“Bryon Powell from iRunFar here…”. The words that begin almost all of iRunFar’s pre and post-race athlete video interviews has become something of a catchphrase for the man who’s passion and dedication for the sport of trail and ultra running has taken him on a journey from high school cross-country rookie to the editor-in-chief of iRunFar, the sports most respected and hard-working website. I talked to Bryon about his early days of running, the birth and development of iRunFar and the trail-runners he thinks will crush it in 2013.
Bryon (sporting some Movember upper-lip insulation) gets away from the desk to stretch out the legs the local trails, Park City, Utah. November 2012
So Bryon, your introduction to trail running was when you joined the cross-country team at high school in 1992, and you have admitted in the past that you were not so good. Could you ever have foreseen then that trail and ultra running was going to be your passion, your job and your legacy?
There’s absolutely no way that I could have seen trail running as becoming my job… ever. That said, I more or less immediately fell in love with the sport. I was fortunate enough to have an enthusiastic cross country coach, supporting teammates, and a large woodland park immediately behind my parents’ house. Once I started hitting the trails, there was no reason to stop.
And what was it about the trails that had such a draw for the younger Bryon?
Growing up I’d spent lots of time playing in the park, especially during the summers, and when I was really young my grandfather would also take me and my sister on hikes on the park’s trails. As a result, the parts of the park closest to my home where already part of me when I started running. Trail running meant I could become intimately familiar with the entire park. It was a second home.
On the rare times that I ran trails further afield, I embraced the sense of discovery that the trails brought. Of course, behind it all was a simple love of running. Even today, I much prefer the trails, but have no issues running the roads when circumstances (like the long Park City, Utah winter) dictate I pound the pavement.
After the shaky start to your running career you found your groove, trained hard and ended up captaining the college cross country team, right? Was it just a case of knuckling down and putting the time in to improve?
While I was far from captaining my college cross country team, I did captain my high school cross country and track teams. I think there were two reasons behind my transformation. First, I did train quite hard. While out of school over the summers, I’d still do speedwork and my senior cross country season I was mixing in two runs a day a few days a week. Not too many high school kids were doing that. More important, I trained four seasons a year for four straight years. This consistency was priceless!
Ok, so moving on to post-high school, you start hanging out with a bunch of ultra-trail-runners in Washington DC and have completed your first marathon and ultra within two years. You then went on to primarily focus on trail-ultras. What was it that attracted you most to those longer trail races?
I guess that throughout high school I always wanted to run as much as possible. Over the summer after my first year of high school I’d go out for runs of as long as I could. That wasn’t very far – 12 to 15 miles – but I loved the challenge and the feeling. On the racing side, I tended to love the longer stuff. Our five kilometer cross country races were my favorite, while during the indoor and outdoor track seasons I’d specialize in our longest races – 1,600 and 3,200 m – eventually running both at most meets my junior and senior years. I started off as middle- to long-distance running in college… but was eventually turned into a sprinter. 4 x 200 m, 400 m, 400 m hurdles. I’m thankful for those sprinting years as I left college a bit burnt out on racing, but longing to run long again. Keeping trails in the mix was a no-brainer once I figured out the logistics of making that happen.
I gotta ask, any sprinting left in the legs these days?!, never get the urge to hit the track for a few laps!?
Ha! The track no longer calls, although I have enjoyed a few stints over the past decade. Most of my speedy running comes descending singletrack. I’m proficient enough on the technical stuff, but throw a clean descent in front of me and I’ll open up. I enjoy that quite a bit.
Bryon rocking plenty of go-faster-stripes during a trail-race in Virginia, circa 2004
Is wasn’t only your ultra running career that started after high-school- it was around this time you started a personal blog too wasn’t it?
I did start blogging not long after I started running ultras, but the two weren’t at all connected at first. Long story short, I started attending law school while working full time (and training for ultras). I knew I wouldn’t have time to stay in touch with my friends and family so I took up the (then) new blogging thing. It wasn’t until late 2006 that I spun off a personal running blog so that my friends and family who weren’t interested in my running didn’t have to read my increasingly common writing about my running.
So you went from a personal blog that you started 2002, to a personal running/training blog in 2006; the early incarnation of iRunFar. You changed focus from personal training to trail running information and content a year later, 2007, after a chance encounter with a journalist right? Can you tell us a little more about that Bryon?
