Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Interview with Geoff Roes

Geoff Roes really needs no introduction. But, for those unfamiliar with the 35-year-old ultrarunning legend, allow me this opportunity. Originally from New York (which explains why the Mets are his favorite sports team--something we have in common), Geoff hails from Juneau, Alaska and also lives part of the year in Nederland, Colorado with his girlfriend, Corle, and her daughter. In 2009 and again the next year, Geoff was voted Ultrarunner of the Year, unanimously earning the prestigious North American honor in 2010. Take one look at his record of domination in those years, which included a streak of nine consecutive 100-mile wins that started in 2007, and it's easy to see why.

Photo by Steven Wohlwender Photo

In 2009 alone, Geoff set new course records at the HURT 100-Mile in Hawaii, the 24-mile Crow Pass Crossing in Alaska, the Wasatch Front 100-Mile in Utah, the Bear 100-Mile in Utah and Idaho and the Mountain Masochist 50-Mile in Virginia. His Wasatch record, a blazing time of 18:30 on a technically difficult mountain course with 54,000 feet of combined elevation change, was voted the Performance of the Year in 2009.

Incredibly, 2009 was but a preview of things to come. Perhaps Geoff's greatest year to date, 2010 started off with strong wins at the American River 50-Mile and, a month later, The North Face Endurance Challenge 50-Mile in New York. But his crowning achievement of the year happened in late June, when Geoff set a new course record at the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run, beating the likes of Anton Krupicka (second) and Kilian Jornet (third) despite energy problems midway through the race. His 15:07 at Western States, considered the "Super Bowl" of the sport, was voted Performance of the Year in 2010. Following Western States, Geoff collected impressive wins at Crow Pass Crossing, the Run Rabbit Run 50-Mile in Colorado, and The North Face Endurance Challenge 50-Mile in Georgia. His year ended with a strong second at the uber-competitive The North Face Endurance Challenge Championship 50-Mile in San Francisco.

This year, despite a DNF at the Bandera 100K, got off to a great start with wins at the challenging Chuckanut 50K in Washington State, Zane Grey 50-Mile in Arizona and DRTE 100-Mile in California. Geoff also finished a narrow second in the Prince of Whales Marathon in Alaska, just 3 seconds behind the winner. Things started to unravel a bit at Western States, where the defending champion DNF'd due to cold-like symptoms. Despite an impressive follow-up win at the 24-mile Crow Pass Crossing (his third consecutive win there), his struggles in the latter part of 2011 continued with a DNF at Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc in France--a DNF he attributed to burn-out. Through it all, he's upheld the best traditions of the sport, cheering Kilian Jornet on as the freakishly talented Spaniard neared the Placer High School track for his 2011 Western States 100 victory lap (go to 4:30 in this video to see) and founding two Alaska Mountain Ultrarunning Camps, which he will expand in 2012.

Following some needed R&R, this weekend Geoff will toe the line at the inaugural Ultra Race of Champions 100K (aka UROC), where he and a deep field of other elites will square off in the mountains of Virginia.

Despite his genuine humility and known good-guy nature that have won him thousands of adoring fans, Geoff is not without a few vocal critics. Recently, he was criticized after writing on his blog that 2011 was "probably...the most enjoyable year of running I've ever had." "How," asked a few horried naysayers, "could he say that...given his two big DNFs at Western States and UTMB?" What was lost in the pile-on was Geoff's own admission in the very next sentence that "having 2 big dnf's in my top races of the Summer season has been a bit unsatisfying."

Geoff is a member of the prestigious Montrail Ultrarunning Team and his sponsors also include Mountain Hardwear, Clif Bar, Nuun, Nathan, Udo's Oil and Ryders Eyewear. You can learn more about Geoff via his blog at http://akrunning.blogspot.com.

It's a pleasure to have this opportunity to hear from the man himself. Enjoy!

WH: Geoff, thanks for this opportunity. It is truly an honor to "talk" with you. Let's get right down to it. You've been a dominant force in ultrarunning for the past few years, setting course records at premier races like Wasatch and Western States and excelling not only at the 100-mile distance, but also in 50-mile and 100K races. Last year, you ran a record 15:07 at Western States and once again won Ultrarunner of the Year. This year, despite strong wins at races likes like Crow Pass Crossing, Zane Grey, Chuckanut, and DRTE in Santa Barbara, we've seen some struggles that included DNFs at Western States and Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc, which you attributed to burn-out. Looking back on the last nine months and ahead, too, how do you view 2011...and what's next?

GR: Thanks for remembering that I've actually had some good races this year. I guess I've set a tough standard for myself when I win 4 of 6 races that I've run in the past 5 months and it's looked at by most as a "bad year". Obviously I would have loved to run better at WS and UTMB, but those were two of 180 runs (to date) that I've been on this year. From a performance standpoint this has been a mediocre year for me, but that's the way it goes when trying to perform at the highest level of any pursuit. Ebbs and flows are just a part of everything we do in life. I was on a roll for a couple years, some other folks have been on some amazing rolls this year (Mackey and Jornet jump out the most). This is certainly a very fluid thing. A year from now we'll all be talking about other runners who are either in a bit of an ebb or a flow.

