On December 5th, in the foothills of Marin, California, the 29-year-old North Face athlete Dylan Bowman will line up against some of the world’s best ultramarathon runners at the North Face 50 Mile Endurance Challenge Championship. Just a few years back, Bowman was just getting into the sport, and running simply to finish. Now, with podium finishes at high-profile races around the world under his belt, the California runner is racing to win.
In advance of race day, we caught up with Bowman to learn more about how he approaches the sport. What follows is must-read material for anyone interested in pushing their body to the limit.
Learn to Suffer
Hard workouts are an opportunity for learning how to deal with the inevitable pain and discomfort of running 100 miles. When I’m really going to the well in training and I want to slow down or adjust the session, I remind myself that it’s like putting a deposit in the bank: suffer now, race better later. And you tend to get a nice return on that investment.
Long and Intense Intervals
My favorite workout is 5x10 minutes running up a hill at just below threshold effort—what feels like an 8 out of 10, with 10 being all out. Though it’s only 50 minutes of work, this session builds the type of strength required for racing at distances beyond the marathon.
Feel Your Way
I don’t use a heart-rate monitor. My coach prescribes workouts that I do by feel using a 10-point perceived exertion scale.
Community Is Key
I’m so fortunate to live in the Bay Area where the trail and ultrarunning community is rock solid. Outside of my coach, this has been the most important thing for my development as a runner. I run with some wicked fast dudes. Knowing that I can hang with them on training runs gives me confidence that I belong at the front of the pack in races. We push each other, support each other, and share wisdom with each other. I can’t stress enough the value having a peer group like this.
Carbs for the Win
I know there has been a lot of recent news about high fat, low carb diets, but my diet is the opposite: high carb and low fat. I’m not a vegetarian but I rarely eat meat. My favorite food is a burrito. There is a lot you can load into a burrito that’s not meat!
Emerging from Dark Spots
When things go south, it’s all about trying to diagnose the problem. Do I need to eat more? Do I need to drink more? I never go into a race unprepared, so I know it’s not a lack of fitness, but rather, likely something that I can correct. Instead of getting negative, I go into problem-solving mode.
Pushing Through 100 Miles
At mile 70 when things start to hurt, sometimes the “diagnosis” [see above] is simply to toughen up and endure. It’s hard for me to say what I’m thinking then—I really don’t have much memory from those parts of races. Your body and mind are so spent, you just kind of shut off everything non-essential to running. Even if you feel shitty, you don’t have the mental energy to ruminate about it. You are reduced to a very simple version of yourself, operating purely on survival instincts. Eat, drink, and move toward the end, even if only because the end means rest. You’re completely stripped down to your core.
I subsist mainly on gels. During a 100-mile race, I’ll have somewhere between 30 to 40 gels and a few Clif Bars. After a race, I don’t want to eat anything sweet for weeks.
Pizza at the Bedside
After a 100 miler, I fall asleep with a pizza next to my bed. This way, when I wake up ravenous, since I’m generally too wrecked to walk to the kitchen, the calories are right there. This is a serious strategy.
I do something called “Conscious Drift.” It’s totally nuts. You are basically in this small, dark chamber floating in an Epsom salt-like formula. They call it a “sensory deprivation chamber.” There is no other situation where you can just relax everything and feel like your muscles are literally hanging off the bone, melting into the abyss. I also get a massage every week or so and foam roll regularly, but that’s less exciting.
I’m currently working with The North Face on a new shoe that is going to be launched in the spring of 2017. I’m running in a prototype and working with them on dialing in the final design.
I’m a huge fan of triathlon. Even though I’ve never actually done a race, I love the sport. I follow all the athletes, watch the big events, and listen to triathlon podcasts. Craig Alexander is my hero. I really admire his non-egotistic pursuit of greatness. Earlier this year when I won a race in Australia, where Crowie is from, he sent me a congratulatory email. It was the highlight of my sporting career.
Working Two Jobs
In addition to being a professional athlete, I work for a company called Hypoxico that makes high-altitude training tools. I actually think I’m a better runner because of it. It helps keep me balanced and sane. If all I did and thought about was running, I’m not sure it would be such a good thing for me.
I have a really simple life. I live in an awesome place, I work, I run, and I spend time with my girlfriend and my dog. And it’s great.
I volunteer for the San Quentin 1000 Mile Club at the prison here in Marin, CA. It's basically just a running club formed by inmates and facilitated by a few volunteers. I go in every other week for a Monday night workout and I help count laps when they stage a race.