The 2006 transition mentioned above was merely the creation of a personal running blog like any of the tens of thousands out there. Then, in September 2007, I was at the Lamb’s Canyon aid station at Utah’s Wasatch Front 100 killing time chatting with friends before pacing a friend later in the race. A freelance journalist joined the conversation. It turns out she was writing an article about ultrarunning fundamentals for the US version of Runner’s World. After the race she got in touch and arranged an interview. In preparation for the interview I put together my thoughts on choosing a first ultra and how to train for your first ultra. Not long after I published both sets of thoughts on iRunFar (there’s still there, with some updates) and decided to transition my personal blog into more of a resource. Truth be told, I’d registered the URL iRunFar.com and started building a non-blog ultrarunning website in the summer of 2006… before I even started my personal running blog, so creating something for the ultrarunning community had previously been on my mind.
But iRunFar was still pretty much a hobby around this time wasn’t it? You had a ‘real’ law job too?
Yeah, iRunFar was simply a hobby by which I tried to give back to the community. It wasn’t until some time in 2008 I thought of it as anything but a fun outlet.
Did the popularity come as a surprise though? Were you looking at the visitor numbers thinking “wow, my site is getting pretty popular, I can make a job of this!”?
I’ve always been incredibly surprised with iRunFar’s readership and growth. Still, it wasn’t until the spring of 2009 that I thought it could be anything more than either a hobby or a way to transition into the outdoor industry. In other words, I had no thoughts of it being a “job” until more or less it became my job. Even when I started iRunFaring full time, I only saw the website as a platform for doing other things – coaching, freelance writing, putting on races or other events – not as the sole focus of my energies that it’s become today.
A lot of people dream about giving up the 9-5 desk job and doing something that they really have a passion for and you decided to take the leap in 2009. iRunFar has been your 12 hour a day, seven days a week, (I’m guessing) lower-paid-than-your-previous-employment job, how has it been? no regrets right!?
No regrets at all. I made a big leap three-and-a-half years ago and haven’t looked back… unless it was to wonder why I didn’t make the jump sooner. Sure, I thought I worked a ton as attorney (it’s no 9-5 gig in the US), but I work a great deal more now and last year I made about the same as I did (non-inflation adjusted) as the lowest level assistant at a law firm when I graduated from college… in 2000. The passion of those who follow iRunFar make the ridiculous hours and low pay so worth it.
Word! I think everyone that follows the site appreciates your dedication too. So tell us a little about the community that you have created with iRunFar, both the readers and the growing number of runners that are contributing to the writing, it must feel good?
I love the community that iRunFar is a part of and the smaller sub-community it has become. From the comments I receive on iRunFar, through email, or at events, I know how much iRunFar means to other people…. and I don’t just mean iRunFar in the sense of something that I publish. The other writers and, more important, the slew of commenters make up the iRunFar community. I see iRunFar as a place to (civilly and constructively) share ideas and inspire one another.
In the intervening years you have grown the website to become ‘the’ go-to site for all things trail and ultra running both stateside and here in Europe. Has it been an organic evolution or have you some kind of master plan!?
The growth iRunFar has experienced has been entirely organic and full of good luck. When I left my life as a DC attorney to work on iRunFar full-time out West, I had a laundry list of ways I could make ends meet. I certainly embraced some, but have never touched on many and taken more unplanned directions than I could have ever imagined. Certainly writing a book was something that I’d never have imagined!
Yet ‘Relentless Forward Progress’ has been a big success! Have you got any plans for more books or an updated version of RFP maybe? What about translating the book to some more languages?
The success of Relentless Forward Progress has exceeded my wildest expectations and I can imagine an updated version at some point. At this point I don’t think my publisher has any plans for a translated edition, but feel free to email my publishers or contact me letting me know of interest in other languages. It’s make my year to see a Spainish or Swedish or Catalan or Japanese or whatever version of RFP. As for another book, I can’t imagine writing another in the near future… iRunFar now consumes far too much of my time. Besides, writing a book takes more time to recover from mentally than a 100 miler ;)
Your pre and post race interviews are always super-popular, and the sport has attracted some real characters over the years. I am going to put you on the spot here and ask who your favourite interviewee of all time is?!
Wow, you really are putting me on the spot! Now that I’m a bit more comfortable doing them (they frightened me to no end at the beginning), I enjoy so many of them. Over the years I’ve come to call many of the runners I interview friends, so if the interviews come off as casual conversations, they often are. That familiarity also leads a lot of jokes and silliness. With that in mind, I’d have to say Ellie Greenwood is my favourite interviewee… on the basis of some ridiculousness that’s occurred during our many conversations.
