“Last time I checked, there was no workout clause for adventuring.”
No sooner has the story of UTVV 2022 ended than a new one begins – UTVV 2023! Californian Jason Siedler, who ran 100 miles in sandals in May, assures that he will return to Vipava Valley trails again next year. I’ve read somewhere that you prefer running in fog and rain and not so much when it’s sunny. Your wish indeed came true at the Ultra Trail Vipava Valley with all the foggy and slippery routes. What are your memories of your spring visit to Slovenia, its nature, people, the Vipava Valley, and the UTVV?
Yes, it is true that I enjoy running in inclement weather. Being from Southern California, I see the sun at least 300 days out of the year. So give me some fog, rain, and snow any day. I love it! As for my first trip to Slovenia; it was great! I started up in Maribor and the Pohorje Mountains. Made my way down into Ajdovščina and the Vipava Valley. The topography and landscape of this country are right up my alley. I love the forest and the rolling hills, then throw in some steep mountains with breathtaking views … I am in! Now we get to the race – the UTVV and the wonderful track around this majestic valley. From the start in an old Roman town, the Hubelj River, 30% incline/decline, vineyards, and technical rocky sections. I loved it all, even the section that whipped my butt before we got to Italy. Each aid station was incredible and enthusiastic. But my favorite parts were the castles and churches along the route. Amazing. How do you prepare for such long and demanding running challenges? How do I prepare for a race this long? Well, truth be told … I don’t. 😊 I understand the distance and difficulty of the endeavor, I put in enough work to give myself a chance at a finish. I don’t study charts or ask for advice, I show up and go for it. I put in miles and do some hill training, but I like to have fun more than anything. So I try not to get too deep into the grind of working out. Last time I checked, there was no workout clause for adventuring.
You say that you are not interested in collecting points and results and that this kind of running is real life in miniature – a journey on which you also have to get lost and suffer. We know that physical strain can lead to an altered state of consciousness. Some runners say that running long distances can be an addiction, others that it can be psychological cleansing of oneself. How do you experience long-distance running? What’s going on there, and why do you keep going again and again? Is running 100 miles a modern “vision quest”?
I get this one a lot, how long-distance running is viewed. I get it, people need to have a reason that they understand, as to why we would run 170 kilometers. Some runners might have meditating or antidepressant aspects in their run. Others find the time alone a great change of pace from the everyday stresses that come with life. But I don’t see any of those things when I run. When I pitch running ultra-events, I spin my outlook onto the sport. Most of us are not going to compete, we look to survive the contest. Make new friends on the trail, see new parts of the world, and adventure to our hearts’ content. For others, maybe it is an excuse to reconnect with family and friends. Who have you not seen in a very long time, because life happens, that you want to reconnect with? Hit them up and get them to help you out at a long race. Are they going to tell you no? Probably not. I just enjoy the experience. I take pictures and chat with whoever is around. Everyone has a story and knowledge. If I learn some local history, and folklore and have some laughs … test myself on the local trails and have some hardships; now I become part of the culture in a small way.
For the reportage on UTVV on national TV, you said it is necessary to suffer while running. Can you explain your perspective on this a bit more?
During a race, of any distance, you will suffer. The harder you push your limits, there is discomfort. But for 50k or more, and in this response 170k, you will suffer for sure. Your legs will get beat up, you may have stomach issues or your body may not want to assist your efforts. So your mind needs to keep you going. You need to have the ability to endure pain at 40k after you roll an ankle or take a fall, knowing you still have 120k ahead of you. Or if you are behind on water or food and you are falling apart, the ability to take a few more levels of suffering; in the hope that it turns around for you. If you can’t suffer on some of those deep levels, then you never really see those magic moments that build your foundation. Without a good foundation, then your basis of hope is weak too … a side note when you are at the end of your rope and have suffered enough. Convinced yourself to drop, the smaller the bit of magic needs to be; to flip that switch again. If you know, you know.
You surprise people with your appearance and equipment. It looks like tattoos are important to you.
Haha, you need characters in your community. My appearance is mine, for sure, but really, I am not alone. I had tattoos from the early ’90s, as I consider myself an outsider. The music scene and vocation help shape your personal image. But I also come from a ski town, in Southern California no less! At the start of the snowboard explosion, standing out and going against the grain was always right there. So my appearance has to do with safety also. As a skier on the trails, a runner on trails during hunting season, or a run/bike commuter on the roads … be bright and stand out. Be seen, it helps you remain safe. Then you add your own flair and style, be you. When I first heard you run in a kilt, I thought it had something to do with your family roots. Then I realized that this is also a running product! Is running kilt more popular among runners in America? Kilts are not popular anywhere, is my experience. I first wore a kilt to cover the jammers I was running in. Then I discovered that my kilt was lite and you move very well in it. Freedom of movement helps in the backcountry trails, then climbing over fallen trees or whatever. Then in the winter, it gives you a layer of warmth, without having to wear tights … I would rather not wear tights, so the kilt was a logical choice.
