Below I interview elite road/trail runner, Matt Daniels, in his final days before The Northface 50 Mile Trail Race. He was one of the first people I met when I moved to Boulder Colorado. Matt is an extremely talented runner, but he's an even better person. He recently left the high altitude training mecca of Boulder for the opportunity to live and train in Hawaii. I can't wait to see how he does this weekend as he toes the line with some of the best ultrarunners in the world!
MB: So Matt, What are your PRs in each distance? How’d you get into running?
Mile:3:59, 5k:13:50, Half Marathon:63:43, Marathon:2:28, 50K:3:32
MD: I found my way into running through a couple of different ways. In the second grade we were all signing up for events to do for field day in PE class and I didn't have an event that I was interested in. So my PE teacher told me "you should sign up for the distance run. You have long legs and I bet you would be great!" So there I was doing the distance run. I won..and proceeded to sign up for it every year until I could join the cross-country team in Jr. High. I also decided to sign up for Summer track when I was 11 years old. I ran the mile for the first time on a HOT summer day in Texas and ran 5:03 lapping everyone. I can remember I old man grabbing my arm after the race and telling me "son you should drop whatever other sports you play and focus on this running..you have a future". That sealed the deal for me and then I began to train. My best friend Daniel LaCava and I ate, slept, and breathed running all through high school under the eye of his dad as a coach. That is when it really started to take off for me.
MB: When we were running up to Mt. Sanitas back in June you had an interesting story about your background. While you were recruited by many major schools, you ended up facing some adversity. Can you elaborate on that? Do you think it made you a better or stronger runner?
MD: Let me start off by saying I believe that anyone who gives everything into a sport, or hobby, or relationship for that matter is going to go through some adversity. Adversity sucks, but without it there is no real progression to success. I did go through a few bouts of adversity early on in my running career and still continue to go through some today! Right out of High school I went to the University of Oklahoma. I absolutely hated my time there. Looking back I'm not so sure it was running related, as much as it was me being eighteen years old and not wanting to be in school anymore. So I left and bounced around a few states sleeping on couches and enjoying life a little before I wised up and joined the U.S. Navy. I quit running in 2008 and continued my streak of smoking cigarettes and drinking way to much beer while going from port to port seeing the world. I went through some really rough times while enlisted (a story a lot of my close friends and family knows) but ended up with an honorable discharge in December of 2010. It was the darkest of times in my life and what else to do than to start running again. So it began my Journey to run at Adams State University and an unbelievable collegiate career.
MB: What has been your biggest accomplishment in running?
MD: While I have had a lot of big personal accomplishments in my running career I believe the biggest was the National championship teams I was a part of while at Adams State. There is no better feeling than being part of a collective unit with one purpose. It's amazing how when a team all has there mind set on the same outcome you can damn near accomplish anything you want to, and a few of our National titles went just that way.
MB: What has been your most disappointing moment in running? How did you bounce back?
MD: I have two that sting equally. My first one would be the 2016 Olympic Trials Marathon. I was in sub 2:15 shape and had an absolute bomb and ran 2:28. Secondly was this year at the World Long Distance Mountain Running Championships in Premana, Italy. I was very fit and confident going into the race but got sick during my travel and it lead to a very poor race performance. I believe our entire women's team beat me. I was stoked to have been on such an amazing team though as we still ended up getting the silver medal!
Both of these races stung and I spent 24 hours contemplating quitting, but usually in a few days I recover and start to think about how much I enjoy the process the get where I have gotten and immediately want to began training again for the next big race!
MB: You recently moved to Hawaii with your fiance. How has training there been compared to Boulder? How has the move and cultural change been to adjust to?
MD: Oh my where to start....This could be a long write up but I will try to keep it short.
The move to Hawaii has been an experience of a lifetime, and that's what it is all about for my fiance and I. I definitely prefer training in Boulder but I must say It has been nice being at sea level. It is hot and humid EVERY day, I'm pretty limited on where I have to run(without driving far), and It is nearly impossible to find soft surface that isn't sand or lava rock. With all that being said the running community(which is small but super awesome) has been great! Never have i met so many welcoming people. Without the running community here I would have been on a plane faster than you could snap your fingers and be back in Boulder.
