A broad smile, tanned face, and that classic 80’s ‘mullet’ confirms (if I had any question) that I am sharing a table with Jason Schlarb. We are on our second ‘Imperial’ and the Costa Rican sun is beating down on us.
“Dude, I have just loved being in Costa Rica. This race, The Coastal Challenge has a Hardrock feel to it. ya know what I mean, it’s laid back, small, homely, uncluttered – I have just loved it!”
Jason Schlarb has just placed 3rd at the 2017 ‘TCC’ (The Coastal Challenge) and he may well have been 2nd had he not made a navigational error on day 1 and thus throwing away vital time.
Jason Schlarb is chilled though, it’s early in the season and having just come off skis, he’s happy with his form. “You know what, I am stoked by this race and I already want to come back next year but in shape. Let me clarify, I am in shape, I am fit, but I am not 100% run fit. To win this race and to run at the pace that Tom has set (Tom Owens from the UK won the race), I would need to be in Hardrock shape, but that is possible.”
Costa Rica is not a new environment for Jason, he has spent many a year here with family. The place, the ‘Pura Vida’ approach to living is something that he digs. It takes little adjusting. Living in the San Juan mountains draws parallels, not in temperature or humidity, but in approach to life, the landscape, and the environment. Jason and his family love the open spaces and Costa Rica feeds that hunger.
“Winning Hardrock 100 alongside Kilian Jornet was a highlight of my career and yes, I will be back this year to see if I can do it again. That course holds something so special and like I have said, the parallels and similarities with Costa Rica are uncanny.”
Jason has very much paved the way for US-based ultra runners and yet, he still, in my opinion, floats a little under the radar. Less so after Hardrock 100 in 2016, but Jason has been killing it year-on-year. He is one of the few Americans to make the top-5 at UTMB, he’s won Run Rabbit Run and in and amongst this, he’s regularly listed a stunning set of palmares.
Jason has even skied the Hardrock 100 course – a first, along with his fellow ski-mountaineers, Scott Simmons, Paul Hamilton and filmmaker, Noah Hamilton. Jason is not an experienced ski mountaineer but like many mountain runners, he transitioned as a way to stay fit and explore in winter months. Of course, living in the San Juan made the process easier but it was still a huge undertaking and one that he conquered – a sign if we needed one of the man’s ability and class.
With 2017 well underway and the prospect of racing Zach Miller and Kilian Jornet at Hardrock 100, I wondered what the year would hold for him, what challenges lie ahead?
“I am returning to La Palma in May and I am running Transvulcania. That island and that course is quite magical and I think I can have a great day there. Timing is perfect for Hardrock and therefore it’s a race that i can do 100% and still be able to recover.”
Transvulcania has become a bucket list race for many a mountain/ trail runner. Way back in 2012, the ISF (International Skyrunning Federation) elevated that race to a new level and it has grown and grown. Now, it is considered one of the ultimate races to do.
“I will go back to Chamonix in the summer but no UTMB, I will do one of the shorter races such as CCC and then my big target to end the year will be going to Reunion Island and tackling the super-tough Diagonale des Fous (aka Raid de la Reunion) which is just an ultimate mountain journey.”
It’s a balanced year and one that Jason could excel at. In current ultra running circles, it’s almost reserved and restrained?
“I am learning that as I get older and races get faster, that less is more. There are so many races now that it’s just not possible to do them all and more importantly, do them all well. I may squeeze another race in here or there but in principle, I want to pick and choose and race to my potential.”
“Diagonale des Fous comes at a good time,” I joke. “You will be able to recover and then pick up your training and be ready with all guns blazing for Costa Rica and the 2018 edition of TCC!”
“Is my plan so obvious…?”
Jason laughs and as another ‘Imperial’ is drained to the bottom of the bottle, I know that at several points this year, we will be raising full bottles and toasting success as Jason once again sets the bar high in the world of mountain, ultra, trail and Skyrunning.