Ultra-Tough To Beat: Exclusive Interview With Geoff Roes

Roes is undefeated in eight attempts at 100-mile races. Photo: hawaiinshirtray.com

What do you think about the field this year?

I think it has an amazing amount of depth. It was really strong at the very top last year and it is again this year. The thing to me that is really shocking about the field this year is that almost all of the top 10 or 15 runners from last year are back this year. And then on top of that there are a dozen or so new people that didn’t run last year, but could be right there in the mix. I think the field goes about 20-deep this year where it was 10-deep last year. That makes is a real battle for the whole top 20.

You mentioned the depth of the field and how there are more people this year. With the success of the book “Born to Run” ultra running seems to be gaining in popularity. Do you think the depth across the entire sport is increasing as it’s gaining in popularity? And do you think that will make it more challenging as more talent enters the sport?

Yeah. Absolutely. I think previously with ultras there was a divide between people who just ran ultras. They were an entirely different breed. A lot of people thought they were just these weird, crazy, eccentric ultra-running folks. There’s still a lot of that culture with it. There’s certainly not as much as a divide any more between a lot of these really top runners who have the most potential in 100-mile races. A lot of those runners are doing it now. There are all these new folks coming in. There are people who could do really well in ultras and haven’t done them yet. I just think the people you are seeing at the top of the ultras now are at the top of the world at that distance, whereas previously in some cases anyway, those that won the 100-mile races were those who were crazy enough to do it.

Have you read “Born to Run”?

I have.

What do you think about minimalism and the barefoot running movement?

I think it has a place. I think there was a lot of hype that has spun out of it. It has gone kind of way too far for a lot of people who are probably overdoing it in terms of jumping into it without approaching it with a little more discretion, patience, and caution. I haven’t done much with it. Personally, I’ve developed a style of running that works for me and so I haven’t tinkered much with going all that minimal or doing much barefoot myself. But doing some barefoot running does force you to run with a pretty efficient and logical stride and form. If you can use that as a tool and not overdo it, I think it’s a great thing.

Click here to read an interview with Roes after he won last year’s Western States 100.

There’s a great debate out there on speed work for ultra runners. You come down on the side of the fence that argues that speed work isn’t all that important for 100-milers since you don’t do any speed work yourself and yet have achieved all kinds of success. Is that correct?

Yes.

So if you aren’t doing speed work as a component to train for ultras, what other types of workouts are you filling into make up for that traditional area of training?

I really focus on building just strength and endurance. I do a lot of long runs, but also do a lot of really steep vertical and a lot of runs where a lot of times when I’m out, I’m just hiking, because it’s too steep to run. The fastest guys in the world who are running 100 milers are rarely running below 8-minute-mile pace, because it’s just not sustainable to pound much faster than that. If you’ve got a fairly adequate running background and you’ve done some shorter-distance running, you have that leg turnover there. It’s been engrained in you where you grew up running in high school. It’s been engrained in you to turn over 8-minute pace for hours. I think to go out and train to turn your legs over at 5:30 pace or even faster if you are doing shorter interval stuff, it just doesn’t make any sense to me. So for me, I just build strength. That means I’m doing a lot of just really rugged mountain runs with lots of vertical. That’s what I enjoy the most, anyway. It’s not a conscious decision; it’s just more of what I enjoy doing.

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