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. 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.
Please enjoy our Q&A with DPMR member Paul Sweeney!
What brought you to Truckee, how long have you lived here, and where were you living before?
I moved here twenty-five years ago, to ski, after leaving New England.
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?
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.
What do you do for a living? Is it hard to fit in time for training?
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.
You finished your 8th 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?
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.”
One had come through, and one was laying on a cot.
“What!?” My pacer yelled “HOLY SHIT” 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.
Do you have a favorite on-trail food or nutrition strategy? Favorite post-run meal or beverage?
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.
What was your most challenging/ character-building experience this past year?
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.
What led you to join the DPMR?
My friends and family joined. I’m an introvert, but joining was a no-brainer.
What has been your favorite DPMR experience so far?
My favorite DPMR experiences have involved food – I love to eat.
What is your favorite local trail?
Granite Chief to PCT, Warren Lake, Quine Loop (it’s close to home), and I love to explore new trails.
Do you have any dream races?
Currently dreaming of the Castle Peak 100k
What are your racing/adventure plans for 2015 or 2016?
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.
What was your favorite running experience this past year?
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 ten miles were the best – I felt good, passing ten runners in the last ten miles.
Before the race, I got a text from DPMR 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.”
Fueling- I had one gel before the start. Turkey works. I’m still trying to figure out the on-trail nutrition, trying to crack the code.
Hardrock is special in many ways. Mostly, it’s the course, the San Juan Mountains. Runners from around the globe come every year.
It’s also the people. The “Hardrockers” – runners and organizers. RD Dale Garland refers to it as a tribe. The tribal elders really care about this race. It sucks that with a limited field of 150 it is exclusive, but that number makes for an intimate experience.
The Hardrock is not about running.
I’ve heard it described as an eating contest with views.
It’s about getting through the mountains.
It’s altitude and oxygen.
It’s about mud and snowfields.
Falling down and getting up.
It’s about 168 creek crossings.
It’s about wild animals, wildflowers, and wild weather.
It’s sunrises and sunsets.
It’s about getting high and coming down.
It’s hailstorms and rainbows.
The mountains always win.
It’s part race, part summer camp, part family reunion, part family vacation; it’s Christmas in July.
My relationship with my partner Betsy Nye began simultaneously with my Hardrock experience. Hardrock is woven into our fabric. 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. It is special.
There are a number of people who love and worship this race. Their reverence and devotion is a bit cultish.
And I am one of them.
I am a believer.
I am drinking the cool-aid… (or Tailwind).
~ Gretchen Brugman contributed to this article.