The 2024 Hardrock 100 is history! Check out our in-depth results article for the full race story, as well as our interviews with champions Courtney Dauwalter and Ludovic Pommeret.

Tara Dower Pre-2024 Hardrock 100 Interview

A video interview (with transcript) with Tara Dower before the 2024 Hardrock 100.

By on July 10, 2024 | Comments

While she began trail ultrarunning on the U.S. East Coast, Tara Dower is lining up for the 2024 Hardrock 100 with plenty of high-mountain experience. In the following interview, our first with Tara, she talks about her origin story with ultrarunning, how setting a women’s supported fastest known time on the Colorado Trail has helped her up her mental game in ultras, and what she’s hoping to get out of race day.

For more on who’s racing, check out our in-depth 2024 Hardrock 100 preview and follow our live race coverage on race day.

Tara Dower Pre-2024 Hardrock 100 Interview Transcript

iRunFar: Megan Hicks of iRunFar. I’m with Tara Dower. It’s a couple of days before the 2024 Hardrock 100. Good morning, Tara.

Tara Dower: Good morning. How are you?

iRunFar: I’m good. How are you?

Dower: I’m great.

iRunFar: I feel like you’ve been here for a couple weeks. You’re pretty much a Silverton local. I can’t really welcome you to Silverton.

Dower: Yeah, I feel like a local. It’s so exciting to be here. It’s such a cool town. I’ve been all the way up to Animus and Cunningham, and then I just did Ice Lakes and, what is it called? Island Lake, yesterday.

iRunFar: Ooh.

Dower: Yeah, I’ve done all the hikes. It’s so gorgeous here.

iRunFar: You’re acclimating to the altitude, you’re acclimating to small town Silverton life. You’re acclimating to, I don’t know, the wild that is the San Juan Mountains.

Dower: Yeah. So I lived in Hot Springs, North Carolina. It was a really small town and we’re just surrounded by mountains. This kind of reminds me of it, just like a couple restaurants. But it wasn’t high up.

Yeah, acclimating has gone well. Now it feels really good. But I’m coming from 10 feet in Virginia Beach.

iRunFar: 10 to 10,000.

Dower: Yeah. So it’s been a journey for sure. But, I feel good these days. I’ve gone up to Handies Peak and 14,000, and felt pretty good there. I think I’m ready. Who knows. I don’t know if I’m ready, but I’m excited to see if I am.

iRunFar: Well, this is iRunFar’s first interview with you, and I’d just love to know a little bit more about how you got into trail and ultrarunning. From my perspective, you went hot and heavy with the sport starting three years ago, but all different types of things like fast, shorter stuff; longer, flat stuff; and then now mountain running. So I’d love to know your journey with the sport. Also, you had to have done endurance activities before starting ultras.

Dower: Before I started ultras, I ran cross country and track as well. I played soccer and nobody wanted to play left midfield, and they just threw me in left midfield. I guess I just didn’t care. So I would run back and forth. You run from forward to defense and you do that throughout the game. So I guess I built up a lot of endurance. And then once I got to track in middle school, I was really good at the mile. And then cross country, I did really well, and continued to play soccer. Then I played rugby in college. I just really like these challenges. It’s more of this challenge mindset, I guess, ever since college really.

And then for ultrarunning, I guess it started with thru hiking. I thru hiked the Appalachian Trail, and I made a vow to spend as much time on trails as possible.

iRunFar: How old were you then?

Dower: 2019, I was 24, 25.

iRunFar: How’d you discover a big thru hike, not just like, “Oh, I’m going to go on a week’s backpacking trip.” But something really big.

Dower: Just was like, I want to challenge myself. I saw this documentary by National Geographic about the Appalachian Trail, and I just love the culture of the Appalachian Trail. I love the community.

iRunFar: Like the trail people?

Dower: Yeah. Everyone had trail names. It’s just people traveling with everything they need on their back seemed really cool to me and it seemed like a challenge. I failed in 2017 at a thru hike and then went back in 2019.

iRunFar: Okay.

Dower: I suffer from anxiety, and I’m very open with that because I don’t think our society is very open with that kind of stuff. But I do have anxiety, and 2017 I got off because of a panic attack.

iRunFar: Oh, wow.

