Breaking Ground and Building Pyllars: Ultrarunner Dylan Bowman on Recovery and New Beginnings

WonderlandFKT 08192020 PhotogEthanNewberry 0028

Dylan Bowman’s pandemic quarantine has been anything but uneventful. Based in Portland, Oregon, Bowman has been making big moves since he stepped onto the ultramarathon scene in 2010 at the Leadville Trail 100-Mile Endurance Run. He finished third.

Bowman discovered a passion for trail running while living in the Aspen, Colorado, area following the end of his college lacrosse career, and he has become a regular at the podium since. His successes don’t end on the trail, however. Bowman kicked off 2021 by rebranding his Wells podcast to work with the fitness app he developed, called Pyllars.

We caught up with Bowman to learn how he deals with injury, training during a pandemic, and the role that mental health plays in his life.

Fleet Feet: What has your training experience been like throughout the pandemic?

Dylan Bowman: Great. Just plugging away, getting used to the inability to plan ahead for races. I trained hard leading up to the Wonderland Trail FKT (Fastest Known Time) and since then have been consumed with starting Pyllars, which has been an ultramarathon itself.

Dylan Bowman Wonderland FKT

FF: You got to test a prototype of The North Face Flight Vectiv and set the Wonderland FKT in it. What was your experience like and what are your thoughts on carbon fiber coming to the trails?

DB: The shoe performed great. I used the VECTIV Enduris, which is the most cushioned of the new line of The North Face shoes. For 90 miles of relentless mountain miles, it was the perfect shoe.

A carbon-fiber plated trail shoe was probably inevitable given recent trends in footwear, but The North Face knocked it out of the park as the first brand in this new category.

The carbon plate in the Flight Vectiv makes a big difference in both climbing and descending and gives the shoe a super high-performance feel. Just putting the shoe on makes me want to run. It feels very fast, at least in part because of the carbon plate.

FF: What does racing look like for you in 2021? You’ve got the Hardrock 100-Mile Endurance Run (a grueling trail race in Silverton, Colorado) on the docket, possibly CCC in late August. How do you deal with the uncertainty around racing in a post-pandemic world?

DB: Hardrock is the goal but uncertainty around the pandemic is seemingly never ending. After so much disappointment in 2020, I'm just assuming that no races will happen this year so as to avoid further disappointment.

I will be so happy to be wrong in this assumption. If things do open up, in addition to Hardrock, I'd like to do CCC [also known as the little sister race to the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc, a just over 100-mile trail run that circumnavigates the Mont Blanc Massif in the French, Italian and Swiss Alps] and Diagonale des Fous, a 102-mile mountain ultramarathon race on the French Rèunion Island.

A runner wearing clothes from The North Face

FF: 2019 and 2020 were rough for you in terms of repeat injuries. How did that push you to change your mentality around your identity as an athlete?

DB: I had a series of super frustrating and somewhat serious injuries that, to me, seemed wholly correlated, if not directly caused, by my poisonous internal environment. That was really the biggest lightbulb for me that this was not a coincidence.

It’s not a coincidence that at the same exact time that my internal health totally collapsed for the first time in my life is also the same time in my life when my physical health deteriorated to the point where I couldn’t train or race. I think it’s important to note that the mental health stuff came before my injury. It wasn’t like I broke my ankle and then got depressed, it was the other way around.

[I focused on] decoupling my identity as an athlete from my identity as a human being and not being so caught up in “I need to win in order to be a good person” or “I need to be on the podium in order to have any worth to myself and my sponsors,” but instead being cool with who I am, what I’m doing, and not placing all my self-worth in the fleeting and material parts of being a pro athlete.

Since I haven’t really raced a lot since I’ve gotten through my injuries and issues, I haven’t had the stress tested so much. But I think having been through it, I do feel that I’ve matured, and I’m more grounded and more OK with who I am and where I am in my life, where I sit within the sport, and I think that's the important thing I’m going to try to maintain.

FF: How has being injured changed the way you view the role of gear and recovery in your training?

DB: Hugely, is the short answer. I broke my ankle in 2019, and even though it's a physical injury, psychologically it's really hard to get over, especially when you’re trying to run fast down a technical trail and you feel like you can't trust your feet.

I’ve had injuries on both of my ankles so I was always compensating for one or the other, and I just didn’t have that feeling of confidence or control in my feet.

One of the major things that I took from that experience was getting connected with an amazing physical therapist in Portland named Matt Walsh. I've had him on my podcast. He has a whole module dedicated to his work in the Pyllars app.

[He] really emphasizes the strength and coordination piece we lose as we get a little bit older. So making sure I stay on top of all my PT exercises and natural strength training is something hugely important that came from that year.