Photo by Luis Escobar

WH: You recently wrote on your blog that this has probably been your most enjoyable year of running yet. What did you mean by that?

GR: I'm not sure enjoyment can really be put into words. Basically just that I've been on several dozen really amazing runs this year. My primary running goal going into each of the past 3 seasons has been to be healthy enough and fit enough to spend huge amounts of time out in the mountains, pushing my limits, and sharing this with other like minded people. This year I have done more of this than ever before so it's hard not to be very satisfied by this.

WH: I've never had the pleasure of meeting you in person but, from what I've seen and heard, you have quite a gentle soul. I remember seeing a video about you in which your girlfriend, Corle, said you're the kindest person she's ever known. And yet on race day you seem to run with a red-hot competitive fire--as we saw at Western States in 2010. I hate to use the Dr. Jeckyll/Mr. Hyde comparison, but...when you get down to it, what drives you and makes you so dominant in races?

GR: I don't think there's a huge difference between my everyday mentality and my race day mentality. I really like to run. I really like to compete, but it's not too much of a cutthroat thing. For me the thrill of competition is in pushing myself in conjunction with other like minded folks who are also pushing themselves. When it all comes together just right the thrill of sharing that experience is all I need. Winning a competition like that is just icing on the cake. I've had some amazingly satisfying competitive experiences in which I haven't come out on top and some bland ones in which I have. The actual result is typically a very small part of the entire competitive experience for me. The irony of this I guess is that in some ways I think this approach/mentality is the one thing that has allowed me to have so much success in races. I just love to run and about 8 or 10 times a year I like to go out and run a route as fast as I can against a bunch of other folks who also love to run.

Geoff and Anton Krupicka at the 2010 Western States 100,
which Geoff won in a record-setting 15:07.
Photo by Luis Escobar
WH: You divide time between Juneau, Alaska and Boulder, Colorado. Lucky you! These are two beautiful places that afford spectacular trail running in some incredible mountain backcountry. Between Juneau and Boulder, do you have a preference?

GR: The running is very different in these two places. There are some things I like about the running in both places, but if I had to say I certainly think the running in Juneau is more satisfying to me than the running in Boulder. There's just so much more off the beaten path stuff to explore in Juneau and the terrain is out of this world in terms of beauty and difficulty.

WH: Let's talk about life in Juneau because it seems to be central to who you are. This summer, you organized (and founded) two Alaska Mountain Ultrarunning Camps and said it was one of the best times of your life. Recently, you sent out a notice about three more camps in 2012. What makes the camps so special and what can participants expect to get out of the experience?

GR: These camps were a total leap for me. I really had no idea what to expect and what kind of form they would take. In the end I think I may have gotten as much out the experience as the participants. It was really fun to show people my "home", my style of running, my running community, and the amazing terrain I get to run in all summer. I wasn't sure how people would react to this, but it seemed like each of the 20 folks I shared this with had some valuable experiences. I feel like I made 20 new friends in the experience and look forward to doing it again next year. In terms of what people should expect I would say that they should expect to do some amazing runs, in one of the most beautiful places in the world, and where things go beyond that is kind determined by the individuals and the collective mindset of the individuals that make up a particular session. The two sessions I did this year were similar in many ways but they were also very different, this due to the different desires, interests, and mindsets of the two groups.

Geoff and Anton at the 2010 Western States 100 finish. Photo by Luis Escobar
WH: What's an average training week like when you're preparing for a big race like Western States or UTMB?

GR: I don't have a whole lot of structure to my training so there is no typical week when preparing for a big race, but in terms of numbers I'll usually be somewhere between 80-120 miles per week leading up to a big race. I generally do a ton of vertical in training so a typical week would generally include 20,000-30,000 feet of ascent. In terms of hours, I'm usually somewhere in the 20-30 hour range as I'm leading up to a big event.

WH: Last year you wrote a few blog posts about the need for a single championship race that is accessible to anyone who wants in (versus a lottery system which might keep out some elites). Do you see the upcoming Ultra Race of Champions (aka UROC) in Virginia as meeting that need?

GR: I think UROC is a step in this direction. It's not the perfect race by any means and I'm interested to see where UROC goes after this year. I don't know that there needs to be a single championship race and I would guess that over the next few years we'll see a race or two at each of the popular ultra distances come forward as defacto championship type races. UROC has taken some criticism for being too focused on the front runners, but we already have hundreds of ultras which have little to no focus on the front runners. It's hard to imagine that races like UROC are going to threaten that status quo.

