Trails and Tribulations of a Champion
Paul McHugh, Chronicle Outdoors Writer
Thursday, December 9, 2004
Woodside athlete Scott Dunlap's ascent from his former status as geek couch-potato to one of the top-ranked trail runners in the United States is about as unlikely as his first choice of mascots and trail companions.
Dunlap felt burned out from years of 80-hour workweeks in the high-tech realm of Silicon Valley, after participating in two start-ups. Then, on Sept. 11, 2001, he watched, stunned, as a building of the World Trade Center -- where he had been scheduled to meet with two associates -- collapsed, taking their lives.
Dunlap's wife Christi had an idea to help him cope with the deep depression that ensued. She brought home a dog from Pug Rescue of Sacramento. Daily, this stubby-legged orphan begged to be taken outside. Finally, Dunlap responded. Whereupon, man and dog discovered they both loved going for longer and longer runs on trails near their Kings Mountain home.
"Hikers would tell me, you're not supposed to run a pug like that," Dunlap said. "And I'd say, you'd better tell him. He's already gone nine miles, and he shows no signs of wanting to stop."
Dunlap's relative naivete about athletics made it possible for him to develop many other elements of unorthodox style.
"I never learned proper technique for running," he says. "So I developed this crazy style that actually seems to work well on trails. I kind of crouch a bit, so I can jump around over roots and rocks. And there's this thing I do that other runners seem to find pretty entertaining. I actually put my hand down on the ground and pivot around it, as I fly through switchbacks."
Always slender, Dunlap's aggressive new physical regimen made it possible for him to pack 25 pounds of new muscle on his 6-foot frame. And in three short years, he's also managed to advance to Trail Runner magazine's recently announced ranking as the nation's Overall Champion for "non-ultra" (marathon or shorter) distances. He did this by competing in 15 trail events, including three marathons, from March 1 to Sept. 30. In these, he scored three wins and a dozen finishes in the top five.
Trail running has turned into one of the nation's fastest growing sports. Dunlap has some advice for runners or joggers interested in signing on, and hopping off the pavement.
"Find a loop course of trails to run, so you get to enjoy lots of scenery, " he says. "Don't be afraid to get dirty. And always, always carry a map."
Some other top Dunlap tips:
-- Bring water by carrying a plastic bottle in your hand; that will remind you to drink and stay hydrated.
-- Stretch out from running by going for at least one long pool swim per week.
-- Avoid blisters by lubricating your toes. Dunlap uses Vaseline. He also swears by the "foot gloves" of Injinji Tetrasoks (see, www.injinji.com).
These days, Dunlap is immersed again in the world of high-tech, working as a marketer for Avolent, a financial services software firm.
"Luckily, my company is very supportive of my running career," says Dunlap. "They try to find me conferences to speak at that will be located near running events. And they don't mind if I come in wearing flip-flops, when my feet get too swollen to fit in shoes."
Looking ahead, Dunlap, 35, says he's now thinking about tackling ultra trail runs. He's signed up for the recently revived Race Across California E- venture (www.envirosports.com) and has been invited to compete in the legendary Western States 100 (www.ws100.com).
But sadly, the picturesque heyday of Rocky the pug dog as a trail companion seems to be entering eclipse.
"I've just gotten too fast," Dunlap says. "It's grown too hard for the little guy. He's got an 8-minute mile, but now I run a 51/2-minute mile. Rocky's happiest running about 6 miles, but I can push pretty hard for 20. So, my wife is looking around for a faster dog."
E-mail Paul McHugh at firstname.lastname@example.org
Don't worry - I'm not replacing my dog, Rocky. He will always be my short course dog, but we thought we would look around for a playmate that, perhaps, could go the distance.