Thursday, September 26, 2013

Hundred Mile Real Talk with Jason Schlarb

I have to admit, I didn’t know that much about Jason Schlarb when I first Googled him.  I’d watched him stay positive all day and win the Run Rabbit Run 100 convincingly.  We’re talking about running a hundred miles faster than Karl Meltzer and Timmy Olson.  How does one pass those guys and have the mental fortitude to stay positive and close in on the finish?  I had to know more about this guy.  I wanted to know his secrets.  Fortunately for us, Schlarb keeps no secrets.  I had the chance to catch up with him fresh off his big win.    

AM:  Hey Jason, how are you?
JS:  Good, just enjoying Saturday.  How bout yourself?
AM:  Oh, about the same.  How are those legs feeling?  (At the time of this interview, it was exactly one week since Schlarb destroyed the Run Rabbit Run 100 mile course in 17:15:20)
JS:  Ah, you know, they’re not hurt, they’re not sore but when I try and run they are pretty much uh…not happy.
AM:  It’s that deep down soreness and fatigue that hangs on.
JS:  I thought that five days would be good but I had a whole bunch of school work to do. I thought I may recover better if I do something a couple of days after (the race) but yesterday I went and ran with a buddy and it was a terrible (inaudible dialogue) seven miles with him.  It was terrible.
AM:  Run Rabbit Run race was a qualifier for UROC (a mere two weeks after RRR).  Are you running that race this year?
JS:  No, I’m not doing that.  I would really like to but…
AM:  It’s just so close…
JS:  Yeah, maybe there are guys that can do relatively okay after a hundred mile but if I’m going to show up with those guys there I want to feel like I’m ready to do my best.
AM:  Yeah. 
JS:  Where are you located?
AM:  Oh, I’m right next to Boulder in Louisville, Colorado.
JS:  Nice, how long have you been in Louisville?
AM:  I’ve been in this area for a year.  I just moved here not long ago from the Midwest, from Wisconsin.  But I love it here.  How often do you make it out this way?
JS:  Well I’m a Coloradan.  We moved out of Boulder last June, I think, did a year of traveling and then ended up in Missoula. 
AM:  Now you did some traveling in New Zealand last year?
JS:  Yeah I did, we bike toured like 2,000 miles…
AM:  Yeah I wanted to ask you about that.  That sounds crazy—especially with a kid!  (Jason, his wife Maggie and baby boy, Felix, bike toured around New Zealand for four months!)