WH: We've seen Salomon Running, led by Kilian Jornet, have quite a year. As you know, Kilian won both Western States and UTMB, while Ryan Sandes won Leadville and Julien Chorier finished first at Hardrock. Salomon Running seems to have created a level of organization and support for its athletes that we haven't really seen before--almost like what we'd expect in competitive cycling. Do you think the Salomon Running model is the future of competitive ultrarunning and will other companies "buy" into it?

GR: I don't have a lot of insight into this. It's possible that Salomon has created a level of organization and support that we haven't seen before. But it's also quite possible that a handful of their top athletes have simply had some great races this year. A year ago Salomon had almost no runners near the front of the handful of races you mention here. It'll be fun to see what next year brings. I'm not sure 3 months of racing is enough to assume anything more than the fact that Kilian, Ryan, and Julien are all amazing runners.

Photo by Steven Wohlwender Photo

WH: I read that you have a background as a chef. In fact, I saw one of your recipes in a recent issue of Outside Magazine. As an elite athlete, what's your approach to nutrition, and when can we expect a Geoff Roes cookbook :-)?

GR: I don't have a very specific approach to nutrition. Like most ultrarunners I feel like I need to eat all the time to keep up with calories burnt. I try to eat a very balanced diet of a little bit of everything. Certainly I try to stay away from artificial ingredients and heavily processed food, but beyond this I pretty much eat everything in moderation. I eat more vegetables than just about anyone I know, but I also eat a lot of carbs, meat, and fat. I doubt you'll ever see a Geoff Roes cookbook, but you never know--if I continue to DNF at most of my races I guess I'll need something to boost my income :)

WH: Earlier this year you talked about the allure of Hardrock. What races are on your calendar for the rest of 2011 and into 2012?

GR: UROC this coming weekend. Not really sure after that. The only thing I know for sure for 2012 is that I'm going to be "running" the Iditarod Trail Invitational," a 350 mile race in Alaska, in February.

WH: Wow, a 350-mile race in Alaska in the dead of winter! How do you train for the Iditarod Trail Invitational? Are you going to do the 350 miles all in one go, or go in stages?

GR: The Iditarod Trail Invitational is a beast of a "race" that is so different than training for or racing single day events. Training for it is all about just getting out in the cold and the snow and just slogging around putting time on the feet. Living at almost 9,000 feet in Colorado will give me a perfect playground for training for this. It's not a stage race, but it does take the front runners between 5-10 days typically. You go when you want to go and stop for sleep when you want to stop for sleep. I'll be dragging a sled with almost all the supplies I'll need for the entirety (we do get two drop bags along the way) of the race. After almost 3 years of pretty constant training for/racing single day events, I look forward to the change of pace of something like this.

WH: One last question. When you're not out running trails, what do you most love to do?

GR: I love doing anything with my girlfriend and her daughter. We do lots of camping road trips, cook lots of good food together, watch movies, play at the park, ride bikes, certainly nothing too unusual.

WH: Thanks again, Geoff! I really appreciate your time!


  1. Cool that you are getting some interviews. So - I am taking by some of how these questions are phrased - you are doing an email thing back and forth? Just curious.

    Fun stuff Wyatt - thanks for sharing.

  2. GZ: Glad you like the interviews. I should have been a journalist and my dream would be to do freelance writing or a staff writer gig with a magazine like Outside Magazine or Runner's World (Runner's World occasionally does really nice stories on runners, such as the recent story about Frank Shorter). Anyway, these interviews are kind of an opportunity to live that dream. They're getting tremendous traffic, but where are the reader comments?!?!?!?!?!?!?!

    (If anyone from Runner's World or Outside Magazine or some other cool outdoors mag is reading this, give me a gig!)

    Btw, yes, my interviews are done via e-mail. My long-term vision is to also feature podcasts and maybe even some video. I have a grand plan and maybe it's just a foolish vision...but I'd like to think it's not. I'd also like to find ways to work with others doing similar work and become appealing to advertisers.


  3. I have considered doing a podcast, but I really don't have the time to do one that I feel would be effective, worthy of publishing. I did do a few ... eh, maybe in my retirement.

  4. Wyatt,

    Very nice write-up and interview - informative - well written - and a great subject. I might be a little biased but really you did a terrific job.

    Don (Geoff's Dad)

  5. Don:

    I really appreciate your kind words. Geoff is someone I really admire not only as an ultrarunner but also as a person. He represents the very best in this sport, whether you're an elite, a middle-of-the-packer, or a back-of-the-packer. In my view, he's already secured his place in the history of the sport and what he does in the coming years will only reinforce what we already know about him--that's he's one of the all-time greats and an even better person. It's obvious he comes from a great family!


  6. GZ: I haven't given up on my dream of this kind of stuff one day paying the bills. I can write and I love to run far, and so why not see where both can take me? I'm going to be patient and not expect anything overnight.


  7. Thanks for the interview. I was looking for some of Roes' recipes and came across this. Watched Unbreakable this week, can't get that out of my mind.