On the run | Q-and-A with Truckee ultrarunner Paul Sweeney | SierraSun.com

On the run | Q-and-A with Truckee ultrarunner Paul Sweeney

Sylas Wright
swright@sierrasun.com

Truckee's ultrarunning super couple can still chew up miles with the best of them.

Paul Sweeney and Betsy Nye, both established trail-running veterans, added to their lofty number of finishes in the Hardrock 100 Endurance Run in Colorado last month.

In what is widely considered the most difficult 100-mile run in the country, the 49-year-old Sweeney recorded a 39th-place finish in a field of 126 runners, covering the rugged high-country course in 36 hours, 44 minutes and 56 seconds. It was his eighth career Hardrock 100 finish.

Nye, 51, placed 10th among women and 67th overall with a time of 40:16:00. It was her 14th finish at Hardrock, which she won in 2003. In all, Nye has recorded more than 30 finishes in 100-mile races.

Kilian Jornet of Spain — arguably the top ultrarunning talent in the world — defended his 2014 Hardrock title with a time of 23:28:10, despite getting lost in deep snow. Anna Frost of New Zealand was the first woman and eighth overall, in 28:22:47.

The Hardrock 100 course is a beast, which is part of the appeal for Nye and Sweeney.

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The 100.5-mile route through Colorado's San Juan Mountains features 67,984 feet of elevation gain and loss, with an average elevation of 11,186 feet. The course sends athletes over 12,000 feet 13 times and over 13,000 feet seven times. It tops out at 14,048 feet.

In a recent interview with Gretchen Brugman, a fellow Truckee ultrarunner and member of the Donner Party Mountain Runners (DPMR) club, Sweeney said his relationship with Nye began simultaneously with his Hardrock 100 experience.

"Hardrock is woven into our fabric," he said. "Over the years, countless friends and family have shared the experience. Loved ones' ashes were spread on the course. To say it is special is an understatement."

Brugman led into her interview — originally posted on the DPMR club website — with kind words about Sweeney.

"If you've been around the Truckee running scene for any length of time, you've probably crossed paths with Paul Sweeney at some point," she wrote. "He was out here cruising the trails long before there even was such a thing as a Truckee running scene! Kind, steadfast and happy in the mountains, you will recognize Paul by his smile and laid-back attitude.

"If you meet him on the trail, be sure to ask him for some stories or some training tips because he has more experience at 100-milers than most of us will get in a lifetime."

Check out the full interview.

Paul Sweeney Q-and-A

Q: What brought you to Truckee, how long have you lived here and where were you living before?

A: "I moved here 25 years ago, to ski, after leaving New England."

Q: You run a number of races each year, including some years with multiple 100-milers. What is the appeal of racing for you? Does racing motivate you? If not racing, what does motivate you?

A: "I have always enjoyed running. As a kid, I felt lucky to never have to ride a bus to school. We walkers had so much more freedom. When it rained, I ran. I love to race, too. I love to pin on a bib number, get nervous and see what happens."

Q: What do you do for a living? Is it hard to fit in time for training?

A: "I inspect houses. It is hard to fit in training in a family where both parents are competing for time. I'm not a fan of getting up before the sun."

Q: You finished your eighth Hardrock this year. (Congratulations!) What is it about this race that keeps you coming back? Do you have a particularly memorable moment or race there? How was this year's experience?

A: "To choose one, it's my first Hardrock, 2004 — at the mile 70 aid station, I asked 'How many runners have come through?'

"'There's one in and one out.'

"'What?! Unbelievable!'

"One had come through, and one was laying on a cot.

"'What!?' My pacer yelled 'Holy $*&!' so loud, he woke the guy on the cot, who got up and got moving. I had hoped to finish in the top 10, but never dreamed of being here. By mile 75, I was in first place, and promptly wondered off course. One hour later, I was back on course, in second place. I surprised myself, and everyone else, by finishing first."

Q: Do you have a favorite on-trail food or nutrition strategy? Favorite post-run meal or beverage? 

A: "Lately, less is more. I'm still trying to figure out the on-trail nutrition. Trying to crack the code. Fueling is a perpetual experiment. The Million Dollar Question. Post-race, I like chocolate milk, IPA and pizza."

Q: What was your most challenging/character-building experience this past year?

A: "Western States. I missed a cutoff and was disqualified. In the days after the race, I was angry, disappointed, sad, depressed, embarrassed, scared and frustrated. But in the end, the experience fueled my fire. I was fired up for Hardrock."

Q: What led you to join the Donner Party Mountain Runners?

A: "My friends and family joined. I'm an introvert, but joining was a no-brainer."

Q: What has been your favorite DPMR experience so far?

A: "My favorite DPMR experiences have involved food — I love to eat."

Q: What is your favorite local trail?

A: "Granite Chief to PCT, Warren Lake, Quine Loop (it's close to home), and I love to explore new trails."

Q: Do you have any dream races?

A: "Currently dreaming of the Castle Peak 100K."

Q: What are your racing/adventure plans for 2015 or 2016?

A: "I hope to run another Hardrock. Karl Metzler has said the only day he is not training for Hardrock is the day he is running Hardrock. I feel similarly, but often take rest days where I'm resting for Hardrock. Also, I hope to do an overnight adventure in Granite Chief Wilderness out beyond Whiskey Creek this summer.

Q: What was your favorite running experience this past year? 

A: "Hardrock 2015. This year's race went well. Despite a debacle two weeks prior at Western States, and a broken hand three days before the race, I felt good, (cautiously optimistic), unafraid. It was maybe my slowest finish, but really satisfying.

"I was happy to be there, lucky and privileged for the opportunity. The weather was awesome — four times it snowed, once with thunder and lightening. Twice it hailed. It was cold. The last 10 miles were the best — I felt good, passing 10 runners in the last 10 miles.

"Before the race, I got a text from DPMR's Peter B with words of encouragement. He said, 'You got this.' I believed it. That became my mantra. Coming into the mile 30 aid station, volunteers posted signs welcoming runners. One sign said 'You Got This.' Thinking of Pete, I thought, 'Yes, I know.'"

— Q-and-A conducted by Gretchen Brugman.

Castle Peak 100K

Paul Sweeney will race the inaugural Castle Peak 100K on Saturday, Aug. 29, starting at 5 a.m.. The point-to-point race — put on by the Donner Party Mountain Runners — begins on the Emigrant Trail near Stampede Reservoir and finishes in Donner Memorial State Park. Runners will climb about 11,000 feet at an average elevation of 7,100 feet. The demanding course includes a 2-mile section of technical, exposed scrambling. Learn more on the event website.