Five Questions: Scott Dunlap

Here's Scott. Running really fast with a camera in his hand!
Here’s Scott. Running really fast with a camera in his hand!

If you haven’t heard of Scott Dunlap, well, you are missing something.  I came to follow Scott a couple of years ago when friends on twitter began tweeting to and at him.  He runs a magnificent blog that not only provides wonderful insight into the sport of running, but also showcases Scott’s uncanny ability to take really good pics while running very fast in races.  How he does it, I’ll never know.  If you don’t read A Trail Runner’s Blog,   you really should.

He was a busy executive a little more than 10 years ago when he decided to make a change to start running and to see more of the world outside of his office.  Since then he’s done some amazing things and run a LOT of races: from Matterhorn to Mont Blanc, from Boston to Pikes Peak, and from Wasatch 100 miler to IM Lake Tahoe.  He lives life to the fullest and smiles a LOT while running.

His last race was the USATF Road 50K championship, where he ran a 3:25, came in 7th overall, 2d in his AG and was the 3d Masters runner.  And all this after breaking his collarbone in a cycling accident a few weeks ago. Not bad. 😉

Here is his race report for more information and a great read.

I find him incredibility fascinating and always inspiring.  Here are my five questions with Scott:


1) You’ve run in some really beautiful places.  Is there one location that rises above them all?  A place where you found yourself thinking “I don’t think this can be matched?” 
Trail running has brought me to some amazing places, that’s for sure. I rarely get through a race without saying “this is epic” a few dozen times, and hopefully getting a picture to match the feeling. I think it’s one of the things I love the most about this sport – it’s so easy to add some adventure and epic-ness into our lives. Just sign up and see where it takes you!
It’s hard to pick one that rises above the rest, for generally there is a moment at each location that makes it truly special. Climbing towards the Matterhorn at the inaugural Zermatt Ultraks, the sunrise on Mt. Blanc at UTMB, seeing a million stars as the night sky reflects on Lake Tahoe at the TRT100, the chaos of the Boston Marathon finish line last year, watching the Fall colors in Aspen, the community at the Pikes Peak Marathon, or even the familiar birdsong of my home trails in Woodside, CA (definitely some of the best in the world)…each one shines like a diamond in my memory banks. None of them can be matched! But if I had to recommend one place away from California, I would say Chamonix, France is incredibly special. UTMB, the Mt. Blanc Marathon – any reason to be there is great.

2) You have two beautiful girls.  Tell me about running your first race with Sophie this past November. (I ran a 5k with my oldest a couple of years ago and the feeling was indescribable). Looking into the future, is there an endurance event, a race, something you dream of doing with one or both of them?

Thank you! Our two girls, Sophie (7) and Quinn (3) love to get outdoors and jump into anything involving trails, horses, and dogs. Running is usually a daddy-only thing, so I was really surprised when Sophie said she wanted to join me for the local 4-miler Turkey Trot this last Thanksgiving. I think it had something to do with free powdered donuts at the end, or maybe a chance to put all her cool pink running gear on, but I was stoked either way. I was so nervous…I really, really, really wanted her to like it! She ran the first mile no problem, and the next few took some walk breaks and convincing. I, of course, was beaming with pride the whole time even though I had a sherpa-level amount of clothing in my arms. She didn’t believe me that she would forget all the hard stuff once she crossed the finish line, but once she was there, she laughed and said “you’re right!”. And then she ate 20 mini donuts.
Now she has her eyes set on the Bay to Breakers 12k in May, 2014. I can’t quite tell if it’s because she wants the bragging rights for the older girls at school, the medal and pride of finishing, or just an excuse to do something with Daddy without her little sister in tow. I’m not sure it matters – the best we can do as parents is steer them into fun new experiences and hope it sparks a lifelong passion. I sure do love her company.
3) Is there an instance in your running life where you reached a moment of clarity, a “eureka!” moment where you think “I can’t believe I am HERE, or doing THIS!”  or maybe  finding the solution to a vexing problem?  When and where was that?  
Yeah, I get those all the time! I call then “long run revelations”, and they usually kick in around 80 minutes of running when my body/mind/soul hit that meditative rhythm. Just when I am thinking of nothing, something simple and profound slips in and often brings me to a stop. Parenting tactics, new companies I’ve started, screenplays, unrecognized humility and gratitude, career moves, letting go of burdens, you name it. It’s often why I say I’m not sure where I end and the trail begins…it’s so much of who I am.
The last time was on Tuesday of this week. I had just crested Diamond Head Crater in O’ahu, Hawaii on a morning run break from our family vacation, and when I took in the view, it hit me that I had 28 years of memories stretching in the panorama. The beach where I walked with my newlywed wife, drunk in the happiness of an adventure together, the peak where my brother-in-law proposed to his girlfriend one Thanksgiving and took us all by surprise, the steep mountains where I ran the Xterra Trail Running World Championships with my Dad (and watched him crush it), the hundreds of mai-tai’s with friends new and old. I made it a point to add something new and memorable that day, and rented a surfboard so Sophie could sit on the front and feel what it was like to catch a wave. She laughed and screamed so loud, all the other surfers cheered. Again, Daddy, again!!! I gave a nod to Diamond Head Crater each time we paddled out, thankful for the inspiration, and we surfed until I couldn’t lift my arms.

