Last Saturday, Ian Torrence finished the JFK 50 for the 18th time. His finishing time, 6:49, was good enough for 24th place overall and 2nd-place master. But, that only tells a tiny fraction of the Ian Torrence story. You see, Ian ran his first JFK in 1994 at the ripe old age of 22. In that race he finished 12th in 6:57. Between then and now he has finished second place twice, third place twice, and, with the exception of his lone DNF at mile 34 in the 2007 race (“We don’t talk about this,” Ian says.), every year since 1994, regardless of what else is going on in the world and in Ian’s life, he has been in Maryland on the third Saturday in November to run this iconic race.
Ian returns to JFK every year because he enjoys its size, diversity, and history. As the largest ultra in North America, this race always presents Ian with an opportunity to see how he stacks up with a who’s who of the ultrarunning world. In this year’s race, Ian knew things were going well early on when the “roots and rocks on the AT (Appalachian Trail section) just seemed smaller.” He felt great early and nailed his nutrition all day long. Upon nearing the finish line Ian admitted to getting a bit teary-eyed as he entered this race thinking his sub-7 days were behind him and yet nailed a time that would have been eminently satisfying for him as a 34 year-old. Not only was this race Ian’s best JFK in the last four years, it was his best race, period, in the past four years and undeniably allowed him to put to bed his unfortunate DNF at the Leadville 100 earlier in the year. Clearly, his favorite event brought out the best of him on this one extraordinary day.
Ian acknowledges that his running career has not been a “bed of roses.” Over the years, he has struggled, as have most ultra runners, with a multitude of injuries and nagging issues. However, he openly acknowledges that his most redeeming quality as a runner, and as a person, is his stubbornness. Even as he has fought his way through situations that have, at times, felt hopeless, he has clung to the belief that, “anything can be righted and made whole no matter how dire it may seem.”
This can-do attitude and persistent optimism has extended to his life outside of running, as well, as his work career has taken him from government work with the National Forest Service and National Park Service, to team manager in the early years of the Montrail/Patagonia Ultrarunning Team, to the start-up retail world of Hal Koerner’s Rogue Valley Running Company, and, finally, to his current job as one of the cadre of world-class running coaches working for McMillan Elite out of Flagstaff, Arizona.
I recall the first time I met Ian in January 2000 at the Phoenix National Trail 50 Miler in Arizona. He was a young star on the ultrarunning scene, but I couldn’t help but marvel at his humility, maturity, and focus. He was, at the time I met him, coming off what was, to me, one of the most extraordinary seasons the ultrarunning world has ever seen. In the 1999 season, Ian had entered 17 races (16 ultras and 1 marathon – the Las Vegas Marathon, 2:45, 55th overall). Of the sixteen ultras Ian ran that year, he won 12 of them and his four “losses” were at the highly competitive USATF/GNC 50K champs (7th), American River 50 (7th), Angeles Crest 100 (3rd), and JFK (4th in his PR time of 6:09). Ian recalls epic battles that year with Scott Jurek, Mark Godale, Jorge Pacheco, Tim Twietmeyer, and Ben Hian. Not bad company.
It was in the Vermont 100 a few years later that I first squared off with Ian in a race. He was on the second leg of his Grand Slam effort that year and I was a 100-mile newbie when he came up on me at the mile 95 aid station. I, of course, knew the legend of Ian Torrence, but I also desperately wanted to beat him. He was a total class act as I left the aid station running for my life and he walked out, eating a sandwich, and smiling.
Interestingly enough, Ian and I also share a pacer in common. Andy Roth, Professor of Comparative Literature and mutual friend of ours, paced Ian at six 100-mile races and ran along with me in three of my Angeles Crest 100 finishes. Reflecting on Ian’s attitude and demeanor Andy notes, “Pacing Ian at his first Western States 100 in 1998 gave me a deep, meaningful look into the fundamental challenges of running a hundred. I saw for the first time the distinctive balance of equanimity, good cheer in the face of adversity, and determination that has made Ian such a successful, and popular, competitor over the past 18 years.”
Today, in addition to running, Ian brings that good cheer and determination to many others through his work with McMillan Elite and with his extraordinary column here at iRunFar. As a man who has devoted his life to running, wellness, and good living, Ian is living testimony to the enduring value of a life well-lived. And, if you need to find him, just show up in Boonsboro, Maryland on the third Saturday in November. I am pretty sure he’ll be around.
AJW’s Beer of the Week
This week’s Beer of the Week comes, appropriately, from Ian’s hometown of Flagstaff, Arizona. Flagstaff Brewing Company’s Blackbird Porter has the smoky flavor of your typical porter with a nice hint of sweetness which adds a touch of complexity not typical of most porters. A great Thanksgiving beer!
Call for Comments (from Bryon)
Do you have any Ian Torrence stories? If so, share away!