Rod Farvard is 'all in' for ultras and the community
By Henry Howard
It’s been an on and off relationship when it comes to running for Rod Farvard.
Now, as Farvard is poised for his first Western States Endurance Run next weekend, running is definitely “on.”
He started running cross-country in high school to get in shape for basketball. He didn’t like it at first, but then he “fell in love with the camaraderie of the sport and kept coming back.”
In with running, out with basketball.
Farvard did not run for his college team, opting instead to try marathons. After training on his own and running a few races including the Boston Marathon, he missed the community.
Out with just running, in with triathlons.
He joined the triathlon team at the University of California at Santa Barbara for his last two years as an undergrad. After graduating, he completed Ironmans and triathlons.
Farvard was lodged somewhere in between a pro-level triathlete and a competitive age grouper. Calling himself a “back of the packer” professional triathlete, Farvard realized he needed to make it a hobby and pursue full-time employment.
“I just was not able to put in the time that is required to be at least racing at the level that I wanted to be racing in Ironman. So I decided to give it up.”
Out with triathlons, in with ultra running.
And he is all in.
The call of Western States
Farvard learned the Cuyamaca 100K was a Western States qualifier — “I was always fascinated by Western States so, I thought that would be a fun goal to have.”
After completing Cuyamaca in October 2018, Farvard “was pretty hooked from there and I was just kind of wondering how good I could get at this thing.”
The fitness he developed as a triathlete paid dividends as he transitioned to the ultra world.
“There were a lot of long days in tri training, even eight-hour bike rides,” he recalls. “Ironman was a 10-hour or nine-hour race or whatever. You really learned how to fuel for these things and what it was to expose yourself to the elements for that long. I brought all of that to ultra racing because it's really essentially the same thing. It's all about just having your body run at basically right below your lactate threshold for a long time. And there's only one way to do that and that's to fuel properly.”
In April 2022, Farvard has his fueling, training and everything else locked in for the Canyons 100K. His finish in fourth overall was enough to earn him a Golden Ticket to Western after he missed out at the Bandera 100K in January.
Looking back at Bandera, he says, “I just didn't start hard enough. Don't get me wrong, I'm not super regretful that I didn't start hard, but it definitely put me out of contention to get first or second. I moved up from 15th place, all the way to fourth place in the last 20 miles or so. I didn't give myself a fighting chance for a ticket.”
‘A little regretful’
At Canyons, his strategy was to go out among the top 10 to 15, but was around 30th early. “I was a little regretful after a while but later I was able to run my own race and I did chill a little bit, which was good.”
Around the halfway point, Farvard says he made an error.
“I was feeling really good at this point and was moving really well through the aid stations,” he remembers. “I saw someone who was in contention for winning the race, walking up this hill. So that got me excited. A big part of racing is putting in moves and stuff like that. So I decided to put in a pretty big move up this climb.”
Turns out the climb was more challenging than expected. “I was pretty gassed. I had to walk some of the hills for the next few miles. And it took a really long time for my legs to come back but they finally did around mile 40.”
He emerged from that low point at just the right time.
“By the time we got to the last climb at mile 50 or so I felt amazing,” he says. “I was able to run pretty hard the entire way up that last climb. I don't think I walked a single step while everyone I passed on that climb was definitely walking and definitely hurting for going out super hard.”
Different races, different strategies
When he was doing triathlons Farvard implemented a different strategy than in ultras. He approached each of the three disciplines as individual races.
“When I'm in the swim, I'm only thinking about swimming hard. Because for whatever reason, it just doesn't take the same toll on you as one event does. You're just using different muscle groups. My goal is always to go as hard as I can in the swim.”
He says he paces the bike well but is always looking to move up.
“It doesn't matter if I'm gassing myself on the bike,” he explains. “There are strategies from cycling that I've definitely implemented into ultra running. And that is always putting in a move to pass someone. Or when you're on a climb put in a quick dig, if someone is on you just to try to drop them a little bit or make them feel bad.”
That was a lesson learned from Canyons.
“That’s what I did in this race and that's what I regretted,” he says. “(In ultra running) you can't really coast and recover the way that you can in cycling. There are downhills that you could take a little bit easier but you're still pounding your legs every single step. And when you're already in a hole, it doesn't help you get back into it. In cycling you could just not pedal for however long.”
