Rickey Gates grew up and started running in Aspen, Colorado just two hours from this year’s Ultra Race of Champions (UROC) 100k. In the following interview, Rickey talks about some of his recent performances near home, what it’s like racing so near his running roots, and what it was like running the Mt. Marathon Race in Alaska this summer.
[Editor’s Note: Enjoy our full UROC men’s preview with links to interviews of other favorites before following our live coverage of the 2013 UROC 100k this weekend.]
Rickey Gates Pre-2013 UROC 100k Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Rickey Gates before the 2013 UROC. How are you doing, Rickey?
Rickey Gates: I’m doing great.
iRF: I’ve seen you at a bunch of places this summer, but you raced the GoldenLeaf Half Marathon just recently. You won that.
Gates: Yes. Fifth time running it. First time getting first. I came in second place in that race four times. It’s a race that I go way back with. I went to Aspen High School and it’s a race that we used to volunteer. The entire team would pass out water on the course. So when I was 13 or 14 years old, I was passing out water on that course and always amazed at how fast people could still be running after 12 miles or 13 miles. Low and behold almost 20 years later, I’m actually running the same course and running it well. It was a fun race in front of my home crowd and my family and some friends. It was a lot of fun.
iRF: Felt satisfying I bet.
Gates: It was very satisfying, yeah. I can go back to the race now and not be so stressed about showing people what I can do.
iRF: It was your first win, but was it your fastest time there?
Gates: I believe it was. I didn’t run any sort of course record on it. The winner from last year didn’t show up which ended up working out. His last year’s time was about 1.5 minutes faster. Not a blazing fast time, but fast enough to win it.
iRF: So you ran fast there. Earlier last week you ran the Four Passes Loop fast.
Gates: Yeah, the Four Pass Loop, I had the FKT on that last year. Tony Krupicka had it before that. Then Sage Canaday broke my record about a month ago. That’s another course that’s in my backyard and I wanted to get it back. So I went out there on a day much worse than this. It was lightning, snow, and rain and wind—pretty much all the conditions that you don’t want for an epic run. Epic conditions for an epic run.
iRF: Epic run, yes, but for a fast run, no.
Gates: Right. So I gave it my all. I was checking my splits the entire time. At the last of the four passes, I looked at Sage’s split and I thought I was four minutes ahead of his time. As it turned out I misread the split and I was four minutes behind his time. I got to one more split and realized I was actually four minutes behind. Then in the mile and a half back to the parking lot I made up two minutes, but it wasn’t enough. I came up two minutes shy of his time.
iRF: Not to jump ahead of the race this weekend, but any thoughts about maybe giving it another go this season?
Gates: Oh yeah. Not this season, no. That will be next summer. That’s more near and dear to me than any other FKT out there just because it’s in my backyard, and in my opinion, it’s one of the most iconic trail runs in the country. It’s really spectacular.
iRF: I think a lot of people would agree on that.
Gates: Yeah, it’s something else. It’s cool seeing all the people. Even as recently as five years ago, you could go out there and it would only be hikers and backpackers. Even on a god-awful day like I had last week—it was me and Ryan Ghelfi running it—there were a few other people out there running it. It’s just cool to see these runs that are typically 2, 3, 5-day-long backpacking trips, people are doing them in a day. It’s cool to see that.
iRF: This weekend, you’re sort of again racing in your backyard. It’s not Aspen. It’s Vail and Breckenridge, but have you spent much time doing races over here or just running the trails?
Gates: Yes, so I’ve run a lot of the trails during races. It shares some of the trails with TransRockies, the Vail Teva Games, and maybe another race I’ve run over here. Yeah, we’re only two hours away from my home, so I’ve seen a lot of the course just with races. Then I came out about 2.5 weeks ago and ran the first 13 miles just to kind of get a feel for the course a little bit more.
iRF: Are you looking forward to running the trails you’ve raced on before? Does it give you an advantage of almost feeling like being at home?