Dylan Bowman Trail shot

FF: In the first episode of the rebranded Pyllars podcast, you talk about your desire to mentor younger athletes. How do you see yourself fulfilling that role?

DB: This is something I think about every day now. For me, looking back at my career, there are a few moments where my mentors looked out for me in a real way that had a material difference in my career.

I’m really wanting to pass that on to the next generation and ensure that the sport, while it grows and professionalizes, still maintains the spirit that makes it so amazing.

Through Pyllars or otherwise, I’d love to have more dialogue with younger athletes who are looking to make a name or maybe a career for themselves in the sport and give them the advice that I’ve gleaned over the course of my career.

One of the things I’d really love to do is some sort of fellowship program with Pyllars and take applications from up and comers from a non-traditional sporting background.

As we grow, [they] can help us with what we’re trying to do while we give them the space, tools, coaching and resources they need to train and compete at the highest level. That’s something that would just give me so much joy.

FF: Mental health has become an increasingly popular conversation in the running community. How has your experience as a professional ultramarathoner affected your relationship with your own mental health?

DB: For me, I have no shame or embarrassment about it whatsoever. I actually enjoy talking about it, and what I like to do with the podcast is to invite guests to share their experiences with hard times and what they learned from it.

I always find that those are the moments in conversation that people enjoy the most and that I enjoy the most. I think it’s long overdue but something that is now very common, is the importance of talking about our internal health.

What I’ve always noticed and one of the things I harp on all the time is that when I perform at my best is never when I’m really training my hardest or theoretically at my fittest...but when I feel good about my position in life and I feel good about the people I’m surrounding myself with, career, family, all those things.

When you’re good as a 360-degree human being, you’re much better at racing. It’s much better to go as deep as you need to when you have that anchor of support and quality of life. It makes performance a little bit easier.

FF: Do you have any mantras while you’re running?

DB: This is going to sound very corny, but I think about my wife a lot. I know she gets very worried and is very protective of me and very supportive. So I think about our wedding, which is a super positive memory for me.

I’m very lucky my family is super into ultrarunning now, they have been since I’ve gotten into it. I know even when I’m travelling and racing they're watching on the internet. I don’t really have a mantra or self-talk but I tend more to focus on good feelings and good memories and people who I love and care about.

WonderlandFKT 08192020 PhotogEthanNewberry 0027

Rapid Fire Questions

FF: Favorite on-the-run snack?

DB: My wife makes trail cookies that are amazing. They're oats, peanut butter, chocolate and maple syrup.

FF: Who else’s podcasts are you listening to?

DB: Oh man I listen to so many. So I listen to sports talk radio a lot, I’ve now sort of transferred over to podcasts but I’m a lifelong sports radio fan so I listen to Bill Simmons on a regular basis, the Dan Le Batard show.

I’m listening to a lot of shows about startups and entrepreneurship. There’s a great show I listened to this morning called Fit Insider. It’s all about the business of health, wellness and sport. The Morning Shakeout is a great running podcast, the Coop Cast is my coaches podcast. I listen to podcasts when I run all the time. I feel like I can just absorb so much stuff while I’m doing it.

FF: What’s your favorite gear right now?

DB: The North Face Vectiv Enduris has been my go-to shoe. It being winter and living in the Pacific Northwest, I’ve been wearing my Futurelight rain jacket, basically most days when it's cold and wet and rainy. It’s the best waterproof jacket ever.

I’ve never been a waterproof jacket guy, but they somehow made a jacket that's super breathable but also completely waterproof so you don’t get crazy hot and sweaty. Those two are game changer-type pieces of equipment for me.

FF: Did you pick up any pandemic hobbies?

DB: Entrepreneurship! Trying to start a new company, it’s been all-consuming, I think about it non-stop day and night, it’s been super fun and super motivating. But yeah I didn’t start making sourdough bread or start knitting or anything like that. I poured everything into podcasting and Pyllars.

FF: First place you’re going once travel opens back up?

DB: Anywhere! I’d love to get over to Europe for a race in the spring if possible. If nothing else I’d love to just go to Hawaii and sit on a beach and get some sunshine and be out in the world again.

Learn More About The North Face Vectiv Trail Shoes

2021 North Face 16

Want to learn more about The North Face Vectiv collection? Check out our recent shoe review of the Flight Vectiv and its sibling shoes, like the Vectiv Enduris that Dylan runs in.

Dylan also sat down with our Product Manager, Victor Ornelas, on his Instagram segment "Vick's Kicks" to talk details about the Vectiv prototyping process.

Read Our Review

Fleet Feet coach and senior content marketing manager Ashley Arnold interviewed Michael Thompson, the senior product director at The North Face to get more details about the inspiration and design process that went into developing the ground-breaking Vectiv trail shoes.

Keep Reading