Jacob Rydman – Track, Trails and the Tahoe Rim 100 Miler

“A glimpse of heaven, a taste of hell” – Tahoe Rim Trail 100 mile motto

An Ultra168 interview with New Balance ultra runner, Jacob Rydman of Rocklin California ahead of his 100 mile debut this weekend at the Tahoe Rim Trail.

A few weeks ago, late in the afternoon, Marcus Warner and I were out on the Western States trail, we were having a blast through the meadows above the American River confluence area, down towards the famous no hands bridge checkpoint putting the finishing touches to our course reconnaissance ahead of the race the following weekend.

Out of a side trail we spot a runner gliding effortlessly and moving onto the trail ahead. After the usual introductions we came to learn that our new mate and impromptu evening Western States tour guide was none other than local elite runner, multiple course record holder and, pacer for hire to Nick Clark, one of the biggest names in ultra running right now, Jacob Rydman.

Jacob was out putting his finishing touches to the role he was playing the next weekend, that of pacing ultra running super star, Nick Clark of Pearl Izumi. Nick has made headlines this week by charging onto the podium at both Western States and then remarkably Hardrock not less than 12 days later, lowering Andy Jones Wilkins’ combined record by more than 3 hours.

Over the course of the run we were treated to Jacob’s in depth course knowledge, “and this is the step where Nick passed Kilian in 2010 to move into third with only 2.5km to go”. And “this is the point where Nick learnt a new French swear word courtesy of Kilian“. Kilian would later repass Nick and take third behind Geoff Roes and Anton Krupicka.

Marcus and Jacob heading across one of the most famous landmarks in ultra marathon running, No Hands Bridge.

1.) What is your running background. When did you start running and in particular ultras?

I began my “running career” at the age of 12 as a 100m and 200m sprinter. However, through the inspiration of my grandfather – who took me out for my first three mile run still at the age of 12 – I felt a connection toward running longer distances. I ran only track in high school (my h.s didn’t have a cross-country team as it was a really small school with a heavy focus on football, which I played for 4 years as well). Also, it wasn’t uncommon for me to run the 100m, 400m, 800m, and 2-mile in a single-day at a league track meet, sometimes even winning 3 out of 4 if I was lucky. I was fortunate enough to run collegiate cross-country and track for 4 years and even though my passion for the sport burned with such high fervour, my results never really matched such passion as I was more a mid-pack collegiate runner.

Post-collegiate, I really lost my love for running because honestly, I really feel as though collegiate running became more about chasing time goals as opposed to loving running for the purity of what it is. Hence, I would vacillate between training for several months and doing absolutely nothing for several months. Now comes the best part. In the summer of 2009 I was without a job, not really running, and sort of fed up with life in a sense.

To bust out of this funk, I thought “I’m just gonna run a marathon.” I had never officially raced more than a 10-miler at this point or ever run more than 17 miles at a time, but the challenge seemed to breathe new life into me. The difference in this season of running for me though was that I was not at all concerned about chasing a time-goal, but just getting out the door and enjoying the incredible god-given gift I was given as a 12 year old boy. In preparation for the 2009 California International Marathon (CIM), I spent a lot of time out on the trails and up in Tahoe and rediscovered my love and passion for running because everything seemed to be simplified and pure, as it should be in my opinion. So fast forward, after I finished CIM (in a time of 2:57:55, which, looking back isn’t half bad considering I was only averaging 30 miles per week )

I entered the Spring of 2010 as the assistant track coach at my alma-mater (William Jessup University in Rocklin, Ca) with the intent on seeing whether or not I could return to my “glory days” as a track athlete and road runner. It was in a road 5k in Rocklin that was a huge turning point for me in terms of running. I had been focusing on trying to blast a fast road 5k late Spring, and put in a significant amount of time and effort attempting to do so. However, come race day I ran poorly (~17:26) and thought to myself “this isn’t fun, I’m done with this.” And thankfully returned to just getting out the door and hitting the trails with no expectations or self-pressure.

It was once again reaffirmed that spending time in the wilderness was where I experienced the most joy and passion. A week later, I entertained the thought of jumping into my first ever real trail race and happened to find a 30k race in Oakland, Ca. Well, it went really well overall, not so much by the results (2nd overall), but I was blown away by the overall experience of bottling my newly found passion for running in the wilderness and pouring it out in the form of racing. In this simple 30k, I bonked with 5k to go (I had no clue that fuelling might be a good thing), met some incredible and passionate trail-runners, got dumped on by heaps of rainfall, slipped and fell – crashing into the mud and rocks on the course, yet had the most fun I’ve ever had running.

Fast forward again a month later to the epic showdown known as Western States 2010. As I was up in Squaw Valley watching the start of this event, I couldn’t help but be inspired by what I saw before my eyes. The best ultra runners in the world battling it out for 100 miles. I followed the race throughout the day and at the end of it – having seen what Kilian, Geoff, and Tony went through – I made up my mind that I was going to run Western States one day. Thus began my pursuit of ultra-running in 2010 and I haven’t looked back, had a bad day running, or regretted following my heart and passion since.

