The charismatic star reveals he thought his career may have been over
David Laney is legit. You know that. Everyone knows that.
The 31 year old Oregonian has been racing on the trails since 2013; entering and winning his first 50k in March of that year. Since then, he’s built quite the career - some notable highlights including his 3rd place at the 171 kilometre UTMB (a race that has 10,000m of climbing) in 2015 and his 4th place in 2016, as well as novelty cheques from races all over the US west coast.
He was even named UltraRunner of the Year in 2015.
Yeah, yeah, that was 2015.
I hear you.
It’s not like he’s been doing nothing since. In 2017 he raced 6 times, winning twice and coming 2nd another two times. The problem is that once you have the 2015 that Laney had, people expect a linear progression - 3rd at UTMB in 2015 leads to 2nd the next year, or maybe a win, and that leads to an extended period of dominance.
That’s not how it works, and Laney had pushed himself to the brink in 2017 - so much so that he recognised he needed to take the best part of 2018 off from competition to rejuvenate his career.
“I wasn’t really sure going into 2018 what the year was going to look like. I knew I couldn't continue training at the level I was without taking a break, and I didn't know if that meant I was completely done or if that meant I could take a break and maybe come back to it.
It was definitely an uncertain period.”
Stepping back from the thing you love shouldn’t be taken lightly; there are few who have a love for the sport deeper than Laney. Back in 2015 after his 8th place at Western States, Laney moved into his truck and spent months driving around the mountains of Oregon and Northern California, preparing for his assault on UTMB.
Did it scare Laney to think his elite trail running career could have been over in 2018?
“You know at some point in life you’re going to go over that point and your running is going the other way. I’ve been running competitively for 18 years, since I was really young. It is scary to think that maybe it’s all done, but at the same time you know it’s going to happen at some point.
I didn’t have a ton of choice in 2018. I needed a break.”
Thankfully for Laney, and for fans of the sport around the world, at some point in late 2018 he got his juice back - but not before going through some valleys.
“You know, most of the year I probably thought I was done and I wouldn't be able to get back to where I was, and then toward August or late July things started coming around. My body started feeling better and physically I was repaired.
Then around October or November things started going better than I expected, so around November I decided I was going to run the North Face 50 mile - then unfortunately with the wildfires that was cancelled. So then I thought ‘well 100 mile is my favourite distance’ so I’ll sign up for a winter 100 miler and just see how it goes.”
That winter 100 miler was Rocky Racoon in Huntsville, TX, at the start of February, and Laney won it. He’s now focused on heading back to Western States at the end of June, fresher physically and with a new outlook on racing.
“I feel like I have been reading a book too close to my face for all these years. I wasn't getting this full picture of what my training and my life should really look like.
I now have such a better perspective on how to train properly and incorporate the right things that will hopefully help me race better. I definitely feel better.”
"I’ve been running competitively for 18 years, since I was really young. It is scary to think that maybe it’s all done, but at the same time you know it’s going to happen at some point."
I’m with Laney in Portland for the release of the Nike Air Zoom Wildhorse 5, and we’ve already gone about as deep as you can go over breakfast burrito’s on a Thursday. Before we tackle the Wildwood Trail, I get Laney’s thoughts on what he wears and when.
“I’ve worn the Wildhorse every year at UTMB. I like the protection over the longer distance; especially the extra bit of rock plate.
The Kiger is really light and fast and I find it great for 50 miles and under.”
Finally, as we’re wrapping up our conversation, I casually ask “hey, so what was it like living in your truck, you’re not still doing that, are you?”
I mean, I do have a winter home base, I live in a house like a normal person, but then once the racing season gets going I'll be back in the truck full time.
My truck is right around the corner, come check it out - I just painted the ceiling.”
With that, it's only right that we check out Laney's truck.
The technical term for the way Laney lives during racing season would be 'dirtbagging', but that seems a cruel label to put on the personable, engaging Oregonian with the distinctive moustache.
"When I was younger, people thought I was a lot younger than I actually was. But now, when I go into a bar, it's the old grizzled guys who give me a nod or acknowledge me, but only when I have the moustache."
As we wrap up, I remark to Laney that while his lifestyle isn't for me, I see why he has a reputation for being a lot of fun.
"I think I’m actually pretty boring. I usually park my truck, make a cup of tea around 8 o’clock, and then read my book. But I’m glad people think I’m fun!"
I've got a feeling we're going to see David Laney have a lot more fun racing in 2019.