Any one episode that really stands out!?
Nope, but three. After the Western States 100 2011 I caught her on tape “running” across the Placer High track infield to chat. Then at the 2011 TNF EC 50, I conducted an interview wearing a button down shirt and, unseen (I think), just running shorts – she took it in her stride. At Chuckanut in March 2012 I conducted a speedy pre-race interview with her as her friends were waiting to leave. After the interview, she and I had a good chuckle as during the interview the camera had swiveled up to point at the sky. Being a great sport she, of course, redid the interview.
OK cool…and while we are at, whats been your worst interview!?
Can I say myself? I sure do feel awkward when the on-camera interview gets turned back on me! Otherwise, there can sometimes be additional challenges interviewing non-native English speakers even if I have a good off-camera relationship with them. It’s often a matter of lack of confidence on their part.
Ok, you can say yourself (this time!). You like to pick some crazy locations too, sometimes not the quietest places but it all adds to the charm. Out of interest, was your first ever interview?
It might be hard to believe, but the “not quietest places” usually are the quietest available places. We’re not driving around to find a location or anything. If it’s a pre-race interview, I’ve likely had a chance encounter with the athlete or am meeting at a location convenient to them and am finding the closest spot (they are racing in a day or two after all) that’ll marginally work. Most post-race interviews work in the same way, I’m either interviewing them near the finish or somewhere convenient to them in the coming days.
As for my first interview, it was Anton Krupicka with a borrowed camcorder before the 2009 Leadville 100-. It remains iRunFar’s most watched video!
Putting in the hours while live race-reporting from Leadville 2012, note the pre-release Ultimate Direction pack. Every race reporter should own one.
So you now get to report from all the races, hang-out with all the top ultra runners and test all the latest and greatest products but is it a little bittersweet that you don’t get to run as much anymore? You raced again recently with a plan to get into Western States, how did that go?
2012 might have been the only year when my work for iRunFar really crimped my running plans. From 2009 through 2011, I ran what I wanted and I plan to do so again in 2013. Last year, iRunFar’s live race coverage saw a big jump. That hurt my running, but it wasn’t so much that I couldn’t run the races I was attending. Rather, I’m fully immersed for a week when covering a race onsite and that’s without some of the at-home prep and catch up afterward. It’s essential that I get to race the events I love and to adequately train for them. I hope to make personal and professional progress toward making that happen this year.
As for the racing, I jumped into the Le Grizz 50 miler in Montana in October, as I needed a qualifier in order to use the graciously transferred raffle spot I had. Have not run more than 20 miles once in 2012 and running 20-35 mpw, I was quite nervous going in. I managed to run all of the first 20 miles before having to walk pretty much every step the next 5 miles. With the help of some mid-race anesthesia I was able to rally and ran most of the final 25 miles to finish in 8:30 having only needed to run under 11 hours. It felt awesome to be able to run an off-the-couch 50 miler that well.
Thats a really respectable time! Speaking of racing, what is your favourite US trail race, either one you competed in or reported from? What makes it so special?
I’d have to say either the Western States or Hardrock 100s. Both have wonderful spirits, although quite different. Western States is the granddaddy 100 miler with a huge following. That leads to more energy and buzz than any other ultra in the US. By far. Strangely, it’s also the one I feel most comfortable at. I remember going through the medical check-in before the 2011 race and have my pulse in the 40s. I was so calm. I’m looking forward to running the race for the fifth time in June.
As for Hardrock, I’ve never run it and don’t know when I might put my name in the lottery again, but one doesn’t need to run Hardrock to be a part of the community there. It’s a small community, but feels big in the tiny town of Silverton. The high elevation nature of the race means that many spend two weeks or more in town before the race. Folks of all abilities from all over the world are eating together, drinking together, marching in the Independence Day parade together. It’s special. Then there are the mountains. Quite simply, the San Juans are the most beautiful mountains I’ve been to anywhere in the world and there’s no better time to be there than in July. Two years ago my girlfriend, Meghan Hicks, and I went to Silverton intending to spend the first two weeks of the month in the San Juans to cover the race and run the mountains. A day before we were to leave we decided to spend a full month. The mountains, the flowers, the sky, the wilderness were all too much to give up if we didn’t absolutely have to leave.
It sounds amazing, so any plans to move the iRunFar office to the San Juans!? Speaking of which how was it you ended up based in Utah?
