“The only way I’ll be successful is by being different.”
Exhaustion caught up with Jones during his first attempt at the UTMB race around the French Alps in 2011, resulting in a DNF. He retreated to the mountains to recharge, and after a few weeks spent ice climbing in the San Juans, rock climbing in Moab and running only when he felt like it, Jones emerged from his training hiatus with fresh perspective and an epiphany of sorts.
“Even though I’d had successes, I knew I wasn’t reaching my full potential,” says Jones, who made the decision to drop out of college and hire a coach.
He connected with Jason Koop, a fellow ultrarunner and coach with Carmichael Training Systems, who put him through a battery of physiological tests, one of which indicated Jones had a fairly high VO2 max in the mid-70s.
“For sure Dakota has some very good physical tools,” Koop says. But what really sets Jones apart, he says, is his inherent tenacity — a combination of enthusiasm, talent and relentless energy that allow him to go into the pain cave and suffer through the grueling miles without breaking.
“Dakota pushed himself harder than most athletes we test, and seeing that right off the bat showed a sheer determination to succeed — you can’t teach an athlete that. As far as his future goes, I think he can accomplish whatever he sets his mind to.”
Later that fall, Jones set a new record for the rim-to-rim-to-rim run across the Grand Canyon and back, covering 42.5 miles in 6 hours and 54 minutes. (The record was shattered earlier this year by Rob Krar, who ran the same route in 6:21.)
Switching gears in the mountains has become a theme for Jones, who ended last summer with a running and climbing reboot in Europe (with some time spent casing out the course at the UTMB, which he plans to race again on Aug. 30), and kicked off this year with a snowy mountaineering trip in Alaska.
Jones acknowledged that winter camping, trekking and ice climbing in Alaska were definitely a step toward another extreme on the endurance-sports scale. But in Jones’ master plan, it was another opportunity to establish skills as the disciplines of trail running and mountaineering continue to merge in the quest to reach high peaks faster and faster with less gear.
“There are alpine runners and mountain climbers, and what I aspire to do on some level, is have those two sports merge in a middle ground of technical, light, fast and challenging,” says Jones, who credits Spaniard Kilian Jornet as one of his influences and inspirations. “I don’t want to die doing this, and to be good at climbing mountains fast, you need to be able to climb them well.”