“I like exercising.” That’s it, that’s all. The only descriptor given in the About section of professional ultrarunner Dylan Bowman’s website. Meant to be a placeholder while Bowman rebuilt his site, he kept the simple, humorous sentence in place. And why not? It perfectly sums up his life, his career, and his passion. Bowman is super fit. Bowman runs. Bowman runs far. Bowman runs far very quickly. Bowman runs far very quickly over terrain that is, ahem, awful.
Dylan Bowman’s latest feat of foot is a beast. He ran California’s brutal Lost Coast in the fastest known time of 11 hours and 12 minutes. Just a long walk on the beach, right? Wrong. The coast is littered with steep cliffs, craggy rock, and foreboding woods. In fact, the coastline is so menacing it forced Highway One engineers to abandon their goal of a seaside roadway and build inland, the only section of the coastal road that detours from the coast itself. So, how in the hell did Bowman do it? Well, for starters, he’s really, really good at running.
Why ultrarunning? It’s just so painful…and long…and also so very painful. What happened or stood out about the sport that made it your thing?
I guess the sheer ridiculousness of the sport is what drew me towards it. It just seemed so epic and insane that I couldn’t help but be curious about my ability to complete such a challenge. I’d also always been an athlete and was feeling a bit lost without a competitive pursuit to chase. When I first started, I was living in Aspen. It just seemed like a fun project to devote myself to for a little while. I would have never imagined it would eventually become my job.
What was it about running the Lost Coast that caught your attention?
First and foremost, the route seemed quite attractive and unique compared to other FKT (fastest known time) projects. It’s broken into two distinct halves, the trail section and the beach section, which each have their own challenges to consider and respect. The tide element makes the route very interesting as a few sections of the trail actually disappear and are impassable at high tide. That added an element of entertainment and uniqueness not found on any other FKT routes in North America.
If the coast is so lost, how did you find it? No seriously, what’s so lost about it? Did it feel that way to you?
I found it when my friends Rickey Gates and Leor Pantilat pioneered the route as a single-day endeavor in 2014. To my knowledge, I’m only the third person to do it in a single push and the only person to go south to north (Rickey and Leor went north to south). I’d recently moved to California when they established the FKT and it looked so amazing that I resolved to get around to it at some point. I’m lucky. I get to travel around the world to race but I was really excited to get to explore a bit closer to home, doing this project in the most remote part of California in a place very few people visit.
Sooooo, this is pot-growing country…did you see any? Did you ever feel like you were in danger?
It’s true that cannabis is a huge part of the local economy in Northern California and in the Lost Coast area in particular, but I didn’t see any grow operations or feel threatened. There are, however, a couple very remote and interesting airstrips on the route, which make you scratch your head a bit. I wouldn’t be surprised if those are used to move plants after harvest. It’s pretty interesting country.
Describe what it takes to plan a run like this.
Planning isn’t terribly difficult. Obviously it’s helpful to look at maps and GPS files of people who’ve done it in the past. I relied heavily on beta from Rickey and Leor’s run from 2014 and uploaded a GPX file into the Gaia app on my phone, which I used many times throughout the day to ensure I was still on the right track. It’s important to carry enough layers and safety equipment based on the remoteness and isolation of the route. I carried a waterproof jacket, pants, a whistle, survival blanket, headlamp, iodine tablets, and plenty of food in case I got myself into a tricky situation. Finally, it’s imperative to consult the tide predictors locally in order to time the run safely.
What was the most challenging part of the run?
The most difficult part was running on the beach in a rain and snowstorm after eight hours of running. The sand is painfully slow and the precipitation was freezing, considering we were running on a California beach. I was pretty tired at that point, so it was pretty challenging psychologically.
What was the biggest surprise?
The biggest surprise was just how remote the route was. In eleven hours of running I only saw one group of three guys who were hiking together. It was pretty amazing; especially by California standards, where there are seemingly people everywhere. By contrast, I probably saw a hundred elk and fifty seals along the way.
How did you time the tides? Were there any issues? Did you have to swim?
There are good resources on the internet that predict the tide with good accuracy. I gave myself 11:10 to complete the route and ended up finishing in 11:12. The last high tide zone was actually getting pretty close to impassable when I went through, so I’m glad I wasn’t any slower. If I’d have missed it, I’d have either had to swim or hunker down until the next low tide, which would have been a major drag.
Wait, the Lost Coast has lots and lots and lots of sand, ‘cause, ya know, beach stuff. What was that like? Or did you somehow find a way to stay off the beach?
Yes, there is a lot of sand on the route, probably twenty miles of it in fact. There’s no secret to beach running. You just have to embrace the energy draining nature of it and keep putting one foot in front of the other.
California has bears, man. Were you at any time chased by bears?
No bears, though I’d have loved to see one.
Where does this run rank, in terms of difficulty and overall challenge, among all the races in your career?
This is the first and only real FKT I’ve gone for in my career, but I’ve run a number of other iconic routes like the Rim to Rim to Rim in the Grand Canyon, the Four Pass Loop outside Aspen, and the Mount Hood circumnavigation. I’d put this route up there with all of those as being an absolute must-do for adventure minded trail runners. It is truly spectacular. One of the greatest runs of my life.
Running that terrain, that mileage, in 11 hours is pretty damn impressive. Any chance you can run it faster?
I gave myself 11 hours and took every minute of it. That said, I know the route can go much faster than I ran it. For a properly trained and focused runner who knows the route, I think 9:30 is possible. I’d love to give it another try soon.
Think you’ll ever try something like “slowest flip flop walk down Main Street” or will you be a “go very far very fast” kind of a guy for the rest of your life?
Hahaha! I look forward to doing these things slower in the future. Actually, I think the route would be more enjoyable as a two-day endeavor, spending the night in Shelter Cove, California, about halfway. I absolutely hope to still be doing things like this slowly and for pleasure long after my competitive time in the sport.
Photos by Justin Sund
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