Nice way to finish your first ultra, Jacob crossing the line at the Sierra Nevada double marathon in first place and a course record to go with it.

2.) What’s the attraction? Where do you want this to lead?

I think first and foremost the attraction to running ultra’s to me is that at the basic core it’s just running, plain and simple. Then you add beautiful mountainous terrain, alpine passes, and a community of like-minded passionate runners and then, I am drawn like bees to honey.

I continually have this mindset that my pursuit of running ultra’s can end any day, at any time. Therefore, I hold it with an open hand as a gift from God, enjoying the fruit of whatever comes and ready to move wherever my heart and passion are leading me. So, I’m enjoying this journey so much that as long as my joy and heart are full, I don’t really mind where it leads, as long as I am loving what I am doing in the present.

3.) We first met out on the Western States trails where you were doing a recovery jog from a big training run with loads of elevation and scoping out the course for your pacing duties the next weekend. Do you train on your own – tell us a bit about how you have trained for this race and what’s it like having the Western States trail on your doorstep.

I do mostly train on my own. But, I noticed I get the most excited when I do have others to run with. Like when I met you guys out there that day. I was in a funk and tired from the previous day, but running alongside you guys and immediately I sensed an increase of energy and joy.

Training for TRT100, I’ve mostly just focused on amassing as much vertical gain each week possible. Most weeks, that looks like anywhere from 20,000’ to 30,000’+ in a given week. I absolutely love the WS trail because of the variety of terrain it offers and due to the fact the trail is so accessible to someone like me who lives near by.

My favourite place to run on the WS trail would have to be El Dorado and Deadwood Canyons. It’s beautiful, feels isolated, and provides some great opportunities to get in some decent vertical gain.

Devils thumb, showcasing Jacob’s spectacular training grounds

4.) You mentioned you coached track, what is your speed like. Is this an advantage or disadvantage in 100 milers?

I believe I was blessed with good leg-speed. I was a 52-second 400m runner in high school and 1:59 800m runner in college.

I think for me it is an advantage, not so much the raw speed, but the fact that having quick leg-turnover then allows me to move over terrain more efficiently and most of all, when my legs are beat to a pulp in the late stages of an ultra, having efficient bio-mechanics and quick leg-turnover helps me to maintain a positive flow of momentum even though I’m tired. In other words, I’m not wasting unnecessary energy when I’m tired as I continue to stay light on my feet with a high cadence, I’m able to move efficiently over varying terrain and possibly climb better than those I am running against.

Picture courtesy of irunfar.com, Jacob pacing Nick Clark approaching the Highway 49 crossing, showing his positive flow and making it look easy.

5.) What could trail runners learn from track runners and vice versa.

Trail runners could learn a lot from track guys about good form and efficient bio-mechanics. As I just mentioned, if you think about it, that’s a huge advantage if you are more efficient than the guys next to you during an ultra. That translates to less energy you are wasting than your competitor. If you look at the way a lot of the top ultra guys run, you’ll notice they have terrific bio-mechanics. I mean, Kilian has impressive leg-turnover as he ascends a mountain. Geoff has a ridiculously efficient stride as he runs. Even Dave Mackey, Tony, all these guys have great running mechanics.

On the flip side, track guys could learn a lot by putting in more vertical gain during their strength build-up phases in the early season. I’m a former track guy and barely do speedwork anymore, but I’m faster now than I ever was during my competitive collegiate days. In short, running up and down mountains gives you a gear that I believe allows you to carry your speed over a longer duration. Therefore, I feel as though strength is greater than speed because “strength” is the guy giving “speed” a piggy-back ride. And you want to make sure whoever is carrying you for the long-haul has the fortitude and resilience to get the job done.

6.) Do you plan on eating real food or are you a gel and liquid fuel guy.

I mostly stick to Cliff Shot Bloks and gels. I’ve recently discovered how amazing drinking a Coke during an ultra is. But ya, gels for the most part. They go down easy and don’t upset my stomach.

7.) What did you learn from Nick on the WS100 that you will use out there this weekend when it inevitably gets tough.

I could go on and on about what I learned from watching Nick, I mean, what better teacher for a student like me than him! What I took away most is the necessity of being laser-focused during the most critical parts of a 100-miler, in some or most cases, that being the last 20 miles. Nick stayed so focused during the time I was with him and didn’t appear to be shaken at all mentally in spite of being passed or dealing with painful blisters. All in all, getting the job done no matter what life or your competitors throw at you.

Picture courtesy of irunfar.com, Jacob pacing Nick Clark in the heat of the moment heading up to Green Gate on the Western States course.

8.) The Tahoe 100 miler is your first 100 miler, What are your goals.

Goal #1: Finish, with joy in spite of how I feel or how it goes.
Goal #2: Win.
Goal #3: Sub-20
Goal #4: Course Record (which is 17:47:07, set by Thomas Crawford last year)

9.) What is the course like, terrain, elevation, weather conditions, navigation etc.

I have yet to set foot on the course, but I hear it’s rugged, exposed, beautiful, and with 20,000’ of climbing and 20,000’ of descent. Weather looks like it will be perfect for race day, high of 80 degrees. So I expect some of the alpine passes like Snow Peak (highest point of the course 9,200’) to be a bit cooler. I love the hotter weather, but for my first 100, I’ll take the cooler weather for sure.