Photo:  Jean Tiran

JS:  It was awesome.  It wasn’t as terrible or challenging as one might think.  You have to be adaptable but we had traveled before and spent all of last summer traveling through North America in a camper and um, he (two and a half year old Felix) was kind of okay with that and okay with the tent.  We would have breakfast and take a hike or run and he would take a nap through the first few hours of hiking.  We’d stop for lunch where he could play in the park or river and he would jump in and play around.  Then he would just kind of chill out and we’d be done by 4, after starting at 11.  So it wasn’t too terrible and we’d just do like 50k or 80k, take days off here and there.  It was a cool life man.  We were just out there camping and biking for four months man.
AM:  Wow, that’s my dream life.  That sounds awesome.
JS:  It was good, it was really good.  We miss it and it comes to mind more frequently than I thought it would.
AM:  And Montana is home base now?
JS:  Yeah, Missoula is where we’re at.  I’m doing some classes in preparation for a doctorate of physical therapy. 
AM:  Oh great!
JS:  Yeah, (laughs)  I don’t know why dude…I’ve got a couple of degrees and I’d really like to be a physical therapist but I’m really starting to question another four years of school.
AM:  Yeah, it’s a big commitment, especially when you’re pretty much in the peak of your running career.
JS:  Yeah, the opportunities to not work are great right now and I’m out there in school.  It’s not terribly difficult but…processing over the last few days after that bench mark run has been fun. 
AM:  I bet!  Hey, if you wouldn’t mind, could you just tell us a little bit about yourself and how your running career all started?
JS:  You bet.  I grew up a soccer player in Colorado.  I played soccer pretty competitively in leagues while I went to a private high school.  We went to state in the D1 league but I kinda burned out.  Switched over to cross country and walked onto a D1 program at Montana State University.  That’s where I kind of got serious about running and ran there for five years doing indoor track, outdoor track and cross country.  I loved running trails.  We did a lot of our long and medium runs on the trails.  I also really enjoyed that aspect running but I really enjoyed competing.  After college, I was commissioned as an officer in the Air Force.  I took an assignment out in Boston and ran for the Air Force team.  Branches of the military have teams that they compete against.  It’s mostly post collegiate athletes that get together and run or play soccer or whatever the team happens to be into.  I ran on a cross country team and a track team and eventually a marathon team.  I got to travel around the world a little bit and train as a semi professional level athlete.  And I really liked the trail running scene but I also liked the fact that I could compete on a really high level on the roads and cross country.  Back in 2004-2008 I ran a really…I wasn’t super competitive on the trails.  I trained on trails but raced on the roads.  I did that for a while and ran a 2:27 marathon…
AM:  Wow.
JS:  I wouldn’t say I was completely committed.  I was working full time but I was into it.  Then I got introduced, or…I don’t know how to say it…I was pressured into doing an ultra by one of the guys who was on the Air Force team in San Fransisco and he was like, “you should do it, you should do it”.  In 2010, during my last marathon in October, right around Halloween time, I quit cold turkey on the roads and started my first trail running regimen for a couple weeks, getting ready for North Face (the North Face 50 mile championship) and came in 5th behind Dave Mackey and Dakota and never looked back.
AM:  Did you even know who those guys were at the time?
JS:  Um, that summer, late summer, early fall I started looking into the trail running world.  I started looking at Anton’s blog and Dave Mackey.  I knew about Dakota Jones but I only knew about a half dozen names.  It was fun, I did well, I ran conservatively and I passed and passed and passed and then kind of fell off but it went well.   So I trained through the winter and won the US 50 mile trail championships in Texas with a 6:20 something.  Shortly after that, I deployed for six months.  So that was 2011 and then came back a few weeks before North Face.  I’d been running on sand at night during the summer, ran North Face once again.  Last year, 2012, was my first year of focused running.  Had some success and then I kind of ran too much.  Then I went to New Zealand and kind of killed myself on the bike.  That was a hard challenging start to this season but from June on, I feel like I’ve been getting a lot stronger. 
AM:  Challenging due to injuries?
JS:  I was just fried.  My off season was a couple of races in New Zealand, biking everyday and running so I kind of went from a long, tough season in 2012 to just a continuation and it left Tarawera (100k in New Zealand), I walked for twenty miles of that.
AM:  Mmm.
JS:  I recovered in April and May and then got back to running shape and then had some long races in June and July that really went well. 
AM:  When did all the sponsorships come in?  Was that last year?
JS:  Um, you know I got an early start with Hoka and some other sponsors—largely in part to Dave Mackey.  You know he plays a big part.  He helped me get in touch with Hoka, he sent me a pair when I was in Iraq.  I tried them out, super skeptical.  I just fell in love with them due to recovery time and just the ability to train at a high level without injury.  I started with those guys in 2012, so I guess it’s been a year and half with them.  Vitargo came in later in 2012 and then Injinji, so last year I started to gain some sponsors. 
AM:  Now, just a quick question…do any of your sponsors decide what races you do, or…when you sit down at the beginning of the year to plan races, how does that go?
JS:  That’s 100% up to me.
AM:  Ok.

