Ultrarunning champion Geoff Roes needs no introduction. He dominates 100-mile races and he sets course records at almost every event he enters. His most famous record-breaking win in 2010 was profiled in the documentary Unbreakable: The Western States 100, where he finished in an incredible 15:07, crushing the record previously held by Scott Jurek.
When I caught up with Roes, he had just returned to Colorado after a summer of leading ultrarunning camps in Juneau. He says that the camps were successful and allowed him to get to know a wide range of people with different running styles and abilities. Yet, heading up running camps in Juneau was probably not something that Roes could have envisioned when he first arrived in Alaska in 2005.
Roes hadn’t run in 10 years when he fell back into the sport, almost by accident, when he moved to Homer on a whim. Without a job or many acquaintances in his new home, he took to running to pass the time. He sustained a few minor injuries in the first two years, but eventually his body seemed to adapt to running longer distances.
When Roes relocated to Juneau a short time later, he thought that his running life would be confined to a few city streets.
“The first year I was there, I thought that it really wasn’t a place to run,” Roes says, referring to Juneau’s location at the base of a 4,000 foot peak. “But slowly over time, the terrain helped me readjust my mentality about running and what I thought it was to run.”
That mental adjustment took Roes from the paved streets of downtown Juneau up the peaks surrounding the city. Going for a run became an entirely new activity, one that incorporated what Roes refers to as a type of mountain exploration. “I began to think of going for a run as hiking up a mountain for two hours to a ridge line with runnable terrain," he explains of his new running style.
Juneau’s unique topography also taught Roes a skill that most running enthusiasts struggle with: avoiding over training by listening to his body. That means that unlike other champion ultarunners who insist that their wins are due to non-stop running, Roes mixes running with hiking and walking. “Each day [the terrain in Juneau] very quickly lets you know how strong you’re feeling,” he says. “Over time I’ve come to accept that there’s daily, weekly, even yearly fluctuations, and if I feel the need to walk, I’ll walk.”
If Roes isn’t running the whole time, what’s his secret to his 100-miler winning streak? Minimalist shoes? Not quite. Although he likes the fact that the minimalist footwear craze has brought a lot of new people to the sport, he’s been running in Montrail Mountain Masochist shoes for the last three years and has no plans on changing.
A plant based diet? Not really. He was a vegetarian for 12 years, but he now eats a full array of everything, keeping to a diet that he simply refers to as all-inclusive. Could it be a superhuman physique or the mental toughness of a drill sergeant? Sort of. When it comes to running 100 miles, Roes says that it’s a 50/50 situation. “You can’t do well at 100 mile races without being really fit,” he says. “But you can be the most fit you’ve ever been in your life, and if your mind isn’t focused and prepared for it, you’re not going to do well.”
Although Roes admits that he likes to push himself in competitions, perhaps his wins are due to his extreme passion for the sport. “Racing and the performance aspect of it is enjoyable, but it’s an expression, a side note,” he says when asked what he'd like people to know about him. “I just enjoy being out exploring places on foot.”