Interview With Dave Mackey

I met Dave in late 2008 when I emailed him to meet up for a run.  He and Bryan Dayton (former 50k national champ) dragged me up and around a local Boulder peak and it was a big deal to me to be able to run with such an accomplished athlete.  I soon found out that he has a great sense of humor and personality that draws you in.  At the time I was in awe of his record setting run at the Miwok 100k earlier in the year (taking down last week’s interviewee, Lon Freeman’s outstanding course record).  I must have asked a hundred questions about that race and Dave patiently answered them all.

Dave currently lives in the Bay Area of California with his wife Ellen, daughter, Ava, and son, Conner while he attends Physician’s Assistant school.  For a bio of his racing career, check out his blog  Beware that you’ll need to set aside a large amount of time to read through all the winning titles.  I showed his bio to a friend and all he asked was, “has this guy ever lost a race?”  The answer would have to be “very rarely”.  He has national titles in several distances (50k, 50 mile, 100k).

So far this year he is ripping up the ultra race scene just like he has for the better part of the last decade.  His wins this year to this point include:  the 100k National Trail Championship Bandera 100k, the always competitive and fast American River 50 Miler, and the tightly contested Miwok 100k.  So, he goes into the Western States 100 Miler next week undefeated on the year.  

With that, I had the opportunity to have Dave shed some light on his mindset and give us a little insight into his racing career to this point.

FF:  Hey Dave.  First, thank you for taking the time out of your tight schedule to give us some insight into your mind as you enter the last week before the Western States 100.  You’ve been a dominant force in ultra running for several years.  Before that you did a lot of climbing and adventure racing.  What was your first ultra race and what was the transition like from adventure racing to solely running?

DM: Thanks for interviewing me Tim. I have always loved the outdoor sports; rock climbing, mountaineering, trail running, combinations of long outdoor sports like mountain biking to make up adventure races with a team, ice hockey, you name it. I grew up in Maine hunting and fishing and the bait and bullet stuff, and played alot of soccer.

During college I ran the local trails at the University of New Hampshire to stay in shape for soccer, then after moving to Colorado I ran the Mosquitoe Pass Half Marathon and the inaugural Breckenridge Crest Mt Marathon and just loved it. I ran 50k’s in the late 90’s at Chatfield Reservoir in Denver and was sponsored by Montrail with some shoes, then my first 50 miler in 2001 at the San Juan Solstice 50 miler, barely beating Nate McDowell, which was a big deal to me because he was such a top runner then. I did a few adventure races with Team Salomon in some super cool exotic locations in Morocco, northern Sweden, and Argentina, but didn’t really latch onto it until our team, Team Spyder with Danelle Balangee and Travis Macy, got money to sponsorship to send us around the world and even pay us to do it! We had alot of fun and wonderful experiences racing with each other
and many other international teams countries.

So to answer your question, I actually ran trail races and ultras well before I discovered adventure racing. It was an easy transition overall, and the simplicity of pure trail running compared to multisport is refreshing.

FF:  Wow, what an awesome first 50 miler memory!  You’re one of the most focused and serious athletes I’ve met.  From personal experience I notice you don’t talk or even acknowledge competitors once the gun goes off.  Have you always been focused like that in all sports?

DM:  In adventure races we used to talk all the time because it was way more fun and we had to work through constant enigmas, navigate terrain, and strategize. The other sports I do (or used to do!) are way more social and for pure fun, like linking climbing pitches or mountain biking. In ultras I kind of clam up in races mostly, because I want to win and am competitive, and don’t want to forget too much of what makes me pace well or not pick up on stuff that my body is saying that can make me lose time. I don’t know, I guess it may be to a fault that I am not busting jokes left and right, but I try to win most every ultra I run, so I am focused for sure. I am pretty sure I will be more chatty at western states this year because I won’t be racing to win.

FF:  It seems many guys are running more and more miles in their training.  You don’t follow this number chasing.  Give us an idea of a typical week of training when building towards a big event.

