Less money, less problems. Biggie would be disappointed.
Ultrarunner Dakota Jones labors up a steep paved road above Boulder, Colorado. Between quick, pronating forefoot strikes, he looks at his watch. “I’m slow,” he blurts out. That’s relative. I’m keeping pace in my car, rather than trying to match Jones’ speed on foot. Jones strides through the second of five 10-minute intervals on Flagstaff Road, which climbs 2,142 feet in about 5 miles. He turned down a beer the night before to assure a solid eight hours of sleep.
Sacrificing much in order to race professionally—in a sport where few athletes make a living wage—is something Jones is accustomed to. Following two stellar ultrarunning race seasons he said goodbye to college in 2011 to train full-time. Still, he doesn’t text every four seconds like most 22-year-olds. And our conversation moves seamlessly from anaerobic threshold to literature. He’s disappointed I haven’t read The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen. In the age of selfies and self-promotion, Jones doesn’t have a Facebook account, and he recently turned down a contract from Red Bull. “Part of me feels like I gave up a huge opportunity financially,” says Jones. “But that stuff is toxic, and I want to be able to sleep at night.”
Jones has won big endurance races on the international stage, and he has shattered numerous U.S. course records. Spain’s Kilian Jornet dominates the sport, and Jones remains the only competitor with two ultra-distance victories over Jornet.
Jones’ next race is the North Face 50 Endurance Challenge, a 50-miler expected to draw the most competitive field yet. There’s $10,000 in prize money for first place, but Jones never mentions it. Instead he tells me about the 20-plus competitors who have won ultras in the last year. The California course is relatively fast, and will favor runners who have come from traditional track and road running backgrounds—or have put in the specialized work.
A trail runner with a deep passion for the mountains, Jones is growing tired of all the road training. But it’s a means to an end, and he assures me favorite Rob Krar is likewise spending considerable time on the asphalt. Krar and Miguel Heras are the two athletes Jones sees as his main rivals at the December 7 race in the Marin Headlands. Heras, a 38-year-old Spaniard, has won the race twice. And two months ago, Rob Krar, a 36-year-old out of Flagstaff, Arizona, passed Jones for the win in the final miles of the UROC 100K. Which is exactly why Jones is here, on a road, training for a trail race.
Drenched in sweat on this sunny November morning, Jones finishes his last interval. “I’m toast,” he says, doubling over in the middle of the road. “I’m not going to be able to do much for the rest of the day.” —Matt Hart