Dower: 2019 I went back and I finished the thru hike and had the best time. I like to say I peaked in life there and ever since then… I mean I’m still having a great time with ultras, but really the thru hike was the best time I’ve had in my life. It’s just such an amazing adventure. I mean, waking up every morning and just hearing birds, and you’re just doing something simple as walking to your next place to sleep, and then you finish and you’re like, what the heck do I do now? And then I started ultras.

iRunFar: It sounds like what your body and your mind has told you over the years is that you’re meant for a life outdoors. You belong outside, and it has the calming effects that it needs for you to then go out and be in modern society.

Dower: Yeah, for sure. I just feel the most at peace when I’m in nature and when I’m surrounded by nature. I don’t think I think to myself, “Oh, I need to get out in nature.” But when I do get out there, when I’m doing a trail run or doing a thru hike, another smaller thru hike or a FKT, I just feel like this is what I’m supposed to do and I’m the most happy here. It’s not like I’m dead inside, but I’m definitely…

iRunFar: Much more alive.

Dower: Much more alive when I’m out there.

iRunFar: Do you get that feeling when you’re in a long ultra too?

Dower: Oh, yeah, for sure. I love the challenge. I’m a big challenge person, so especially these mountainous races, I just feel alive. I’m not a super deep person, but that’s the word that I can describe it. I just feel alive and I feel I excited. It’s an exciting time in a race. And it’s not always about the race either. I just want to be out in nature. Who gets the opportunity to run a hundred miles in the San Juans? It’s the most beautiful mountain range, I think personally, in the United States.

iRunFar: You do?

Dower: Yeah, I know. I’m so excited. I’m very thankful and just honored for the opportunity to do this.

iRunFar:  Maybe you are thought of as more of an East Coast type runner because that’s where your origin story for trail and ultra started. But in reality, you have a ton of experience of being out here, high altitude in the mountains. You’ve run Rabbit Run [100 Mile] twice, which is a pretty nice high altitude. You set a prior women’s supported fastest known time on the Colorado Trail, which is just, I don’t know, a couple miles as the crow flies around here. You are already prettywell decorated, let’s say, when it comes to mountain running.

Dower: Yeah, I guess you could say that.

iRunFar: To finish that thought, Hardrock is big and it gets this reputation of being like, whoa, it’s a lot. The experience that you have, does that give you some confidence in knowing like, “Okay, I’ve already done the Colorado Trail. I’ve stayed much higher for much longer than what this race is going to give me.”

Dower: Yeah. What I pull from, specifically the Colorado Trail, is just going day after day and just keep moving. That’s really all it’s about. You’re moving and it’s hard and you got mountain after mountain after mountain. It’s hard and it’s beautiful and it’s so worth it though. You climb up and it’s tough, but then you run down and you climb up again. Yeah, it’s difficult, but I think it’s just so worth it to just keep going. I don’t know what I’m trying to say with this, but I’m just excited to explore the San Juans even more. Because on the Colorado Trail you do go through the [inaudible 00:07:28], which is beautiful, but these are the kind of mountains I haven’t explored over here near the Telluride side.

iRunFar: Yeah, the Northern San Juan and stuff?

Dower: Yeah.

iRunFar: So this is meant as a compliment, but…

Dower: I like how you preface that.

iRunFar: There’s people who are out when they race and you can’t always see what’s on their face. They try to keep the emotions on the inside. While I haven’t seen you race myself, this would be my first time watching you race, following the trajectory of your career, what I’ve seen is that you race with your heart forward and your heart out. To me, it gives me an impression of something a little bit like Zach Miller, where it’s like, “Everything’s out. Take me. This is me as I am in my highs and my lows.” Is that you? Is that just you naturally? Is this a choice? I like seeing it and I’d love to just hear your thoughts on it.

Dower: That is a huge compliment to compare me to Zach Miller.

iRunFar: Aww.

Dower: Oh, yeah. He’s one of the bravest ultrarunners I think, so that’s a huge compliment. Thank you. I don’t know, I just go out there and do what feels right, and I guess that’s great that that’s what comes out. I do just have a lot of rough times out there, and I keep saying this during this interview, but I’m a big challenge person. So when I fall, I don’t know if some of your viewers know me or seen pictures of me during races, but I fall a lot. I get really bloody. I have something on my knee right here that’s oozing weird colors.

iRunFar: That’s fun.