DM:  I am the worst at tracking my training miles and rely purely on time out there and effort level. I wear a watch, but never a heart rate monitor or GPS, and I don’t keep a log. When not in a race cycle, like I am now, if I run 1.5 hours per day in a week, about 11 hours per week, that is about 77 miles. That feels about right to me. But there are many weeks where I bet I am over 100 miles with a bunch of vert. Then again I haven’t had a training month like this since March because of the races this spring, which throws things off as I like to taper and recover.. usually. I will be riding the desk and couch for the month of July as that is when school ramps up anyway.

My concern is being consistent and keeping it fun, not getting injured and leaving the time outside of running for family and work and school. This has worked well for quite awhile as I still am racing well and never seem to get hurt.. fingers crossed.. EXCEPT for the fact that I carried my 40 lb daughter down a trail on a hike last week. Hope I didn’t burst a disc in my back!

FF:  You recently posted on your blog,, that cookies and a beer or two a day made you feel a bit sluggish.  Do you follow any set diet?   Do you avoid any types of foods?  What’s a typical dinner and morning-of meal for a big race?

DM:  I think I was talking about cookies or beer right before bed making me sluggish. Maybe I was being a bit off hand with that as I have about zero to 3 beers per week on average, but easily 40 cookies. Eating anything in the evening will not help sleep. I eat a very balanced diet, the same my wife and two little kids basically eat. Lots of veggies and fruit, mostly veggie meals with meat two or three times per week, crackers, chips, lots of carrots and
green stuff, a coffee in the morning. I love the sweets but by running and doing stuff I can get away with it. Clif products and Udos oil supplement all of this quite well too.

FF:  Without giving anything away, what are your thoughts on Western States?  I know you’re going after the Montrail Cup Series (a series you’ve won in the past) and all you need is to simply finish.  I’ve been a fan of yours for a few years now and know you don’t run races just to finish.  Are you “in it to win it” or are you going to settle in and go for the MC Series title (and money)?

DM:  I don’t mind sharing thoughts on race strategy; if it helps another runner’s race then good for them, if they are disciplined enough. The Montrail cup is still up for grabs and even if I finish it may still not be enough to win it. I have respect for the race as I am batting .500 in finishing the blessed thing. I will run hard but not until the second half if my body feels half decent. How’s that for simple.

FF:  Sounds like a solid strategy to me.  I’d like to point out your first run there was a second place in 16:30.  You act fairly nonchalant about competitors but you can rattle off PRs, wins, strengths, and weaknesses of competitors, so it’s obvious you do your homework.  Removing yourself from the scene, who do you think looks to be in a solid, legitimate position to contend for the win at WS?  Are there any dark horses you feel have a shot to shake up the top five?

DM:  I am not one to pour over others’ results or training or vital stats or anything like that. Of course Roes, Kilian, Clark, Koerner, Wolfe are probably right up there. Your blog said Lon Freeman is coming; obviously he’s talented and has been racing. Graham Cooper is running I think. Ian Sharman could run well but he seems focused on racing volume rather than quality these days. Kubaraki from Japan could also be top 5. Any way it shakes up, there will certainly be plenty of carnage on Cal Street to Auburn as there could be some dudes going out real fast.

FF:  Finally, moving away from running, what are your plans after graduation?  Dave Mackey and Boulder are interwoven in many folks minds.  Are you going to remain in CA or return to the foothills of Boulder?

DM:  We will likely head back towards Boulder, unless I can score an cool clinical position out in the Bay Area. But like you say we love Boulder and have a home and community we love there, so we will likely head back. I personally could see myself living in a higher mountain town like Breck or Crested Butte.. one way or another I reckon thin air could involved with our residency.

FF:  Thanks again for your time and remember that there are many, many folks pulling for you at WS, so make us proud!

DM:  Thanks for interviewing me Tim, and for the vote of confidence. I am realistic about my abilities at WS and my history, but will run my best.

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