The cultural change is a little different. More laid back and slow, so the adjustment wasn't so bad. The hardest thing is just getting use to no change in weather and the lack of places for me to go run. I wont be in Hawaii forever but for now we are enjoying our time here experiencing a whole new way of life.
MB: So you’re coaching a little bit here and there, correct? Is email, Facebook, Instagram a good place for people who are potentially interested to reach out?
MD: Yes I have a few Athletes that I coach. I feel so lucky to have had a whole slew of great mentors and coaches throughout my career and I couldn't imagine not passing that along to other runners. I am pretty easy to get a hold of email, facebook, twitter, or instagram all work.
email@example.com, instagram and twitter handle are @mattdaniels480.
MB: We all lack motivation at times, it’s a normal part of training. I know you helped me through a phase where I was feeling pretty burnt out. Does that ever happen to you? If so, what tactics do you use to reinvigorate yourself?
MD: Yes, you are right it happens! Everyone is different with there reason of being so. For me I have been unmotivated and burned out for multiple different reasons. Sometimes it's an easy fix: large pizza, beer, and a good movie. Sometimes it requires the athlete to take a step back from training and look at the bigger picture, and sometimes believe it or not you can just train right on through it and be fine a week or two later. For me when I am feeling unmotivated or burnt out I take a day off and spend it doing something that is going to take my mind away from the sport. It is super important to always remind yourself that you are putting your body through a lot. You can't expect a car to perform and run well for 20-30 years if you keep the engine hot and running all the time. It's important for the coach and athlete to communicate during this time though and decide if its time for a day off or time for a hard workout to boost the confidence.
MB: So, after a tough US Olympic marathon trials in the blazing heat and a tough few races to follow, your seemed to really kill it at your last 50k. What went right for you? How, if at all, was your training different? Tell us about the race!
MD: Thanks! Yes it was a relief to know I can run well at the longer distances. Since moving to Hawaii I have started working with my friend Kenyon Neuman and we have mapped out a pretty solid plan to try and tackle this ultra game. The preparation for the 50k did not go perfect but I did get in enough good quality sessions to have me heading to Oregon confident. I spent more time practicing fueling and did a few longer runs than normal but other than that training did not change a whole lot. We stuck to what has worked well for me in the past.
If we are being honest, not much really went right for me in the race! Bend, Oregon was dealing with a lot of smoke from the wildfires and that caused a TON of issues with my breathing the whole weekend. With horrible breathing and a very messed up stomach it took me 12 miles before I felt right. I got to a technical downhill section ( which usually isn't my strong point) and decided to say to hell with it and just let the legs go. Somewhere around mile 18 we started to do a lot of climbing again and I felt like myself. Once I hit 20 miles I just shut the brain off and tried to enjoy the beautiful scenery and trail, this allowed me to really start rolling. Before I knew it the race was over and I had won by 18 minutes! I learned with these ultra races you are going to go through a lot of good and bad patches in a matter of a few hours. It's important to just roll with it when its good and keep a positive mind when it's not. I highly recommend the flagline 50k for anyone looking to do there first ultra. It was a great experience and the staff was amazing.
MB: So now you have The North Face 50 mile race just a week away. How are you feeling in preparation for that race? Do you have a goal in mind?
MD: Training for TNF50 has been great. I have been able to have some real quality long runs and practice my fueling better than every. With this being my first 50 mile race I honestly don't know what to expect finish wise. My main goal is to get to 40 miles feeling good and in the hunt for some money. At this point in my career a good showing at this race could mean everything in terms of notoriety and sponsorships.
MB: What are your plans after The North Face?
MD: After TNF50 I will take a much needed break. I plan on sticking to trail and ultrarunning as my main focus, but I do want to attempt to break 4 minutes in the mile again this spring. I enjoy sprinting around a track just as much as i enjoy powering up the side of a mountain!
MB: Maybe some brief advice for a beginner runner?
MD: Absolutely! Patience...be excited and hungry for success but also know it takes a lot of time.
When I first started running a coach of mine told me to always keep it fun and only do it for yourself. Running at the end of the day is a selfish sport. That's fine everyone deserves to have something in there life that they strive for themselves. If you cant have this one thing that you enjoy doing for yourself then what is the point? Whether you do it for showmanship, or to overcome innerdemons, or you just simply love to move fast through the streets and trails always enjoy it. Thanks Mark! Happy Running