While we’ve joked about buying a place in Silverton (Ironically, it and Leadville are probably two of the only spots we could buy a house.), I can’t imagine spending the winter there. I’m not an Alpine skier and only Nordic ski a couple times per year. It’s also a long way from any airports… which would be tough with my line of work.
We ended up in Utah as I’d spent two summers in Park City during and immediately after law school. There are many hundreds of miles of trails immediately around town, the trails are all runnable as they’re built for mountain biking, the summers are mild, and so on. Seven months of the year it’s trail running paradise. I could imagine iRunFar moving to southern Utah (think red rock country) for four or five months each year.
You got your first taste of European Skyrunning this year when you reported from Transvulcania on La Palma & Zegama in Spain. What do you think of the Skyrunning philosophy and concept?
I was psyched to dive head first into Skyrunning in 2012. Aside from the races you mention, I also took part in the Skygames and covered the Speedgoat 50k (while Meghan covered Pikes Peak). It’s a wonderful concept – testing oneself in Alpine environments. The races are visually stunning and hard as hell. It’s great to see the concept spreading to the US. Yes, I know there’ve been Skyrunning races in the US for years, but 2012 was the first time that the brand, the concept saw much reach on our side of the pond. I think that’ll only continue to grow in 2013 as the International Skyrunning Federation continues to evolve its series in light of an ever changing sport. Whatever these changes, I hope it stays true to its founding concept. It’s got something special.
…and the US runners didn’t fare too bad either! you were travelling with the US crew, what was their general feeling towards the Skyrunning concept?
By and large, the US runners who took part in the Skyrunning races loved the concept… and I can even see some of them bringing the concept back to the US by way of putting on their own Skyrunning-style races. Of course, most of those American runners who were exposed to Skyrunning already had strong leanings in that direction, so the exposure may be less a muse to partake in the activity as to help raise its status and accessibility within the American trail community.
It seemed 2012 was a watershed year for trail and ultra running with a more global focus and a coming together of athletes from different continents. Whats your view on this Bryon?
Unquestionably, trail and ultrarunning worlds converged even more toward a single world. It’s great to see the best of the best, no matter where they’re from, racing one another. I’ve only seen strong camaraderie between the international athletes and absolutely love seeing the exchange of concepts. It’s like having the top chefs from various cuisines come together. Something tasty … and unexpected is bound to come about!
So what, in your view, can the US runners learn from the Europeans and Antipodeans and vice-versa?
For me, one of the most interesting contrasts is in the fueling and hydration strategies of the American and European elites. Americans tending to fuel and hydrate a great deal more. I think the cross pollination of attitudes will benefit both groups. Americans might be able to lighten their loads for some of their longer training outings and racings, while Europeans my be better prepared to hydrate in extreme heat or find times when increased fueling helps their running.
With this global focus you have probably been invited to report from some great locations and events for 2013. Can you give us an idea of what races you’re really looking forward, and why, to for the coming season?
At the moment, we’re still building out our 2013 race coverage schedule. Given the significantly lower costs, races we can drive to get added to the schedule first, which means the Lake Sonoma 50, Western States 100, Hardrock 100 (probable), Leadville 100, UROC 100, and The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 are currently penciled onto our schedule. As it’s happened for the past few years, I’m hopeful that some international races will make their way onto our calendar this year. Currently, I guess I’m most excited for Lake Sonoma and Western States… mostly because their my next two definite races. Lake Sonoma is special as it will have grown from a regional race to a national race to an international-level race in just three runnings thanks to the hard work of RD (and Ultrarunning mag publisher) John Medinger. Western States is Western States… with tremendous competition that’s seemingly getting better by the week. Former course-record holder and new American 24-hour record holder Mike Morton was added to the field the first week of the new year and between future Montrail Ultra Cup entries and special consideration, more great runners will get in.
…so those are the races but who are the men and women you can see dominating in 2013?
One of the runners I hope gains a late entry is Miguel Heras, as I think he’ll be a dominant force in 2013. His pair of wins at The North Face championships have impressed me to no end. To the extent he’s racing, Kilian Jornet is a no brainer. I don’t think there’ll be any one American runner who dominates in 2013, although Mike Morton has the best chance of any. I hope he finds his way into a few top level trail races this year otherwise he’ll just dominate the record books. Stateside, relatively new ultra talent like Max King, Sage Canaday, Cameron Clayton, and Trent Briney could keep raising the bar and lowering records, but they’ll surely make mistakes as they travel the ultrarunning learning curve.