Photo: Anthony Prichard

JS:  Hoka is a unique company.  They’re owned by Deckers, and they are starting to sponsor some more runs like JFK.  We’re looking at Western, and Run Rabbit Run but to this day, I decide 100% and the other sponsors have no influence. 
AM:  Nice.  So for Run Rabbit Run this year, I was there and I didn’t have such a good day.  You had a great day and it seemed to me that you were strong all day long.  Did you have any low points…where you felt like you were in trouble…or…walk us through the day a little bit.
JS:  I tried out the Run Rabbit Run 100 last year and you know, I got lost…
AM:  That’s what happened to me this year!
JS:  Oh, I’m sorry to hear that, that’s a bummer.
AM:  Yeah, it was unfortunate. 
JS:  Yeah, there’s nothing worse than that.
AM:  Well, you came back and conquered in a big bad way so, I gotta hear about this!
JS:  Yeah well, I’d done some 50 milers and my whole strategy was to just stay comfortable and conservative during the first half and um, I’m much happier to be passing than holding on.  The acceleration and velocity in the second half is a mental boost.   The hundred mile distance…I just didn’t know what it was all about and last year the 50 milers I’ve run I learned that you’ve really got to be mentally strong and sound to pull it out because it’s so dang long.  I went to Grindstone 100 and it was absolutely miserable.  Terrible.  Slow and just…depressing…going bad places from like, the beginning of the race, like mile 15 till about 50 I was just…this is the worst thing I’ve ever done.
AM:  Wow.
JS:  It was a race that started at 6 pm and it was just bad, bad, bad.  So I took away that experience and decided I have to really, really stay positive and have a good outlook on this race—build momentum and keep expectations to a minimum in the first half and so I did that and this year wasn’t like last year, um…last year, Tim and Dylan and Karl and a couple of the guys just RAN up that ski slope dude, like literally that last pitch, up to the gondola, it was just silly.  This year it started out a little bit more conservative and there was some power hiking going on, which wasn’t going on last year.  I just took it totally easy and racing was going to start no earlier than 60.  I stayed comfortable and stayed positive.  I let people pass, didn’t worry about it.  Dave put 5 minutes on me early.  Josh Arthur passed.  Karl had passed me at the beginning of the race and it was all good.  I was in a great place mentally and I was talking out loud to myself in a positive manner and even forcing myself to laugh.  There was something I read (inaudible) it emulates certain messenger chemicals in your body of happiness and positivity when you laugh and when you smile and I purposely did that throughout the race and kept all the talk positive and did that and it really helped.  I kept in that frame of mind, even when it got dark, almost in religious kind of way.  I was just focused on that and that was all I let myself to think about.  How good things were going and how fortunate I was just to be in this race, in shape, healthy, a professional athlete, doing this as a job and just kept that focus and once it got dark and I found myself in the lead, I was not worried about it or who was behind me.  I was just doing my personal best and I even…I purposely never look back.
AM:  Wow.
JS:  And after mile 70, when you’re at Spring Creek aid station, is the last time there’s any, kind of, overlap with guys.  So from 70-98 I made damn sure I didn’t worry about those people.  I thought, if they pass, they pass but it’s going to be my day and my game.  Lo and behold, I didn’t know that I was putting 20-50 minutes on those guys and I think at the top (of Mount Werner) I think I was an hour ahead of Karl. 
AM:  Unreal!
JS:  So later on, I did the math, I think it was every 40 minutes, I’d take in a hundred calories so that’s two and a half thousand calories for 17 some hours and no stomach problems.  That’s way less calories than most of the other guys take in and that’s largely in part to the grain free, kind of low carb diet since April. 
AM:  Oh, okay.
JS:  Yeah, my body is just burning the fat, man.  I didn’t have to take a lot and didn’t have to have a stomach full of carbs, just running on fats.  It’s a huge key to my success and I think it’s a huge key to Tim’s success.  And there are other athletes playing with that nutritional strategy.
AM:  Myself included!
JS:  I want to keep it my secret!  (we both laugh)  It’s no secret, Tim’s the one who told me about it and it works.  So that was the nutrition situation.  I never had any aches, or limps or strains…but nothing had occupied my attention to any degree I just kept comfortable just, go, go, go and kept getting stronger and stronger all the way up to mile 90 or so.  That’s when I started looking at my watch for mileage and was ready to get up to the top of Werner.
AM:  I bet.  At that time you had crew, right?
JS:  Yeah, I had two guys crewing for me, both really good crew.  One guy, Kendrick, he’s an ultrarunner, um, really good and paying attention to detail kinda guy and he also ran with me on those four mile sections on the road which were huge.  And the other guy has been one of my best friends since high school and he is kind of a cheerleader guy.  He walks me through some visualization before all of my races.
AM:  Oh yeah?
JS:  Yeah, like a meditation, visualization thing for 10-20 minutes.  He was there and the support was perfect.  They gave me my Ultimate Direction vest at about mile 60.  Everything was cool, everything was spot on.  I had everything I needed.  I was cruising.
AM:  And at that point, did you know you had the race in the bag, or…was there any “running scared” going on?
JS:  Yeah.  You know, honestly there was some running scared going on.  I saw Karl at mile 70 age station…
AM:  No way.
JS:  Yeah and he was…well, you know I ran in, hit the aid, run out (inaudible) so he was approximately 8 minutes behind me.  That’s NOTHING.  This is Karl and with his strength, he can just steamroll during the second half.  And you know Josh Arthur was 15 minutes back, Dave Mackey was 35-40 minutes along w/ Browning.  At that point, there was no certainty. 
AM:  Not with those guys.
JS:  Yeah, everything was good.  Everything was going well but I had to be 100% on my game to NOT worry about it and to keep it off my mind.  When I hit mile 90ish, I started to count the miles because I was ready to be done.  My body was tiring and my energy levels were lowering.  I was starting to not be able to communicate well at the last two aid stations.  When I got up to the last aid station, I did start looking back.  I kind of got out of that super positive self talk, the kind of talking to God stretch of the race.  I really began to just kind of think about the finish and allow myself to look back and indulge in the idea of winning.  I refused to fantasize about crossing the line first, or the ten thousand bucks until after mile 70.  And then it was like, hey—this is going to be awesome if it does happen.  Then on the way down, the last 4 or 5 miles, I was finished.  I was ready for it all to be done. 