Great terrain for the TRT100 miler

10.) What equipment do you use (shoes, bottles, pack etc). What one piece of equipment could you not do without.

I mainly run and train in the New Balance MT 101’s. I’m sponsored through the New Balance store in Roseville, Ca and the store manager Chris Ross is such a dear friend and an overall terrific guy. I always have everything I need (which usually isn’t much as I tend to gravitate toward being simple). I have also really been enjoying the NB RC 1400 racing flat as a training shoe. It has I believe an 8mm heel-to-toe drop, 7oz, and has revlite foam technology which is super light, yet durable. The 101’s and 1400’s will be my go-to shoes at TRT. Other than that, I usually just head out the door with a bottle and a few gels (depending on the duration of the run) and am set.

I suppose one piece of equipment I could not do without would be running shorts. I mean, I live right next to a park so I could, if I wanted, run barefoot everyday if that was my only option. However, running nude through a city like Rocklin wouldn’t be too popular so probably running shorts would have to be a piece of equipment I couldn’t do without. If push came to shove though, I’ve run in pants before (I’ve forgotten shorts a few times), so really, I could do without everything, I would find a way.

11.) Who inspires you, who are the legends of the sport.

Above all my grandpa. As I mentioned before, he inspired me to start running. And what better inspiration than from a man approaching 80 years of age now who has not missed one day of running in almost 33 years. He’s run with and through every injury you could possibly imagine. His discipline and focus is unbelievable. I mean, almost 33 years of not missing one day. And what I love most is that he is so humble about it. Newspapers and magazines have wanted to write articles about him and he could care less. He is also approaching 100,000 miles of overall miles logged and he has logged ever run since day 1.

Here’s a great story you’ll never read in Runner’s World about my grandpa. One evening he was taken to the Emergency Room (he’s a diabetic) because of bleeding issues. The doctor told him to stay in bed and rest, but my grandpa being stubborn as he is, refused to lie in bed because he wanted to go for a run. Hooked up to IV’s and a medical cart, he wheeled it and himself into the bathroom, measured the length of the bathroom (he was a civil engineer for Cal Trans for ~50 years) and ran a mile in order to keep his streak alive.

The doctors thought he was crazy and he told them if he was going to die, what better way to go out than doing something he loves. That is a legend of the sport right there and I’m thankful that the same blood that flows through him, flows through me. I’ll probably never do anything like my grandpa, but we both have a mutual passion for running flowing through our veins.

12.) What do your friends and family think about your running.

I come from a running family and met my wife on the cross-country team at William Jessup University. They have and are always 100% supportive and encouraging. My family still drives hours to come watch me run (they’ll be at TRT) which blows me away to have such support. I love having a wife who runs as well because it is that much more quality time that we can spend together. Running is an outlet that we can share and it provides a great environment for communication. Most of my friends run, so we all have a common interest in that regard. It’s always a blessing getting out on the trails with them and just talking about life or whatever comes up.

Jacob and his wife Sara relaxing at Barker Pass at 8,800ft in the Tahoe area enjoying life after a run.

13.) What races are on your bucket list.

#1 Western States
#2 Hardrock
#3 Pikes Peak Marathon
#5 Miwok
#6 TNF 50 in San Francisco
#7 Bear 100
#8 Wasatch


Continue to Follow Jacob at Jacob Rydman’s blog

We wish him the best of luck for his race this weekend and look forward to chatting with him in the future

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Andrew Vize
Sydney based Ultra marathon runner.

5 thoughts on “Jacob Rydman – Track, Trails and the Tahoe Rim 100 Miler

  1. Nice to find an interviewee who hasn’t been questioned to death yet and has plenty of insight. Good one!
    Totally selfish note, I want to find out more about his running diabetic grandfather. Guessing it’s Type 1 because no way you could run that much and be Type II. That’s superhardcore. Even ten years ago, Type 1s were getting discouraged from being active as a risk, rather than path, to health. Now, there are still plenty of people who find out you run long and have T1 and say to enjoy it while you can, and I just want to &$%* those motherf#%$ers in the f&#$ing mouth. 30+ years ago there were more of those assholes, less reliable monitoring equipment, and really unstable insulins that didn’t necessarily work so well under exertion. That is a frickin’ serious grandpa.
    So I guess all you inefficient ultrarunners are off to the track now for 200m repeats? Fair call.

    1. Thanks Roger, it was a real treat to get to run alongside Jacob, you just knew there was something pretty special about the way he covers ground so easily. I had to ask him a few times running up Robie Point whether he was even breathing yet. Chat more Saturday on your other comments.

    2. His name is Benny May (he’s my father) and it is type 2 diabetes. He started running in December of 1978 and has run at least one mile every single day since.

  2. Jacob notched up another win last weekend in a local 16km trail race held on parts of the Western States course and the American River confluence area. A good day for Team Rydman with his wife Sara finishing fifth outright and first female. Good on you mate. Fingers crossed for you in the WS and Hardrock lottery coming up, would be great to stand on the start line with you, lottery permitting.


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