You started running in barefoot running shoes. How come you switched to sandals? What is the advantage of running in sandals? What features must a sandal have to be suitable for running? Do you see any disadvantages in using them?
People seem surprised that you don’t run in sneakers. Why is that so strange to people? How come people don’t find it more natural to be barefoot or in footwear that gives your feet more freedom?
When I switches to the Ultra distance, I knew I needed to be efficient as much as possible. I figured the quickest way to achieve this, was through barefoot shoes. I love them, I would still wear them if I didn’t fall into the trap. I was adding footbeds for extra padding and when I was getting tired, I would heel strike as I did in massive drop running shoes. One day I was looking at a pair of Luna Sandals and saw how thick they were. I thought they would give me protection from rocks and my toes are still going to move freely. Let’s try it out and see. It took me 18 months to get halfway decent and I haven’t looked back. Now it isn’t all sunshine and ice cream, there are issues. Like when your feet sweat or get wet, your foot moves around on the platform. It dissipates fairly quickly, but you need to know it happens. When you are out on wet muddy trails, behind shoe runners and they slick it all up … that sucks!!! You have to change up your speed or go off-trail. Most sandals don’t have lugs for extra grip, so you need to understand foot placement and strike rate. Some races require that you have shoes to participate, like Vipava Valley and Transylvania 100k for example, so I have a pair or two in reserve for these events. When I have shoes on, it changes the way I contact the ground. You lengthen your stride, land with more force, heel strike, and kick stuff more often. Shoes can give you a rock guard, cushion, more grip, and toe protection. But with that being said, you still increase the impact and force on your joints. Give and take, right there. If you gamble and charge, get shoes. If you want to be low impact and efficient, try some sandals. They aren’t for everyone, but they may be for you.
You say that in your clothes you look like you—your idea of letting people see you as you are impressed me. Probably nobody’s wondering why Freddie Mercury dressed the way he did. He was just uncompromisingly authentic in who he was. Have you always had this attitude towards your appearance and its effect on the people around you or has it evolved?
When you show up at a race, any race, most people look the same. The shirts look the same, the shorts look the same, the runners look the same. It is what the industry gives you. So your options are to mix and match the colors. Or you can switch it up. Some people for short distances, run in costumes to make it fun and I think that is great. But really, this is a sport that you should always feel comfortable being you. At some point you will be trying to chat up an attractive person on the route, being cool like you do. Not realizing you have gels and dirt on your face, the first impression at its finest. So you might as well look like you, to begin with. Outside of skiing, I always looked like all my friends. Shorts, tee-shirt, ball cap, and hoodie. Like the culture in Southern California punk and metal scenes. Then when I entered the running scene, I looked like a normal back of the packer. Until I went to race in England, I was the only one shirtless and covered in tattoos. People were giving me the odd eye here and there. From there I just thought, if I am wearing a hydration vest at ultras … wear stuff that makes you stand out. Then crack jokes and break the ice. Now I am used to having cameras pointed at me and taking pictures with random people; when I am out running.
I see that you are very active on social networks. Looking at your profile, it seems that you are not only an ambassador of sports but also of travel and life. You have that spark of a curious child, who has the whole world in front of him to discover and report about. Do you ever travel even if you’re not attending a race?
Haha, I love it!!! I travel because it is fun. My approach is that of a child, in that you don’t know what is around the next corner. Every step is brand new, every smell is unfamiliar, and every street is exciting. Don’t do any research and discover it as you wander. That is why I enter races, to go somewhere new and unexpected. I don’t need a race, I do my own thing. I was in Rome, Zagreb, Split, Dubrovnik, parts of England, and Bucharest; all without races. I get out and explore by running. When the locals figure out what you are doing, your enthusiasm draws them in. They want to see how your trip is going and where you ended up. They give you places of interest to look into and you might remind them of places they should go back to. Generally, I go everywhere by myself. I might meet up with people or whatever, but I am self-sufficient when I travel. I like seeing old things and love history. So I can be selfish in that role. But I also understand that people live vicariously through me, as well as people like to see someone enjoying their home and neighborhoods. If I just did the basic tourist things, nothing would change, outside of me being on a schedule. But sometimes an adventure is the best way to experience life. Not hitting all the tourist traps, but running up a mountain trail that travelers don’t get to and seeing a local spot. I didn’t go to Ajdovščina to see the window, Maribor to see the Pyramid, Zagreb to go up Sljeme, or Split to see Brač. But I did and there were a few people out there who were glad that I did it my own way. Especially my Slovenian and Croatian running friends.
Last question: are you coming to UTVV next year?
Your boy is coming back to run Slovenia and Vipava in sandals next year! Hopefully with some American runners with me. Thank you for your time and broad view of the world!