4) You’ve been a runner for more than a decade now. What is the best piece of advice you can give someone just getting into the sport?  Looking back, what is the greatest lesson you’ve learned about yourself in that time?

Geez, has it been that long? I guess it has! Well, the first piece of advice I would give someone is to “add some adventure to your life” by picking a race 4-6 months out and sign up, preferably with some friends. Pick a race that is just scary enough to help motivate you – maybe a little longer than you did last time, maybe on a trail instead of the road, perhaps a new location. Then figure out your training plan, make the time, build slowly (no more than 10% increase each week), and take care of yourself by eating and sleeping right. If you’re brand new to the sport, the first dozen runs are going to suck a bit. It just takes a few for your body to get used to it, but it’s seriously worth it. After a dozen, you’ll get than sense of optimism that so many runners have. When you finish that race, do it again! The other advice I would have is “celebrate early and often”. Did you make your mileage for the week? Celebrate. Longest run ever? Do it. Life is for having fun.
If you’re wondering “how do you get fast”, I once got some great advice from cyclist Lance Amrstrong who told me “you really need a base of 2-3 years before your body can adapt well to hard training”. That advice was spot on for me. I saw good incremental improvement year over year, but once I got three years of consistent running under my belt, I really found my body responding to the challenging speed and distance workouts. That year, 2010, I structured my training and saw new PR’s in everything from the half marathon (1:16) to the 50k (3:20) to the 100-miler (18:14). All of those times were substantially better than previous years. Now that I’m in my mid-40’s, I can still respond to the training, but need to be more careful of warming up, warming down, and scheduling recovery time. But I suspect a few more PR’s are out there.
Running has really helped me learn that I am happiest when I invite adventure into all aspects of my life. Be the crazy dad, climb the mountains for the view, be an authentic leader at work, love boldly, and it’s not hard to see beauty in everything around you. The trails are a great way to do it – every step is an adventure. You don’t always have to go hard, but you do always have to enjoy the moment.

5) You’ve written of “life balance,” the idea that you shouldn’t have to balance stress at work with fun away from the job. That it all should have fun and peace. I love that. Professionally speaking, is there a dream job for you?  A challenge that you’d like to undertake as a professional? 

Yes, one of my long run revelations was “there is no such thing as work/life balance, only life balance”. It’s important to understand that all parts of your life can be fun and adventurous, particularly if you make the effort to make it so. Having one part of your life as a stress trap is a recipe for disaster, no matter how many runs you get in. It’s much easier to approach the whole picture with some curiosity and willingness to change a few things. Then life flows much more easily.
Is there a dream job for me? I tend to find myself saying “I really like where I am right now”, so maybe I already have that job. Being a tech guy in Silicon Valley, there are lots of opportunities to change up my career path if things get stagnant. Right now I work with smart people on fun technology problems in the mobile industry, and that is a very exciting place to be. I find mobile phones endlessly fascinating with their ability to change our lives and keep us connected. But it’s also good to disconnect and get out on the trails. In my life, I think I have to have both.


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