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Head to Dylan Bowman’s bio on his website, and you’ll discover his self-written life story is three words long: “I like exercising.” That’s it. Simple, straightforward and quintessentially Bowman. The ultrarunning star has proven over the past 10 years that he’s up for just about any challenge, from a 100-mile race on Japan’s Mount Fuji (which he won in April 2018) to this weekend’s Red Bull 400, an insane 400-meter sprint up an Olympic ski jump in high-altitude Park City, Utah.
Then again, what would you expect from someone who entered his first race—a 50-mile ultra—on a whim? The backstory of Bowman is a unique one. As a high school and collegiate lacrosse player, running was a necessary evil of his sport. Though he had ambitions of one day becoming a professional lacrosse player, he never really followed a structured training plan to improve his run fitness. He just went out and exercised, and it was fun.
“But when my lacrosse pursuit fizzled after my collegiate career, I needed something just to stay active and in shape,” says Bowman. “Naturally, my lifelong love of competition led me to sign up for races.” Specifically, the 2009 Leadville Silver Rush 50-miler. At 23 years old and on very little training, Bowman cruised to a 7th place finish in his first-ever running race. “I found that I had some talent for the sport,” Bowman says humbly.
Bowman quickly found a place in the upper echelons of ultrarunning, consistently finding himself on the podiums of his races. He also took on any fun challenge that came his way, including the Wings for Life World Run in which runners try to outlast a “catcher” car and an FKT record on California’s Lost Coast Trail, a treacherous 57-mile stretch of gnarly shoreline with more than 11,000 feet of vertical gain.
Why? Because, well, Bowman likes exercising.
His enthusiasm, he says, comes from being a late bloomer to the sport. Unlike runners who grew up in track spikes or cross-country jerseys, Bowman is a relative newcomer who always seems to be surprised by the cool things he can run up and over.
“I still have a childlike enthusiasm for the sport that I don’t think I’d have if I’d run in an organized way as a kid,” says Bowman. “I still feel like I’m improving and have a lot to learn, which keeps me motivated and makes the training easier to approach. Also, I don’t carry a lot of the same wear and tear that I might had I been involved in the sport as a youngster. Though I’m 32, I feel like I’m in my late-20s in terms of development.”
The “I like exercising” approach doesn’t just apply to ultramarathons. Bowman can also be found riding his bike, challenging himself with strength circuits and finding new and creative ways to stretch and foam roll. But for just for kicks, he’ll also throw a few shenanigans into his race calendar.
“It’s fun to take on different challenges and races with unique formats. It keeps things fresh and serves up some humble pie,” says Bowman of entering races like the Red Bull 400. “[It] scares me because it’s so anaerobic. As an ultrarunner, I don’t often train those muscles. I’m terrified of V02 max intensity. I’m happier to be slightly uncomfortable for five hours than extremely uncomfortable for five minutes. But the challenge excites me.”
And that’s the philosophy that has kept Bowman successful for the past 10 years. Running is, after all, supposed to be enjoyable. “It’s important to remember that the sport is supposed to be fun and challenging,” says Bowman. “If you only do events that suit your strengths, you don’t grow as an athlete and your development can be slowed. It will be fun for me to see the more anaerobic athletes excel at the race and try to learn from what they do to apply it to my own training and racing.”
Bowman has a few other unique challenges on his bucket list, including the Hardrock 100, Diagonal de Fous (165 kilometers across UNESCO World Site Reunion Island) and a circumnavigation of the 93-mile Wonderland Trial around Mount Rainer. But honestly? He’s up for anything that sounds like a good time.
“It’s been a quick 10 years, but I couldn’t happier with the turn my life took in 2009 and can’t imagine where I’d be had I never discovered this incredible sport and community.”