In addition to the strategy, Farvard also used a strong mental game to emerge from tough spots at Canyons.
“Through experience, I've realized that everything flips if you're fueling and just putting stuff into your body to eventually come out of those low points,” he says. “You just got to believe that. Hang onto it, don't let how you're feeling in this moment dictate how you're going to feel in 20 minutes. And the reverse is true too. If you're feeling really good, you can't expect to be feeling good in 20 minutes. A lot can go wrong.”
At Canyons, Farvard was dealing with a calf issue — “a really scary prospect” when he still faced 7,000 feet of climbing left in the race.
“What did feel good were my quads and my energy levels in general,” he says. “I just capitalized on the downhills that were left and was able to run those super hard. So I wasn't actually losing as much time as I thought. And just trying to hold onto those good things in it that'll buy you enough time for the bad things to come around.”
Western States and UTMB
Farvard, who has lived in Mammoth Lakes, Calif., for about a year, is planning to do both Western and Ultra Trail Mont Blanc this summer. Given their close proximity on the calendar, what’s his racing plan?
“Western States is the goal. UTMB is the celebration.”
He is clearly focused on a strong showing at Western States.
“There's nothing more that I want than to do well at Western States and I'm going to cater all my training to that race,” he tells me during our interview in May. “What happens after that? It is hard to say how I'm going to recover for Western. Let's say I had a good recovery. I'm going to spend July not training very specifically but just enjoying long days in the mountains. And doing peaks and stuff like that, running when I can. The focus will be on my feet in the mountains and climbing. And just having fun. This block for Western is so it's so heavy and it's so specific. It's just a lot on your body and your mind.”
Farvard is preparing his mind and body for Western States.
“At 26 years old and stoked on ultra running, my mental state is ready to hurt. I'm ready to hurt at Western. I'm ready to run it back and hurt again at UTMB. So I feel I'm in a good place in a sport to do both. And I feel I'm young enough right now to have to be able to recover and tackle UTMB.”
Farvard reflects back to last year when he dropped from Western at mile 80. About six weeks later, he set the Fastest Known Time on the John Muir Trail.
“My body felt great. I didn't feel compromised at all. And that came actually before UTMB would've come. So I'm going to have more recovery going into UTMB than I did last year going into JMT post Western States.”
As a young ultra runner with big goals, Farvard can still see the big picture.
I'm in ultra running for the long haul,” he says. “I think for me running and racing are not my career, right? Like some people need to think about longevity in the sport and stuff like that. And granted, I want to do this sport forever but it's not the end of the world for me. I just want to do races that excite me and maybe that is a 50K somewhere. But right now my excitement is fully in these long 100-mile races, 100K races, trans races, international races and stuff like that. As long as I am excited about a race in a sport, I'm going to go do what makes me most happy.”
Even as a young up-and-coming ultra runner, Farvard has a strong mindset, developed from years of being a competitive endurance athlete.
He recommends that long-distance runners break down big goals into smaller ones.
“Big goals are really daunting. Get excited about a training run that you're going to do this week,” he recommends, adding he had an upcoming six-hour training run. “I’m not thinking about Western States. I’m thinking about all the cool things I'm going to see. As soon as you start breaking it down, everything becomes more achievable. Time goes by and you're giving yourself little wins along the way. It just makes things way simpler. And you focus a lot more on the journey and the training, which ultimately is going to make you the best type of athlete.”
Name: Rod Farvard
Hometown: Moraga, Calif.
Number of years running: 13
How many miles a week do you typically run: low end 80, high end 120 (100 average)
Point of pride: Fastest Known Time on the John Muir Trail.
Favorite race distance: 100K
Favorite pre-race or training food/drink: potato wedges. pre race, mid race, post race
Favorite piece of gear: Ultimate Direction Clutch Hand Bottles
Who inspires you: Nims Purja, alpinist
Favorite or inspirational song to run to: Bloom Odesza
Favorite or inspirational mantra/phrase: “When you're going through hell, keep going,” Winston Churchill
Where can other runners connect or follow you: