Ultra Runners Are People, Too: Jamil Coury

 

Photo Cred: Jamil Coury's Facebook.

Photo Cred: Jamil Coury's Facebook.

Jun (the husband) and I were grocery-shopping in what appears to be the "biggest" grocery in Julian, CA this past June when the guy behind the cash register started talking to another customer. This customer, with his long hair and tall build, appeared low-key, no arrogance whatsoever. Being that it was the week leading up to San Diego 100, we almost assumed he and the lady with him were runners. Then the guy behind the counter started asking him about "the 100-mile race" with such questions from him as "... So people actually run those 100 miles?... Do they sleep?... Are you running it?" The long-haired runner then answered "No, but I ran it last year..." "How long did you do it last year?" was the question that followed. And then the long-haired guy answered "I did okay... I placed 2nd." The cash register guy was in awe, shaking his head, as the long-haired runner exited. Once he was out the door, thats when it hit Jun who it was. "That was Jamil Coury!"

  Thank goodness for technology, it wasn't long til I was googling the name. Yes, that was Jamil Coury! My one and only up-close encounter with him. In a grocery store in the middle of nowhere! But that was good enough experience for me to brag about. And though I have known of Javelina Jundred and Coldwater Rumble, I, admittedly, did not know much about him. Fast-forward further to the long absence of a featured runner for our TWA page, my whim to run JJ, and, of course, his recent achievement at the Barkley Marathons, I found it more fitting to know more about and interview the runner behind the long-haired silhouette and the Arizona-based, Aravaipa Running... gave it a shot emailing him, and thankfully, received a gracious response that said "Sure!" to the request for interview. 

 And I guess this needs no further introduction. His name came to fame even more recently, as we, mere mortals, followed his progress and success at Barkleys.

 (But if you really must insist on knowing more about his resume, stalk him at Ultra SignUP via  http://ultrasignup.com/results_participant.aspx?fname=Jamil&lname=Coury ).

  I promised him it will be no more than 10 questions but as I remember numbers are not my friends so I overdid it, along with your questions, yet he nicely answered them for us. So here goes: 

TWA: Hi! So yes! Once again were the group, Trail WhippAss (TWA), founded in NYC last year with over 300 members from all over the world. Were a bunch of (mostly) ultra runners from all abilities (slow like me and fast like them). So we do this thing where we interview runners who, we think, inspire us with their badassery. This month, we chose you! And here are the questions!

TWA: What is your pre/during/post-meal and meal in general?

JC: My favorite pre-race meal is mashed potatoes with vegetables like brocolli or kale. I'm also vegan so I make them with soy milk and vegan butter. During a race I use a combination of gels, chews (like Gu Chomps or Clif Shot Blocks), Clif Energy Foods (they have sweet potato and pizza flavor in a pouch) and for real food I like mashed potatoes again. Post run it can be a good veggie burger, pizza and a beer.

TWA: What was your training like for Barkleys?

JC: My Barkley training this year was focused on getting in a certain amount of vertical in each week. I wasn't as concerned with mileage per se, but tried to mimic the steep grade I would see at the race which averages to be 1000 feet of climbing or descending per mile. Since I live in Phoenix, I have access to that type of grade on about 3 local trails by my house but each climb is only about 1000 feet of climb at a time so I ended up with a lot of repeats for training. One day I did 13 repeats of North Mountain which equated to over 10,000 feet of climb (and equal amount of descent) over 17 miles.

TWA: What do you think of Cantrell, etc. thinking that runners “failed” against the mountain this year at Barkleys?

JC: The Barkley is a five loop course that must be completed in 60 hours. It is an extremely difficult route with over 13,000 feet of climb per loop and over 25 miles per loop. The off trail portions of the route and navigation (since the course is unmarked) adds to the challenge and the time cutoffs are tight! I think he is entirely accurate in thinking the runners "failed" since no one was able to complete the course in the set time. While no doubt personal barriers were broken through and there were some incredible stories, the course and race still won this year. I made it the furthest, finishing 4 loops but over the cutoff to continue on to the 5th and final loop. Its nice to have a race in our sport that is this difficult to finish. It provides me with a great level of motivation to take my running to a new level.

TWA: What were your darkest and most hopeless moments at Barkley? How about the most euphoric? Were you ever scared during the race between the terrain, sleep deprivation, etc.

JC: I'd say the beginning of the 4th loop was pretty dark. I knew I was on the cusp of the cutoff with only a 90 minute time cushion when I started that loop. My first decent off that loop was completely in the dark and I was having some trouble finding the correct ridge to descend. I was literally heading through the woods attempting to follow a compass bearing in total darkness trying to find a paperback book hidden in the hollow of a birch tree. I lost some time here and mentally that was hard as I knew I would be even closer to the cutoff. When I finally found the book I was relieved, but soon became confused on the subsequent ascent. I was actually on course but thought I was not. I ended up trying to take a 10 minute nap to clear my head but slept through my alarm for 45 minutes. This was probably the most hopeless moment when I realized my finish was slipping away.

