Ultrarunner Tim Freriks seems like the kind of person who is naturally good at anything he does. But he would never tell you that. When talking with him, there’s a humbleness in his voice that makes his success in the running industry that much more satisfying. You get the feeling that even he doesn’t fully realize his talent.
To say that Freriks is good at running would be an understatement. In high school, he ran cross country and track and field, lettering all four years in both. The three-time, all-state runner still holds the school’s record in the 3,200m with a time of 8:58. As a college student, Freriks ran at Northern Arizona University where he garnered his personal bests in the mile (4:12:42), 3,000m (8:18:76), 5,000m (14:18:20) and the 10,000m (29:35:80).
But it wasn’t until he dove into ultrarunning post-college that he began to find his stride. “My first ultra [was] Lake Sonoma in [April] 2016, it was a 50 miler. I actually hadn’t done anything over…the half marathon distance,” shared Freriks. “I started just running the Grand Canyon for fun. I knew Jim Walmsley—a good friend of mine from competing against him in high school and college as well—and knew that he was signed up for Lake Sonoma. He was telling me that a lot of the best guys in the sport always come out for that one. So I figured, ‘What the heck,’ I’d sign up and just kind of see how I stack up.”
Freriks placed second in that race behind Walmsley—a feat that, for most people, wouldn’t be possible or easy on the first try. Of course, he’s not most people. A little over a year later, Freriks would go on to win the 46-mile Transvulcania Ultramarathon in the Canary Islands, beating the runner-up by 16 minutes. His first-place finish there attracted the attention of many sponsors, and he ultimately signed with Hoka One One as a new professional athlete.
“I think having success in that first one kind of got my appetite going for longer, harder, more competitive races,” shared Freriks. In the fall, Freriks competed in The North Face Endurance Challenge 50-mile race, again for his first time. Like his previous competitions, he came out on top, out-running more than 500 runners with a time of 6:02:26. He even beat out more established ultrarunners such as Hayden Hawks and Zach Miller.
“Zach Miller ended up taking off at the start of that race and just setting a really quick pace and he’s known for that and I have a lot of respect for that. I knew he was going to be a really tough competitor that day,” said Freriks. “I feel like there’s like a critical threshold level of fitness where you put in the training, you have these longer races and sometimes, on race day, everything just ends up clicking and that was one of those days. It did feel really good.”
Discussing his strategy for that race, Freriks shared that he knew to stay back in the beginning and not be too aggressive. Ultras tend to “sneak up on you,” he stated, and knowing when to save your energy and when to exert it is key in securing a win.
“It was amazing coming over [The Golden Gate Bridge] and really feeling like I was in my element, able to run still pretty quick at the end of the race and feeling strong. That was a big win for me,” said Freriks. “I felt like I had won Transvulcania, and that’s what kind of set off my career. But winning North Face was kind of solidifying that Transvulcania wasn’t just a fluke for me, and that I am able to be competitive at these really deep races.”
On Saturday, June 23, Freriks will take on the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run, which will be his longest race to date. Freriks will be competing against a strong lineup of ultrarunners including Jim Walmsley, Jeff Browning François D’haene, Mario Mendoza, Mark Hammond and Jared Hazen. All have the ability to pull off a win, with some coming close in previous years. But its Freriks who seems primed for a win there.
When it came to training, the 27-year-old hasn’t changed up his process too much, noting that mostly his time has been spent healing a previous injury. “I think it’s easy to kind of get caught up in the mindset of like, ‘Well I have to train this hard for 50 milers, and so for a 100 miler, I must have to train twice as hard. I’ve had some experience with overtraining and just digging myself into a really deep hole,” said Freriks. “Training for this race has been a little bit different…because I am coming off of an injury. I’ve had some IT band issues this spring and…I have been able to overcome those right at the right time and started training seriously about [eight] weeks ago.”
Although the Hoka athlete seems to claim victories as easily as he puts on a pair of running shoes, he has seen his own lows in the sport, even securing a DNF at the 2016 North Face race. But in his career, he has learned how to manage races when in the pain cave, pushing his body to do more than he thought possible. Along with it being a mental game, ultrarunning is also about tuning into what your body’s needs and fueling it at the right time, he shared.
“In ultrarunning, I think it’s really crucial that you’re listening to your body and kind of gauging your effort just based off of you and how you’re feeling. I think just erring on the side of being conservative and really listen to your body and listen to your own cues,” said Freriks. “If you’re going into oxygen debt and your legs are burning on the climb early on, that’s a sign that you’re definitely digging too deep. So just being conservative and gauging your own internal markers is just crucial for these long distances.”
For this race, Freriks will most likely be wearing Hoka’s Evo Mafate shoes, the brand’s original max-cushioned trail shoe with a lightweight Kevlar upper. “It’s got a ton of room in the toe box and still locks down your heels really well. And I just think that Hoka does a really good job of making a shoe that drains really well. It really grips any surface and just feels like a really fast, responsive shoe,” shared Freriks.
With the Evo’s on his feet and his ability to make running seem easy, we’ll be watching closely this weekend to see if the talented athlete can pull off his first 100-mile win. The Western States Endurance Run takes place on June 23 at 5:00 a.m. PST in Squaw Valley, California.