If you’ve ever met NRC Race Team member Jeff Davis then you know his races are as epic as his quads. He just recently finished the San Juan Solstice 50 Miler out in Colorado. He graciously took some time out of his busy training, work, and family schedule to answer a few questions about his Western adventures.
NRC: This was your 2nd year running the San Juan Solstice 50 Miler. Why did you choose this race in the first place, and what made you want to go back?
JD: I can’t remember if I first heard about this race from Jamie Dial (local trail running/climbing legend) or a race report in Ultrarunning, but early in my trail running days, I heard that this race was challenging and rewarding. It doesn’t disappoint on either. Running above the tree line across the Continental Divide is a unique experience for an east coast runner. Once I experienced this alpine landscape, this race became an annual event on my schedule.
NRC: The race takes place at altitudes ranging from 8700ft to 13000+ft. How did you prepare for altitude living in Nashville which is clearly nowhere close to that?
JD: The only way to truly acclimate to this elevation is to arrive early and train. It doesn’t help acclimate to altitude, but I believe the humidity in Nashville replicates the additional stress on the body that you feel at altitude. As with humidity, at altitude you sometimes have to slow down and run at a pace your body can sustain. Solstice also has two climbs that are over 4,000 feet each. It’s hard to replicate this sort of sustained climb or descent in Nashville, so a trip or two to the Smokies can help.
NRC: What does a typical week of training look like for you?
JD: Since I primarily run 50 or 100 mile races, the majority of my running is done at a very low heart rate. I also try to do one or two difficult workouts per week which may be hill repeats or time trials on familiar routes. For each workout, my focus is either on really easy or really hard running in order to eliminate ‘gray zone’ efforts. I generally do three weeks of ramping up my mileage followed by a strict rest week. Weekly mileage may vary depending on life commitments
NRC: You're a seasoned ultrarunner. How does Solstice compare to the other ultras you've done?
JD: The views and terrain are absolutely unmatched by any ultra I’ve done. It’s hard for me to compare the difficulty of one race to another because every race has its own challenges. With that said, this 50 miler has taken me significantly longer than any other.
NRC: Any race day essentials that you can't live without?
JD: Fritos. Just kidding . . . My Montrail Bajadas have probably been the most consistent item in my race kit. I may have the world’s largest collection of used Bajadas.
NRC: Any highs and/or lows of Solstice that stick out to you? Any good stories (appropriate for readers) from the trails?
JD: The high point of this year’s Solstice was to be able to cross the line with fellow Nashvillian Ryne Anderson with our awesome families there to cheer for us. It was great to experience this race with a local training partner.
Dakota Jones is the course record holder with an unimaginable 7:35. This year he was crewing for someone at the second aid station. Ryne asked him if we were still on pace to break his record (we were obviously hours off his pace), and he was nice enough to smile and tell us we were close.
Due to a late season snow, the course for the 2015 edition of Solstice had a significant amount of snow and water. There are roughly a dozen stream crossings going up the first climb, and most of these were waist deep with fixed ropes. Jumping in rushing snow-fed streams in the predawn twilight was interesting. One guy had his feet swept and was partially pulled under a log. Luckily other runners were right there to help him out. The same late season snow meant we were waist deep, post-holing through snow fields on the Continental Divide. This was such a unique race experience.
NRC: What's next for you and how are you looking/feeling coming off of Solstice?
JD: I’m doing the Wasatch Front 100 in September, and hopefully, there will be another attempt at an unfinished Smoky Mountain project in the fall. We were lucky enough to spend an extra week in the San Juans recovering, so I feel great and ready to reacclimatize to the Nashville humidity.
Finally, Jeff has a few parting words of wisdom for any ultrarunner and especially new runners -- find a big out of town race that slightly scares you and commit to that race. You don’t know what you’re capable of until you leave your comfort zone.
We can’t wait to see what you do at Wasatch, Jeff! We’ll be cheering for you from the low lands of Nashville!