Bonafide Hustler: Dylan Bowman Making Things Happen On The Trails

“No question that [2014] was a turning point year for me,” says Bowman, shown here after finishing fifth against a loaded field at The North Face Endurance Challenge Championships last December. Photo: Ian Momsen | Courtesy of The North Face

Hard work and a more structured training regimen are paying big dividends for the 28-year-old ultrarunner.

Despite an affinity for hours-long ultra-distance races, Dylan Bowman has always been a hustler at heart.

Twenty-five miles into the Tarawera 100K on Feb. 7 in New Zealand, the 28-year-old Bowman suddenly found himself in the lead, a spot he didn’t expect to be in so early on in the day. After sizing up the situation, he threw in a deliberate surge and took control of the race, gradually extending his advantage over the final 37 miles to cross the finish line in a new course record of 7 hours, 44 minutes and 58 seconds.

The decisive move came naturally to Bowman, who has carried the same job description with him throughout his entire athletic career: He’s the guy who makes things happen.

“I definitely wanted to give it my best crack,” Bowman says of his mindset heading into Tarawera. “I definitely felt like I was in good form and was excited to race, which is the most important thing. I knew if I had a good day, I could compete for the win and that was my intention going into the race. I expected to have a good day.”

Bowman may have even exceeded his own expectations, slashing 45 minutes off the previous course record and his topping his occasional training partner, Jorge Maravilla, by almost 17 minutes on the way to the first international win of his six-year career.

A proud resident of Mill Valley, Calif., Bowman is coming off a 2014 racing campaign he rates as his most successful to date. He kicked off last year in February with a win and course record at the Sean O’Brien 50 Miler in Malibu, Calif., before a ninth-place finish at the Transgrancanaria 125K on March 1, a race he called “an agonizing effort in survival.” He rebounded from that effort with a win at The North Face Endurance Challenge-New York in May, and in late June, Bowman battled hard to finish third at the Western States 100, calling it “the greatest race of my life at the 100-mile distance.” He capped things off in December with a fifth-place finish against a stacked field at The North Face Endurance Challenge Championship at the Marin Headlands north of San Francisco.

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It was an impressive 12-month stretch of solid results that elevated Bowman from a consistent performer to a bonafide contender nearly every time he takes to the starting line. He’s quick to give credit to his Colorado Springs-based coach, Jason Koop, for helping guide his transformation as a professional athlete.

“No question that [2014] was a turning point year for me,” says Bowman, who signed with The North Face’s global athlete team last December. “And a lot of that has to do with my training now is significantly different and much more professionalized. Working with Jason, I really now understand the difference between exercising and actually training. That allowed me to take my game to the next level and have some of the best races of my life.”

Bowman began training under Koop’s tutelage in September of 2013 after trashing his ankle on a training run in France before the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc. The injury was so severe that Bowman wasn’t able to start the race. While rehabbing his severely sprained ankle, he “had time to reflect on what I was doing and what I should be doing” and realized that if he wanted to contend in ultras and not just compete in them, he needed to add some structure to his training routine.

“I didn’t run on a team growing up, so I didn’t even know the meaning of tempo, VO2 max, fartlek and things like that,” explains Bowman, who nonetheless grew up in the endurance mecca of Boulder, Colo. “The most important thing Jason has provided me is education. He’s added a lot more focused intensity to my training, which I basically never did. It’s made me stronger, faster and helped to bring back my athleticism.”

Koop, the director of coaching for Carmichael Training Systems, says two of Bowman’s greatest strengths as an athlete are his mental outlook on training and racing, along with his relentless work ethic and insatiable appetite to improve. Under Koop, Bowman’s training has included more intense workouts with a specific area of focus for each training block.

“He does all of his training to a ‘T’ and communicates very well on how he’s feeling,” Koop says. “Dylan also executes very well on race day. He plays to his strengths, runs under control and has a great feel for how to compete.”

As a kid, Bowman dabbled in a variety of sports, but it was lacrosse that kept his interest throughout high school and into college at Colorado State University, where he played midfield and developed a reputation for chasing after ground balls and wearing down his opponents.

“I think initially that’s what allowed me to have some decent success [at ultrarunning] but I slowly kind of lost it as I just jogged around without any focused training,” the 6-foot-3, 165-pound Bowman says of his lacrosse background. “My job on the lacrosse team was basically to be the hustle guy.”

Bowman’s former coaches at CSU remember him for his leadership skills on and off the field, along with his athleticism and play-making abilities, but it was his penchant for running—even if Bowman didn’t know at the time where it would eventually lead—that really stood out.

“The thing I remember most about D-Bo was him always telling us ‘I can run all day, coach,’” says Alex Smith, the current head lacrosse coach at CSU and an assistant during Bowman’s playing days as a Ram. “He always led our long-distance runs and did well in conditioning.”

After graduating from Colorado State in 2008, Bowman to moved to Aspen, where he says he felt a bit lost after finishing up his collegiate athletic career. It was there that he started to dabble in running. “I’ve always been someone who enjoys exercising and sweating every day, so I just started running without any goals in mind,” explains Bowman. “Because I lived in Aspen I just started trail running because it seemed the natural thing to do.”

