Last updated: 26-Nov-18
By Alice Morrison
Jason Schlarb is one of those people we really should hate. After years of road running, he converted to trails in 2010 and went on to win Run Rabbit Run (and set the course record) and Trail du Vallon and then come fourth in the Big Daddy of mountain racing – the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc. He is clearly a brilliant runner, an American willing to take on the Europeans on their own turf. But he is also a superb kayaker, cyclist and a forces veteran, having served his country for ten years. I caught up with him after the Marathon des Sables, where he had been racing for Team I Run 4 Hope, raising awareness for children with ADHD.
His team placed second in Marathon des Sables and his individual place was 12th with 24hrs and 58 minutes.
Q. So, your first Marathon des Sables. How did you find it?
A. I didn’t choose this race based on ease, I chose it for the challenge and that’s what I got. It’s not just the heat and the distance it is the other things like carrying a 6 ½ kg pack which holds everything you eat. Every gram counts. During a long race like this you want to be hungry, not starving! I didn’t take enough food to satisfy myself. Also I didn’t realize how minimal the tents would be. They are open to the air with just a carpet on top of the sand and rocks. I didn’t take a sleeping mat and I am a light sleeper….
Q. But you have raced some of the toughest mountains, surely it can’t beat those?
A. Yes, I am more of a mountain runner and this is almost a different sport. The mountain races – well, they are often a single day. I am rested and fed and ready for them and here that was not true by the second day. We were running in the heat, with the sleep factor, carrying a pack and being hungry. Then, you are facing a field of great athletes tiring you out and kicking your ass. You are juggling a lot of factors to have a good performance.
Q. Did you have any particularly memorable moments during the race?
A. The long stage (82km). My body does pretty well in the heat extremes and usually we started at around 8.30 and were running for three to four hours so were finished before noon. But on the long day we started at 11.00 am and I was not prepared for that! I walked. I lay down. I ate a bar. I spent some time sitting on a rock, contemplating my life and all of that cost me around 45 minutes. I crossed the salt lake just before sunset and it was almost like running on the road, hard and flat. In that last 30km of the race I ran from 18th/19th place and ended up in 12th. It was a big accomplishment but came at a big sacrifice.
Q. Was the terrain what you expected?
A. One of the things I wanted from this race was to see the Sahara. I found I had a lot of misconceptions. I thought it would be just dunes but there was a lot of diversity in the landscape and geology and there were lots of little plants and different trees when you looked closely.
Q. How did you find the camaraderie at camp?
A. One of the great things for us was that there was a lot of time to lay around. That doesn’t happen so often in the Western world. We had time just to sit there, think, relax and make small talk. I really bonded with the others, it was massively mixed and international. We were forced to it by the structure of the race and it was priceless.
Photo credit: Dino Bonelli.
Q. What is next on your agenda and what does the near future hold?
A. I am going to run Hardrock on the 15th July. It has taken me four years to win that lottery! And then I am returning to UTMB at the end of August.
Q. You have scored a fourth at UTMB, what are your ambitions this year?
A. I want to improve on my 4th place. I want to get on to that podium which is a very high ambition for a USA runner.
Q. Why is that?
A: One of our difficulties is that our mountains just aren’t as steep. We have the Rockies, but they are more characterized by switch backs and there are trails there for mountain bikers and hikers whereas the Dolomites and the Alps are really sheer. I really attribute my fourth place to the fact that I went to Europe for three months to train. It made all the difference. This time I am hoping to do that again but just for six to seven weeks.
Q. Any final thoughts on the MdS?
A: To cross that length of the Sahara – human-powered – I feel like we have done something really special and for me as part of a team, Team I Run 4 Hope, running to raise awareness of ADHD, something that has directly affected my family, that was something special too. You can inspire as a professional athlete, but doing something with a team, well that is something else again…
Thanks Jason and good luck at UTMB. We’ll be cheering you on for that podium place.
You can follow Jason on his website or on Twitter @jasonschlarb and check out some of his great trail running films here.