slog it in, be miserable.
iRunFar: I don’t want to see you looking like shit at Telluride.
Jones: I don’t want to feel that way.
iRunFar: Nice, nice. So you’ve got a couple of projects on, kind of for a long time. You talk about your connection with the mountains here, the environmental impact of the sport, and your activity in it is important to you. And now you are working with NNormal, and you are doing the Footprints camp. You’re kind of doing more directly in that world right now.
Jones: Yeah, exactly. And so, I feel that’s more important to me than competition. You know, I want to be a part of the sport and I feel like I’ve … I’ve been here 14, 15 years, and I have great connections and I know everybody and it’s fantastic. And now I want to use those connections in the sport to try to protect the places where we play. Because not only is that going to make the sport more sustainable so that we can continue to do this forever but also, the worst thing that’s going to happen with climate change is not that we can’t run or bike or ski, it’s a lot larger than that. But as trail runners, we have a shared interest and strong communities, and we can make a difference.
Jones: I’m trying to address that, Footprints, this is my nonprofit, we are trying to take direct climate action. With NNormal, it’s like this really cool opportunity for me to learn from Kilian Jornet and all the incredible people he’s got on his team about how to try to use the business as part of the solution. Because it has to be.
iRunFar: And on the Footprints, you say direct action but if I’m remembering correctly, it’s kind of like bringing in younger advocates and bringing them the toolset and skills to make that change.
Jones: Exactly. Yeah, so Footprints, it’s a weeklong running camp and last year was kind of college ages, and this year it’s all ages.
iRunFar: Oh really?
Jones: Yeah. So, basically everyone that wants to come to the camp, they apply and they say “This is a project for my community, this is how I want to address climate change where I live.” And we choose the ones we think have the most opportunity for impact, and we pair them with a mentor who’s an expert who literally works professionally in a field related to that project. And they work together on their project through a whole series of exercises and curricula that we build, which I’m actually working on constantly right now. It’s stressing me out.
iRunFar: Probably walk in your room and see your laptop open.
Jones: It’s crazy because I’m not an educator, I’m not a climate change expert and that stresses me out all the time because I’m leading this camp that’s all about those things. But it’s okay because I’ve got people who are.
iRunFar: Providing a framework and opportunity.
Jones: I’m putting the people together and I have so many great educators and climate scientists, and just like community activists helping me out. So it’s been really fun.
iRunFar: So, on the mentor side of thing, it’s interesting, you started in the sport, coming out of high school essentially. And so you’re the mentee kind of by necessity at that point, and you started taking on being a mentor to other runners in your everyday life.
Jones: I mean, I would like to. Yes. I mean Footprints is probably the best example of that, yes I’ve got all these people coming to me for help and even though I’m not directly providing that, because I’m not the expert. Yet. I’m putting them together and I’m providing that framework. I think it takes a certain amount of confidence that I’m trying to develop. To be like, “I’m the established runner and I can help you out.” And I think it’s true. I’ve been here a lot, I’ve done a ton of races, I know how to work with brands and all the stuff, I think I can help.
iRunFar: You know what’s worked and what hasn’t.
Jones: Yeah, and I want to help the younger generation. It’s been kind of fun, especially because I’m in engineering school and I’m 10 years older than everybody else, and I naturally cross paths with other trail runners who are like 19. Eventually we start talking about this, and I feel like I’m able to provide some insights or experience.
Jones: It’s less formal.
iRunFar: Right on.
Jones: I’d be into helping out if I could somehow, maybe someday.
iRunFar: It’s been fun watching your journey with trail running and ultrarunning, and Hardrock for a long time.
Jones: Yeah, well, it’s been fun, you’ve been with me from the beginning. I feel like we did an interview in 2011 for my first 100 miler.
iRunFar: Yeah. We almost decided to do an interview, put some chairs in the street. We could have because I have not seen a single car drive by during this whole interview.
Jones: Just like the old times.
iRunFar: Silverton is still a wonderfully sleepy little town. Good luck this week and have fun out there.
Jones: Yeah, I’ll see you out there.