Straight Talk: Jason Schlarb

The ultra-motivated Hardrock champ, Iraq vet, father and adventurer discusses the sources of his inspiration.

Champion ultra-runner Jason Schlarb has an impressive resume, racking up two Hardrock 100 wins, three Run Rabbit Run 100 wins and a top American finish (fourth overall) in the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc. At times he seems superhuman: At the 2018 Rabbit Run in Steamboat Springs, he finished in 18:48:08 by running sub 7-minute miles for 93 of the race’s 101.7. But, Schlarb’s impressive feats don’t end there. Since serving for 10 years as an officer in the U.S. Air Force, during which he deployed to Iraq and earned the rank of major, he has focused on creating a life centered around adventures that push his limits.

With that motivation driving him, the 40-year-old has completed a Winter Hardrock 100 (on skis over four days). He has explored remote regions of Patagonia, New Zealand, and this year, China, where he ran a 55K trail race and, just days later, established the Fastest Known Time (FTK) on 17,703-foot Haba “Snow” Mountain, which he refers to as “the Mount Rainier of China.” When he’s not exploring foreign lands, he lives in Durango with his 7-year-old son, Felix, and girlfriend, Meredith June Edwards, who keeps him moving since she’s also a pro ultra-runner and sponsored ski mountaineer and ski-mo racer. We caught up with him after he and Swiss runner Diego Pazos jointly won the grueling, new 137K Oman by UTMB race.

What do you love about running? 

The simplicity of being able to run wherever and wherever I want without needing a team or equipment. To just rely on my body while I explore, cover huge distances, and push myself to see how far I can go. 

So, you’re competitive? 

Definitely. I even have a hard time playing board games. But I’ve matured, and with sponsors and success my running has evolved. Now, I can enjoy the exploration and travel aspects more and I can go on a run and not worry about if it was 10 seconds faster than last time. 

What made the new OMan by utmb race you just won unique? 

It was the most difficult race longer than 50K and the most technically challenging course I have ever run: A harness and helmet are required for a via feratta at mile 50. There’s a 3,300-foot climb over 2.5 miles 70 miles into the race, The course is relentless, gnarly and full of sharp limestone rocks and canyons. Furthermore, it takes place in a region of the world rarely visited by trail runners. Omani culture and hospitality is one of a kind. Experiencing the place and people is something I’ll never forget.

How did you get on this path? 

I was on a very conventional track—studying engineering, getting an MBA, becoming a major in the military. Three months after my son, Felix, was born, I deployed to Iraq. Being away from him, when I was deployed presented significant challenges that forced my transition. I decided I wanted to live in the mountains and have freedom. I didn’t plan to be a professional runner, but I took a year off and trained. At the very same time, the sport really took off to the point where athletes could be paid. I didn’t foresee that coming. It just naturally happened. 

Any downsides to the lifestyle? 

Sometimes I have fears about what I’ll do next or the income, but I appreciate the opportunity to be with my son and travel and spend time with Meredith. There are so many benefits to this lifestyle. So it’s actually been a surprise motivator and outweighs any perceived downsides. 

Biggest accomplishment in running? 

Winning Hardrock with Kilian Jornet [in 2016]. I pushed him, he pushed me, and we decided to finish together and win as a team. Not only is this race in my backyard, it’s also the most revered 100-mile race among mountain runners and Kilian is a mountain running icon. He is the ultimate. To finish and win with him was incredible. 

What was the toughest part about Snow Mountain? 

I was climbing by myself and after pushing for hours through a blizzard that dumped multiple feet at basecamp to reach 18,000 or 19,000 feet, I couldn’t see the slope in front of me. I hit that deep-down tiredness that comes from running that high for that long and I couldn’t even see top. I thought, “Uhh-oh, how is this gonna turn out?” All that struggle made getting to the top even more emotional. 

When asked about your adventure on Snow Mountain, you called Meredith “inspirational.” In what way? 

During these efforts, you’re solo. That’s gratifying and rewarding, but I’m not 20 anymore so it’s a lot more meaningful to share an intense experience and explore with someone I love. Making the right choice is a lot harder than continuing on and watching her make the choice to turn around was inspiring. To be in the moment and say, it didn’t work out…that’s the hardest thing, but the consequences of not doing that are scary. I love her and am so glad she made the tough decision to stay safe. 

What are some mental tricks you use to push through? 

First, I smile or force out a laugh. Next, I turn to a mantra. One I love is: “Nobody else in this race matters but me and what I’m doing.” When you’re out there for so long, it’s easy to get distracted, but I do best when I focus on how I’m feeling and run each moment the best I can. And throughout, I think about Meredith and Felix—doing them proud really motivates me. 

What’s your favorite Colorado adventure?  

Climbing Mount Sneffels. It’s a prominent challenging peak, with lush, beautiful scenery and tons of wildflowers. I’ve done it at least 10 times. It was Felix’s first fourteener. It’s just very special to me. 

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