Words & Interview: Ruaidhri Marshall
Quite the transition. From track running at college, to getting in 100mile weeks in preparation for his next ultra marathon, Cody Reed is pursuing a prolific career as a high level ultra runner.
Being based in Flagstaff, Arizona, the stunning scenery and trails made running long distances a joy for Cody Reed and his friends, ''It was easy to go from that to realizing that we should race ultra marathons''.
But with the good times comes the tougher ones, as in this interview with Under Armour athlete Cody Reed, he explains the 'character building' training sessions, the amazing places he has been able to run around the world, and how his group of friends help push each other to their limits.
A good place to start would be for you to introduce yourself, what was your inspiration for taking up trail running?
After competing in college, I was tired of training on the track. I was content with what I had accomplished there and wasn't looking to continue to train for faster times, but there was no way I was going to stop running! Flagstaff has a lot of trails and is pretty close to the Grand Canyon. One day my friend Tim Freriks and I were out eating and talking about what we really wanted to do. He told me about these multi day hiking trips with is dad growing up. We thought it would be cool to continue training to be able to do these big, all day runs in the mountains and in the Grand Canyon. It was easy to go from that to realizing that we should race ultra marathons.
Also, Flagstaff itself is such an inspiring place to be as a runner. It is becoming more and more the place for professional and amateur runners to come to try to make their dreams come true. There's the altitude, the trails, and the community that make this place great for runners.
Could you describe your running routine and how you prepare before an ultra marathon?
When I am in top training mode, I will be running 100 mile weeks, and running on the mountain here in Flagstaff and I try to get to the Grand Canyon once a week. I will change my training depending on a particular race. If it is a faster course with little climbing, I will not climb as much during training and focus more on speed, I might do some workouts to work on speed and turnover. If a race has a lot of climbing, I'll increase my weekly climbing and look at the big climbing days as my workouts! A lot of the time I will seek out more difficult trails, either more technical, rocky, or steep to get more of a workout in. I don't like racing at altitude because I train at altitude.
I get a huge help from that when I'm racing at sea level, but the higher elevation races (like Run Rabbit Run last Fall) will kick me down hard! Flagstaff is at a good elevation to get a lot of benefits for racing at sea level, but we are 'only' at 7000 feet with some trail access to 9k and 10k feet (very little above that), some of the higher elevation races get up to 10k feet and above and are at that elevation for long periods of time and I don't think that Flagstaff is the best place to train for those super high elevations. Everyone says that most of running is mental, that you could be in the best shape of your life and still not be able to run a race just because your not in it mentally. Before races and during training, I try to prepare myself by preparing my mental state for the upcoming race. You have to know and be ready to withstand a lot of pain, and a lot of doubt. During these long races you will inevitably think you need to stop, drop out, question what you're doing, and even question what you're doing with your life (it can get existential out there). But all you have to do is keep moving! There is a time where you need to completely shut off your mind and let your body do what you have trained it to do during all those miles of training you have run! Your mental state can be your best friend and your greatest enemy while running, and you need to be able to shut it off when it gets ornery.
What has been your ideal race in the past, why has it gone so well?
My ideal race so far has been the Way Too Cool 50k in 2017. I came into the race with great training, I was fit, and I knew it was going to be a competitive race that was not going to be easy. From the first few miles, the runners were spread out, but only by a minute or less. You could see the person way in front of you, and you could see the person behind you, and you needed to be pushing the whole time or you knew you were going to be passed. If I had known before the race how hard I was going to have to run to get the win, I would have definitely thought that I was NOT going to be able to do that! Throughout the whole race, I was looking at my watch, looking at my pace, and thinking "well, either I'm going to blow up or have my best race ever!". I was able to hold a fast pace for the entire race and I ended up winning after passing the one runner in front of me at mile 25!
We have all had them, what has been the worst moment whilst on a run?
There have been a couple! But one time in particular still sticks out. Tim Freriks and I went to the Canyon one time and wanted to run a new route. The trails we would take were Grand View to Tonto to New Hance. We had done Grand View, but that section of the Tonto and the New Hance trail were new of both of us. It was hot that day, and we cooled off in the river and filled our bottles and bladders with water (Tim brought his water filter) before climbing out New Hance. Now, we were carrying a lot of water, as much as we could carry, so we thought we were good to go! We start running up the 'trail' - which was just a dry and extremely sandy river bed - for a few miles until we found an actual trail sign and trail. We knew it would be steep running out, but we were not expecting what we got. The trail is known as an abandoned mining path.