Not long after, Bowman learned about a mountain marathon in Breckenridge, Colo. He signed up on two weeks notice and went on to finish among the top 10 in the grueling high-altitude race. “I was completely crushed at the end but a new passion was born,” he says with a laugh.

That passion led him to learn about the Leadville 100, an iconic race through the mountains of Colorado that “immediately became the focus of my life.”

Knowing he couldn’t completely wing it for 100 miles at elevations ranging from 9,000 to over 12,000 feet, Bowman gave himself over a year to prepare for his 100-mile debut. He contested—and completed—his first Leadville 100 in 2010, finishing third. “There was not much of a competitive instinct in me when I started my first Leadville,” Bowman admits. “It was purely to see if I could do it. I had an ‘I’ll do anything I can to finish’ mentality. I was dead set on finishing no matter what and because of that it enabled me to have a good race.”

It was at that point Bowman realized if he gave running a little more focus that he could have success in the sport—perhaps even make a career out of it.

The following year, Bowman won the San Diego 100 and then returned to Leadville to finish second in 17:18:59, more than an hour ahead of where he finished the previous year. In 2012 he made his Western States 100 debut, finishing an impressive seventh. He returned in 2013 and placed fifth before this third-place finish last year. Standing atop the podium in Auburn, Calif., one day is high on Bowman’s bucket list.

“It’s the granddaddy,” Bowman says of the iconic race that starts in Squaw Valley. “It’s close to where I live. It’s one of the races I read about when I first discovered the sport. And here I am, I’ve got three finishes and going for number four this year. I’ve won a good amount of races now but I want to win a Western [States] or The North Face Championships or a UTMB. Winning one of those races would be a dream come true to me. It’s something I think about all the time and work toward every day.”

Along with employing a coach for the first time in his career, in 2013 Bowman and his girlfriend, Harmony Teitsworth, moved from Aspen to Mill Valley, where he started working remotely as the Director of Endurance at Hypoxico, a company which makes altitude training products for athletes. The move to California, one Bowman says he was initially reluctant to make, has helped catapult his competitive running career to new levels. On any given day of the week, he’s sharing the trails with a slew of national-class trail and mountain runners, including Alex Varner (2013 U.S. 50K champion), Matthew Laye (2014 U.S. 100-Mile champion), Maravilla (2014 U.S. 100K champion), Galen Burrell, winner of the 2004 Pikes Peak Marathon and Brett Rivers, the owner of the San Francisco Running Company who finished ninth at Western States in 2014.

“It’s been huge for me in a lot of ways,” Bowman says of moving to Mill Valley, which over the last year-and-a-half has become one of the country’s trail and ultrarunning hotspots. “The greatest thing about moving here was that it simultaneously occurred with the opening of San Francisco Running Company. It was so, so important to Harmony and I to be able to fall in with a new group of friends that allowed us to feel at home from the beginning. From a performance perspective, it’s been one of the most influential parts of how I’ve improved. Having some of the best runners in the country who can push you every day in training is important.”

A fan of all things athletic, especially triathlon—“I may or may not follow it closer than I do ultrarunning,” he says—Bowman draws inspiration and motivation not only from those he trains with on a regular basis, but also from the stars of other sports. He ranks three-time Ironman world champion Craig Alexander as his favorite athlete of all-time, admiring the Australian’s professional approach to his sport, along with his work ethic and lack of ego—traits he tries to emulate as he steadily moves up the ultrarunning ranks.

“You really have to treat it as if it’s your job to have the kind of success I want to have,” Bowman says. “I’ve always enjoyed listening to the greats talk about how they prepare and how they race. It’s inspiring. I’ve always thought of myself as an athlete. When I was a kid I was always dreaming of being a pro athlete. I’m not entirely sure what draws me to that but there’s nothing that gets me more fired up than watching iconic sporting figures do what they do best and listening to them talk. They’ve taught me a lot about discipline and the benefits of working hard and keeping my eyes on the prize.”

As for what lies ahead in 2015 and beyond, a return to Western States in June is imminent, as well as a trip to France in August for the CCC—a 100K race through the rugged Alps that covers the last two thirds of the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc course. If all goes according to plan, Bowman will close things out in December by taking another shot at The North Face Endurance Challenge Championships in his own backyard.

After stepping up his game in 2014, Bowman’s shown he’s a threat to be taken seriously every time he steps on the starting line, regardless of the distance or terrain. He’s never not finished an ultra-distance race in over 30 starts—a fact he shares with great pride—but make no question, it’s being the first runner across the finish line that gets him out of bed every morning to train and motivates him to out-hustle his opposition.

“I have a desire to win big races,” Bowman says very matter-of-factly. “I appreciate greatness and I appreciate hard work. It’s something about devoting a piece of every day to something that’s far off that’s really inspiring to me. I know there are areas where I can improve, which gives me a lot of confidence that it’s not the peak for me.”

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