Like a setup to a joke, “What do you call a guy who is always wearing a brightly colored hoodie and goes by the name of a bird?”… meet this month’s DPMR member Jaybird Vacca!
Where are you from and where do you live now?
I’m originally from Hot Springs, Arkansas, and I currently live in Reno, Nevada. However, I’ve had the pleasure of moving around a bit as an adult and have spent time in Alaska, Arizona, Washington state, and Colorado to name a few places.
When did you begin running and/or long-distance running, if that applies? Why?
Technically, I started running in 1995 when I went to Marine Corps bootcamp. But, that was compulsory because the drill instructors were yelling at us and I had to pass a physical fitness test.
I didn’t really start running for myself until about 2006. Around that time, I happened to read Dean Karnazes’ first book “Ultramarathon Man” and simultaneously hooked up with a great group of runners in the Phoenix area. Like DPMR, the group was full of accomplished ultrarunners, so I was “bit with the ultra-bug” and had a great group of mentors to train with.
Do you race? Does racing motivate you? If not racing, what motivates you?
I do race, but I think of them more as “events” or “endurance runs.” Signing up for an event gives me a long-term goal, and something to focus my training blocks on. However, the only person I’m really racing is myself (or perhaps a few of my demons). I mainly just enjoy the community aspect of an event and having logistical support like aid stations.
Do you have any dream races (either hoping to qualify for or get selected for)?
Western States – If things go well, I should have my first qualifier in late October. So, I’m definitely going to start entering the raffle and building points to hopefully get in someday. It’s just such an iconic race, I’d be honored to complete it someday.
Some other races that really intrigue me and I’ll be looking into are:
• Sedona 125 – (scouting test for Cocodona 250 someday)
• Black Canyons Ultra (100k)
• Miwok 100k
• High Lonesome 100
What was the best running advice you’ve received?
“Hills pay the bills,” – Peter Fain
Seriously though, Peter was adamant about incorporating vert training and I think it’s really paid off.
Do you have a favorite on-trail food or nutrition strategy and favorite post-run meal or beverage?
I’m a huge fan of Naäk’s watermelon drink mix right now. It really saved the day at TRT when all the food looked inedible due to the heat. Between that and Spring gels, I was able to keep up with my caloric needs and avoid bonking.
Post race- Burger, Fries, and an IPA all day!
What was your favorite recent running experience?
Tahoe Rim Trail Endurance Run (56 miles) – For starters, this was the first 50 miler I have signed up for and completed since 2008. It’s also the farthest I’ve ever run since my first 50 miler was actually 50 miles (someone is talking to George Ruiz about this, right?). Anyway, I didn’t know if I could do it when I started dreaming about running ultras again last fall, but it was the culmination of months of training and I’m really proud of the accomplishment. It was also a special day because my wife was running the 60k and we got to share some time on trail until about Snow Valley Peak. Then I picked up my pacer/trail angel Alli Nagel at Diamond Peak and we shared stories and energy all the way to the finish. Alli was invaluable and I’m so grateful for her assistance getting to the finish line.
What was your most challenging/ character-building running experience?
I’d say my first 50 miler, Old Pueblo, which takes place in the Santa Rita mountains south of Tucson, AZ claims that honor. Things were going well through the first 25 miles, but the day was hot and somewhere around mile 30, I was hit with the worst leg cramps I’ve ever experienced. My quads and hamstrings contracted so bad I couldn’t even stand. I wound up just rolling to the ground in agony. A few kind runners passing by helped me get off the ground after a few minutes and somehow, I hobbled up the trail to the next aid station at mile 31. At this point, I was totally planning to drop. But after speaking with medical, they convinced me to hit the oral rehydration salts, try to eat and drink, and hang out until I could pee. After almost an hour at that aid station, I decided I’d try and walk to the next aid station at mile 40 with hopes of getting there ahead of the cutoff clock. Fortunately, I made it to that next aid station and was able to make the final push to the finish, with a full 8 minutes to spare. Overall, the experience taught me a lot about problem solving during a race. How you might think you’re dying in one moment, but with the right solution, you can bounce back and feel totally normal. More importantly though, it taught me to always carry S caps!
What are your upcoming racing/adventure plans?
• August – Chamonix, France – My wife and I are headed to Europe for a hut-to-hut trail running adventure. Essentially, we’re doing the 100-mile Ultra Trail de Mont Blanc (UTMB) course through France, Switzerland, and Italy, but we’ll be running it over 6 consecutive days of 15 – 22 miles.
• September – Mammoth Mountain Trail Fest – Planning to do the 50k and enjoy a weekend of fun with fellow runners.
• October – Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim – We’ll be breaking this up into two days of running; staying overnight at North Kaibab, then coming back.
• October – Javellina Jundred – This will be my first 100 attempt. I have a connection to this race because it’s the first 100 I ever volunteered at, back in 2007 when the event was much smaller. It’s also on some of the same trails as the Pemberton 50k, which was my first ultra back in 2008.
What do you do for a living? Is it hard to fit in time for training?
I’m a program analyst for the federal government. While it’s nothing top-secret or awesome, I’d rather not mention them by name so there’s no misconception that I’m representing them somehow by giving my official title and position.
Sometimes work travel or meetings can get in the way, but I try my best to schedule things out so that I can get the training done. I might have to shift a day every now and then, or start early, but usually I’m more stoked to train than go to work, so that helps!
What led you to join DPMR?
I think I first heard of DPMR through my coach, Peter Fain. I decided to join after I attended Racing Gnome, my first DPMR event.
What has been your favorite DPMR experience so far?
Racing Gnome was great, it was low key and casual, plus there was whiskey around the campfire. Otherwise, it’s just been sharing some trail time with a few random members of DPMR. Living in Reno, I hang out with the Striders more often, but I’d like to get better about traveling over the hill to come to a few more DPMR events and organized runs.
Favorite local trail?
Halo Trail around Peavine is my go-to because it’s basically right outside my door. It’s near and dear to me just because I spent so much time on it. Other than that, I love doing the Diamond Peak to Tyrolean loop, or hitting Castle Peak.
Do you have a mental training technique, mantra, or similar that you rely on to combat the mentally trying times of a longer run?
Not really. I tend to just focus on my “why,” which might vary depending on whether it’s a race or a long training run.
Do you listen to audio while you run and if so, what have you been enjoying lately?
I ditched the headphones sometime last summer. I used to think the point of running was to enjoy my tunes, but I’m so glad I made the switch and tuned into myself instead. However, music is still a huge part of my life, I listen to everything from early blues from the 1920’s-30’s to the screamiest heavy metal you can think of (Cloud Rat, Mares of Thrace, and Rwake are a few of my favorites).
Recovery technique(s) that you swear by?
We already covered burgers and IPA, other than that, I’m lax about stretching and probably need suggestions on recovery techniques.
Do you have a favorite piece of running gear (hydration system, shoe, clothing layer, sock, etc.)?
I think running should be fun, and brightly colored. So, aside from essential gear like packs and shoes, I’m always on the lookout for kits and accessories that match my personality. I know that doesn’t help me run any faster, but I find a touch of self-expression and flare to be empowering.
What other outdoor or indoor interests do you have?
I’m passionate about music. I play the guitar, ukulele, washboard, and some banjo. However, I’ve been a little remiss in practicing lately as I don’t seem to have as much free time now that I’m training for ultras.
Any interesting facts about yourself you would like to share?
Not really, but if anyone is interested in following my adventures, you can find me on Strava as “Jaybird Vacca.”