As far as the women go, Ellie Greenwood and Lizzy Hawker should continue crushing it. They’ve proven themselves in this regard year after year. Emelie Forsberg has the youth to keep up with her enthusiasm and talent so watch out there. I think we’re at a transition point on the American front. The same women who’ve run at the front of our races for the past decade are still there, but how much faster can they get? Probably not much. It’s yet to be seen if the likes of Rory Bosio, Aliza Lapierre, and Amy Sproston start winning the big domestic races or if Stephanie Howe or other new blood make the jump to the top.
…and we have to mention Speed Goat! You think he can add to his crowns?
Karl Meltzer is almost certain to add a couple 100 mile wins to his belt. Few, if any, know how to run 100 miles as well as he does. It will be extremely exciting to see him go up against an extremely deep field at a US 100 miler as he’ll do at Western States in June.
I mentioned earlier that you get to gear-test a lot too so your finger is most definitely on the pulse when it comes to trends within the industry. Are you glad that the post BTR (Born to Run) intoxication seems to be levelling out and most companies are finding the equilibrium and producing minimal shoes with some protection?
Yes. I could probably leave this answer to one word, but… I’m happy the pendulum has stopped swinging to the extreme. There’s a huge selection of minimalist shoes out there and they’re only getting better. That’s great news for both the folks who love to run solely in such shoes as well as those who use them as tools. Personally, I prefer a bit more shoe for most of my runs and was saddened when innovation skipped over my niche for a couple years. I mean, I, too, want lighter, more comfortable shoes. Whether it’s companies adding structure and support back into their minimalist models or using the cutting-edge technologies that they first implemented in minimalist shoes in their middle-of-the-range shoes can only benefit the majority. Ten ounces is the new 12-ounces… that wouldn’t come out very elegantly in grams, but there are now plenty of all-day-running trail shoes under 280 grams whereas three years ago, we were looking at shoes 340 grams as the norm.
It seems Skyrunning and the more Alpinist-style (Scrunbling) antics of Killian J, Anton K, Joe Grant, Emelie and others may influence the next sea-change in the industry. The merging of a trail running shoe with the sticky outsole of a climbing shoe. There are obviously models like the La Sportiva VK’s out there already but do you think its going to become more widespread?
I think these runners and their Alpine-scrambling will inspire many, but I can’t see this being a sea-change in the sport. It’s just a non-starter for so many. Only a very small portion of runners, at least in the US, have easy access to the necessary terrain. What’s more, I just don’t think the reality of pursuit would end up being appealing to all that many. I live in an area with plenty of runners and tons of access and while there are a few very vocal proponents of “scrambling,” slogging, bushwhack peak bagging, there aren’t many folks doing it.
I do have to recognize my own bias/preference/whatever toward the running side of the sport. I feel odd saying that as I’ve no interest in running a flat 100 miler and have absolutely no problem incorporating walking (or bushwhacking) into my trail running (and have randomly walked up the side of a hill/mountain plenty of times), but I do enjoy the fluidity and familiarity of running.
From a personal perspective whats your cant-do-without piece of gear?
A good pair of running shorts… which I find once every half dozen years or so. My favorite running shorts at the moment are Brooks Element shorts that I first picked up in autumn 2006. I’ve got a few pairs that are holding out, but I cringe a bit every time I wear another short. Before the Element, it was a split-side short model from adidas.
The iRunFar reporting team from UROC 2012, to the far-right is iRunFar senior editor (and Bryons girlfriend) Meghan Hicks
And to finish Bryon. Its a little more than 5 years since iRunFar became an information-styled website for the masses. Whats in the works for iRunFar for the next few years? Have you got any goals, either personal or for the site, for 2013?
I think my goals for iRunFar and myself are more intertwined for 2013 than they’ve ever been. My main goal is to evolve iRunFar into an endeavor that I can sustain for the long term. That means relying more on others while, at the same time, still aiming to make iRunFar even better.
On the running front, this past autumn saw me with my worst fitness in 19 years. With that in mind, I have no illusions of running a personal best at Western States in late June, but I do want to make significant strides by then. Afterward, I want to continue training through the core of iRunFar’s race coverage season (July through September) so that I can enjoy running once it’s over. I do have my name in the lottery for the Wasatch 100 in early September, which would provide great motivation should I get in.
Thanks for reading, if want to share the interview click and copy the link below//Robbie, RunTramp.