Catching Up with the Ultra Man

Aug 1, 2011
Outside Magazine

John Stamstad John Stamstad (Photo courtesy of John Stamstad)

John Stamstad lives to push limits. He earned a spot in the Mountain Biking Hall of Fame after completing the first crossing of Australia by bicycle, going 65 hours straight without sleep to win the 350 Iditasport Extreme in Alaska, and fueling up at gas stations on blocks of cheese, Little Debbies, and Spam to finish an unsupported ride of the Great Divide. Now, he's ultrarunning. We caught up with him to find out his pick for the best emergency endurance fuel in a pinch.
--Heidi Volpe

What do you do?
Well, I am a  sales rep in the bike/run/outdoor market and I also do some product development for companies like Patagonia. I am enjoying running right now, it's so simple and I have great access to trails.

How is endurance riding different and similar to ultra running? 
It is about the trail, not the mode of transportation. Running is nice because it is so simple; mountain biking is great because the gear is complex and fun to tinker with. I really like both extremes. 

When was the last time you ate Spam for fuel?
I haven't eaten spam since I choked down a whole can cold in Montana while riding the Great Divide Trail. It was the only thing I had left to eat so I had no choice, but it was not pleasant. When I say I forced it down I really mean it, that was a bad night.

What was the criteria you used to make food selections at the convenience stores? 
Calories and grams—if I have to carry it. Convenience store food is definitely a choice of less of evils but that is just the way it is. 

Do you have a go to emergency fuel on an epic journey?
Canola oil, while not optimal as a fuel, has a supremely high calorie to weight ratio and has no flavor--so it's easier to get down if you have to. I carried it to avoid starvation.

Have you ever been broken by a race?
The only event that can break you is the one you are not mentally prepared for. Dirt is just dirt, mountains just mountains. Hard, is a totally relative term--relative to your mindset and expectations. If you are truly prepared to suffer, no course is hard--they are just fast or slow. 

What is the most remarkable changes in endurance racing since you started?
Bikes and gear have totally improved. Everything is lighter, more efficient, and more durable. Waterproof jackets weigh half as much and breathe twice as good. Full suspension bikes are completely dialed now. Suspension forks last. (I once blew three top end forks in one 24-hr race) 

Do you remember the approximate weight of your gear when you first started?
In 1999, I used a 2 lb. bivy bag, now I travel with a 4 oz bag. My jacket weighed over 1 lb., now my waterproof jacket weighs 8 oz. I used a rack with a dry bag strapped to it and a small handlebar bag. Jeff Boatman of Carousel bags, is making the most amazing bike bags, I have used them and they are a whole world nicer than what I had 10 years ago.


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