It obviously hadn't been used for probably decades. The path was technical with lots of overgrowth and rockfalls covering it. Despite this trail being un-runnable, we ran what we could and hiked the rest. We did a lot of hiking! This was a problem though, because when we run in the Canyon, we bring enough food and water for a reasonable time it would take to run our routes, having to hike 90% of this trail meant that we were going to run out of water a lot sooner than we were going to take to get back to the car, which had a fresh gallon jug of water. What happened over the next few hours was what we call a "character building" training day. The water was gone very early, the sun was hot, we felt miserable, and this trail never seemed to end. Both of us were the most dehydrated we have ever been. I came to accept the very real possibility that I could be physically unable to hike out because of dehydration and muscle cramps (luckily we didn't get there!). Tim is one of my best friends and in those moments I definitely could have thrown him off the side of the trail! It was his idea to do this route after all. But we made it out, got to the Rim Road and had to run (walk) a mile or two to where the car was parked. When we got to the car we chugged that gallon before we even left the parking lot! We didn't talk until we got back into Flagstaff and got burgers and soda. Food fixes everything!
Just looking at your online presence, you have travelled to some remarkable places around the States and the world, where has been your favorite place to run and why? In addition, where in the world do you want to run next?
I feel very lucky that I am able to travel the way that I do because of running! Traveling is one of the big reasons I am doing ultra trail races. All the places I've gone to for running have been amazing, but I love international travel and races the most. I think it's the newness of everything when I go abroad. It's the people, the culture, the food, everything. Despite that, there is one place that will probably always stick out in my mind, and that is Cortina in northern Italy, in the Dolomites. This was the most picturesque place I have ever been, it was so strange looking out the window and not believing what you were seeing, the houses and the mountains looked like they were in a picture or a painting. The trails there were amazing, of course! I decided that I need to run Lavaredo in the next few years because it starts, ends, and runs around Cortina. I would definitely move there. In the rest of this 2018, I'm going to be racing in Spain for Carrera Alto Sil, La Palma for Transvulcania, and France for CCC.
Can you explain the Coconino Cowboys, how you came to be, the friendships made and how you push each other?
The Coconino Cowboys were thought up when Tim, Jim, and I were on a road trip to Lake Sonoma in 2016. Jim and Tim knew each other from high school because they both grew up in Arizona, I knew Tim because we ran together at NAU. At the time of this road trip, Jim wasn't seen as one of the top runners, even at this race, and Tim hadn't raced a trail race before (it would be another month before I ran my first ultramarathon), but we knew we could be something special. Three ex-NCAA D1 athletes with decent times that wanted to continue their running passion and push the boundaries of what people thought was possible in trail running. Since then we've racked up quite a few wins and podium finishes at some of the biggest races around the world. If we didn't have each other, I don't think we would have made it as far as we have, I know I wouldn't have. There are trail runners all around the world that know about the Coconino Cowboys! Having this group really makes training fun when we can run together, and we definitely push each other very hard. But to us, it is fun, and the harder you run the more fun you have. We won't be able to do this forever, so we are taking advantage of it while we can!
What advice would you give to people who want to get into running and ultra running in particular?
If you're new to running or looking to start, just do it! Start out small and take things easy. If you've been training consistently, you're feeling fit, and have been thinking about getting into ultramarathons, sign up for one now! The sooner it is the better. Jumping into the unknown is one of the funnest things you can do and it is no different for running (if you're decently fit, don't want to get in over your head - too much that is).
The future looks bright, i'd love to know your next ultra marathon also what are your ambitions in the far future?
Next up for me are races in Spain, La Palma, California for Western States, and France for CCC. I want to keep racing around the world in big competitive races. I think it would also be fun to do the smaller, more locally known races in other countries as well. My goal is to do this as long as I can, but I am also very interested in becoming a commercial airline pilot!
Final question Cody, the why, why run 100miles..
Because it's there.
No, real answer: My first exposure to ultra running was by my high school cross country and track coaches, they both ran hundred mile races and (no offense to them of course!) I wondered the same thing. Why would you go that far? Surely it was more of a 'walk' than a run, you can't run for that long! That was what I thought about ultra running until I saw Jim Walmsley and Tim Freriks run the Lake Sonoma 50 miler. That was not a walk! That was actually fast! It was then that I realized this is real running, on trails, in nature, exposed to all the elements, having to be somewhat self-sustained, carrying your own food and water because you're running so long. I saw that race and my perception of ultra running completely changed. I wanted to join in on the fun, win races, push the boundaries, and run - really race - these long distances, 100 miles included!
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