Mountain Man: 5 Questions With Mike Wolfe

Mike Wolfe is hoping to return to his winning ways from 2010-2011 after falling on hard times last year. Photo: Tim Kemple/The North Face

Extra time off and a new approach to strength training has Mike Wolfe fit and ready to race again.

After five years of racking up an impressive collection of first-place finishes, Mike Wolfe hit a rough patch of dirt. This full-time trail running, mountain man and part-time attorney won the 2011 The North Face Endurance Challenge in San Francisco, but was unable to defend his title in 2012, taking 11th on the sodden, re-routed course. Wolfe also ran 17:50, good for a 19th place finish at Western States in June 2012 and came in 13th at Chuckanut 50K in Washington last March, yet knew this past winter was going to be his time to recharge. He’s back, feeling stronger than ever, with an impressive list of challenges lined up for the year.

It was a long winter at your home in Montana. How are you feeling about your fitness?

I took December, January and February off and spent the winter recovering from hamstring tendonitis, having a hernia operation — I knew I needed to have it fixed, but kept putting it off — and building up my strength. 2012 was a rough season, I just hit a plateau.

In February, I started an eight-week fitness program with Mountain Athlete out of Jackson Hole, Wyo. The program helped me to find overall balance and work on my physical weaknesses. I think my journey has been rather classic in that you want to keep doing races, but at some point, you need to focus on being a more durable athlete. I didn’t have the fitness for early spring races, but now I’m feeling good.

My training focus has been on high quality, consistent miles. Consistency is key for preventing injury. I run every day, or at least six days a week.

What’s on your schedule for 2013?

I’m doing the Pocatello 50, in Pocatello, Idaho, on June 1, and the LaVaredo Trail 100K in the Italian Dolomites on June 29. Then, in July, Hal Koerner and I are tackling the John Muir Trail to see how fast we can do it. We’ll have support from the crew at The North Face as we run 230 miles from the summit of Mount Whitney to Yosemite Valley. Our goal is to do it in under three days. We plan to sleep as little as possible and just keep moving.

After that, I’m looking at the The North Face Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc in Chamonix, France, in August and the Ultra Race of Champions, a 100K race from Breckenridge to Vail, Colo., in September, and maybe the Losotho Ultra Trail in South Africa later in the year. I’ll see how my season is going and decide as I go.

You’re adding a lot of different distances into the mix. Why not focus on a specific one?

It’s hard coming off an injury when you cannot really make a comprehensive plan of what your season will look like. I’m excited about doing different mountain races and exploring the outdoors. I have no desire to do typical races right now, it’s fun trying new things.

My favorite distance used to be 50-milers, now its 100-milers. Fifty milers have become so fast. The racing strategy, fueling and running of a 100-miler is unique, and the distance levels the playing field. It’s pretty funny though, the American racing style is to not stop at aid stations, just grab what you need and keep running. Europeans pull into an aid station and have bread, cheese and a chair.

What’s the draw of trying to establish the fastest known times (FKT’s) on a trail like the John Muir Trail?

They’re cool. There are so many of us who do this sport because we love to push ourselves and be in the mountains. FKT’s provide the best combination of competition, nature and goal setting. Yes, you are competing against someone else’s time, but it’s basically you against the elements, and you’re doing it for the adventure. FKT’s are highly personal in that sense. You choose the ones that sound cool to you.

After sporting the mountain man look last year, you are now clean-shaven. What’s the story?

[Laughing] Despite comments to the contrary, I did not grow if for the “ultrarunner look” as some suggested — it honestly never crossed my mind. Back in my dirt-bag climbing days, before law school and when I was living out of my truck, I had a beard. At some point I shaved it. I got married last summer and realized my wife, Steph, had never seen me with a beard. I grew one, but decided it wasn’t the right time — I definitely feel faster without it. There was even an online TNF Endurance Beard Contest between Hal Koerner and me. Hal won, I simply cannot look as put-together as Hal.

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