 

I'd say the most euphoric moment was actually a several hour period at the end of Loop 3. I had decided with 4 books to go on that loop I was going to run hard and really push the pace in order to give myself more of a cushion to sleep and shower before setting out on Loop 4. It's hard to describe what happened out there, but I was running hard and effortlessly for many hours and just felt really, really good. I think I was having the "ultimate" runner's high and just loving being out there.

I wasn't really ever scared out there. I was totally in the moment at all times, always focused on something important. Whether that be my nutrition, navigation, finding the next book or just making mental notes about the course route.

TWA: We are taunting one of our badass runners, Maggie Guterl, to run Barkleys Marathon. For her and the others, especially those who have no clue on how or when to apply,  what would be your "tip" on to how to apply to get into Barkleys?

For those interested in applying for Barkley, I'd say get to know someone who has done it before and prove that you have what it takes to apply. There is no set rule on who is allowed to apply, but the method in which to apply is closely guarded by those who know. I first met some Barkley guys when I first went up to do some course marking for the Hardrock 100 in Colorado and met some others when I competed in an event called the MMD50K in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. I think earning the respect of some Barkley runners is the best way to learn how to apply.

 

Photo Credit: Jamil Coury's Facebook/Aravaipa Running

Photo Credit: Jamil Coury's Facebook/Aravaipa Running

TWA: What inspired you to get into race directing?

JC: I started volunteering at the trail runs and ultra marathons that existed in Arizona when I first got started in the sport. I loved the community and I always liked helping and giving back so I guess just the sport itself inspired me. I had ideas of my own and love to create things. There were all kinds of awesome runs in my area that didn't have any sort of organized race on them and I wanted to share them with others. It was a pretty natural thing once all of that came together.

TWA: You have accomplished a lot in ultra running, so far, but the possibilities are really endless.  What are some of your bucket list races or goals?

JC: I'm really into long, difficult races and that is where most of my goals currently lie. A 5 loop finish at Barkley is my number one goal and focus. I've never entered any race except for Barkley that I wasn't able to finish. That alone is extremely motivating for me as an athlete. Some other bucket list races include some very difficult international 100 milers including Ronda Dels Cims in Andorra and Diagonale des Fous on Reunion Island. These more exotic runs provide some amazing travel opportunities and have a ridiculous amount of climbing. I'd also someday like to run the length of the 800 mile long Arizona Trail for time. I've thru-hiked the trail before but would like to take a crack at the FKT (Fastest Known Time).

TWA: What does a typical training week look like for you?  Do you follow a strict plan or are you more loose with your training?

JC: This is a tricky question. It's been about 2 years since I've maintained a strict training plan just due to life events and everything I have going on. That isn't to say I prefer that. I enjoy working with a coach and have found that I benefit from a structured training plan and someone to help keep me on track. A typical week will vary but is usually time based and may contain some intensity type workouts, some long runs and some easy recovery runs. In a peak buildup I will have anywhere from 12 to 20 hours of running/training on the schedule which translates from 60 to 90 miles and can be from 15,000 to 25,000 feet of climbing.

TWA: What were you like as a kid and what are some life experiences that helped shape you into the ultra runner and person you are today?  And when did you grow your hair out for the first time?

JC: I grew up in the Boy Scout program so I've been camping, hiking, backpacking and spending time exploring the outdoors for as long as I can remember. At a young age I had to carry a large backpack with all of my supplies for a weekend or sometimes weeklong trip camping in the desert or woods. This is not an easy thing but something that I think helped to shape me into who I am. I clearly benefited from the skills I learned as a scout including navigation, orienteering, and wilderness survival. I loved to hike fast and would naturally try to run with my pack and push the pace at the front of the group. I soon found myself trying to pick lighter gear or modify my gear so I could go faster or longer. Once I found the sport of long distance trail running it was a perfect fit. I could explore long distances on foot with minimal gear.

I first started growing my hair out in 2010 and have only cut it once since then (just a couple of inches). It seems to fit my personality and lifestyle well and don't have plans to cut it anytime soon.

Photo Credit: Jamil Coury's Facebook. Honestly, because he tagged James Franco on this one, I had to go over this again and again to make sure it is him. 

Photo Credit: Jamil Coury's Facebook. Honestly, because he tagged James Franco on this one, I had to go over this again and again to make sure it is him. 

TWA: Do you run commando? How do you prevent chafing when you run longer distances?”

JC: I don't run commando... typically I just like to wear a pair of running shorts. Sometimes I do wear board shorts but always wear some running shorts underneath to keep things comfortable. Typically for me just a little bit of Vaseline will do the trick to prevent chafing. I've always had more issues with that when I've not had proper training.

TWA: Is there a question you’ve never been asked in an interview before but wish you were, if so what is the question and the answer?

JC: I don't believe I've been asked what event I would like to create as a race director if I had unlimited resources like time, money, permit restrictions etc. My answer would be an ultra marathon through Havasupai Canyon in Arizona. It is one of my favorite places in the world and I'd love to be able to offer that opportunity to trail runners as a supported race. You would run down past several amazing waterfalls and through the actual Havasupai Tribe's home village all the way to the Colorado River and back. The water down there is an amazing blue-green color and is like no other place on earth.

TWA: You see this picture. What do you think it is?

JC: First guess is a Smurf Devil Yeti