Dower: Yeah. When I fall in training, it’s like, “Oh my gosh, don’t get hurt.” But when I fall during races and I’m not hurt, that encourages me. It’s like I’m bleeding, this is so hard, and I’m really putting everything out there. I don’t know. I’m glad that it comes off in a way that’s not dramatic, because I feel when I finish a race, I have nothing left. And I see people finishing races and they just look so graceful, or they’re holding up the banner or they’re just staying on their feet. I just can’t stay on my feet, I’ve just given all I’ve got. And that’s my hope during races, is I hope I can give every single ounce of what I have for this race. I mean, that’s what I go into. I don’t want to have anything left. Usually, at the end of races, I’m falling on the ground, I’m crying, I’m bloody. I mean, it’s a little dramatic, but I’m glad it comes off in a Zach Miller way. So that’s good.

iRunFar: Maybe my last question for you; this is such a cool course. There’s really amazing parts about it.

Dower: Oh, yeah.

iRunFar: You’ve seen some of it now. Because the environment that you’re traveling through fires you up so much, are there certain moments or things that you’re thinking about or really looking forward to on Friday and Saturday?

Dower: Yeah. I have a couple separate goals. I do want to race this race and I want to do my best. I’m not thinking about anyone else. I know there’s a lot of really great runners in this race, and that’s just exciting to race against them. But I’m more thinking about my performance. I’m hoping to get the most out of myself; but what I’m looking forward to, I have a couple goals, a couple things to see. I don’t know if it’s possible, but I know that this one is possible. I hear there’s a really nice bathroom at, what is it, Sherman?

iRunFar: Sherman. A decorated Sherman bathroom. I really wanted to visit the Sherman bathroom.

Dower: I want to visit the Sherman bathroom.

Oh, what was the other? I have a lot of separate goals. Just to look at the flowers, so I want to identify a couple flowers. Oh, Handies Peak. I’m really excited to get up there. I think Howie [Stern]’s going to be up there at Handies. We’ve just had such a great time. He’s let me stay at his place.

iRunFar: Howie’s like your adopted dad over the last couple of weeks.

Dower: I know. Yeah. Oh my gosh, he’s great. We’ve had such a great time. I’m looking forward to seeing him on the course.

I don’t know, just being in the San Juans just absorbing it all. I really don’t know what to expect in this race. I have no clue what to expect. I’m getting a lot of opinions from people on what I need to bring or how the course is, if it’s easy or if it’s difficult; in this section, you have to paste it like this. I have a lot of opinions running through my head, but I’m really looking forward to forming my own opinion and just being out there and absorbing the mountains and taking a bathroom break in the Sherman… What is it called?

iRunFar: Just the Sherman aid station, I think.

Dower: Yeah.

iRunFar: Yeah. It’s the three quarters of the way through aid station. I love it.

Dower: The five-star bathroom.

iRunFar: They’re going to be waiting for you. I mean, it is a long drop still, but a decorated long drop.

Dower: Well, I’m looking forward to that.

iRunFar: Best of luck to you…

Dower: Thank you.

iRunFar: On your first lap through this San Juan Mountains.

Dower: Yeah, appreciate it. Thanks for having me.

Meghan Hicks

Meghan Hicks is the Editor-in-Chief of iRunFar. She’s been running since she was 13 years old, and writing and editing about the sport for around 15 years. She served as iRunFar’s Managing Editor from 2013 through mid-2023, when she stepped into the role of Editor-in-Chief. Aside from iRunFar, Meghan has worked in communications and education in several of America’s national parks, was a contributing editor for Trail Runner magazine, and served as a columnist at Marathon & Beyond. She’s the co-author of Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running with Bryon Powell. She won the 2013 Marathon des Sables, finished on the podium of the Hardrock 100 Mile in 2021, and has previously set fastest known times on the Nolan’s 14 mountain running route in 2016 and 2020. Based part-time in Moab, Utah and Silverton, Colorado, Meghan also enjoys reading, biking, backpacking, and watching sunsets.