The Long Run

From Lacrosse to Leadville to the Limits of Human Endurance

bowman4Imagine running a marathon – 26.2 miles – at twice the altitude of the Mile High City. Throw in a few “hills” to make it challenging, including trips over mountain passes that sport more tundra than trees. Now imagine running that marathon just shy of four times in a row, back to back. Finish this feat of endurance and you’ll earn one of the most coveted prizes in ultramarathon racing: the Leadville 100 Trail Run belt buckle.

Something about the Leadville 100—known to some as the race across the sky—appealed to Dylan Bowman (B.A., ’08). After graduating from Colorado State University with a degree in speech communication, the former lacrosse player needed “an outlet,” a way to stay fit through disciplined exercise. Running provided that outlet, and much more. “I was always the hustle guy in lacrosse,” says Bowman. “The transition was easy.”

The transition to running might have been easy, but ultras are not. “Hundred-milers are completely ridiculous,” Bowman posted in his blog. “The challenges they offer are uniquely painful and profoundly humbling.” They require mountains of physical endurance and a dyed-in-the-wool determination to methodically dismantle internal and external barriers to success.

“I decided to do my first Leadville 100 a year after I started running,” Bowman says. “I didn’t know anything and had no competitive aspirations. But something about the race spoke to me. It speaks to your soul.” He finished third overall that year and officially caught the ultramarathon bug.

bowman5Today, Bowman is one of the top ultramarathoners in the world and can pursue the sport seriously with support from his coach, Jason Koop, and sponsors such as Pearl Izumi. Last month, he finished third at the Western States 100, the Boston Marathon of the ultramarathon world. Earlier this year, he won The North Face 50 in New York and the Sean O’Brien 50 Mile Trail Run in Malibu, California.

Bowman is justly proud of these accomplishments, especially his podium finish at Western States. Yet winning isn’t his favorite part of competing at this level. “I was always a team sport guy,” he says, referring to his time on the lacrosse field at CSU. He had success then too—the team won the national championship in 2006—but highlights of that experience were times spent practicing, traveling, and competing with “the boys.”

Nothing’s changed. Bowman’s best friends are his iron-willed competitors. “We go to battle when it counts. Guys are always there to share a beer and stories when it’s over. It’s much more about the community.”

Bowman stays close to the ultramarathoner community off the trails too while working as director of endurance for Hypoxico Altitude Training Systems. The company makes altitude-simulating enclosures that provide reduced-oxygen sleeping and training benefits to sea-level athletes—something that might come in handy for runners contemplating their own race across the sky.

Finishing a race like the Western States 100 takes a toll, both physically and emotionally. Bowman will rest, he says, “until he gets antsy.” He’ll listen to his body, especially an injury-prone ankle, and then when he gets the urge, he’ll hit the trails again.

Top: Western States 100, courtesy Jason Bowman.
Bottom: Western States 100 finish line, courtesy Jason Bowman.