1st place Run Rabbit Run 100 Photo: Bryon Powell / iRunFar

AM:  What a great race, Jason.  Just fantastic.  You’ve got some inspiring stuff there.  Thanks for sharing with us and sharing all of your secrets because people want to know man!
JS:  Yeah, cool.  I appreciate your time and talking with ya. 
AM:  No problem at all.  Do you have any races you’re signed up for, or…is this kind of the year end for you?  What are you looking at?
JS:  Um, it’s kind of a season end but my beloved North Face (50 mile championships) is in December 7th and I want to go back to that and do that for the third time.  But it’s pretty easy now, I may do some jogging next week.  Easy to moderate till middle of October and then start doing real workouts. There’s some hill climb races in Missoula but besides that, North Face is the next big boy.  Then, Patagonia in January…I’m going out there with a buddy for ten days of running.
AM:  Nice.  You’re living the dream man, that’s beautiful.
JS:  Thanks, it is a dream come true, it’s been a great ride and I enjoy the lifestyle and the success and traveling and being out in the mountains and racing is, it’s pretty sweet. 
AM:  Yeah, it doesn’t get any better than that man, most of us are working 40 hours a week, wishing we were living like that!
JS:  (Laughs) I was with ya for the last few years, this is a new thing for me.
AM:  That’s great.  Hey, how can we find you?  I see you have a blog, do you use Twitter or anything like that?
JS:  I do Twitter (@JasonSchlarb).  I do Facebook.  I’ve got the blog,…I try and get on there a bit but I’ve got a two and a half year old boy and school, so I don’t always get on there as much as I’d like to.
AM:  Well I appreciate your time, Jason and congrats on a great race and a great year and we’re all looking forward to seeing what you’re going to do in the future, man!

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