Gates: I don’t know if it does or not. It certainly… with this competition that we’re running against on Saturday, I don’t think it does. It maybe gives me a little more confidence, but beyond that, there’s such strong people in this field that the thing that I need to focus on is running my own race which I’ve had a hard time doing in these longer races. So that’s my main goal on Saturday, is to just stick with my plan of running my own race and not getting caught up with the pace in the beginning of the race.
iRF: Is that perhaps why I think your best ultra performance was your first one, the Canadian Death Race, which was a solo effort? Correct me if I’m wrong.
Gates: No, it was. I took the lead—that one’s about 80 miles—I took the lead at about 15 miles and held it the entire time. So yeah, that was entirely my own race, and I think you’re 100% correct. I wasn’t getting freaked out about someone being five minutes or 15 minutes or 20 minutes ahead of me. You just pay attention to how you’re feeling and stick with that.
iRF: How do you think you might be able to temper yourself with all this great competition around here tomorrow?
Gates: That’s a good question. I don’t know a specific time, but just not being worried about a 10 to 15 minute lead on the leaders only 15 miles into the race and being okay with that. It’s not an ultra race, but at Sierre-Zinal this year, I was in 13th or 14th place about six miles into the race when [the guy] who ended up winning, [Marc Lauenstein,] went by me. So he was an hour into a two-hour race and he was in 13th place, and went on to win the race. That’s always how I grew up running. I’ve never been much of a front runner. I’m just reminding myself that that’s the race I need to run. It’s not everybody’s race, but that’s my race.
iRF: You, I don’t want to say you have a reputation, but you kind of do like to wander the world and travel and explore, but coming home to run, does it sort of connect you with your past and your roots?
Gates: Yeah, absolutely. This past week, obviously with the GoldenLeaf, I’ve gone way back with that. I got out to run with the Aspen High School cross-country team and ran one of the trails that we/the team has been running for 30 years. I was running with them coming up on 20 years ago my freshman year in high school. I love every place that I’ve run in the world. The Alps are spectacular. Antarctica and Alaska, and all of these places are spectacular. When you can run on a trail you’ve been running on for 20 years, there’s just nothing that compares to that. I hope that other people are able to kind of get that same connection to their own trails.
iRF: Whether it’s in the spectacular mountains or it could be anywhere. I know when I come home to New Jersey, I run some flat trails in the state park, it’s some of my favorite trails in the world.
Gates: Totally. I go back to the Hunter Creek Trail right outside of Aspen. You can start right in downtown Aspen and go run as much as you want—five miles or 50 miles on trails. I’ve been doing it for 20 years and it never gets old.
iRF: Have a great race out there, Rickey. I appreciate you taking the time in the little snow.
Gates: Thanks a lot. Perfect conditions.
iRF: One quick bonus question for you. One race you ran this summer was Mt. Marathon. Tell me a little bit about that up in Alaska.
Gates: Yeah. Speaking of historic races, that’s obviously an historic race. It’s unofficially been going on since 1907, officially since 1915. My mom ran that race in 1969. She’ll be out here tomorrow. So I think it started to become on the bigger radar in the past few years especially last year with the tragedy of the runner going missing and not found and a couple others. But it’s a race that I grew up with a newspaper clipping of my mom’s race from 1969 and her description of it just sounded crazy. I just thought that was mom embellishing. But I’ve wanted to run it for awhile. It’s not the easiest race to get to, and I made it even more difficult by riding my motorcycle up there. It was absolutely everything I had hoped for in a race. In my opinion, it’s really the one and only true mountain race that I’ve run in the States. There’s not a specific, set course for the entire thing. You’re going straight up a mountain and straight back down. It’s dangerous and people are totally passionate about it. It was just the most exciting race that I’ve run.
iRF: It sounds like your mom wasn’t embellishing.
Gates: She wasn’t embellishing. Yeah, it was really exciting. I’m hoping to get back there. I’m hoping to bring some fast people with me. And that doesn’t say anything poorly against the quality of the racers that are up there. That’s one thing that I was not sure about, and I was pleasantly surprised at the caliber of the athletes that were up there.
iRF: You were second?
Gates: I came in second in that race. It was a stacked field and pretty much only Alaskans in the top ten. It was really exciting.
iRF: Cool. Thank you.